Tuesday, December 22, 2015

46th Monroe, MI Christmas Bird Count - 19 Dec 2015

The 46th Monroe, MI Christmas Bird Count was held Saturday, 19 Dec 2015. 22 hardy souls braved strong west winds and the "first" cold weather of the winter to tally 74 species and 36,040 total birds. Morning flurries gave way to afternoon sunshine, but despite relatively mild 32F temps everyone had difficulty keeping warm.

I woke at 3:30 am to ~¼" snow on the ground. Pat Rydziewski arrived a little after 4 am and the two of us headed down to Sterling State Park to look for owls before sunrise. As we sat in the boat launch parking lot, just a short walk from the woods surrounding the burn, a Great Horned Owl sat silhouetted against the dark skies and white smoke from the Monroe Power Plant! We barely got binoculars on it before it flew off. Jack and Janet Volker and Dan Schwab would find two more owls here later on.

John Flora arrived a few minutes later, and the three of us walked into the woods to look for Screech Owls. After a few minutes of playing calls from the iPhone a Screech Owl responded from a distance. I would serenade it for several minutes and try to get the flashlight on it, but it would never appear. We would walk back to the car, warm up, and try again a second time 30 minutes later. Again we were able to call one in, but could not see it to photograph.

We then drove to Denny's Restaurant for breakfast and wait for the sunrise, and ran into Dan. We would end up eating breakfast with Dan, Jack and Janet. It was great listening to Jack tell us about their recent trip to Ethiopia!

This year Pat, John and I covered Area 4 of the count circle for Don Burlett, who was busy with the Oakland Co. CBC. We drove down to Luna Pier to check Lake Erie before any ducks would start moving for the day. We would arrive to thousands of scaup (mostly Lesser Scaup with a few Greater Scaup mixed in), a few dozen Mallard, several Red-breasted Mergansers, and Common Goldeneye and Bufflehead. Hundreds to a thousand Ring-billed Gulls were spread out over the lake shore, as well. Winds were blowing 10-15 mph from the west, and it was cold! We shivered our way back to the car to see what we could find along the lakeshore.

An adult Bald Eagle was perched high in a tree just north of downtown Luna Pier, so we took a few minutes to photograph and digiscope it from 50 yds. away.  We would drive on a bit and find a nice adult Sharp-shinned Hawk perched near an old farmstead.

Passerines were hard to come by this morning. Not a single Northern Cardinal would be seen, or any Black-capped Chickadees. We had to settle for House Sparrows, European Starlings, and a fly-by flock of American Goldfinches. Our only consolation was a pair of American Kestrels that Pat attempted to photograph from her side of the car, and a flock of Horned Larks that appeared on a dirt road in front of us.

We finally found a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos in the cemetery near S. Otter Creek Rd., then was able to see 4 Eastern Bluebirds from the roadside.  We would then get some lunch and head over to Monroe Power Plant for the afternoon survey.

We pulled into the small turnoff just before the plant to check the discharge canal of the MPP. John spotted an immature Black-crowned Night Heron, the first night heron seen here in almost 10 years! We would also see 3 Great Egrets along the shore, but couldn't photograph them through the grape vines.

Tim Walsh and Tom Foxworthy (DTE Energy) met us inside the power plant near the canal. Tom graciously offered to host us for Kim LeForce and Matt Schackelford who were both unable to join us today. Todd Palgut arrived and we piled into two vehicles to survey the discharge canal and shoreline.

It was windy, but partially clearing, so views of the canal were good today. We counted a quick dozen Bald Eagles scattered along the canal, along with several hundred Ring-billed Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants. We would be lucky to hear and see only a couple of American Tree Sparrows along the trail of phragmites.

Out at the foot bridge next to the canal we spotted a group of 22 mostly-immature Bald Eagles congregating on a sand spit. I took a few long-distance photos and digiscoped a poor video for record.

We then headed over to the Raisin River side of the plant to check out the river. A couple dozen Hooded Mergansers were a nice find, and Todd refound the Peregrine Falcon roosting in the same location as last year!

While taking a quick rest break I walked over to the intake screens and photographed a 1st-winter Herring Gull (note the gray feathers molting in among the mostly-brown juvenal plumage).  An American Coot was also in the canal and swimming like crazy to avoid getting its picture taken.

Gull and duck numbers were down along the lakeshore. We managed a few goldeneye and Bufflehead, but for the most part only saw scattering birds in flight. A pair of Great Black-backed Gulls were finally found near the mouth of the discharge canal. Allen Chartier would count more Lesser Black-backed Gulls in Area 2 than GBBG's. A first!

This kite sp. would also be a first for the count... :)

A group of 10 Green-winged Teal were found in the new mudflats formed from a recent DTE project to purify effluent from the fly-ash outfall. These would be the first Green-winged Teal counted at the Monroe Power Plant since counts were started over 40 years ago! The project seems to be paying off in more ways than one.

Bald Eagles continued to fly over the canal while we drove and would be the focus of our lenses at the mouth of the discharge canal. I managed to grab a few pics of this 2nd-winter bird that's starting to molt into 3rd-year plumage. Note the white starting to appear on the head.

The sun finally broke through the heavy clouds as we got to the foot bridge again, so Pat and I took the opportunity to get some flight shots of several eagles as they frolicked in the canal.

We then drove over to the on-site to look for birds. We would see more deer than birds, but did see a group of 50+ Great Blue Herons in the back cove near the outfall. It was too windy to find any passerines in the woods.  We would later find 80 Tundra Swans in a secluded bay near Bolles Harbor.

At 3:30 pm we called it a day and returned to our cars. Pat and I would warm up at McDonald's before heading to dinner at Michigan Bar and Grill.

Elsewhere, Todd would record 18 Sandhill Cranes at Toledo Beach Marina. Since they required some documentation he sent me a short description. Shortly after receiving his information I read on Facebook that Greg Links counted 300 cranes migrating south over southern Monroe Co.! Allen Chartier would send me pics of several flocks of cranes that he, Will Weber and Spence Vanderhoof observed in Area 2 / Erie Township! Sandhill Cranes would also be reported at several other nearby CBC's, so it appears that a major flight took place today.

Area 2 (Allen, Will and Spence) would continue to produce the waterfowl numbers and variety we depend upon each year. Gadwall numbers (743) and Northern Shovelers (132) will probably get a flag from eBird... Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye numbers reached 1000 birds. A Long-eared Owl was found, as well! Swamp Sparrows (1) were a practical no-show this year.

new dikes at Erie Gun Club

Area 3 (Kathy and Dennis Rohmeyer) highlights included the most Horned Larks (85) for the count.

A Northern Pintail and Eastern Towhee were highlights from Area 5 (Ann Smith, Jackie Copeland, Karen Potts).

Area 6 (Volkers, Schwab) would produce 200 Hooded Mergansers, 3 Great Horned Owls and 3 Screech Owls, and Red-breasted Nuthatches. The only Hairy Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers would be seen here.

A one-eyed Bob Pettit, forced by a last-second cancellation by Andy Parson, covered Area 7 by himself. A handsome Graylag Goose gave us temporary excitement. Try as we might we couldn't turn it into a Greater White-fronted Goose. The pot-belly appearance and lack of black on the belly cinched the former ID...

A flock of 12 Snow Buntings was the highlight for Area 8 team of Lucy and Gary Pentz, and Marjorie Achinger.

Overall, duck numbers produced the bulk of the count, with almost 11,000 Lesser Scaup in Luna Pier producing a spectacular morning flight. Gull numbers were down, and the annual blackbird migration into the marshes failed to materialize at dusk. A somewhat 'odd' count year with winds pushing passerines out of sight.  Erie Marsh / Gun Club is still closed, and construction there has reduced trees and cover for many birds. Time will tell how that affects future counts. The Consumers Energy J.R. Whiting Plant is scheduled to be decommissioned this April, so the property and nearby surroundings may adversely affect our counting abilities for next year (I have a call into the plant for status).

Many thanks to the counters and property owners who gave us permission to bird the count circle again this year. See you next year, when the 47th Monroe Christmas Bird Count will be held on Sunday, December 18th, 2016!