Welcome to Birds In My Bins And Lens: Eyeing The Avifauna And Fauna Of The Americas. It has always been a childhood dream of mine to travel to the tropics. I vividly remember being nine years-old, thumbing through seemingly endless stacks of Ranger Rick, National Wildlife, National Geographic and International Wildlife Magazines, dreaming of visiting such wonderful places as: Costa Rica, Panama, Mexico, Colombia, etc. in order to see all the great birds and animals that call these places home. Finally, after 40 years, I am fulfilling my childhood dreams.
Photo Above: Flame-faced Tanager (Male) Ecuador August 2014
Wednesday, April 9, 2014
I was driving my big work truck, heading west on US 12 near the intersection of Lima Center Road, when I saw a large blackbird (referring to species-not it's color) flying across the road, from left to right (with what I would call, "rowing wingbeats"), a few car lengths ahead of me. The bird flew with a direct flight, without and wavering or undulating. Immediately, I saw and recognized the bird to be a large grackle, saying out loud to my brother (who was riding shotgun), "Holy, Hell! That looks like a freaking Great-tailed Grackle!"
It was obvious that it was not a Common Grackle, due to its larger size and very long, keel shaped tail, which was strikingly obvious. The tail was fanned open. The tail was noticeably long, long as the bird's body.
The bird crossed in front of the truck and landed in a wet, muddy area in a field on Lima Center Road. Of course, I had to pull over to get a gander at this bird.
When I stopped, I could see there were other blackbird species foraging in the short, grassy areas and mud in the field. Most of the birds in this flock comprised mostly of Brown-headed Cowbirds and European Starlings with some Red-winged Blackbirds mingled in.
The grackle spent quite a bit of time wading and attempting to forage in a couple of mud puddles in the field, which the other blackbirds avoided doing.
The grackle "dwarfed" these other species that were around it. Three Common Grackles (2 males and one female) were perched in a tree near the flock on the ground and made good comparisons with the Great-tailed Grackle. Allowing lengthy study of the different head shapes, bill structure and tail shape and length between the two grackle species.
I found it interesting, that the Great-tailed Grackle seemed a bit on aggressive towards some of the other species who foraged along side the puddle the grackle waded in.
I inspected the bird and the perched Common Grackles at length through my Zeiss 12x56 Night Owl Binoculars. The long, stout bill and flat forehead/head an longer neck than a Common Grackle was obvious on the Great-tailed Grackle. The bird's eye was not dark, but yellow. It's iridescent black and purple body glimmered in the sun, making the yellow eyes that more noticeable and striking. There was no distinct separation between the head of the bird and it's body like that of the two male Common Grackles in attendance.
What was also also obvious, while the bird walked in the mud and puddles, was its long legs. The tail still was noticeably long and folded into a nice typical "keel" shape which is diagnostic of this species.
To my knowledge (I could be wrong), there are only two "accepted" records for this species in Michigan. Technically, the records are considered "Great-tailed/Boat-tailed Grackle." Meaning, they never nailed it down to an exact species. If memory serves me right, these records are of female birds.
Both above records are of spring sightings. Both at the Whitefish Point Bird Observatory in hippewa, County Michigan in the Upper Peninsula. The first record was April 15, 1999 and the other in May of 2000. Which puts my sighting in the same early Spring time frame.
Great-tailed Grackles, on the other hand, have become more "urbanized" and can be found in more variety of habitats.Thus, Great-tailed Grackles are becoming major pests in many areas of their range expansion.
I have seen hundreds and hundreds of Great-tailed Grackles in my travels in the tropics. Mostly in my past trips to Panama, where the bird is beyond common. I have also seen them in the South Central United States. So, I am very, very familiar with this species, which made it clear in my mind, what I was looking at when the bird was originally sighted as it flew across the road in front of me.
This species is very different than the Common Grackle and the differences are night and day and confusing the two is highly unlikely.
I strive to make sure my ID of a bird is spot on and will not accept or put birds on my list, unless I am 100% sure of it's ID. I try take to heart what Pete Dunn once told me when we were watching hawks on the platform together at Whitefish Point many years ago. We discussed the subject of bird identification and reporting findings in great detail. He looked me in the eye and said something that I have never forgotten. He said, "reputation is like virginity. You can only lose it once." That is not only fitting as far as bird identification is concerned, but covers most aspect of life in general. Great advice, Pete!
I am blessed that my job puts me on the road here in SE Michigan for 200-300 miles a day.Ninety percent of these miles are on country back roads, in a wide variety of habitats and birdy locations. My job allows me great opportunities to bird everyday.
Ninety plus percent of my customers live in the country, also allowing me to have access to a wide range of amazing habitats and birding opportunities. Giving me a huge statistical advantage to eventually finding good birds. More so than the typical desk jockey or cubical clown in some office some where who's daily birding opportunities on the job consists of Internet blogs and posts.
Some of the many great birds I have seen on my job in the past 30+ years here in SE Michigan (mainly Washtenaw County), include: Black-legged Kittiwake, Ferruginous Hawk, Golden Eagle, Swainson's Hawk, Swallow-tailed Kite, Rufous Hummingbird, Pacific Loon, Gyrfalcon, Barn Owl, Snowy Owl, Saw-whet Owl, White-winged Dove, Townsend's Solitaire, Varied Thrush, Northern Wheatear, Bohemian Waxwing, Pine Grosbeak, Red Crossbill, White-winged Crossbill, Evening Grosbeak, Lark Bunting, Spotted Towhee, Western Grebe, Red-necked Grebe, Common Raven, Barrow's Goldeneye, Brant, Western Tanager, Summer Tanager, Logger-headed Shrike, and Blue Grosbeak, to name just a few.
I always toy with the idea of taking my camera gear with me to work, but feel keeping my gear in a dirty, dusty truck, bouncing down pot ridden dirt roads may not do much for the longevity of my camera and lens. Maybe I should consider doing so more seriously. On the other hand, maybe the old adage of, "if you have a camera, it will scare off all the cool birds" may just ring true.
**Editor's Note: I went back the following day, to see if I could relocate the bird. Unfortunately, on two seprate trips, I could not relocate the bird. In fact, not a single blackbird was in the area.