After yesterday's scouting trip I decided not to try owling this morning. Patricia (Rydzewski) was happy to hear that... We decided instead to get breakfast and start the 49th Monroe, MI Christmas Bird Count at first light.
As we left the Denny's in Monroe a pair of Cooper's Hawks flew over the car and gave us our first birds of the day. We probably should've quit after that. It would turn out that the weather was very cooperative, but the birds weren't. With temperatures reaching 46F and skies clearing the day was great for photography; the birds couldn't be found.
We drove the roads south of Kelly Rd, east of Dixie Hwy, and north of Erie Rd in Monroe Co. and all we could find were European Starlings. Lots of them. Horned Larks were absent, and our only real taste of birding came when we scoped hundreds of Ring-billed Gulls, Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye from the pier at Luna Pier. The rising Sun nicely illuminated the gulls roosting on the ice behind us so some digiscoping was welcomed.
Although the countryside was absent of birds we did have some success finding numerous Red-tailed Hawks that gave us something to photograph. Hopefully, our luck would improve this afternoon at the DTE Energy Monroe Power Plant.
At noon Pat and I met Kristen LeForce and Tom Foxworthy (DTE Energy), Tim Walsh, Todd and Karen Palgut, Don Burlett and Mitchell Dziekan for the afternoon survey of the power plant. 200 or so Double-crested Cormorants greeted us from the trees lining the warm water discharge of the plant. Another 100 or so were lining the banks of canal and made for challenging counting in the midsts of the mist.
More challenging were counting the numbers of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls that were swarming the canal, Lake Erie and the coal piles. At least the Bonaparte's Gulls were easy to pick out.
The power plant would yield 58 Bald Eagles, but this number is about half of what was expected this time of year. Even though they were everywhere it is always a challenge to get photos. Shooting from inside the car is problematic due to convection currents messing with autofocus. Still, I managed to have a good day of shooting.
From the canal trail we headed inside the plant toward the Raisin River intake. Birds were few in this part of the plant, but an American Coot was a nice distraction. It was near the intake screens, and evoked memories of midnight fish counts I conducted here many years ago.
Lake Erie was covered with widely-scattered gull and a few rafts of Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye. The coal piles were covered with another 1000 mixed Herring/Ring-billed Gulls. Though I kept looking I couldn't find any Great Black-backed Gulls. Then, Pat and Tim pointed them out to me. 57 Great Black-backed Gulls were roosting on one of the roofs next to the coal pile!
As we returned to the plant proper the goal was to look for the resident Peregrine Falcons. The pair had successfully hacked 4 young this summer, so the odds for seeing one today was good. Sure enough, as the plant buildings came into view I spotted a dark bird high up in the blue sky. It was just starting to tuck its wings in, then go into a stoop straight down into a flock of Rock Pigeons above the roof of one building. The Peregrine Falcon did not pull up until just above the roof and disappeared from view. We found it atop the "Chopping Block" that Tom described as the location where they typically feed after a kill. I managed a short video and a few digiscoped stills from a very noisy mezzanine.
We then headed over to the fly-ash basin off of E. Dunbar and Laplaissance Rds. Just inside the gate an American Kestrel was foraging next to the road. A nice 7-8 point buck greeted us on the trail below the burm and would be the first of many deer seen on our travels.
Passerines were nowhere to be found. We found a few American Tree Sparrows and a couple of Northern Cardinals and Downy Woodpeckers, but we did not see any juncos or Song Sparrows. I think I saw more Red-tailed Hawks than songbirds today.
As reports from other areas began to trickle in it would become apparent that this was a SLOW day everywhere. We would finish with only 63 species and 29,578 total birds.
Karen Wade submitted the following report from Area 5 of the count circle: Area 5 was very different this year. With temps above freezing, open water was everywhere and only 3 species of ducks were found - Hooded Merganser, Common Merganser and a few Bufflehead. In areas where American Tree Sparrows were plentiful in the past, only a few were found. Our party had to search hard to find birds, except Bald Eagles! We had the most counted in Area 5 ever! Of course, the European Starlings and Ring-billed Gulls were plentiful. The best birding place we found was a trucking company where we were stopped by security! The best birds of the day were a male and female Red-winged Blackbird on LaPlaisance Road! Area 5 tallied 35 species for the day and a good time was had by all!
Once again I am grateful for people like Frank Rand (Consumers Energy), Jessica Fletcher (USFWS), and Kristen LeForce and Tom Foxworthy (DTE Energy) for help getting permits to access portions of the count area. Thanks also go to all of the volunteers who gave time and miles to make this a special day regardless of outcome.
Included in the table is the 49-year average for the Monroe, MI CBC for each species. The last column shows percentage relative to the average for each species. Cells highlighted blue are species who's numbers are greater than the average, and those highlighted red are below the average. Bob Pettit added 10-year and 20-year comparisons to these values: