Tuesday, December 24, 2019

50th Monroe, MI Christmas Bird Count - 21 Dec 2019

Its hard to believe that I've been participating in the Monroe, MI Christmas Bird Count for over 30 years. Today I'd be participating in the 50th Monroe, MI Christmas Bird Count as part of the 120th National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count. Clear skies and temps in the mid-40's made for a pleasant day of counting despite frozen inland ponds and lack of passerines in the count circle. 19 participants would count 48,314 birds and 61 species, which is about average for recent years but well below our long-term average of 73 species and 64,500 birds.

Pat Rydzewski and I had Area 4 of the count circle and started our day with breakfast at Denny's. We made a half-hearted attempt of owling at the back end of the DTE Energy property off Laplaisance Rd. but had no luck. So, we headed down to Luna Pier to count waterfowl out in Lake Erie.

Ice was the story this morning, with slag ice stretching ½-mile out from shore. As a result, the Bald Eagles (89) and ducks (over 11K) were too far out for any decent photographing or ID'ing (as in the latter case).

House Sparrows and European Starlings would dominate the rest of our morning. But, the skies were clearing and sunlight was welcome. We would come across a lone Hooded Merganser in the canal at the end of town, but our best bird would be a Red-tailed Hawk that posed nicely for several minutes before launching from the power line across the road and flying into the sun to our right.

Driving the county we quickly became aware of the "lack" of sparrows, chickadees, nuthatches and juncos (again). I had hoped that the American Tree Sparrows that were largely absent from the CBC's in the Great Lakes Area would return. No such luck. We did find a couple, though...

We met Todd and Karen Palgut at McDonalds before driving over to the DTE Energy Monroe Power Plant for the afternoon count. We would be greeted by over 200 Double-crested Cormorants lining the trees along the warm water discharge exiting the plant. We would then also be greeted by our hosts for the afternoon, Tom Foxworthy and Daniel Okon. 

Our convoy of two vehicles drove to the Raisin River inlet of the power plant and scoped the river and shoreline. Another 18 or so Bald Eagles were soaring overhead or lining the far banks of the river along with dozens of Great Blue Herons and small rafts of Common and Hooded Mergansers. I managed to scare up an American Coot in the protected portion of the inlet canal.

As we continued on around the plant I inquired about Peregrine Falcons. Tom replied that it was a good summer for the birds and that a pair was still around. No sooner did he say this that Todd alerted us to the pair sitting high up on a railing of one of the stacks.

Lake Erie was open and largely void of birds except for a flock of 200 or so Herring Gulls and a dozen or so Great Black-backed Gulls. Several hundred more Herring Gulls roosted on the coal piles behind us while I counted 80 Great Black-backed Gulls on one roof of the plant. We would drive closer and find both adults and juvenile birds, as well as a pair of Lesser Black-backed Gulls that were distinguishable by their yellow legs and smudgy heads that contrasted with the white heads and pink legs of the much larger GBBG's.

Out at the mouth of the warm water discharge we were able to find a single Great Egret sitting on the sand spit (we'd see 2 more closer to the entrance to the plant). Bonaparte's Gulls, several dozen more Bald Eagles, and flocks of Mallard (construction activity next to the Lotus Ponds has eliminated the marsh habitat where wintering ducks usually congregate). The first White-tailed Deer were also seen here.

Todd, Dan, Karen, Tom, Pat

Song Sparrow. Image courtesy of Patricia Rydzewski

Returning to the power plant we looked for the Peregrine Falcons near their famous "chopping block" roost where they typically feed. Scanning the rafters and rails we saw nothing but flocks of Rock Pigeons enjoying a brief respite from predation. Suddenly, a Peregrine Falcon appeared through the smoke and soared overhead between the buildings. Tom hadn't even stopped the truck and already I was sliding out of the seat and onto the ground where I was able to get a few pics of the bird in flight before he/she landed on one of the stack beacons. 

Instead of checking the warm water discharge near the plant entrance we decided to head over to the fly-ash onsite off of Dunbar Rd. I figured we could count birds from the opposite bank this year. Good decision; I was able to find 2 Great Egrets and a Belted Kingfisher along the shoreline that we might've missed had we gone the usual route. 

Meanwhile, Pat, Todd and Karen found a Black-crowned Night Heron with a damaged wing. Pat was able to get pics of the bird while I counted gulls in the canal. I then followed the heron down the inlet to Bolles Harbor while I looked for Bonaparte's Gulls. I would find the heron foraging along the near shoreline. The only birds I heard were a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches calling to each other. 

Black-crowned Night Heron. Image courtesy of Patricia Rydzewski

Black-crowned Night Heron. Image courtesy of Patricia Rydzewski

Driving along the perimeter of the massive berms we spotted several small herds of White-tailed Deer, including a pair of antlered bucks that provided some nice images despite their position between me and the Sun. 

We would find only a couple of Northern Cardinals and American Tree Sparrows, but nowhere near the numbers we've seen in the past. Not good. An American Kestrel provided some consolation. Our day would end at 4pm with almost 200 Bald Eagles seen during the day.

In Area 2 Alan Chartier, Will Weber and Spence Vanderhoof arrived to an empty field where the JR Whiting Plant once stood. With the plant recently demolished there was little habitat for winter birds, so they had to find consolation in counting 15,000+ Canvasbacks on Lake Erie. 

Will Weber. Image courtesy of Spence Vanderhoof

Will Weber and Allen Chartier. Image courtesy of Spence Vanderhoof

Wooly Caterpillar. Image courtesy of Allen Chartier

Belted Kingfisher. Image courtesy of Allen Chartier

Monroe PP in the distance. Image courtesy of Allen Chartier

Lake Erie ice flow. Image courtesy of Allen Chartier

Where the Whiting Plant once stood. Image courtesy of Allen Chartier

Sunrise over Woodtick Peninsula. Image courtesy of Allen Chartier
Area 4 birders Dennis and Kathy Rohmeyer photographed Eastern Bluebirds from Karen Wade's feeder. They also provided most of the Red-tailed Hawks (6), European Starlings (381) and Mourning Doves (103) in the county.

Area 5 birders Anne Smith, Jackie Copeland and Karen Wade (and part-time with Carolyn Boellner this year) drove 73+ miles in 9 hours (thanks to the eBird calculations)  finding 31 species!  At the end of the day and heading toward the rendevous point for dinner, the last bird was a Merlin was spotted on top of a phone pole - a quick U-turn presented a female Merlin!  She preened for 5 minutes giving wonderful looks!  Other seldom-seen species was an out-of-water male Hooded Merganser that posed an ID problem (but finally solved)!  No Red-winged Blackbirds, Rusty Blackbirds, Horned Larks or Turkeys found this year, which are usually present in area 5, despite looking in all the probable places.  Still a great time! - Karen Wade

White-tailed Deer. Image courtesy of Karen Wade.

Carolyn Boellner, Jackie Copeland, Anne Smith. Image courtesy of Karen Wade.

Carolyn Boellner, Jackie Copeland, Karen Wade. Image courtesy of Karen Wade.

White-tailed Deer. Image courtesy of Karen Wade
Jack Volker covered Area 6 (Sterling State Park) on his own this year and found all of the Bonaparte's Gulls (125), Canada Geese (875), and most of the Black-capped Chickadees (22), Downy Woodpecker (23) and Red-breasted Nuthatches (2).

Bob Pettit, Larry Ludwicki (Area 7) and John Flora (Area 8) had challenging days with birds sparse and scattered across their areas. The lack of sparrows was noted. Bob also noted that the Red-breasted Nuthatch site on Bluebush Rd is no longer viable as the new owners do not have feeders.

We all met up at the Michigan Bar and Grill for the annual tally dinner at 5 pm. Our official tally would include 61 species with a count week (cw) Great Horned Owl. The table below shows totals for this year compared to the past 50 years*.

*- cells colored blue are above the 50-yr average while those in red are below

Erie Shores Birding Association (host) is grateful to the following for their assistance with this year's count. To Kristen LeForce (DTE Energy), Tom Foxworthy (DTE Energy) and Daniel Okon (DTE Energy) for allowing us access to the Monroe Power Plant for the annual survey. To Frank Rand (Consumers Energy) and Mike Favor (Forsite) for access to the former JR Whiting Power Plant Property. To Jessica Fletcher (USFWS) for permission to access the Lady of the Lakes Woods. To the Area Leaders and participants for helping with coverage of this year's count. And to all of the photographers in the group who provided images and documentation for the year's survey. Thank you! - Jerry Jourdan, Compiler, MIMO Christmas Bird Count

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