This past weekend, February 20 & 21, 2010, I was priviledged to participate in the Birding on Ice event, co-sponsored by a number of organizations including the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, Tropical Birding Tours, the American Birding Association, Friends of the Detroit River, Michigan DNRE, DTE Engergy, and Consumer's Energy. I was asked to represent the American Birding Association, which allowed me to attend all events as a local source to answer questions and help with bird identifications. Each of the two days had the same itinerary, which consisted of four field trips and an evening dinner with presentations. Many new birders attended, which was great, as well as a few more experienced observers. The highlight of the day for many was perhaps the presence of Bald Eagles on all four field trips, on both days, resulting in about 96 eagles counted on Saturday and about 115 on Sunday. Many other birds were seen, of course, and a complete accounting is presented below.
The first field trip began at 7:00 a.m. on the beach of western Lake Erie at the J.R. Whiting Power Plant. The idea was to view birds in the warm water channel outflow from the plant, and on the lake, as well as watch the sun rise. Sunrise was at about 7:20, but before then the whistling wings of many ducks could be heard flying overhead, and the distant calls of courting Common Goldeneyes could also be heard. A group of Great Blue Herons decorated the ice edge adjacent to the outflow and numerous ducks and gulls were farther out in the water and on the ice. On Sunday, Josh from Tropical Birding found an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull. On Saturday, two Coyotes trotted out from the woods near us and walked far out onto the ice, well beyond the open water holding the ducks, until they were nearly out of sight. Unfortunately, we had to depart at 8 a.m. to make it to the next field trip destination.
The power plant in Monroe was the next destination, as DTE Energy very generously allowed a limited number of birders to come in and view areas normally closed to the public. We passed a groomed field where they were attracting nesting Herring Gulls so that they would not nest on building rooftops, where they can cause expensive cleanup operations and even damage. The gulls appeared to be pairing up, and even poking around with the vegetation beginning to build nests. Some waterfowl were present in some of the ponds, including a Pied-billed Grebe on both days, but once we got to the very broad warm water outflow where it met Lake Erie, we saw many more birds. Great Blue Herons, Belted Kingfishers, and Double-crested Cormorants were found along this channel, which are difficult to find in February in Michigan. On Saturday, a Great Egret was in the channel, which is a very rare occurrence, and quite surprising was the Common Map Turtles basking on branches at the waters' edge, among the cormorants. There were at least three of them on Saturday and about a dozen on Sunday. The air temperature was 35 degrees both days, but the water temperature can very from 45-56 degrees this time of year. This field trip produced the bulk of the Bald Eagles on both days, with about 75 present on Saturday and about 90 present on Sunday. Some of my better photos of this concentration are included here. I'm sure that many other photographers got better images than mine, as I had to focus on helping other see and identify birds.
After spending nearly two hours touring this plant, we next headed north to the headquarters of the Pte. Mouillee State Game Area. Jerry Jourdan was the lead for this locale, and his scouting on Friday determined that the inner ponds were all frozen so the itinerary was changed to view birds around the parking area for an hour or so. An American Pipit, present here since November, was easily found and viewed by all participants. An 11-year old birder from Ohio told me this was his 100th life bird. Surely, many got good photos of this bird. On Saturday, there were Tundra Swans among the more numerous Mute Swans, as well as other ducks including Buffleheads and close Ruddy Ducks. On Sunday, the Tundra Swans had apparently departed this part of Lake Erie, perhaps signalling the beginning of their northward migration.
After lunch, the groups spent a couple hours at Lake Erie Metropark, where good numbers of Canvasback, with a few Redhead, scaup, and on Sunday a good number of Ruddy Ducks were found among the Common Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, and Mallards along with a few American Black Ducks and Gadwall. From here, some headed into downtown Monroe where a nice dinner was provided to those who registered, along with two presentations by the excellent guides from Tropical Birding Tours. Josh Engel discussed birding options around the United States, by season, highlighting many well-known birding locales and a few lesser-known sites as well. Iain Campbell, co-founder of Tropical Birding Tours, presented options for world-birding, how to maximize your effort and expenses, to see as many birds as possible, depending on your level of interest. Both presentations were very well done, informative, and with numerous wonderful bird photos, which surely stimulated interest among the groups to travel to see birds.
Birds seen during this weekend, by my best accounting, included:
CANADA GOOSE- Both days. A few at all locations.
MUTE SWAN - Both days. Most were at Pte. Mouillee with a few at other locations.
TUNDRA SWAN - Saturday only. Most were at Pte. Mouillee where perhaps a couple dozen were seen.
GADWALL - Both days. One or two at the Whiting Plant, Pte. Mouillee, and Lake Erie Metropark.
AMERICAN BLACK DUCK - Both days. A few at all locations.
MALLARD - Both days. A few to dozens at all locations.
CANVASBACK - Both days, but fewer birds were in close on Sunday. Hundreds were at the Whiting Plant and Lake Erie Metropark, and smaller numbers at Pte. Mouillee.
REDHEAD - Both days. A few among the Canvasback flocks.
LESSER SCAUP - Both days. A few among the Canvasback flocks, though few could be identified to species. Individuals in flight at Pte. Mouillee and at fairly close range on the water at Lake Erie Metropark provided identifiable views to some participants.
BUFFLEHEAD - Both days. A few at all locations.
COMMON GOLDENEYE - Both days. Dozens at the Whiting Plant and Lake Erie Metropark (especially Saturday), and a few at other locations.
HOODED MERGANSER - Both days. A few at the Whiting Plant and Lake Erie Metropark.
COMMON MERGANSER - Both days. Dozens, or more, at the Whiting Plant and Lake Erie Metropark, and a few at other locations.
RUDDY DUCK - Both days. A few at the Whiting Plant, Pte. Mouillee, and Lake Erie Metropark on Saturday, and more than 100 at Lake Erie Metropark on Sunday.
PIED-BILLED GREBE - Both days. One or two at the Monroe Plant.
DOUBLE-CRESTED CORMORANT - Both days. Only at the Monroe Plant, where perhaps 30-40 were roosting along the warm water outlet.
GREAT BLUE HERON - Both days. 65 on Saturday and 25 on Sunday at the Whiting Plant. Perhaps 20-30 at the Monroe Plant both days. A few at Pte. Mouillee and Lake Erie Metropark.
GREAT EGRET - Saturday only. Along the warm water outlet at the Monroe Plant. Very rare in winter in Michigan, but perhaps increasing?
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON - Sunday only. One immature flying overhead at first light at the Whiting Plant was seen only by me. At least one along the warm water outlet at the Monroe Plant.
BALD EAGLE - Both days. Seen at all locations, with more on Sunday at the Monroe Plant and Lake Erie Metropark and fewer at the other locales.
NORTHERN HARRIER - Sunday only. Seen by early-arriving attendees at Pte. Mouillee.
SHARP-SHINNED HAWK - Both days. One flew very close to the group, twice (!), at first light on the beach at the Whiting Plant on Saturday, and one was perched in a tree near the entrance at Lake Erie Metropark on Sunday but probably not seen by participants.
COOPER'S HAWK - Saturday only. One along I-75 on the way to the dinner in Monroe, so probably not seen by participants.
RED-TAILED HAWK - Both days. Only along I-75 between tour locations, possibly not seen by participants. Several on Saturday, only a couple on Sunday.
AMERICAN KESTREL - Both days. Only one each day along I-75 between tour locations, almost certainly not seen by participants.
RING-BILLED GULL - Both days. A few at all locations.
HERRING GULL - Both days. Dozens at all locations, but hundreds at the Monroe Plant where they appeared to be pairing and beginning nest site selection.
LESSER BLACK-BACKED GULL - Sunday only. An adult found by Josh Engel at the Whiting Plant, about two minutes before we had to leave!
GREAT BLACK-BACKED GULL - Both days. A few at all locations.
ROCK PIGEON - Both days. Many at both power plants and along I-75.
MOURNING DOVE - Both days. Only a few seen flying over at each site, but a few perched along I-75.
BELTED KINGFISHER - Both days. One seen well in the scope, probably the same female, along the warm water outlet at the Monroe Plant.
DOWNY WOODPECKER - Both days. Only one or two at the Whiting Plant and Lake Erie Metropark.
HORNED LARK - Both days. A few calling overhead, but not seen, at Pte. Mouillee, and perhaps elsewhere. Almost certainly not noted by participants.
BLACK-CAPPED CHICKADEE - Both days. A couple at Pte. Mouillee and Lake Erie Metropark.
AMERICAN ROBIN - Both days. A few, including singing individuals, at the Whiting Plant and Lake Erie Metropark.
EUROPEAN STARLING - Both days. Mainly at the plants and along I-75.
AMERICAN PIPIT - Both days. Seen well by most participants, even in the scope, as it fed along the perimiter of the parking lot at the Pte. Mouillee headquarters. This bird has apparently been present since November, and is one of very few (if any?) February records for the state, and the species has never successfully over-wintered here.
AMERICAN TREE SPARROW - Both days. A couple to a few at the Whiting Plant, Pte. Mouillee, and Lake Erie Metropark, though not very cooperative.
SONG SPARROW - Sunday only. A couple were singing feebly from the marshes along the road to the beach at the Whiting Plant.
WHITE-THROATED SPARROW - Both days. A few at Pte. Mouillee.
DARK-EYED JUNCO - Both days. A few at Pte. Mouillee, and along Campau Road.
NORTHERN CARDINAL - Both days. A few, including singing individuals, at all locations.
RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD - Both days. A couple singing males at the Whiting Plant, and perhaps elsewhere.
BROWN-HEADED COWBIRD - Saturday only. A flock of 8 males was at the corner of Jefferson and South Huron River Drive on the way to the Pte. Mouillee field trip after lunch. Not seen by anyone else.
HOUSE FINCH - Both days. At least one singing male at Pte. Mouillee, but probably not heard by participants.
HOUSE SPARROW - Both days. Mainly at the plants. Likely not seen by participants.
47 species total.