Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Shovelers & Bonaparte's - 24 Dec 2012

It was crisp and cold this morning, but I grabbed the bike and decided to ride out to Pt. Mouillee to see if any Snowy Owls mights be hiding out there.  Inland waters were frozen, while Lake Erie and the Huron River were open.  My plan was to ride the Middle Causeway to Cell 3, and cruise the Lake Erie shoreline.

A pair of Northern Harriers were my first birds of the morning, quietly cruising over the Long Pond Unit.  Other than that my first half-hour of riding only yielded straggler Herring/Ring-billed Gulls.

When I reached the Humphries Unit I spotted 8 Bald Eagles perched on the dead trees that make up the  heron/cormorant rookery in the middle of the unit.  Seven birds were juveniles, while one bird was an adult.  Another 4 adult Bald Eagles were perched in the trees in the Vermet Unit.

Cells 4 - 5 were open, and held scatterings of Mallard, Redhead, Common Goldeneye, Ruddy Duck, Bufflehead, and four Tundra Swans (including 2 juveniles).  Cell 3 was partially frozen, but the open water held ~400 Northern Shovelers tightly packed like a school of tadpoles.  The ducks were foraging in a very small area.

I rode around the south end of the unit out to the Lake Erie shoreline.  There I scoped dozens of American Black Ducks, Common Goldeneye and Bufflehead.  As I reached the NE corner of the unit another Northern Harrier flushed and scatted 3 dozen American Tree Sparrows.

I then rode along the east side of the Vermet Unit, where I counted 120 Tundra Swans and another 50 Canada Geese roosting on the ice.  Heading back around the back side of Cell 5 I checked out the lake, again.  There I found a large raft of ~350 Bonaparte's Gulls bobbing near shore.  A few of the birds were flying next to shore and oblivious to my presence. Figures I'd leave the D300s/300 f/2.8 VRII at home - I love photographing Bonaparte's Gulls.

I spent some time scoping the raft of gulls hoping to find a Little Gull.  I spotted one bird that showed black smudging on the back of the head that looked good for Little Gull.  But the bird lacked any black carpals along the wings (an adult?).  After some time studying the bird I concluded that it must be an adult Bonaparte's Gull that never completed its molt into full-winter, basic plumage.

The flock suddenly lifted off the water and headed to the near shore, where it foraged among the seaweed for 50 yds. either side of me.  Without the big camera all I could do was take some pics w/ the Nikon V1 at 30mm.  I grabbed a few videos, and spent a long time studying the birds to see if I could find that one individual w/ the black smudging on the head.  No luck.  But I did see several juvenile birds and tried to turn them into kittiwakes. No luck.

Farther out on the lake the skies were blackening with flocks of Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye, Black Duck, Common Mergansers and Bufflehead that reached several thousand.  I was too cold to scope them all, and they were far off in the distance.  But they created quite an impressive sight.

Heading back to the car along the North Causeway I spotted dozens of Ruddy Duck and more Lesser Scaup and Bufflehead.  Another Northern Harrier flushed from the ditch to my left and headed off toward the Humphries Unit.  I followed it, hoping it would land, but it continued on to the south.

Several bow-hunters were now out on the dikes looking for deer, but I told them that I had not seen any.

Thoroughly frozen, I returned to the car and headed home to get ready for Christmas Eve and Festivus parties.  Let the airing of grievances commence!

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