Sunday, December 17, 2017

48th Monroe, MI Christmas Bird Count - 16 Dec 2017

Saturday, 16 December 2017marked the 48th Monroe, MI Christmas Bird Count in conjunction with the 118th National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count. The day was marked by early morning clouds and light snow, but gave way to afternoon sun and temps near 40F. Inland ponds were frozen. 4-6" of snow blanketed the area. Lake Erie was a mix of open water and ice with some locations having frozen shoreline while other locations had open water near shore and ice farther out. Twenty-five hardy souls tallied 85 spp. and 69,408 total birds.

Highlights of the count included 4 count week Turkey Vultures, a Snowy Owl fly-over, four Eastern Meadowlarks, and an epic Canvasback migration over Lake Erie that yielded 18,000 birds in approximately 30 minutes time. 

My day started at 4:30 am when Patricia Rydzewski and I headed down to Sterling State Park to look / listen for owls. We lucked out when a soft whinny responded to our Screech Owl calls behind the boat launch. Unfortunately, it was far back in the trees and would not come close for any potential photos. 

We then drove over to LaPlaesance Rd to try behind the DTE Onsite for more owls. Unfortunately, a Border Patrol car was parked in the very spot we'd hope to owl, so we had to abandon that idea. Back to Sterling State Park failed to yield any more owls, so we headed to Denny's for breakfast and wait for the skies to lighten enough to bird Area 4-south. Just before 8 am we watched ~2000 Red-winged Blackbirds stream out of the phragmites patch just across the street.

We drove down to Erie Rd to work our way back north and drove side streets and dirt roads looking for birds. European Starlings were the dominant species of the morning, but we did get into small patches of Northern Cardinals, American Tree Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos. A pair of American Kestrels and several Red-tailed Hawks were the only raptors in the area.

Luna Pier had some open water near shore, and ice farther out into Lake Erie. 800 Canada Geese gave me something to count, as well as several hundred Common Mergansers and Common Goldeneye. A dozen Bald Eagles far out on the ice were a nice find.

Our highlight bird of the morning was a (presumed) Eastern Meadowlark at the end of a dirt road near corn stubble. The pale meadowlark posed nicely for some pics from the car, and even offered a short video.

This bird shows a slight bill deformity. Its bill is supposed to point slightly down, but the upper mandible is slightly upturned, leaving a small gape. I tried to see some yellow in the lower malar region, and there is some evidence of a yellow blush, but I don't think enough to squeeze a Western Meadowlark out. 

ID of Eastern/Western Meadowlarks is difficult, especially in winter, when the birds are less-sing-y. This bird was silent. According to the Cornell site differentiation is extremely difficult. Eastern birds have a whiter lower malar region, while the yellow throat extends up into the malar of Western birds. Western birds are generally paler, with thinner barring of feathers in the back and tail region, but much overlap occurs. The best differentiation is through song.

We then headed to the DTE Energy Monroe Power Plant for a noon meet-up with Kristen LeForce and Tom Foxworthy (DTE Energy), Tim Walsh, Todd Palgut, and John Flora. I managed to flush a Black-crowned Night Heron from the trees next to the warm water discharge prior to entering the site. A Snowy Owl had been reported a week earlier at the plant's Fly-Ash Onsite, so we were anxious to get over there to look for it. In the meantime, we had birds to count at the foot of Front St. 

We drove around to the Raisin River to scope Common Mergansers, Double-crested Cormorants, Hooded Mergansers, and count Bald Eagles overhead. Ice was in the river and dozens of Herring Gulls were enjoying fresh-caught gizzard shad next to a large tanker offloading coal to the plant.

Out at the mouth of the river and Lake Erie we finally hit the big numbers of eagles, gulls and waterfowl that had been absent the past several CBC's. The lake was open near shore due to the warm-water discharge, but was frozen farther out. Large rafts of Common Mergansers (600) and Lesser Scaup (250) were floating out in scope range, while mixed Herring/Ring-billed Gulls (4000) covered the ice flows. Among them were Great Black-backed Gulls (38) and Bald Eagles - 70 of them!

We would end up counting 147 Bald Eagles at the plant, and end the day with 234 total for the count circle! 

We stopped long enough to scan the shoreline and pick up a lone Killdeer foraging among the frozen shoreline. We were about to leave when the Canvasback came. Large V's appeared in the distant skies, and scope views were required to ID the ducks as groups of ~100 birds flew past. We spent the next 30 minutes or more counting groups of 100 pass by until 18,000 Canvasback were tallied! Impressive was an understatement.

Before leaving I paused long enough to digiscope this (presumed) first-cycle American Herring Gull with post-juvenal scapular molt. This bird caught my attention as having a relatively stout black bill with a pinkish base that is good for both AMHG and Lesser Black-backed Gull. The dark shade around the eyes is suggestive of LBBG, but a more experienced gull person would need to provide evidence of this being something other than another Herring Gull. Below is another, similar-looking bird with a lighter head.

We then came upon 350 Mallard roosting in the inland ponds near the discharge canal. Among them were several Gadwall, and a surprise Wilson's Snipe! A Northern Harrier even flew in and roosted atop a clump of cattails/phragmites. Another 25 Bald Eagles were sit-in on the ice in the background.

The warm-water discharge was relatively gull free, but held a pair of Belted Kingfisher, several hundred Double-crested Cormorants, and 7 Great Egrets. Great Blue Herons lined the shoreline by the dozen, but we would fail to see the hundreds that past CBC's promised. Todd picked up a female Wood Duck in the canal, and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker among the Downy Woodpeckers, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, Northern Cardinals and American Tree Sparrows flying ahead of our vehicles.

We failed to see the Peregrine Falcons that were roosting on the plant near the stacks.

Over at the onsite we drove the roads above and below the burm looking for the Snowy Owl, but failed to find it. We had to settle for more Bald Eagles, Tundra Swans, 3 more meadowlarks, and a kiting Rough-legged Hawk. White-tailed Deer were everywhere, including several 8-10 point bucks. They were no help in flushing the Snowy Owl, although there were plenty of them running through the fields and atop the burm.

We had a full contingent at Michigan Bar and Grill for the tally at 5 pm. There we would share stories of the day's successes from other Areas.

Winter Wren - Allen Chartier
Allen Chartier, Will Weber, Spence Vanderhoof and Guadalupe Cummins reported 24 Bald Eagles, 9242 Common Mergansers, and 550 Common Goldeneye at J.R. Whiting Plant (I had photographed a Peregrine Falcon there a day earlier). Over at Erie Marsh 957 Gadwall and 1215 Mallard were found. A late season hawk movement included 2 Red-shouldered Hawks, 6 Red-tailed Hawks, and a lone Rough-legged Hawk. One Killdeer and 2 Wilson's Snipe were found, as well as a late-season Marsh Wren and 18 Swamp Sparrows. Allen's eBird checklist for the day can be found here.

Dennis and Kathleen Rohmeyer with newcomer Christine Eitel had 7 Wild Turkeys as their highlight in Area 3.

Ann Smith, Karen Potts, Rita Montague, and Jackie Copeland reported another 8 Wild Turkeys, a single Purple Finch, and 60 Snow Buntings in Area 5.

Area 6 and Sterling State Park yielded the day's only owl, an Eastern Screech Owl. Jack and Janet Volker and Dan Schwab also reported another 3000 Common Mergansers and 2500 Ring-billed Gulls. This area also had all of the American Robins (74), American Goldfinches (64), and House Finches (55).

Bob Pettit, Andy Parsons and Larry Ludwicki had a fly-over Snowy Owl at LaSalle Rd  just west of Telegraph Rd before Reinhardt Rd. They also had 4 Rough-legged Hawks. 20 Black-capped Chickadees were half of the count circle.

John flora had 4 Turkey Vultures fly over the quarry at Dunbar and Telegraph Rds in Area 8 yesterday, which count as count-week birds. Terri and Joe Janssen had most of the Horned Larks (70) and Brown-headed Cowbirds (235) in the count circle.

Thanks to all Area Leaders for helping to coordinate and cover the count circle. Also to FWS for permission to bird the Lady of the Lakes Woods. Once again ESBA is grateful to DTE Energy and Consumers Energy for allowing us permission to bird the Monroe and Whiting power plants, and to Michigan Bar and Grill for hosting us for dinner afterward.

Jerry Jourdan, Compiler
Monroe, MI Christmas Bird Count

(More images will be added to the post as folks send in their best pics of the day)

Sunday, November 12, 2017

First Monroe, MI CBC - 1965! - 12 Nov 2017

Russ Schipper sent me some old CBC records of the Erie Marsh portion of the Toledo, OH Christmas Bird Count. In that packet included a letter penned by Dean Fisher, who indicated that 22 December 1965 was the first attempt at Monroe, MI Count Circle. In previous years, the Toledo, OH CBC Circle included the area of Erie Marsh Preserve and efforts were concentrated there and the immediate Lake Erie shoreline.

The count circle for the newly-formed Monroe County CBC was a 15-mile diameter centering on the junction of highway US 25 and Kelly Road southwest of Monroe, including the west end of Lake Erie from Monroe to the Ohio state line, and inland agricultural areas to Ida and Temperance.

Six observers in 3 parties birded for 13 hours and generated 55 Species and 12,888 Total Birds.

A quick look at the results shows that a Goshawk was observed! And collected... Ouch.

Some Old, Old, Erie Marsh CBC Records - 11 Nov 2017

Russ Schipper, long-time state-compiler for Michigan Christmas Bird Counts, sent me some old records (1968, -65, -64 and -48) from the Michigan portion of the Toledo, OH Christmas Bird Count. The Michigan portion consists mainly of the Erie Marsh Preserve that is now part of the Monroe, MI CBC Count Circle. Incidentally, Erie Marsh has, and continues to be a part of the Toledo, OH CBC Count Circle as well as the Monroe, MI CBC. What is neat about these records is that they were submitted by the renowned Ornithologist Harold Mayfield, who invented the Kirtland's Warbler. Ok, maybe not invented, but Mr. Mayfield was well-known for his efforts in studying and understanding the ecological needs of the Kirtland's Warbler, and largely responsible for their recovery.

Notable sightings from the 20 December 1968 Monroe, MI Christmas Bird Count were:
1 Cattle Egret
37 Ring-necked Pheasant
1 Virginia Rail
15 Bobwhite
180 Great Black-backed Gull
1 Saw-whet Owl
27 Swamp Sparrow

Ring-necked Pheasants and Bobwhite are two species that are almost never found on our CBC today, so seeing such large numbers is very interesting...

Harold Mayfield, John Mayfield, John McCormick, John Stophlet, Paul Toppin, John Turner, and Robert Turner conducted the Erie Marsh and adjacent Lake Erie shore on 27 Dec 1964 as part of the Toledo, OH CBC. Temps were in the 20-30's Fahrenheit, and 29 spp. were recorded. Notable sightings of the 1964 Erie Marsh count included:
1500 Common Black Duck
10 Rough-legged Hawks "The most I have ever seen at one time and place" - H.M.
46 Great Black-backed Gull - "A new high for this species here" - H.M.

Perhaps most interesting of the documents I received was the Erie Marsh report from 1948!!
Lou Campbell penned the following note to George (I'm assuming Dr. G.J. Wallace, Zoology Dept., Michigan State University, Lansing, MI) dated 1-24-49:

Dear George,

   Harold has gone to the Bahamas with Van Tyne. His secretary called me and told me about your request. Enclosed is the complete census and the Michigan portion. 
   Whether it was because of the sudden cold spell or not, our results were very disappointing. For the first time in very many years, even Cleveland topped our list. In parts of the territory song birds were very scarce and apparently few out-of-season species remained. Last year we found many more.
   Laurel Van Camp (address Genoa Ohio) saw an ivory gull in the Detroit River somewhere around Jan 12. He was with Fred Brint (federal man) and John Anderson of Winous Pt. marsh Ohio. Van Camp is first class observer. 


Lou Campbell
4531 Walker Avenue
Toledo, OH

Here is the Toledo, OH CBC List for 1948.  Highlights of the count included:
2 Great Black-backed Gulls - note how their numbers have increased since
90 Ring-necked Pheasant - note how their numbers have decreased since
3 Barred Owl - nice

Wow! An Ivory Gull was apparently seen ~12 Jan 1949 on the Detroit River. I checked the Michigan Rare Bird Records for Ivory Gull and this observation was either never submitted, or was unaccepted due to incomplete documentation. A bit more research put me on Julie Crave's Net Results website where more information has been uncovered. Thanks, Julie!

Monday, December 19, 2016

47th Monroe, MI CBC Results - 18 Dec 2016

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).

Feeders were our friend this morning, as we'd pick up the majority of our Blue Jays, Juncos, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, European Starlings, and House Sparrows in the area. This Bald Eagle was sitting in a tree next to the road near LaPlaisance and N. Otter Creek Rd. and allowed a few pics from inside the car.

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!

Our  early morning highlight was a group of 12 Wild Turkeys foraging along Stein Rd. I got a few digiscoped images from 150' away. Our only other highlight of the morning in Area 4 would be a dark-morph Rough-legged Hawk that we spotted just off Erie Rd and Bay Creed Dr. The bird was far out on the pole and required digiscoping to even see, but its light head, white tail and thick terminal band made it easy to ID even from this distance. This may be the same bird I saw just 2 days ago. It would fly off, however, and not be relocated. Surprisingly, six Rough-legged Hawks would be seen during the day inside the count circle!

As we completed our morning's count, we spotted a pair of Red-tailed Hawks along M-125 that allowed some digiscoping from the roadside.

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.

With much of the Raisin River frozen (and most of Lake Erie), waterfowl were scarce. But, we managed to pick up small groups of Hooded Mergansers, Bufflehead, Mallard, and Common Mergansers. We would spend the majority of our time scanning the river bank for Great Blue Herons and Bald Eagles.

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

Tundra Swans

Bonaparte's Gulls

2nd-year Bald Eagle

5 of 8 Great Egrets, DC-Cormorants
American Coot

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.

What a great day!

--- 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!