Monday, May 24, 2010

Birding NettieBay

Nestled on the shores of Nettie Lake in a remote corner of Michigan's Presque Isle County is NettieBay Lodge, a truly fabulous place for those who cherish nature. The property is expansive, covering some 2,200 acres, and we could have a bang-up time without ever setting foot on other lands.

But we wandered. Not far and wide, though - the 130 species of birds, numerous other animals, and more cool plants than you can shake a stick at were all found within a one-half hour drive of NettieBay Lodge, our base camp.

I was there to lead field trips as part of the "Birds & Botany Weekend". We prioritized birds, switching more to plants and other natural history as the day progressed and birds became quieter. I'm going to blog some of the ultra-cool plants that we found later, and already have mentioned a few if you look at earlier posts.

Next year, we're adding an extra day - one and a half days went far too fast! - and tack on a trip to the extensive dunes and beaches of nearby Lake Michigan, where we will ooh and aah over impossibly cute Piping Plovers.

Our group, and a fine bunch they were. From L to R: Nina, Craig, Dawn (in green), Christine, Jean, Tony, Helen, Vinny (brown cap), Stan, and Richard.

Christine was our host and is events coordinator for the lodge, and because of her things went perfectly. Her mother is the cook, and the food was to die for!

I want to single out her two boys, Tony and Vinny. They are the coolest kids that you'd ever want to meet, and at age 8 and 9, respectively, are becoming outstanding naturalists. We brought one or both on all of our trips, and with their sharp eyes and tremendous curiosity, they found many interesting things for the group to look at. Nature Deficit Disorder would not be the problem that it is if every kid had the opportunity to spend time in northern Michigan looking at Dwarf Lake Iris, tiny Hoary Elfin butterflies, loons on every lake, beavers swimming about, and porcupines waddling across the road.

It was cool hanging with you guys, Vinny and Tony, and we'll do it again next year!

The lodge and cabins are perched on the shore of this pristine lake, and a glance to the right will bring this Osprey nest into view. Every telephone pole should be similarly adorned.

The male stands guard nearby, looking a bit wet and bedraggled after a fishing excursion.

Probably every lake of any size up here has its resident Common Loons, and Lake Nettie had two pairs. This nest was on a small island a few hundred yards offshore from the lodge. These loons are thoroughly acclimated to people, and we took a short boat ride out to admire them. One of the birds would feed and swim near the boat, and I am told they'll occasionally swim so close that you can watch them under the water. The other was minding the nest, allowing for nice photo ops. Nina and Rick had the big lens, and I can't wait to see what they came up with.

While loon-watching is fun, hearing their extraordinary yodels may be even better.

Birds of the north abound, and Purple Finches are everywhere. The males look as if they have been dunked in raspberry sauce, and sing incredible warbling serenades. In addition to finches, some of the cool birds that could be seen or heard from the lodge deck included Ruffed Grouse, American Woodcock, Barred Owl, Red-headed Woodpecker, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Hermit Thrush and Veery, Nashville, Chestnut-sided, Black-throated Green, and Pine warblers, Scarlet Tanager, and Rose-breasted Grosbeak.

Everyone loves a warbler, and we found 23 species, most of them on their breeding territories. The warbling included Kirtland's Warblers within a short drive of the lodge!

On Saturday evening, we took a few minute drive down the road to admire a pair of American Bitterns. Here, the group is watching a bittern perform its odd, comical call. While every marshy spot and glacial lake seemed to have its resident bitterns, Nina and Rick spotted this pair as we drove by and they were still right out in the open when we went back after dinner.

American Bittern imitating a cattail. They're very good at not being seen. This bird eventually began to strut its stuff right before our eyes, gulping in air and belching it back out to create a sound similar to a pump being run under water.

We already have dates set for next year's adventure: May 19th thru 22nd, 2011. Space will be VERY limited. If this sounds like a trip that you'd be interested in, please contact Christine Baideme at NettieBay Lodge. I'll guarantee you won't be disappointed!

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