by Glenn Belyea
LaRue “Tex” Wells of Ann Arbor, dean of Michigan birders and a Washtenaw Audubon member since 1973, passed away on August 16, 2018, just a few days shy of his 97th birthday. Tex, as he was always known in Michigan, was born in Rockport, Texas, but soon moved to Port Arthur, Texas where his father was a tugboat captain. After graduating from high school, he took flying lessons and obtained his pilot’s license. In July of 1942 he enlisted in the Army as an Aviation Cadet. Tex was sent to England as a C-47 (the military version of the Douglas DC-3 passenger plane) pilot where he transported troops and supplies into Europe and returned wounded soldiers to England.
Our May Count 2018 results are finally in (download a PDF of results with link below), and thanks to so many volunteers, about 70 of us strong, we made a great showing, under adverse conditions. 176 species were observed by birders in Washtenaw County's 20 Townships, just slightly above our 5-year average of 175.
Much like I did last year, I’d like to start off this year’s CBC report with an administrative note. As we were gathering for the potluck-tally at the Matthaei Botanical Gardens, Mike Kielb pointed out that this year’s count really should be noted as Ann Arbor’s 72nd edition of the CBC, not the 71st. This due to the somewhat obscure 1947 edition, which was listed as count 1b in the booklet “Fifty Years & Counting,” written in early 1997 by Rob and Nancy French and Mike Kielb. Doing the math, Mike is absolutely correct: the 2017 Ann Arbor CBC was, in fact, the 72nd time the event was run! Amazing stuff, and as good an indication as any to show what a committed birding community the Ann Arbor area has—here’s to 72 more!
The 2017 Washtenaw County May Count is finally a wrap! Our total of 171 bird species observed stands respectable among the totals of years past, with 132 expected species and 39 unusual species for the area. Last year we observed 176 species. This year we had dozens of volunteers fan out throughout the county, searching for birds, and recording everything in eBird, a citizen science project, though Cornell University. Now, instead of our results being buried in the obscure scientific journal, Michigan Birds and Natural History, to be published several years after the fact, scientists have access to our data in real time. Was it a light migration in mid-May for common Warbler species? Yes, it was, as we can see from our County Results. If I am a scientist studying trends from this year’s migration, I have the Washtenaw County data at my fingertips, right in eBird. For the complete count of species by Townships, click here.
During the potluck-tally gathering at the closing of this year’s Ann Arbor Christmas Bird Count, we discussed if the 2016 edition was the tenth anniversary of my role as count compiler. Neither the previous compiler, Nancy French, nor I was sure when the baton was passed from her to me, but after reviewing my CBC records, I found that 2007 was my inaugural year as compiler, which means that this year, 2016, was, indeed, my tenth year in charge of the Ann Arbor CBC—how time flies!
Saturday, May 14, the second Saturday of the month, dawned cold and wet. There were freezing conditions forecast, with gale force winds, and it was nearly so at 5 a.m. when my husband, Scott, and I set out from home to begin our Spring Migration count in Lodi Township. All over the county, birders were up early - obscenely early - to count birds. 91 birders, to be exact, 20 more than last year. All pitched in for a massive volunteer effort to count all the birds, all the species in our county.
Our hardy group of nine Washtenaw Audubon birders braved a 25-degree windchill and heavy-at-times snow showers in search of spring migrants in the Arb. We lingered for a long time where ground litter obscured a Fox sparrow and Winter wren. Suddenly the Fox sparrow perched in the open where everyone had long and close looks; a Hermit thrush perched even closer displaying his profile and straight on. We met Andrew Pawluk at the boardwalk who put us onto a Winter wren.
In my announcement article from early November I speculated about the possible impact the weather in general, and el Niño in particular, might have on our count. Well, as I’m looking over the results from our efforts on December 19, I can only imagine that the mild conditions that dominated southern Michigan during the fall months and into December resulted in a decidedly interesting outcome.
On Saturday, February 20, 2016, a small group of Washtenaw Audubon members (and friends) took advantage of the extremely pleasant weather to visit Kensington Metropark to see what birds might be about. First stop was the Heron Rookery where a lone Great Horned Owl hunkered down on a nest.
On Saturday (January 16, 2016), 16 intrepid birders attempted to see what sorts of wintering birds could be found. We started by cruising the country roads of the eastern part of Washtenaw County, specifically Vreeland and Gotfredson Roads. We enjoyed a couple of cooperative Kestrels and a nice flock of Horned Larks in the snowy fields, but were unable to locate the previously seen Snow Buntings.