Sunday, February 17, 2013

They're Back! - 16 Feb 2013

First Red-winged Blackbird "Konk-la-reeee" of the year!

A cold morning for a bike ride, but the sun was making an appearance and it was a good opportunity to  check out Pt. Mouillee to see if any ducks/waterfowl were moving inland from Lake Erie.  I stopped first at Riverside Park, where the US Turnpike crosses the Huron River, and had a gorgeous sunrise mixed with flocks of swans, Canada Geese, and ducks (mostly Mallard).  20 or so Great Blue Herons were roosting next to the boardwalk, but took off the moment I stepped out of the car.  I took a few photos and made a count of the birds.

500  Canada Goose
350  swan sp. Mix of Tundra and Mute
200  Mallard
10  Canvasback
22  Great Blue Heron
1  Bald Eagle
4  American Coot e
25  Ring-billed Gull

I then continued on to Mouillee Creek, where I parked and got the bike out.  A Carolina Wren was singing nearby, as well as several Song Sparrows and Red-winge Blackbirds!  Within minutes of starting out I saw the first 'sentinel' Red-winged Blackbird staking out a perch atop a large tree and singing the first "Konk-la-reeee" I would hear this year.

The inland waters were still frozen, so even with no snow on the ground the marsh appeared very quiet. A Northern Harrier (male) appeared over the Long Pond Unit and worked its way toward the west. I could only manage a very long-distant photo w/ the 300/2.8 VRII and 1.4X teleconverter.

A few Mute Swans, Canada Geese and a single Gadwall were on the ice in the Humphries Unit, but only because there was a patch of open water.  The Vermet Unit was frozen, as well, but a pair of Bald Eagles were in the trees in the middle of the unit.

I rode out to the Banana Unit and found Cell 4 mostly frozen, except for open water at the mouth to Lake Erie.  Ice fishermen were out on the frozen water, while a flock of mostly Herring Gulls were in the water near the small light house. I decided to get a few photos of the Vermet, Humphries Units with the sun now at my back.

Vermet Unit

Humphries Unit

I rode over to the NE corner of Cell 3 to see if any birds were nearby, and found a huge flock of singing American Tree Sparrows swarming near the phragmites and the 'field' area along the shoreline. I spent a few minutes digiscoping them, as well as a surprising Swamp Sparrow and Song Sparrow.  Lake Erie itself was mostly thawed except for a few large icebergs and patches of ice sheets.

Swamp Sparrow

Song Sparrow

I returned to the Banana dike and rode north toward the Vermet Unit and Cell 5.  Lake Erie held a few more ducks in this area.  Common Mergansers, Common Goldeneye and American Black Ducks were swimming in pairs, while much larger rafts were seen on the horizon (too far to count).

Cell 5

Cell 5 has a large expanse of mudflat that might prove to be nice shorebird habitat this year!  Three Bald Eagles were in the trees across the way, so I took a few minutes to digiscope them. A Winter Wren flew from the rocks and crossed the path in front of the bike.

Out on the lake another (juvenile) Bald Eagle was holding court on a large ice flow while American Coot and Black Duck swam by.  It flew before I could get close enough to digiscope it.

Snowflakes were starting to fall, and the west looked a bit ominous and dark, so I starting booking it back to the car.  Large rafts of Mute Swans, Tundra Swans, Canvasbacks and Redhead were staging at the mouth of the Huron River.  Another Northern Harrier was flying past the Vermet Unit, but too far for any decent photos.  As I rode along the west side of the Vermet Unit I stopped for a few more photos.

I returned to the car and headed south to Haggerman Rd. where dozens of Horned Larks were courting and chasing each other over the fields.  One male displayed and sang relatively close to the road.  I was hoping to see some Lapland Longspurs, but dipped.

drake Gadwall
From there I headed to Campau Rd. to check out things at Pt. Mouillee HQ.  The river was mostly free of ice and a big concentration of Mute / Tundra Swans were swimming near the shore.  I spotted several pairs of Gadwall, Common Goldeneye and Lesser Scaup.  I spent a few minutes digiscoping the birds from the cover of one of the large trees, but distances and heat shimmer were a bit of a problem. 

Common Goldeneye

hen Gadwall

"Talk to the wing!"

I then decided to call it a morning. While driving out I spotted a group of 22 Great Blue Herons in the canal off of Campau Rd. while another 4 herons were on the ice.

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