Friday, May 28, 2010


I don't think this bird got as much attention as the yellow headed blackbird that was on a long layover at the Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery last month, but it certainly created a buzz.

It's one of the lesser known falcons - the Merlin. Smaller than the infamous and bulkier Peregrine, and slightly larger than the miniature Kestrel, the Merlin is also known as the pigeon hawk. This was a lifer for me.

There were actually two of them. And eyewitness accounts report attempts at breeding, raising the hopes of a resident pair. Unfortunately, no such luck. Merlins only frequent Michigan during migration and perhaps this inexperienced young couple were suffering from wander-lust.

The neat thing was that they were practicing being a couple and predictably residing in a big fir on the corner of Kenwood and Campbell in the Westwood neighborhood. Two avid bird watchers, Sue Weaver and Tim Tesar, live right across the street and were delighted to find this rare bird right outside their windows.

I was only able to get these so-so pictures on a cloudy evening. When I returned on a clear blue
eve, the birds had moved on, most likely north.

Roughly a week later, driving down East Michigan Avenue, my ever-searching eyes spotted an unfamiliar silhouette perched on a wire in front of Sergeant Energy. Thinking it might be the Merlin, I pulled over, only to spook the bird over towards McKenzie Bakery where I managed to track it down and discover it was another falcon, the Kestrel.


He was eyeing the ground for unsuspecting prey. And had it not been for me and my ridiculously large lens aimed at the bird, probably not a soul (except for another birder) would have noticed this animal living among us.

I recently found one of these guys hunting over at the BTR Park just off Parkview Avenue.

Well within their territorial range, Kestrels are relatively common in Michigan, particularly the country. Their signature hunting behavior is to hover in one spot over open country, rapidly beating their wings, as they zero-in on prey, and eventually dive bomb for a kill. You can't mistake it.

More and more common to the city-scape is the Peregrine Falcon, nesting atop sky scrapers and hunting the cliffs and canyons of big cities.

They're spotted periodically in downtown Kalamazoo. I personally witnessed one in town last year, atop the SkyRise building on Burdick Avenue.

It may have been one of the off-spring of the nesting pair in Grand Rapids, or perhaps Detroit, looking for a home. The question is whether Kalamazoo is big enough for a Peregrine. Although I personally like to think of Kalamazoo as a small city, this one time I hope we're "big" enough for a Peregrine.

Perhaps if we're lucky, they'll build a nest on Peregrine Towers, down on the Kalamazoo Mall.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Tallamy DVD's Have Arrived!

If you've ever been up in a jet, flying over the land, looking down on the patchwork quilt of crazyness down below, and wondered what on Earth is this doing to wildlife and habitat, then you need to see this video.

GARDENING FOR LIFE is a DVD of a presentation by Douglas Tallamy, award winning author of Bringing Nature Home, on how we can actually play a part in the restoration of habitat for insects, birds and wildlife by gardening with native plants. It's nothing short of a micro-revolution in landscaping.

The Wild Ones of Kalamazoo contracted HorsePower Pictures to document Tallamy's presentation at an all day conference produced by Wild Ones at the Kalamazoo Nature Center in 2008. The DVD includes the panel discussion that followed Tallamy's presentation. The panel features Steve Malcolm, chemical ecologist at Western Michigan University, Tracey Kast from Kellogg Biological Station, and Tom & Nancy Small of the Kalamazoo Area Wild Ones.

"Douglas Tallamy maintains that our nation lacks enough habitat to support its present diversity of native plants and animals. If we want to preserve our wildlife we must change the way we landscape our yards. We must replace our vast lawns and non-native ornamentals with the native plants that plant-eating insects such as caterpillars greatly prefer. Why? Because these insects perform the crucial task of transferring the sun’s energy up the food web to other creatures, including birds.

In GARDENING FOR LIFE, Tallamy brings his funny, informative and engaging power-point presentation to a Southwest Michigan audience. Whether you’re a novice or veteran to native gardening, GARDENING FOR LIFE is sure to enlighten and inspire."

If you're interested in a copy of the DVD, contact the Kalamazoo Chapter of Wild Ones. The video will also be broadcast on Public Media Network in the Fall of 2010.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

That Which is Rare is Exotic

This is a bird that sent tremors throughout the Southern Michigan rare bird alerts.

If you look at a range map for the yellow headed blackbird, you'll see that Michigan doesn't seem to suit their fancy. They just don't venture over this way. So why exactly this wayward male braved it's way over to the Wolf Lake Fish Hatchery on M43, will forever remain a mystery.

But aren't we lucky.

There is something tropical about this bird. Something that rekindles an expanding sense of awe for the fauna of North America. Something that reminds me that what we have here in the U.S. is equally as compelling as anywhere else in the world. No need to venture to the tropics; no need to go on a safari to Africa (although I wouldn't pass either one of those up if I had the chance). The splendor of it all is right here in the palm of the planet: Michigan - especially when we're lucky enough to have a "stranger" come to town.