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!

Friday, December 16, 2016

Prelude to the 47th Monroe, MI CBC - 16 Dec 2016

With the Monroe, MI Christmas Bird Count scheduled for Sunday, Dec 18th I decided to do a bit of scouting this morning. Skies were overcast and it was snowing all morning with temps in the teens. Inland waters and streams are frozen, and Lake Erie is frozen for all but a small patch of water near the Monroe and Whiting Power Plants. Gull and waterfowl numbers are predicted to be low this year...

The highlight of the morning's run was a dark-phased Rough-legged Hawk at LaPlaisance Rd between Mortar Creek Rd and N. Otter Creek Rd (Area 5)! I first saw the bird perched in a tree out in the field, and it took off toward me as I set up the scope. It flew by and I managed a few flight shots in the low-light and snow fall before it disappeared to the southeast. I would learn that the D500 is very good at focusing on snowflakes as I mis-focused several frames as it bounced between the bird and the snow.

The bird appears to be an adult intermediate/dark phase bird w/ dark head, tiny bill, and the black wrist patches outlined w/ gray feathering. There is some light brown-reddish feathers in the underwings that separate it from juvenile birds. Gorgeous bird!

A Peregrine Falcon was flying toward the Whiting Plant just as I pulled into the lot at the foot of Erie Rd. I managed some pics as it flew by and landed on the roof of the red understory of the plant. The bird appears to be an adult "tundra" based on the light, uniform spotting on the belly and underwings.

I also had 3 Northern Harriers (a gray ghost at Bolles Harbor, and two female/juvenile birds at the Whiting Plant).

Otherwise, I saw Canada Geese (80), Mallard (10) and American Black Duck (22) on Lake Erie at the Whiting Plant. A flock of 30 or so Ring-billed Gulls way out on the lake included a single Lesser Black-backed Gull. Six Bald Eagles were in the trees far to the south along the shoreline.

American Tree Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, a Golden-crowned Kinglet and a pair of Snow Buntings were the only other highlights at the Whiting Plant.

I stopped at the foot of Front Street (Monroe Power Plant) and found 1 Bonaparte's Gull among the several Ring-billed Gulls near the bridge. The dense fog coming off the water put visibility at zero...

Dennis Rohmeyer would report a pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches at his house in Area 4.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Monroe, MI Christmas Bird Count is Sunday, December 18, 2016

More to come!

In the meantime, this is a link to the National Audubon Society Christmas Bird Count Website that has "some" of the summaries from the 116th CBC. I'm looking forward to seeing Michigan's summary.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

46th Monroe, MI Christmas Bird Count - 19 Dec 2015

The 46th Monroe, MI Christmas Bird Count was held Saturday, 19 Dec 2015. 22 hardy souls braved strong west winds and the "first" cold weather of the winter to tally 74 species and 36,040 total birds. Morning flurries gave way to afternoon sunshine, but despite relatively mild 32F temps everyone had difficulty keeping warm.

I woke at 3:30 am to ~¼" snow on the ground. Pat Rydziewski arrived a little after 4 am and the two of us headed down to Sterling State Park to look for owls before sunrise. As we sat in the boat launch parking lot, just a short walk from the woods surrounding the burn, a Great Horned Owl sat silhouetted against the dark skies and white smoke from the Monroe Power Plant! We barely got binoculars on it before it flew off. Jack and Janet Volker and Dan Schwab would find two more owls here later on.

John Flora arrived a few minutes later, and the three of us walked into the woods to look for Screech Owls. After a few minutes of playing calls from the iPhone a Screech Owl responded from a distance. I would serenade it for several minutes and try to get the flashlight on it, but it would never appear. We would walk back to the car, warm up, and try again a second time 30 minutes later. Again we were able to call one in, but could not see it to photograph.

We then drove to Denny's Restaurant for breakfast and wait for the sunrise, and ran into Dan. We would end up eating breakfast with Dan, Jack and Janet. It was great listening to Jack tell us about their recent trip to Ethiopia!

This year Pat, John and I covered Area 4 of the count circle for Don Burlett, who was busy with the Oakland Co. CBC. We drove down to Luna Pier to check Lake Erie before any ducks would start moving for the day. We would arrive to thousands of scaup (mostly Lesser Scaup with a few Greater Scaup mixed in), a few dozen Mallard, several Red-breasted Mergansers, and Common Goldeneye and Bufflehead. Hundreds to a thousand Ring-billed Gulls were spread out over the lake shore, as well. Winds were blowing 10-15 mph from the west, and it was cold! We shivered our way back to the car to see what we could find along the lakeshore.

An adult Bald Eagle was perched high in a tree just north of downtown Luna Pier, so we took a few minutes to photograph and digiscope it from 50 yds. away.  We would drive on a bit and find a nice adult Sharp-shinned Hawk perched near an old farmstead.

Passerines were hard to come by this morning. Not a single Northern Cardinal would be seen, or any Black-capped Chickadees. We had to settle for House Sparrows, European Starlings, and a fly-by flock of American Goldfinches. Our only consolation was a pair of American Kestrels that Pat attempted to photograph from her side of the car, and a flock of Horned Larks that appeared on a dirt road in front of us.

We finally found a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos in the cemetery near S. Otter Creek Rd., then was able to see 4 Eastern Bluebirds from the roadside.  We would then get some lunch and head over to Monroe Power Plant for the afternoon survey.

We pulled into the small turnoff just before the plant to check the discharge canal of the MPP. John spotted an immature Black-crowned Night Heron, the first night heron seen here in almost 10 years! We would also see 3 Great Egrets along the shore, but couldn't photograph them through the grape vines.

Tim Walsh and Tom Foxworthy (DTE Energy) met us inside the power plant near the canal. Tom graciously offered to host us for Kim LeForce and Matt Schackelford who were both unable to join us today. Todd Palgut arrived and we piled into two vehicles to survey the discharge canal and shoreline.

It was windy, but partially clearing, so views of the canal were good today. We counted a quick dozen Bald Eagles scattered along the canal, along with several hundred Ring-billed Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants. We would be lucky to hear and see only a couple of American Tree Sparrows along the trail of phragmites.

Out at the foot bridge next to the canal we spotted a group of 22 mostly-immature Bald Eagles congregating on a sand spit. I took a few long-distance photos and digiscoped a poor video for record.

We then headed over to the Raisin River side of the plant to check out the river. A couple dozen Hooded Mergansers were a nice find, and Todd refound the Peregrine Falcon roosting in the same location as last year!

While taking a quick rest break I walked over to the intake screens and photographed a 1st-winter Herring Gull (note the gray feathers molting in among the mostly-brown juvenal plumage).  An American Coot was also in the canal and swimming like crazy to avoid getting its picture taken.

Gull and duck numbers were down along the lakeshore. We managed a few goldeneye and Bufflehead, but for the most part only saw scattering birds in flight. A pair of Great Black-backed Gulls were finally found near the mouth of the discharge canal. Allen Chartier would count more Lesser Black-backed Gulls in Area 2 than GBBG's. A first!

This kite sp. would also be a first for the count... :)

A group of 10 Green-winged Teal were found in the new mudflats formed from a recent DTE project to purify effluent from the fly-ash outfall. These would be the first Green-winged Teal counted at the Monroe Power Plant since counts were started over 40 years ago! The project seems to be paying off in more ways than one.

Bald Eagles continued to fly over the canal while we drove and would be the focus of our lenses at the mouth of the discharge canal. I managed to grab a few pics of this 2nd-winter bird that's starting to molt into 3rd-year plumage. Note the white starting to appear on the head.

The sun finally broke through the heavy clouds as we got to the foot bridge again, so Pat and I took the opportunity to get some flight shots of several eagles as they frolicked in the canal.

We then drove over to the on-site to look for birds. We would see more deer than birds, but did see a group of 50+ Great Blue Herons in the back cove near the outfall. It was too windy to find any passerines in the woods.  We would later find 80 Tundra Swans in a secluded bay near Bolles Harbor.

At 3:30 pm we called it a day and returned to our cars. Pat and I would warm up at McDonald's before heading to dinner at Michigan Bar and Grill.

Elsewhere, Todd would record 18 Sandhill Cranes at Toledo Beach Marina. Since they required some documentation he sent me a short description. Shortly after receiving his information I read on Facebook that Greg Links counted 300 cranes migrating south over southern Monroe Co.! Allen Chartier would send me pics of several flocks of cranes that he, Will Weber and Spence Vanderhoof observed in Area 2 / Erie Township! Sandhill Cranes would also be reported at several other nearby CBC's, so it appears that a major flight took place today.

Area 2 (Allen, Will and Spence) would continue to produce the waterfowl numbers and variety we depend upon each year. Gadwall numbers (743) and Northern Shovelers (132) will probably get a flag from eBird... Bufflehead and Common Goldeneye numbers reached 1000 birds. A Long-eared Owl was found, as well! Swamp Sparrows (1) were a practical no-show this year.

new dikes at Erie Gun Club

Area 3 (Kathy and Dennis Rohmeyer) highlights included the most Horned Larks (85) for the count.

A Northern Pintail and Eastern Towhee were highlights from Area 5 (Ann Smith, Jackie Copeland, Karen Potts).

Area 6 (Volkers, Schwab) would produce 200 Hooded Mergansers, 3 Great Horned Owls and 3 Screech Owls, and Red-breasted Nuthatches. The only Hairy Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers would be seen here.

A one-eyed Bob Pettit, forced by a last-second cancellation by Andy Parson, covered Area 7 by himself. A handsome Graylag Goose gave us temporary excitement. Try as we might we couldn't turn it into a Greater White-fronted Goose. The pot-belly appearance and lack of black on the belly cinched the former ID...

A flock of 12 Snow Buntings was the highlight for Area 8 team of Lucy and Gary Pentz, and Marjorie Achinger.

Overall, duck numbers produced the bulk of the count, with almost 11,000 Lesser Scaup in Luna Pier producing a spectacular morning flight. Gull numbers were down, and the annual blackbird migration into the marshes failed to materialize at dusk. A somewhat 'odd' count year with winds pushing passerines out of sight.  Erie Marsh / Gun Club is still closed, and construction there has reduced trees and cover for many birds. Time will tell how that affects future counts. The Consumers Energy J.R. Whiting Plant is scheduled to be decommissioned this April, so the property and nearby surroundings may adversely affect our counting abilities for next year (I have a call into the plant for status).

Many thanks to the counters and property owners who gave us permission to bird the count circle again this year. See you next year, when the 47th Monroe Christmas Bird Count will be held on Sunday, December 18th, 2016!