Sunday, March 23, 2014

Short-eared Owl! - 22 Mar 2014

1st bike ride of spring at Pt. Mouillee.  Mud. Lots of mud. Trails soft. Biking slow, walking a must most of the time.  But flushing a Short-eared Owl from the remains of Cell 1 was a nice bonus and worth the effort of the day.

With temps near 40F I arrived at Roberts Rd. parking lot a bit after 1:30 pm. The parking lot was muddy with large puddles of suspended clays/silts.  A steady breeze was blowing, which would make the return loop to the parking lot a (traditional) pain in the legs.  But I headed out the Causeway toward the Banana and Cell 1 with the idea of seeing waterfowl along the Lake Erie shoreline.  The Humphries Unit was still frozen, but small patches of open water were beginning to open up enough for the Mute Swans and Canada Geese to take some advantage. Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles were scattered among the trees lining the unit and shorelines.

Overhead a pair of Sandhill Cranes were a nice treat and a sign of spring! My guess is that they were putting down somewhere in the Bad Creek Unit.  Meanwhile a pair of Killdeer made their presence known (noisily) as they settled on open mudflats along the shore to my right.

I arrived at Cell 1 and found a wasteland of felled trees and a mountain of wood chips.  The woodlot that used to be here was gone; completely. Mid-sized logs and tree branches littered the landscape. No idea why, but will withhold judgement until the motive for clearing the Cell is learned.

I headed to the east side of Cell 1 and walked the Lake Erie shoreline.  The lake was open about 100 yds out from shore, but ice still covered the shoreline.  Waterfowl were staging in large numbers along the edge of the ice shelf with thousands of Lesser / Greater Scaup, Common Mergansers, Redhead, Ring-necks, Common Goldeneye and Bufflehead, and American Coot. Some fly-by Double-crested Cormorants were a first of the year.

A large deer herd was moving through the open landscape of Cell 1. I caught the tail end of the herd as they disappeared over a mound of piled brush.

Just before reaching Cell 2 a Short-eared Owl suddenly flushed from my left, and flew out over the icy shoreline of Lake Erie.  I didn't have much of a shot at getting pics as it flew low over the ice and disappeared along the shoreline ahead of me.  I would have to wait to see if it would reappear.

Approximately 100 yds. later the bird reappeared and flew again out over the lake and back to the south.  This time I was able to get a few long-distance flight shots as it avoided the ire of a Herring Gull that suddenly took offense to its presence.

At the junction of Cells 2 and 3 the ice disappeared along the Lake Erie shoreline.  Cell 3 was still mostly ice, but rapidly melting.  The mudflats in the SW corner of the Cell were exposed, and a large flock of several hundred Ring-billed Gulls took advantage of some open water and mudflats to catch some afternoon sunlight out of the direct wind.  A few Herring Gulls were mixed in, but I found no other 'dark-mantled' or 'white-winged' gulls among them.

I went as far as Cell 4 and found the inlet still frozen, with numerous ice-fisherman still taking advantage of winter's last grip.  Flocks of American Coot were along the shoreline, and I managed a single digiscoped image of a Common Goldeneye from about 150' away before he flew off.  A scan of the lake yielded no unusual or noteworthy birds.

Heading back toward the Roberts Rd. parking lot was a major challenge with soft trail and stiff north wind.  I walked the bike the majority of the 2 miles but managed to see an Eastern Meadowlark and an American Kestrel along the way.

While driving by Riverside Park at the mouth of the Huron River I spotted a flock of 12 Tree Swallows foraging along the open water just out from the boat launch!

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