Saturday, December 16, 2023

124th NAS Christmas Bird Count, Monroe, MI - 16 Dec 2023

Saturday, 16 December 2023 marked the 124th National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count and the 54th Monroe, MI CBC. Partly clear-to-cloudy skies and temps of 37F - 45F helped our 30 participants tally 15,661 birds of 87 species. Lack of frozen water throughout the count circle and warmer temperatures likely contributed to the lack of waterfowl, gulls, and passerines, but we enjoyed a good day of diversity and some highlight sightings.

Our day started at 6:30 am with Patricia Rydzewski and I driving to Sal's Family Diner for breakfast before covering the SE portion of Area 4. We would then start the morning at Luna Pier scoping the Lake Erie shoreline and horizon for early morning ducks, geese and swans. Calm winds and partly cloudy skies made for a nice sunrise.

Unfortunately the lake was largely void of ducks. We did see a couple dozen Bufflehead, Red-breasted Mergansers, Tundra Swans and Mallard, but only a couple of Lesser Scaup and Common Goldeneye. Even gull numbers were down with only a few dozen Ring-billed Gulls present along the north shores near Sterling State Park. Recently-reported Brant and Greater White-fronted Goose were not seen.

We then drove the neighborhood to survey the murmurations of European Starlings and dozens of House Sparrows dominating the neighborhood fauna. A couple of Blue Jays, Dark-eyed Juncos and Northern Cardinals would break up the monotony.

The south end of town took us to a small marsh area that was quiet, as well. Only a couple Downy Woodpeckers, a Belted Kingfisher, and Northern Cardinal were seen. Near the expressway a Cooper's Hawk made a fly-by in the distance. We'd run into another Cooper's Hawk a short time later as we drove the empty fields along Cousino Road. 

Pat would get pics of an American Kestrel on her side of the car as we cruised the roads.

At 10 am we headed north to the DTE Energy Monroe Power Plant. This year we'd be meeting Eric Molnar (DTE engineer), who was gracious enough to escort me, Pat, and Todd and Karen Palgut through the power plant proper at 11 am. 

Pat and I stopped at the north fence just outside the plant entrance and counted over 600 Double-crested Cormorants roosting in the ponds just north of the warm water plant discharge.

We were hoping to pick up winter-roosting Black-crowned Night Herons, and Patricia was able to find them roosting along the far fenceline. We'd tally 11 here 

and across the street along the discharge canal.

I'd digiscope one juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron inside the plant as we waited for Eric to arrive.

Overhead the first of the day's Bald Eagles (and a few dozen Herring and Ring-billed Gulls) were soaring against the deepening cloudy skies.

Eric arrived and we drove out to the Raisin River mouth to scan the treeline east of the plant. Only a couple Bald Eagles and four Common Mergansers were seen. We'd continue south along the Lake Erie shoreline stopping only to photograph a few of the local deer and count gulls atop the coal piles and coal buildings. The first Great Black-backed Gulls were spotted, although their numbers were quite low relative to previous years.

Bald Eagles did not disappoint. Dozens of them were scattered in the trees along the south shore of the power plant and along the trees lining the mouth of the warm water discharge canal. They tended not to remain perched as we drove by them, so we stopped to photograph them overhead when opportunities permitted.

Patricia managed to get below one of the eagles and photograph it staring back at her.

Lake Erie was void of ducks for as far as we could see. The discharge canal was also empty except for just a handful of Herring and Ring-billed Gulls that cruised the warm waters looking for minnows. Below is an apparent 2nd-cycle (1st winter) Herring Gull showing the first gray feathers on the back and wings. 

We opted not to drive to the fly-ash onsite off Dunbar Rd. and instead thanked Eric for his time and headed out shortly after 1 pm. Pat and I would get some lunch, then drive by the onsite and survey it from the road (past years have produced very few birds).

Our decision paid off when we spotted a flock of almost 50 Wild Turkeys in the field at the corner of LaPlaisance and E. Dunbar Rds. We'd run into Ann Smith, Dave Mendus, Jackie Copeland and Karen Wade as we headed down E. Dunbar toward the onsite. They were covering Area 5 and we alerted them to our find. They would run into the flock as they drove back toward the intersection as the birds crossed the road and foraged in the road while cars waited for a train to pass.

Pat and I drove around the outside of the onsite and managed to pick up a Northern Harrier flying atop the burm, and a few American Tree Sparrows and Ring-billed Gulls along the waters near Bolles Harbor. We catch the turkeys in front of Dave's pickup as we caught up to the traffic still waiting for the train to pass.

Our route took us back past the numerous Cannibis Shops that have popped up in the last year to the Bolles Harbor south of the onsite property. There we picked up a couple more Red-tailed Hawks, an adult Bald Eagle on nest, and several Downy and Red-bellied Woodpeckers. One of the Red-tailed Hawks appeared smaller than the other, and we'd hoped to make it a Red-shouldered Hawk, but tail pattern and patagials in flight confirmed ID.

With still a couple hours to kill before dinner at the Michigan Bar and Grill we decided to make a late afternoon drive to the boat marina along S. Otter Creek Road at the north end of Area 4. We managed to pick up a few more Tundra Swans, an American Tree Sparrow, a few Mallard, and a single Bonaparte's Gull along the empty boat slips.

We'd make a quick stop by Sterling State Park (before dinner) just in time to pick up a large murmuration of European Starlings that flew in just before dark; they weren't included in the Area 6 tally so we added 2100 birds to their totals.

Elsewhere in the Monroe, MI count circle and interesting mix of results were reported:

Allen Chartier, Alexa Blankenship, Erika VanKirk, Spence Vanderhoof, Guadalupe Cummins (Area 2) called me around 8:30 am to report over 300 American White Pelicans flying north along the Lake Erie horizon east of their position at Erie Rd. We would only see 1 pelican at the power plant, and none were reported at Luna Pier or Sterling State Park, so its possible that they continued north to Pt. Mouillee or circled back south toward Ohio...

Their highlights would also include 19 Killdeer, a pair of Dunlin, Northern Mockingbird and a Least Sandpiper at Erie Marsh. A fly-over Purple Finch was also heard.

Alexa Blankenship and Allen Chartier. Image courtesy of S. Vanderhoof

Alexa Blankenship and Allen Chartier. Image courtesy of S. Vanderhoof

American White Pelicans. Image courtesy of A. Chartier

American White Pelicans. Image courtesy of A. Chartier

Bald Eagle. Image courtesy of A. Chartier

Double-crested Cormorants. Image courtesy of A. Chartier

Erika VanKirk and Guadalupe Cummins. Image courtesy of S. Vanderhoof

Northern Mockingbird. Image courtesy of A. Chartier

Northern Mockingbird. Image courtesy of A. Chartier

Northern Mockingbird. Image courtesy of A. Chartier

Northern Mockingbird. Image courtesy of A. Chartier

Northern Mockingbird. Image courtesy of A. Chartier

Northern Mockingbird. Image courtesy of A. Chartier

Lake Erie sunrise. Image courtesy of S. Vanderhoof

Lake Erie sunrise. Image courtesy of A. Chartier

Dennis and Kathy Rohmyer, Bev Gerber and Renee Conklin found the bulk of the Eastern Bluebird population in Area 3.

Ethan Urban found all of the Bufflehead, Cedar Waxwings, and the only warbler (Yellow-rumped Warbler) of the day in his portion of Area 4.

Ann Smith, Dave Mendus, Jackie Copeland and Karen Wade (Area 5) contributed all of the Wild Turkeys and Common Grackles of the day. Karen provided these images of their day:

Hooded Mergansers. Image courtesy of K. Wade

Great Blue Heron. Image courtesy of K. Wade

Cooper's Hawk. Image courtesy of K. Wade

Northern Flicker. Image courtesy of K. Wade

Herring Gull. Image courtesy of K. Wade

Great Egrets. Image courtesy of K. Wade

Wild Turkey. Image courtesy of K. Wade

Northern Cardinal. Image courtesy of K. Wade

Todd and Karen Palgut, and Justin Labadie covered Area 6 including Sterling State Park, and may have produced the count's highlight in the form of a pair of Saw-whet Owls that were calling east of the boat launch. They would also produce Great Horned Owl, Eastern Towhee, Fox Sparrow and American Pipit. They would also contribute the bulk of Hooded Mergansers, Canada Geese, American Robins, American Tree Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows of the day.

Bald Eagle @ MPP. Image courtesy of J. Labadie

Bald Eagle @ MPP. Image courtesy of J. Labadie

Fox Sparrow. Image courtesy of J. Labadie

Great Egret. Image courtesy of T. Palgut

Lesser Black-backed Gull. Image courtesy of T. Palgut

American Black Duck x Mallard hybrid. Image courtesy of J. Labadie

Peregrine Falcon. Image courtesy of T. Palgut

Bob and Gail Pettit, Larry Ludwicki, and Brant Georgia had perhaps the most frustrating day in Area 7; lots of miles driven but few birds found. But hopefully they still enjoyed the company...

John and Kathy Flora, Dan Schwab, Cheryl McIntyre, and Joseph Palmisano covered Area 8. They managed 35 species that included the bulk of American Kestrels and Dark-eyed Juncos counted in the circle.

A mixup at the restaurant prevented us from meeting for dinner. Our reservation was somehow moved to Sunday the 17th so we were unable to get a table for dinner and compiling. Apologies to all...

Below are totals for the day and Area summaries. Thanks again to all for participating and helping to contribute to another successful Monroe, MI Christmas Bird Count.

Happy Holidays to all! - Jerry Jourdan, Compiler