Thursday, January 2, 2014

Welcome 2014! - 01 Jan 2014

The first birds of the year were a pair of Screech Owls that called from two locations near the Nature Center at Belle Isle Park on the Detroit River.  The best bird of the day, however, was this juvenile Northern Shrike that paid a momentary visit to the feeders next to the Nature Center.  Luckily, we were on the other side of the one-way glass and I was fast enough to grab a couple of nice portraits of the bird before it bolted into the underbrush looking for its next meal.

The Detroit River Christmas Bird Count is held on January 1st of each year, and this year David Boon, Patrick Jakel and I joined Allen Chartier to cover Belle Isle as part of the count circle.  With 4-8" of snow forecasted and temps to hover in the low teens, it was a cold way to start the year.  We met at the Nature Center located at the north end of the island at 7 am and promptly headed into the woods nearby to search for owls.  Initial playbacks of Saw-Whet were met with silence.  After several rounds of Screech Owl calls we finally heard a response. Weak, but audible.  The bird never came close enough to put a flashlight on it. Farther down the road we picked up a second caller, and possibly a third.  Attempts to rouse a Great Horned Owl failed.  Snow was falling steadily, and bone-chilling temps had me questioning whether I was over my head-cold enough to do this...

With dawn approaching we abandoned the woods and set out for the shoreline, looping the island to count waterfowl.  Inland ponds were frozen, and much of the Detroit River was infested with ever-growing sheets of ice.  Where the water was open we found huge rafts of Canvasback, Redhead, and Common Goldeneye with the occasional Ring-necked Duck and Common Merganser.  I managed to find a female Long-tailed Duck among a string of Goldeneye.  Blue Jays and European Starlings were about the only other birds active with the driving winds and snow now pelting us.

Toward the south end of the island we found fewer ducks, and literally NO gulls, so I turned my scope on a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows foraging in the grasses near one of the small gardens.  Allen, David and Patrick were concentrating on finding a scoter or Snowy Owl on or near the ice flows (they would dip).  Incidentally, one Snowy Owl was reported on the river in front of the Renaissance Center by the Windsor CBC, so it may count for ours?

Along the east side of the island the winds were a bit calmer, but temps were hovering near 12 degrees Farenheit.  I managed to get a few digiscoped images of some Bufflehead floating near shore, but would curse myself for leaving the D7100 in the car - a pair of Bald Eagles quietly floated right over our heads.

We returned to the Nature Center and checked out the feeders.  A pair of White-crowned Sparrows were a nice find among the dozens of Dark-eyed Juncos and House Sparrows dominating the feed.  We were able to get inside to warm up and watch the feeders from behind the two-way glass.  A pair of White-crowned Sparrows, three Tufted Titmice, a single Red-winged Blackbird, and a dozen or so Mourning Doves kept us busy.  We were looking for a possible Field Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow or Fox Sparrow, but would fail.

Suddenly, everything scattered, and we expected to find a Cooper's Hawk in one of the nearby trees.  But we were astonished to find a juvenile Northern Shrike perched on a branch just a few feet from the glass.  I had to coax myself to grab some photos through the glass to record it, and got some wonderful images of the bird as it posed, then hopped, and turned around to give us a nice view from all angles.  It didn't stay long, and was gone before we knew it.  Not ten minutes earlier Allen was commenting to me that he had not seen a Northern Shrike in many years on Belle Isle, and he bands there regularly. Nice treat.

The guys would head out to walk the woods looking for a possible Saw-Whet Owl or Eastern Towhee, but I needed to head home before noon.  My head was pounding and I still had shoveling to do, so it was time to wish everyone a Happy New Year and head for home. I stopped just long enough to grab a photo of poor Judge Williams freezing his arse on this cold January morning.

Alpheus Starkey Williams Monument

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