Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Not Quite Biking Season - 20 Jan 2014

Robin and I had a great weekend. After catching up w/ an old friend from college days we headed north to Traverse City.  A juvenile Rough-legged Hawk was a nice flyover as we drove US-127 through Clare.  Dinner w/ the Geigers at Kilkenny's, a drive out to the Sutton's Bay Lighthouse (included a pair of White-winged Scoters), lunch at the North Peak, Powerpuff Girl's Marathon (go Blossom, Buttercup and Bubbles), Peyton putting away the Patriots, and dinner at Amical's was a great end to a windy/snowy weekend up there.

We drove home early enough on Monday morning for me to entertain thoughts of a bird outing at Pt. Mouillee. So, after lunch, I grabbed the bike and headed there with the hopes of finding some of the Snowy Owls seen last week.  Today though, I parked the car at Siegler Rd. and headed out the North Causeway.

A pair of old-timers returning from the dikes said that riding was fine, and that they had seen a black-spotted white owl in the Long Pond Unit.  So, I unloaded the bike and headed out.  The ground was bare, and frozen, so riding was surprising easily (he said too soon)...

As I arrived at the junction of the Vermet and Long Pond Units I noticed massive snow drifts on the dike ahead.  Figuring it was only temporary, I continued on toward the east side of the Vermet Unit, stopping dead in my tracks just a few yards down the road.  Knee-deep snow drifts that were frozen and crusty.  I walked the bike for the first quarter mile, and realized that the snow drifts were only getting deeper.  Already out of breath and with my heart pounding, I decided to head down the side of the bank and walk along the edge of the open ice.

Walking the bike was easier, but now I had to worry about the bike slipping out from under the wheels and me losing balance on the snow/ice drifts.  But it was easier going this way, so I continued on.  I figured I could walk the ice edge all the way around if the east end of the Banana was covered in snow.

When I got to the east side of the Vermet Unit I left the bike and scope and climbed up the snow-covered boulders lining the shoreline.  Careful not to slip, I got up on the dike and found 'some' bare ground to the south.  Leaving the camera at the top I headed back down the side and carried the scope and bike up onto the dike.  From there I rode for about 20 yds. before having to walk/carry the bike through yet more snow drifts.

By this time I had reached the trail where construction traffic could cut through the fields to the edge of Cell 5, so I left the bike and turned my attention to a tiny speck atop one of the trees lining the west edge of Cell 5.  Northern Shrike!

The clouds were heavy in the sky, but it was bright enough to digiscope the bird from the trail cut through the phragmites, so I spent some time taking images from as close as I could (about 150' away).  The shrike intently peered down below looking for prey, and once I turned to leave it flew off to parts unknown.  I waited for it to return to its perch, but it never materialized again. A 3rd-year Bald Eagle flew overhead (complete w/ white head and black-tipped white tail), but really didn't give very close images through the camera.  An American Kestrel at the south end of the Cell also played hard to photograph.

As I reached Cell 4 I spotted a large raccoon walking along the ice, looking for scraps.  Poor thing looked out of place in this cold weather, and I silently wished it to head back to its den.  The Cell itself was completely frozen, and most of Lake Erie to the visible east was under ice, as well.  Only a few distant flocks of scaup and mergansers were visible in the skies.

By now the ground was sufficiently bare enough for me to ride all the way down to Cell 3, where I found it ice-covered and free of any signs of life.  I scoped the entire Vermet Unit, and the Humphries Unit, and could only spot a pair of Coyote trotting along the west side of marsh.  No Snowy Owls.  A Northern Harrier made a brief appearance along the Middle Causeway, so I headed back that way.

More snow drifts meant walking the bike the entire distance back to the dike separating Long Pond and Vermet Units.  Still, no Snowies.  Once back on bare ground I rode back to the North Causeway and back to the car, exhausted, sweating, and cold.

It was still only about 4 pm so I drove down toward the Mouillee Creek parking lot, where I spotted the previously-seen Rough-legged Hawk perched on a treetop next to the dike.  I managed a few digiscoped images before it spotted me and flew off toward Roberts Rd., so I decided to head in that direction. I was lucky to find it atop a tree next to US-Turnpike Rd. so I managed a few photos from inside the car before it decided to head on over to Roberts Rd.

This time it paid me little attention as it perched on a power pole, so I was able to get some pics from inside the car.  It then hopped to another pole farther away and out of photographing distance.  Digiscoping was impossible given the height of phragmites along the fence line.  So I headed down toward Haggerman Rd. where I found a Northern Harrier w/ a fresh kill, but it flew off before I could even slow the car down. With nothing else visible along Haggerman Rd. I headed for home.  Next time I'll be leaving the bike in the garage...

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