Sunday, December 17, 2017

48th Monroe, MI Christmas Bird Count - 16 Dec 2017

Saturday, 16 December 2017marked the 48th Monroe, MI Christmas Bird Count in conjunction with the 118th National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count. The day was marked by early morning clouds and light snow, but gave way to afternoon sun and temps near 40F. Inland ponds were frozen. 4-6" of snow blanketed the area. Lake Erie was a mix of open water and ice with some locations having frozen shoreline while other locations had open water near shore and ice farther out. Twenty-five hardy souls tallied 85 spp. and 69,408 total birds.

Highlights of the count included 4 count week Turkey Vultures, a Snowy Owl fly-over, four Eastern Meadowlarks, and an epic Canvasback migration over Lake Erie that yielded 18,000 birds in approximately 30 minutes time. 

My day started at 4:30 am when Patricia Rydzewski and I headed down to Sterling State Park to look / listen for owls. We lucked out when a soft whinny responded to our Screech Owl calls behind the boat launch. Unfortunately, it was far back in the trees and would not come close for any potential photos. 

We then drove over to LaPlaesance Rd to try behind the DTE Onsite for more owls. Unfortunately, a Border Patrol car was parked in the very spot we'd hope to owl, so we had to abandon that idea. Back to Sterling State Park failed to yield any more owls, so we headed to Denny's for breakfast and wait for the skies to lighten enough to bird Area 4-south. Just before 8 am we watched ~2000 Red-winged Blackbirds stream out of the phragmites patch just across the street.

We drove down to Erie Rd to work our way back north and drove side streets and dirt roads looking for birds. European Starlings were the dominant species of the morning, but we did get into small patches of Northern Cardinals, American Tree Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos. A pair of American Kestrels and several Red-tailed Hawks were the only raptors in the area.

Luna Pier had some open water near shore, and ice farther out into Lake Erie. 800 Canada Geese gave me something to count, as well as several hundred Common Mergansers and Common Goldeneye. A dozen Bald Eagles far out on the ice were a nice find.

Our highlight bird of the morning was a (presumed) Eastern Meadowlark at the end of a dirt road near corn stubble. The pale meadowlark posed nicely for some pics from the car, and even offered a short video.

This bird shows a slight bill deformity. Its bill is supposed to point slightly down, but the upper mandible is slightly upturned, leaving a small gape. I tried to see some yellow in the lower malar region, and there is some evidence of a yellow blush, but I don't think enough to squeeze a Western Meadowlark out. 

ID of Eastern/Western Meadowlarks is difficult, especially in winter, when the birds are less-sing-y. This bird was silent. According to the Cornell site differentiation is extremely difficult. Eastern birds have a whiter lower malar region, while the yellow throat extends up into the malar of Western birds. Western birds are generally paler, with thinner barring of feathers in the back and tail region, but much overlap occurs. The best differentiation is through song.

We then headed to the DTE Energy Monroe Power Plant for a noon meet-up with Kristen LeForce and Tom Foxworthy (DTE Energy), Tim Walsh, Todd Palgut, and John Flora. I managed to flush a Black-crowned Night Heron from the trees next to the warm water discharge prior to entering the site. A Snowy Owl had been reported a week earlier at the plant's Fly-Ash Onsite, so we were anxious to get over there to look for it. In the meantime, we had birds to count at the foot of Front St. 

We drove around to the Raisin River to scope Common Mergansers, Double-crested Cormorants, Hooded Mergansers, and count Bald Eagles overhead. Ice was in the river and dozens of Herring Gulls were enjoying fresh-caught gizzard shad next to a large tanker offloading coal to the plant.

Out at the mouth of the river and Lake Erie we finally hit the big numbers of eagles, gulls and waterfowl that had been absent the past several CBC's. The lake was open near shore due to the warm-water discharge, but was frozen farther out. Large rafts of Common Mergansers (600) and Lesser Scaup (250) were floating out in scope range, while mixed Herring/Ring-billed Gulls (4000) covered the ice flows. Among them were Great Black-backed Gulls (38) and Bald Eagles - 70 of them!

We would end up counting 147 Bald Eagles at the plant, and end the day with 234 total for the count circle! 

We stopped long enough to scan the shoreline and pick up a lone Killdeer foraging among the frozen shoreline. We were about to leave when the Canvasback came. Large V's appeared in the distant skies, and scope views were required to ID the ducks as groups of ~100 birds flew past. We spent the next 30 minutes or more counting groups of 100 pass by until 18,000 Canvasback were tallied! Impressive was an understatement.

Before leaving I paused long enough to digiscope this (presumed) first-cycle American Herring Gull with post-juvenal scapular molt. This bird caught my attention as having a relatively stout black bill with a pinkish base that is good for both AMHG and Lesser Black-backed Gull. The dark shade around the eyes is suggestive of LBBG, but a more experienced gull person would need to provide evidence of this being something other than another Herring Gull. Below is another, similar-looking bird with a lighter head.

We then came upon 350 Mallard roosting in the inland ponds near the discharge canal. Among them were several Gadwall, and a surprise Wilson's Snipe! A Northern Harrier even flew in and roosted atop a clump of cattails/phragmites. Another 25 Bald Eagles were sit-in on the ice in the background.

The warm-water discharge was relatively gull free, but held a pair of Belted Kingfisher, several hundred Double-crested Cormorants, and 7 Great Egrets. Great Blue Herons lined the shoreline by the dozen, but we would fail to see the hundreds that past CBC's promised. Todd picked up a female Wood Duck in the canal, and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker among the Downy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Cardinals and American Tree Sparrows flying ahead of our vehicles.

We failed to see the Peregrine Falcons that were roosting on the plant near the stacks.

Over at the onsite we drove the roads above and below the burm looking for the Snowy Owl, but failed to find it. We had to settle for more Bald Eagles, Tundra Swans, 3 more meadowlarks, and a kiting Rough-legged Hawk. White-tailed Deer were everywhere, including several 8-10 point bucks. They were no help in flushing the Snowy Owl, although there were plenty of them running through the fields and atop the burm.

We had a full contingent at Michigan Bar and Grill for the tally at 5 pm. There we would share stories of the day's successes from other Areas.

Winter Wren - Allen Chartier
Allen Chartier, Will Weber, Spence Vanderhoof and Guadalupe Cummins reported 24 Bald Eagles, 9242 Common Mergansers, and 550 Common Goldeneye at J.R. Whiting Plant (I had photographed a Peregrine Falcon there a day earlier). Over at Erie Marsh 957 Gadwall and 1215 Mallard were found. A late season hawk movement included 2 Red-shouldered Hawks, 6 Red-tailed Hawks, and a lone Rough-legged Hawk. One Killdeer and 2 Wilson's Snipe were found, as well as a late-season Marsh Wren and 18 Swamp Sparrows. Allen's eBird checklist for the day can be found here.

Dennis and Kathleen Rohmeyer with newcomer Christine Eitel had 7 Wild Turkeys as their highlight in Area 3.

Ann Smith, Karen Potts, Rita Montague, and Jackie Copeland reported another 8 Wild Turkeys, a single Purple Finch, and 60 Snow Buntings in Area 5.

Area 6 and Sterling State Park yielded the day's only owl, an Eastern Screech Owl. Jack and Janet Volker and Dan Schwab also reported another 3000 Common Mergansers and 2500 Ring-billed Gulls. This area also had all of the American Robins (74), American Goldfinches (64), and House Finches (55).

Bob Pettit, Andy Parsons and Larry Ludwicki had a fly-over Snowy Owl at LaSalle Rd  just west of Telegraph Rd before Reinhardt Rd. They also had 4 Rough-legged Hawks. 20 Black-capped Chickadees were half of the count circle.

John flora had 4 Turkey Vultures fly over the quarry at Dunbar and Telegraph Rds in Area 8 yesterday, which count as count-week birds. Terri and Joe Janssen had most of the Horned Larks (70) and Brown-headed Cowbirds (235) in the count circle.

Thanks to all Area Leaders for helping to coordinate and cover the count circle. Also to FWS for permission to bird the Lady of the Lakes Woods. Once again ESBA is grateful to DTE Energy and Consumers Energy for allowing us permission to bird the Monroe and Whiting power plants, and to Michigan Bar and Grill for hosting us for dinner afterward.

Jerry Jourdan, Compiler
Monroe, MI Christmas Bird Count

(More images will be added to the post as folks send in their best pics of the day)

No comments: