Sunday, December 18, 2016 marked the 117th National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count, and the 47th Monroe, MI CBC. Barring any new count week species we will have tallied 24,261 birds and 80 species! Thanks to the 26 participants who braved the clear skies, cold (18-23F) and snow (4-12") to make this year's count surprisingly productive despite a frozen Lake Erie and inland waters.
My day started with Patricia Rydzewski and I cruising Sterling State Park and LaPlaisance/East Dunbar Roads looking for owls. Winds were blowing a bit much for us, so we would dip on any attempt to call out Screech or Great Horned Owls. Luckily, Jack Volker would relocate the resident pair of Great Horned Owls at Sterling SP during his, Janet Volker's and Vern Well's survey.
We would meet them for breakfast before setting out on the day's adventure. Skies were cloudy at the start, but beginning to clear. After yesterday's 3-6" inches of snow and light rain the roads were a bit icy, but drivable. Pat and I were covering Area 4 of the count circle, so we drove down to S. Otter Creek Road to start our survey. A cooperative Red-tailed Hawk was sitting in a snag just off the exit so she was able to get some pics from inside the car. Unfortunately, it was still relatively dark this early in the morning. As the morning progressed the skies would gradually begin to clear (forecasts call for minus-zero temps tonight and tomorrow).
Canada Geese were moving this morning, with large skeins moving across the skies in groups of 50-100. We'd end the day w/ over 8000 individuals. Allen Chartier, Will Weber and Spence Vanderhoof would find 5 Cackling Geese among their flocks at the J.R. Whiting Plant (Area 2).
With Lake Erie frozen to a ½ mile out from shore there were only distant silhouettes of geese, cormorants, scaup and other ducks on the horizon. Therefore, our waterfowl count was practically non-existent this morning. Luckily, Allen and Co. would have better luck at Erie Marsh, where open water (sulfur ponds) would concentrate Gadwall, Mallard, American Black Duck, Northern Shovelers, and other ducks by the 100's to 1000's!
After a quick bite at McDonald's, where we ran into Todd Palgut, we drove over to the DTE Energy Monroe Power Plant for the afternoon count. Before entering the plant Todd and I were able to spot a pair of juvenile Black-crowned Night Herons through the fence of the discharge canal on the north side of Front Street. Patricia would get some nice pics of a Ruby-crowned Kinglet foraging along the fence while we waited for security clearance!
Once inside the plant we met up w/ Tom Foxworthy and Kristen LeForce (DTE Environmental Group), who graciously helped to escort us while on the power plant proper. While waiting for the rest of our group, which consisted of Tim Walsh, Todd, John and Kathy Flora, and Taylor Myatt, we scanned the skies for Bald Eagles, Belted Kingfishers, Red-tailed Hawks, and this surprising light-juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk that fluttered overhead. The Monroe, MI CBC would tally an amazing eight Red-shouldered Hawks during the day! Skies were now clear and we'd be enjoying blue skies for the first time in about 10 years of CBC's here in Monroe.
Luckily, the warm-water discharge canal and surrounding fly-ash pond held open water for congregating waterfowl (mostly Canada Geese and Mallard). At the mouth of the canal we found a pair of Pied-billed Grebes, dozens of Great Blue Herons, hundreds of Double-crested Cormorants, a pair of Belted Kingfisher, and 8 Great Egrets! Overhead dozens of immature and adult Bald Eagles soared, tussled, and displayed while we attempted to count them among the hundreds of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls.
|2nd-year Bald Eagle|
|5 of 8 Great Egrets, DC-Cormorants|
|Herring Gull - note large mirror on P10 and missing one on P9|
While driving back from the mouth of the discharge canal we slowed to where hundreds of Canada Geese had been congregating in the open waters of the fly-ash pond. A single Northern Pintail had been spotted on the way out, and I was hoping to relocate it. Though I would fail to relocate the pintail I was stunned to see a Dunlin!! foraging among the Canada Geese along the snow bank. It flushed when the geese erupted, but I managed a miracle flight-shot as it rocketed toward the canal. As Todd and I celebrated a flock of 45 Snow Buntings flew overhead.
Tom, Kristen, Mitch and I were discussing the status of Peregrine Falcons at the Monroe Power Plant when suddenly one rocketed out from among the stacks. I managed to get some nice pics as it flew overhead, circled, and disappeared back among the stacks. Everyone was temporarily confused to see 2 peregrines, but the other bird turned out to be the Red-shouldered Hawk, again.
We then caravanned over to the fly-ash onsite where we'd explore the woods opposite the discharge canal of the plant. The back bay of the canal held hundreds of gulls, cormorants, Great Blue Herons, and dozens of Hooded Mergansers and Northern Shovelers. While scoping the bay Todd quietly alerted me to a Red-tailed Hawk that was sitting in tree not 3 feet from him. It was at this point the cold weather finally killed my camera, so I was unable to get point-blank photos of the bird. But, it flew just a short distance and allowed me to digiscope it and its bloody face from a just-finished meal.
We would then drive around the base of the burms and scare up hundreds of American Tree Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Northern Cardinals, and White-tailed Deer. Lots of deer! Among the dozen running ahead of our truck were several 8- and 10-point bucks that posed in the afternoon sun on the side of the hill. Of course, no camera to shoot them with... At the back end of the site we would find open water and the wintering populations of Tundra Swans and scaup spp. by the thousands. We'd see our only Great Black-backed Gull of the count.
That would end our day. After thanking our hosts and departing for the Michigan Bar and Grill we got to learn how the rest of the group fared today. We'd be pleasantly surprised!
Not only had Area 2 (Allen, Will and Spencer) found the Cackling Geese, but they also tallied 9 Northern Harriers, 7 Red-shouldered Hawks, 4 Rough-legged Hawks, 2 Killdeer and 4 Wilson's Snipe! Allen also showed me the worst-ever iPhone photo of a Turkey Vulture ½ mile away! :) But, in his defense, he does cover the coldest portion of the count circle every year...
|sunrise over Lake Erie|
Not to be outdone, the Area 5 group of Anne Smith, Karen Potts, Rita Montague and Jackie Copeland photographed 3 Turkey Vultures at Mortar Creek Rd! Luckily, their's were better quality for ID. Karen would also add a count-week Fox Sparrow that she'd see at her feeder on Monday the 19th.
Dennis and Kathleen Rohmeyer (Area 3) would provide the only Red-breasted Nuthatches of the day; a species that is a challenge every winter to capture. Bob Pettit and Larry Ludwicki (Area 7) found a flock of 26 Wild Turkeys and another Rough-legged Hawk.
Jack and Janet Volker, and Vern Wells may have had the find of the day when they discovered a Long-eared Owl roost in Area 6. Four birds! And, they added another Killdeer to the mix, as well as a Hermit Thrush.
Last, but not least, John and Kathy Flora, and Taylor Myatt would not only assist w/ the Monroe PP count, but would add a Fox Sparrow that would push us over the 80 species mark.
--- addendum ---
On Wednesday, 20 Dec 2016 I drove thru Sterling State Park while driving in the area and was able to pick up a couple of notable birds as part of count week. A Hairy Woodpecker, and a Merlin that appeared at the entrance! Two more birds for Area 6 and one more to give us 81!