Monday, 18 June 2007

Identification Crisis

It was yesterday, Sunday June 17th, just after 1:10 p.m. that I was leisurely walking along through the Arb with my lovely wife and checked out some swallows when all of a sudden birding hit me hard on the forehead:

Looking at a Northern Rough-winged Swallow through my binoculars, I spotted a strange cormorant far far away in the background, barely visible to the naked eye.
I am mostly used to seeing Great Cormorants of the continental subspecies sinensis in Europe and am aware that Double-crested Cormorants look quite different (as I have seen plenty of those as well while here in Michigan/Ohio/Ontario), but this one looked yet again quite different.

It immediately provoked a certain thought of a certain southern North American species, which is why I took so many pictures, but it was too far to say anything out in the field and any species of Cormorant other than Double-crested is such a meaningful thing to say here in Michigan that one ought to remain quiet unless there's good reason to speak out.
I only found the time to quickly check my bird guides and the pics through the monitor of my camera later on Sunday and took the bird to be nothing but an ordinary Double-crested.

Well, re-checking those pics this morning on my computer led me again to believe that possibly, this wasn't a Double-crested after all but something more unusual for the Great Lakes:

a female Anhinga.

Now, don't get me wrong: I am not saying it is, I am just saying it might!

And this is where and why I am counting on you, the experienced reader-birder of my blog, to help me out:

I'd be delighted to hear from other birders - meaning: from YOU - what you think about the bird depicted on these awfully cropped pictures and why you think what you think it is.
Any opinion from Eared Trogon to Emperor Penguin is highly valued and please feel free to pass this link on to others or download the pictures to have a closer look!

Thank you very much!!

Here are some of the pictures, many showing the bird in similar postures to convey what it really looked like, as single pictures can often be misleading. Don't be too harsh on me regarding the quality, the bird was many, many hundred yards away!

Finally, here's a picture of a definitive Double-crested Cormorant from the Great Lakes, May 2007:

Thursday, 14 June 2007

How the Sibley Guide could have sold a few Million copies more

Whenever I talked about the Sibley Guides it had been more critical than appraising. So to set the record straight this time, it needs mentioning here that I am indeed rather fond of Sibley's work and owe him a great deal. The problem with the Sibley guide is that one tends to learn fast from it and thus soon discovers its limits and short-comings, of which there are few, but few is more than none.
So if I have been complaining somewhat, I was "complaining on a high level" as we say in German.

However, there might be others that have different reasons for complaint, as I found out in Canada in 2005:

On my first day at Point Pelee National Park in May 2005, I observed a somewhat strange-looking warbler that I wasn't able to identify. So the first thing I did was to check my Sibley Guide, but that lead to no satisfying results. Good thing I wasn't quite the only birder there at Point Pelee in the middle of May, and so I went to the Information Centre to tell my tale and see if they could help me with my mystery warbler.
Their first question was basically what kind of guide I was using and I told them I had the "Small Eastern Sibley".
To my great surprise, at this they cringed.

Apparently, these people weren't great fans of the Sibley guide, and I couldn't help but wonder why. And so I searched and researched and searched again.
It took me a long, long time but I eventually found out a few days ago that the reason for these - and other - international tensions had nothing to do with David Sibley and his work after all, but with the map depicted in the back of his small Eastern field guide.

If you were Canadian, you'd probably wonder why it was necessary to use the abbreviation "AB" for British Columbia and "BC" for Alberta but still think it was a funny mix-up.
As soon as you'd notice that the map does not contain Nunavut yet, although the guide is from 2003 and this youngest of Canada's territories was established in April 1999, you would think it a bit odd but not take offense just yet.
But after seeing that both Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia were not treated like the other provinces, territories or states (abbreviations in bold) but just like small islands, bays or other landscape structures (PEI even in smaller letters than other islands), you'd surely start to think that whoever worked on the map wasn't too fond of Canada and you might consider grabbing a copy of the National Geographic Guide instead.

Having become more skeptical, I checked the rest of the map carefully.

The map shows the Bermuda Islands, right, and they are attributed to the United Kingdom.
So far so good.
But then, to the south of Newfoundland, the map depicts two small islands. There is no mentioning on the map however regarding their name or nationality.
Oh, oh!
They are actually called St. Pierre et Miquelon and are part of France. So the British got their Bermudas but the author of the map declines the same right to the French although both islands are clearly depicted on the map?
Not good, especially with the French who do tend to be very fond of their country. Maybe that's why I never met any French birders in North America (apart from Laurent who's been here many years): you don't want to go where you'd have to buy a bird guide you don't want to buy.

Then there's Greenland, and the name Greenland is printed in the same layout as countries, like USA, Canada, Iceland or Mexico.
Well, even though Greenland has reached a very high degree of sovereignty, it technically still is a self-governed Danish territory, and there is no mentioning of Denmark anywhere on the map. Even though the roughly 60.000 people living on Greenland surely won't mind too much, the rest of Denmark's population of 5,447,084 (as of January 1st, 2007) might not be very amused at all, which in turn might not help to increase the sales of the small Sibley Guide in that country as well.

And there's something else: a small speck of land right on the other side of the Bering Strait. As there's no name attributed to it on the map, it must surely be part of Alaska, right?
Well, of course not, this is the very far east of Russia which possibly could have been mentioned on a decent map, or not?
Maybe Putin is a birder and current tensions aren't about rockets after all? How many copies of Sibley's guide were sold in Russia?
You see?

So let's summarize the number of potentially offended people who might have refrained from buying a copy of the "Small Eastern" Sibley guide due to the map's inaccuracies:

France: 64,000,000
Canada: 31,000,000
Denmark: 5,500,000
Russia: 143,000,000
Total: 243,500,000

A few more than a few, or not?
Actually, this is roughly equal to the population of the US of A (300 Million), so the Sibley guide could have basically sold the same amount of copies abroad as within the USA if it wasn't for that map in the back of the book.
That's a surprising strategy of the publishers, especially as the map in the original Sibley's Guide is okay...

Poor David Sibley, his truly excellent guide surely deserved better than that!

I and the Bird # 51

The best carnival of all - for those who are birders and the rest of the population who basically also are but they just aren't aware of it yet - is back.

You guessed it, I am talking about "I and the Bird".

Did you know that the cooperation between the world's best bird bloggers plus a tolerated one (me) and Cornell Lab of Ornithology continues?

You didn't?

Well, yes it does and here's how:
Cornell recently provided two detailed articles published on eBird about counting birds: Bird Counting 101 and Bird Counting 201.

And this sure is no coincidence as we are up to "I and the bird" edition No. 51 (!), and keeping track of such high numbers becomes rather difficult, making professional help rather welcome indeed.
So here it is, the all new all great edition No. 51 "I and the Bird Sweepstakes" on The Birdchaser.
And guess what: there's a price to be won for answering 20 simple questions!

So off you go!

Here's a bird for the road:

"Great, I and the Bird is up on Birdchaser, so what the heck am I doing here then?"

"See you later, Belltowerbirder!"

Monday, 11 June 2007

Cedar Waxwings: How to avoid natural selection and still look good

Natural selection is a wonderful thing when you're looking at the species as a whole, but it can work rather rough on an individual. It is all fine as long as you are fit, healthy and suited for survival in the current ecological surroundings, but what if you're not?

Does the not-so-fit individual embrace its vital role in the species' evolution?

Wait, let me rephrase that:
Does this young fellow look as if it says: "When I grow up, I want to become a victim of natural selection for the benefit of my species"?

Not really, if I may express my honest opinion here, which I may as it is my blog.

No, the own species' welfare is not something an individual worries about. Within this context, it actually is mostly worried about avoiding natural selection!

A prime example of this is the North American Cedar Waxwing, as I will plainly show with the following images I was able to obtain last weekend at Ann Arbor's Arboretum.

Here you can see a Cedar Waxwing: looking good, looking sharp!
Much sought after by photographers and well aware of it, certainly resembling certain West Coast life forms here.

But wait, what is this? Let's zoom in a bit on the bird's head:

Oh, disgusting, an untrimmed eyebrow!

Oh dear, not only will those bird paparazzi (seen below) descend upon you like flies on a ... chocolate cake, no, it won't help you in finding a mate to reproduce either!

Good thing this lapse is nothing that a good amount of preening can't fix, but ...

...and this is an important "but" ...

How can you make sure natural selection doesn't strike in the form of an Accipiter while you're all busy preening and not on the look-out for these vicious predators?

That's not too difficult if you have a few 100,000 years time, as a matter of fact, and the Cedar Waxwing, as a beauty that is aware of its looks and what it owes to its fans, has mastered it to the fullest:

Warning Colour and Mimicry

In the following paragraphs, I will demonstrate the multitude of ways in which the Cedar Waxwing has adapted to the permanent risk of being preyed upon by Accipiters, mostly by a complex array of different forms of mimicry.

Camouflage is always a good way of avoiding to be eaten, but the downside is that it cuts down on your popularity with birdwatchers. So what's fine for a sparrow or a thrush is out of the question for a Waxwing.

Aposematism or Warning Colour
The most easy and usually first responds to a potential predator threat while preening is the use of the bright yellow terminal tail band. Flashing this bright yellow warning colour on an otherwise rather brown bird will immediately remind an attacking Accipiter of a poisonous insect, like a wasp, and make it abort its attack. That's rather smart but then again, there may be some Accipiters that have no idea what a wasp is, so the Waxwing had to develop a second line of defence.

According to Wikipedia: "The mimic [in this case the Waxwing] has some part of its body resembling some other part". Well ,we all know the false eyes on the back of an Owl's head, but what could this form of mimicry be on a Waxwing? Easy: the crest. Ever wondered what it is for? Well, look closely, it may be of another colour but the length and shape are precisely like the bird's bill. And where does the crest point to when the bird is preening? Away from the body towards a potential predator that will subsequently feel watched and not consider an attack worthwhile.

Yes, but then you'll say that this is quite a lousy imitation of a bird's bill and question my hypothesis. But you see, the crest serves two different functions just like the wing of an Auk that is adapted to flight and diving and thus is a compromise between both. The crest also acts as a means to scare Sharp-shinned Hawks off.
Waxwings are just about the upper limit of an ordinary Sharpie's diet spectrum, so in case of a Sharpy attack, the Waxwing just pops up its crest which makes it look much bigger and then faces the attacker. The Sharp-shinned Hawk then has a sudden "Oh darn, big Cooper's meal!" moment and turns off its attack route.

Waxwing displaying its Sharp-shinned Hawk defense

Now, that's rather smart if you ask me. But are there any further means of defense for preening Waxwings that also work on non-Sharpy hawks?


Batesian Mimicry
When preening gets so intense a potential predator won't notice the bill-imitating crest, it is time for the Waxwing to display its most sophisticated defense. By showing off its colouration of wing and tail it gives the impression of a poisonous or at least unpalatable caterpillar, like this one for instance.

This works on several levels: most Accipiters will suddenly realize they aren't going after avian food after all but an invertebrate larva which they'll surely find quite distasteful. And those Accipiters that accidentally have come to take a liking for the taste of caterpillars will then remember that those with red and yellow markings are not so easy on the stomach and likewise abandon their idea of a fast snack.

As was clearly demonstrated above, the Cedar Waxwing is a master of avoiding natural selection while preening, which has allowed it to develop into such an attractive species.
Others surely strive to follow its example and the next image demonstrates an apparent first step of the Indigo Bunting towards becoming America's next avian Top Model: the tail looks good and it's a start.

But will natural selection on the buntings be harsh enough to speed this development up?
Well, you might find out in a few years, on yours truly,
Belltower Birding

Friday, 8 June 2007

A little bit passed on from Bogbumper

Bogbumper posted this which might be related to this but surely has a connection to this even though it's passed that season.

A good weekend to everyone and have fun 3pleB-ing (Breeding Birds Birding)!

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Cooper's Hawk and the different ways of seeing it

Judging by frequent inquiries on email lists that are accompanied by mystery photographs and by taking a look at what others blog about (e.g. Mike, but I don't know the precise link anymore), the Cooper's Hawk is the most frequently misidentified raptor in the backyards of (Eastern) North America. One of the reasons for this is rather drab and boring and would make for a short post here: it is just about the only raptor that enters backyards in the first place to raid bird feeders or rather the bird flocks gathered around them. Unless you have a good supply of rabbits on your lawn or a small pond full of Apple Snails, there's just no reason for a Red-tailed Hawk or a Snail Kite to even consider paying your garden a visit. Small birds however are everywhere and so - subsequently - are Cooper's Hawks, at least outside their breeding season.
Now however is the point where this introduction leads to nowhere as I now should be presenting ideas and hints on how to identify an Accipiter perched on top of an increasingly unhappy songbird. Well, tough luck, I don't have pictures of perched Cooper's Hawks and all I can do is direct you to Andreas' site to check out his "Hawks and Eagles" gallery. Well worth it!

But one thing may save this post at last: Even in flight, the Cooper's Hawk is a tricky species to identify. Of the three North American Accipiter hawks, its size is right between the Sharp-shinned Hawk on the small extreme and the Goshawk on the large end of the scale. While both "extreme" species are thus more readily recognized by size and general impression alone, the Cooper's can be tricky to identify by these rather subtle characters that are subject to each observer's individual experience and recognition.
Amazingly though - amazingly at least until you get to know the cuttlefish of the sky which is the Cooper's Hawk a bit more intimately - a Cooper's is also not very difficult to misidentify as a female or immature Northern Harrier!

What follows are a few pictures of one and the same Cooper's I obtained on the way to pick up a rental car downtown at the beginning of May, so besides offering a few thoughts on identification, this blog post also demonstrates that a decent birder never, ever leaves the house or even opens a window without their camera at hand.

That's what a decent Cooper's is supposed to look like: the tail appears long because it is and because of the narrow base to the wing. The broadest part of each wing is right in the middle between body and wingtip, giving it a very peculiar shape. In a Sharp-shinned, the broadest part of the wing would be much closer to the body than to the wingtip and that makes for a very different general impression. A Goshawk is more similar in wing shape to a Cooper's than to a Sharp-shinned, but the Cooper's hand narrows quite abruptly on the border between the secondaries and the inner primaries whereas it appears to narrow more evenly towards the tip in a Goshawk. The latter difference is rather subtle though.

In this head-on view, the Cooper's appears rather massive and is very reminiscent of a Goshawk. The degree to which the primaries show "fingers" would even put a Golden Eagle to shame and contributes a lot to the massive appearance. On a Sharp-shinned Hawk, the "fingers" wouldn't be quite as impressive and I frankly don't recall any of the Goshawks I saw to show "fingers" to such a degree, but that's nothing anyone should count on!

Just a slight turn and a little wing beat and this elegant raptor might appear to be just a fat blob in the sky. Note that the shorter outermost tail feathers - one of the best characters to tell Cooper's from Sharp-shinned - might not be visible easily even when the tail is almost fully spread, being concealed behind the other tail feathers. Cheeky bird!
Of course these strange proportions are only an effect of the bird being "frozen" on this picture in the middle of a downstroke of the wing but if this picture was all we had of - say - a rarity documentation, the wing shape would be quite reminiscent of a Sharp-shinned Hawk.

A second later and everything is almost back to normal. But yet again, notice how still Sharp-shinned-like the wing shape is with the wings being pushed forward quite a bit and that this Cooper's outermost tail feathers aren't that obviously shorter than the rest of the tail. Even circling birds therefore must be watched carefully over a prolonged period of time.

This photo demonstrates why so many Cooper's often get misidentified as a "Ring-tail" Harrier (female/immature Northern Harrier): the white undertail coverts are frequently slightly spread and exposed to the sunlight from above at the base of the tail. The bird therefore appears to clearly show an obvious white rump, the diagnostic feature of a Northern Harrier. If - typically for Accipiter hawks - we only catch a fleeting glimpse of such a bird dashing into the woods, it is easy to see that it doesn't take much effort to call it a Harrier and start discussing how strange it was to see a Harrier hunting for songbirds inside a forest.

But that apparently white rump is not all: this bird above is again the same Cooper's gliding away from me laterally (against the light, hence the greyish sky), with the primaries bent slightly backwards. Well, that's a pretty good impression of a Harrier and surprising to see a few seconds after obtaining the "fat blob" impression.

What's the message of this post, the thought between the lines?
An Accipiter in North America will always be tough to identify and as this series of photographs shows, it would be very, very difficult to base an identification on shape and size when all you have is a single picture or a very short glimpse of the bird. To use these characters, one ought to best watch it for quite a few seconds or - on a circling bird - a few circles to reconfirm characters like wing shape, rump colouration and the length of the outermost tail feather.

So, my apologies to all those who have expected to learn about an easy solution. All I can offer is a justification for an extremely cautious approach and if ever you very understandably misidentify a Cooper's as a Northern Harrier, you can use this post as an excuse or explanation. Mind you, I might have to use it myself some day!

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

The Far Side of Herons and Egrets

We all know that birds belonging to the Herons and Egrets are incredibly elegant and delicate creatures. Their movements are manifested grace, their agility is sublime and on a stage they would outshine Audrey Hepburn.

But honestly, as much as this is true, there is also another side to them, their far side.

During my birding travels in May, mostly to Northern Ohio thanks to Bruce giving me a lift, I was fortunate enough to not only come across a wide array of species and get decent photographs, I also grew more familiar with their alter egos and am now in a position to share the newly acquainted knowledge.

Let us start our journey with the Great Blue Heron.
This species combines strength and power with agility and I would not be surprised if Brad Pitt one day confessed the Great Blue Heron was his inspiration to the way he played Achilles in Troy.

But when they know they are being watched and they are in the right mood, they might just offer you a short and fleeting glimpse of another side of them, their far side:

Next one in line is the Great Egret. The very definition of beauty and grace. Nothing - really - surpasses the elegance of a Great Egret, no matter what it is doing.

Unless of course there is this persisting itch on its lower back that it can't get to...

Snowy Egrets are very nice and neat animals, and very tidy. Just look how incredibly clean and white its plumage is despite its surroundings.

But that of course doesn't necessarily mean they are strangers to the chaos related to a scientific genius or two and show off their sympathy through an appropriate hairdo.

The Little Blue Heron is a very neatly coloured heron, and there is much more to the species than "little" and "blue". Remarkably though, they do have a way of turning their head into the wind and having their feathers fluffed up that does remind the unaware observer of a Capuchinbird or even an Egyptian Vulture. That's a strange kind of humour, don't you think?

Green Herons show the same kind of humour as the Little Blue Heron it seems, and David Sibley is well aware of this fact. David Sibley? What does he have to do with this, you may ask?
Well, the following picture is basically how he painted the Green Heron in his field guide.

So far so good, but then he mentions "slight crest" on his juvenile bird. Slight!? Well, you do get the picture now, do you? Too bad he didn't write the caption for Europe's Crested Lark.

And last on our list for now is the Black-crowned Night-Heron, seen below.

You may look at the picture in surprise and wonder where the far side is on that nice and innocent-looking creature. This is the way you always see a Black-Crowned Night-Heron, right?

And exactly that is the point: this species has the most wicked of humours amongst the herons and egrets, and its sarcasm and irony run so deep we mostly don't even notice.
That's the way you frequently see a Night-Heron, right?

See = Sunlight = Day?!

Man, the species even changed its whole daily routine just to have us fooled and call out in the brightest of days "Look, yet again, a Night-Heron".

Now, is that far off, or what?

Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Stunning News

There's no global warming.
Dinosaurs went extinct millions of years ago.

What do these two statements have in common?

They are utterly untrue!

I will leave the global warming talk to others but would like to mention here that my wife and I were recently able - after years of research and expeditions - to provide definite proof of the Dinosaur's survival until this present day at Michigan's Lake Erie Metro Park.

How did they go undetected for so long?

Well, they spend all year in the rotten and muddy swamps of North America's most vicious wilderness areas where they hide in the mud to prey on unwary fish, amphibians and toes of reckless swimmers, only to emerge each year in early June to lay their eggs on dirt roads or other places no one would think of searching and prepare to get back what mammals had taken from them so long ago: world domination!

You don't believe me?

Well, seeing is believing and here are the pictures...

On that very same day, we were also able to prove why European Starlings are so successful in North America. They simply have adapted to mammalian food and prey like hawks on small rodents and other mammals up to the size of Rabbits.

As hard to believe as it may be, yet again we have photographic evidence that no one can deny!

Aren't you glad you read Belltower Birding?

Monday, 4 June 2007

Normal blogging about Extraordinary Birding

I promised that normal blogging would resume in June.
Well, point taken: I promised to try and establish something one might consider normal blogging on this blog by June.

Whatever I promised, here it is:
I am blogging again.

However, the fact that migration is basically over and normal blogging may resume does not imply that anything even close to normal birding would resume here in Michigan in June, as can be seen by the following report.
Okay, you got me again: admittedly, the following report is about half a day's birding with Laurent on the 31st of May and not June 1st, but I think it is close enough to June to make it count and it is not so much about migration than about breeding birds.

Oh, this is getting boring, so I'll stop the introduction and start heading out towards the real post:

Grassland birding!

Migration may be (largely) over but this is the Great Lakes. Most people will have you think this name relates to the lakes' size. Well, sorry, they are wrong.
Then it would be the "Big" Lakes or the "Extensive" Lakes, but nope, it clearly says "Great" Lakes on the maps.
A few people however know why they are called "Great" Lakes.
I am one of them.
They are called Great Lakes because the birding here is always great, even when those migrant warblers have left us for the juicy spruce budworms up North (silly!).

With the end of bird migration came a significant change in bird-related email exchange. Suddenly no one was talking about woods and warblers anymore, it was all about Dickcissels and all sorts of Sparrows while names like "Point Pelee", "the Arb" and "Crane Creek" had given way to "Scio Church Road", "White Barn Lot" and "Sharon Valley Road".

On May 31st, Laurent and I finally couldn't resist the call of the prairies any longer and we followed the numerous hints and observations of other local birders to the south-west of Washtenaw County where the grassland birds dwell.

After a 20 minute drive, we arrived at Scio Church road which is nice in itself but basically leads to the highlight roads, which are Meyers and Sharon Valley. Upon getting there however, we were greeted by a grim sight.

From the outside, this may seem like an ordinary house, and it might be, indeed.

But someone somewhere nearby was in serious trouble, as we could easily tell...

On the other hand, there were so many Eastern Meadowlarks around that we did not take the misfortunes of others as a bad sign.

Meyers Road was supposed to have Dickcissel and Grasshopper Sparrows, so this is where we were headed. After checking all the telephone wires and power lines for perched small brown birds with grey on the head and a yellow throat - in vain - we eventually stopped at the southern end of Meyers to give it one last intensive try.

One could say this was a good idea. Brilliant to be precise or rather: one of the best we've had in a long, long time.

Sure, there were two Grasshopper Sparrows singing, of which we were able to scope one nicely. A Savannah Sparrow was not a rare but still nice sight, and a total of two Northern Mockingbirds also were a pleasant surprise. But what was truly outstanding was a little blue bird perched 120 metres away in a small bush: neither a Blue Jay, nor an Indigo Bunting! Well, not much left then and indeed, we were amazed to see a nice male Blue Grosbeak!

This was not only a nice bird, it was not only a bird neither of us had ever seen before, it turned out to be only the (roughly) 10th record for Michigan - ever - if accepted!

Can you believe it? I hope the Michigan rarities committee can.
Well, we couldn't at first, I mean the bird was easy enough to identify, but only the 10th or so record?
Unfortunately, the bird was not relocated by other birders in the days following our observation, but as birding is all about sharing, here is a little manual on how to find great birding spots in south-west Washtenaw County:

As the Blue Grosbeak eventually flew out of sight, we gained our consciousness back and managed to re-focus on the grassland birds we were still missing: Henslow's Sparrow, Bobolink and Dickcissel.
Those, we knew, could be found along Sharon Valley Road just off Meyers (well, actually Meyers is just of SVR), at the so-called White Barn Lot just before the border to Jackson County.

Strangely, Jackson County came before we were able to spot a white barn. At first we considered turning back but then we remembered that a) we weren't County listers after all and that b) the spot where I had watched Henslow's Sparrows way back in May 2005 was just a few miles further down the road.
So on we drove to Fishville road and my heart rejoiced with lovely memories of times long past and the expectations of a repetition: back then I had parked the car because I thought the meadow looked good for Henslow's, had switched off the engine and there they sang. I walked around the hedge row to the edge of the meadow and immediately was treated to prolonged views of a singing Henslow's just 10 metres in front of me and could watch the feathers on its throat vibrate in song.
It had been very easy.

But would history repeat itself?
Would lightening strike twice?

Okay, so we got there and switched off the engine [check]
We heard a Henslow's sing [check]
We walked around the hedge row [check]
We immediately were treated to prolonged views of a Henslow's Sparrow [aaaand ... check]

This time though, the sparrow was roughly 50 metres off in the meadow but still the scope views were horrifyingly awesome. I did manage a photo documentation which I have included below. You may not get the complete feeling of watching a Henslow's, but you might get an idea - if you are lucky or have maintained a child's fantasy.

Back on Fishville Road we checked another fallow field to the west where I eventually managed a few rather decent pictures of a grassland special: a Grasshopper Sparrow. There were quite a few singing and we also spotted some of them, which is quite good.

Nice sparrow, but unfortunately not a Henslow's.

All right, calm down, I won't say it again, promise.

Another unexpected find on that particular field was a Turkey that was just a wee bit too large to be turned into a Bobwhite.

Driving back into Washtenaw County we had the most unspectacular great bird of the day, which is why I will only mention it as unspectacular as it was to convey the complete picture to my inclined readers: a Dickcissel had perched on a fence right besides the road but immediately took off as Laurent slowed the car down and flew on and on and far away out of view.
Hmmm, no comment, and that was that, no more Dickcissels for the day.

But we did find the White Barn lot on our way back and boy, was this a nice and pleasant piece of grassland. Look for yourself and you'll agree, just plain very nice:

Henslow's may be good - and there was one Henslow's Sparrow singing there too which we didn't see - but Bobolinks can be quite showy as well and sure enough, it only took the time needed to put up a scope until we had excellent scope views of a pair of Bobolinks, our last grassland target of the day.

Very nice birds, cool song

A small wood land preserve nearby had produced reports of a Louisiana Waterthrush and we therefore decided to end our day's birding there. It was remarkably quiet in the woods around noon and most of the birds we heard were Red-eyed Vireos. The woods however were lovely, dark and deep enough to host quite a few Acadian Flycatchers of which several were heard and one seen nicely, so all in all it was a nice addition to our grassland day and we headed back to Ann Arbor at 1 p.m. quite satisfied and with great news (Blue Grosbeak) for the local email forum.

Michigan rocks!