41st Monroe, MI CBC - 19 Dec 2010

©2010 Nate Crawford
Congratulations and thanks to Nate Crawford for capturing this stunning image of the American White Pelican at the J.R. Whiting Plant in s. Monroe Co.  This bird represents the first CBC record of American White Pelican in MI!

Final Tally: 85 Spp. and 61,800 birds

My day began at 3 AM with a rude wake-up call from the alarm clock. Out the door at 3:50 AM I was heading off to start the 111th National Audubon Society / 41st Monroe, MI Christmas Bird Count.  I was hoping to pick up an owl or two before meeting the guys at the J.R. Whiting Plant in s. Monroe Co. at 7 AM.  Long story short, I dipped.  I had even walked the Lake Erie shoreline and the bike path with the hopes of calling out a Screech Owl, but failed miserably.

After a quick breakfast stop at the arches, I headed toward Erie Rd. and the Whiting Plant.  At 7 AM Allen Chartier and Will Weber arrived, and the three of us checked in w/ the guard shack before heading down to the Lake Erie shoreline.  As we waited for the sun to rise Allen counted ~125 Great Blue Herons along the ice shelf near the warm water discharge of the power plant.  The herons would flush and fly in all directions before long, so it was good that we got a count before they dispersed.  Meanwhile the lake was alive with thousands of unidentifiable ducks and gulls that would have to wait for daybreak to be counted.

(L/R) Allen Chartier, Mark Wloch, Will Weber
I took a few moments to walk toward the Lady of the Lakes woods to try calling in / hearing a Screech Owl (again w/ no luck).  Returning to the group I stopped to photograph Allen and Will with Mark Wloch, who had just gotten off work from the plant to join us.  Mark had found and had provided stunning photos of an Orange-crowned Warbler earlier in the week, and we were hoping to add this species to today's count.  Luckily, Allen and Mark had refound the bird on Friday so we could add it, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Winter Wren to our Count Week total.  Thank you, Mark for providing wonderful documentation of these three birds!

In the dim light of daybreak we scanned the open waters for identifiable spp.  Allen then said, "Wholly crap, there's a White Pelican out there!". When  I looked through his scope I responded, "Wholly crap there's a White Pelican!".  The bird was swimming calmly among several Mute Swans, hundreds of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls, and the odd Lesser Black-backed Gull.  With my digiscoping rig I was getting 1/6 sec. exposure times, and with the pelican some 200 yds. away I knew getting a decent image would be next to impossible.  I managed one. So I did the next best thing and took a couple of videos of the bird with the hope of providing documentation of the bird.  Will was able to get a few more keepers, (2).



We walked the shoreline down to the discharge outlet, where we found these two adorable Muscovy Ducks. Though not countable, it was fun to get a photo or two of these birds. 

With enough illumination we were now able to scan the lake and pick out Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Greater Black-backed Gull, Northern Pintail, Ruddy Duck, American Black Duck, Mallard, Common Goldeneye, Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, American Coot, Greater Scaup, and thousands of Lesser Scaup.

We then took a mile long hike south along the lakeshore, hoping to find the Orange-crowned Warbler. Though we found several Winter Wrens, Downy Woodpeckers, dozens of Golden-crowned Kinglets and Black-capped Chickadees we failed to find the warbler or Ruby-crowned Kinglet.  Along the way I received a call from security telling me that they could NOT open the gate to the Lady of the Lakes woods because the lock was frozen.  Meanwhile, attempts to refind the American White Pelican failed.  The bird was gone, and would not be relocated (until Nate would find it later in the day).

Thanks to Mark, we were able to get the gate open and gain access to the woods.  Things were quiet though, until we came upon a small flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets and Black-capped Chickadees.  As we scanned the flock hoping to find a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, I spotted the Orange-crowned Warbler!  I tried to get some photos of the bird as it foraged among the grape vines, but it tended to stay obscured by vegetation.  Still, I was able to get enough pics to verify ID.  This is only the 2nd CBC record for Michigan for this species. Additional images were provided by Allen Chartier (1), (2), (3), (4) and (5).

©2010 Mark Wloch
 I had to leave and head toward the Monroe Power Plant for the afternoon count.  In the meantime, Allen and Will pushed farther into the woods and managed to flush a pair of Great Horned Owls.  One bird flew toward the lake, where Mark was able to get a flight shot. He would later add an American Kestrel on his way out.

I only had time to grab a drive-thru lunch, so I headed over to the foot of Front St. and pulled into the turnout to eat.  While I ate, I scanned the discharge outflow and saw dozens of Mallard and Hooded Mergansers swimming.  Unfortunately, it was difficult to get an accurate count through to vines covering the fence, so I pulled alongside to track the birds.  A pair of Winter Wrens appeared next to the car, and one even landed on my driver-side mirror!  I chased the pair along the fence, but had to settle for obscured captures w/ the camera.

At the DTE Monroe Power Plant I met up with Matt Schackelford, Tim Walsh, Don Burlett, Rose Assemacher and sons Nick and Jordan, and friend Jeremy Stotz.  Bald Eagles were the draw of the day, and we hoping to be rewarded with good sightings.

We took two vehicles and headed south along the warm-water discharge canal.  Golden-crowned Kinglets were actively foraging among the dried vegetation, and even the pipe-lines!  Among the dozens of Great Blue Herons lining the far shoreline were even more Double-crested Cormorants.  Five Pied-billed Grebes were swimming and diving in the middle of the canal, and as we searched for them a Great Egret flew along the shoreline.  I was able to digiscope an image for record.

At the end of the road we were able scan the mouth of the canal from the catwalk and see dozens of Bald Eagles lining both shorelines.  Unable to go further, we backtracked to the other side of the plant where Matt showed us the intake screens where a fish-kill earlier in the week shut down the entire plant!  From there we headed along the Raisin River, which was frozen for the first time in many years.


The Lake Erie shoreline was frozen for a quarter mile out, so we saw no gulls, ducks or swans.  In open patches of water we could make out the silhouettes of dozens of Bald Eagles. One bird actually stayed perched above us long enough to get a photo through Tim's sunroof. The coal piles to our right were covered with mixed Herring/Ring-billed Gulls by the hundreds.  Other flocks of gulls would lift off the ground by the thousands, so we could only get estimated counts.


As we approached the fish dump we could see hundreds of European Starlings lining the trees ahead.  A pair of White-tailed Deer were feeding next to the road and appeared oblivious to our presence. Surprisingly, four Killdeer flew in and joined the starlings among the dead fish.  As we watched them a male Northern Harrier made several passes over the field.

As I photographed the Killdeer a Song Sparrow appeared nearby.  The buffy coloration along its malar and sides, and reddish wings and tail made it look surprisingly like a Lincoln's Sparrow, which is not found this time of year.  But a closer look showed heavy striping along the sides and a beak too thick to be a Lincoln's.  Still, it was an interesting bird (for me) to photograph. 

As snow started to fall more heavily we stopped at the lake and scanned dozens of Tundra Swans out on the lake.  I took the opportunity to get a shot of the group.

At the mouth of the discharge canal we walked and scanned the canal, picking out Ruddy Duck, Common Goldeneye, Lesser Scaup, and Bufflehead.  Golden-crowned Kinglets were actively foraging along the canal and offered nice views from a few feet away.  We refound the Great Egret, and were able to get better images of it, both in flight and on the ground.

Our last stop of the day was at the fly-ash settling ponds.  As we car-pooled to the Onsite, I saw Dave Mendus and Anne Smith who reported seeing a Northern Mockingbird and Fox Sparrow.  Just inside the entrance (off Dunbar Rd.) we spotted another Northern Harrier, several Cedar Waxwings, and got into a flock of American Robins, Black-capped Chickadees, and White-throated Sparrows.  As we scanned the flock we spotted a Red-bellied Woodpecker and a Hermit Thrush.

Continuing along the perimeter road we came across dozens of White-tailed Deer bounding along the road and feeding in the open fields.  American Tree Sparrows were abundant and flying in small flocks at every turn.  Northern Cardinals were also abundant.  We re-spotted the harrier hunting the field to our left and managed a few photos of it as it passed by, then disappeared into the native prarie restoration.

A pass atop the burms yielded scattered flocks of Tree Sparrows among the native grasses and phragmites that lined the settling ponds.  With the day's light waning it was time to head to the Michigan Bar & Grill to meet up w/ other participants and compile results.

Highlights of the count circle areas were reviewed with some interesting sightings:

83 Wild Turkeys were counted in Area 8, which also led all areas in Red-tailed Hawks (12),Mourning Doves (513) and Dark-eyed Juncos (271).

An unseasonal Tree Swallow was the highlight of Area 7, first reported earlier in the week and refound today on the Raisin River west of Raisinville Rd.  45 Snow Buntings were a high for the count circle.  A Rough-legged Hawk was also one of two seen today.  Karen Potts was also able to get a couple nice images of American Kestrel, American Robin, and Horned Lark.

Common Mergansers (200), American Robins (169) and Great Black-backed Gulls (45) were high counts for Area 6.

Fox Sparrow and Northern Mockingbird were highlights for Area 5.  The Monroe Power Plant count yielded 156 Great Blue Herons and 63 Bald Eagles (16 adults and 47 juveniles).

Six Eastern Bluebirds and 3 Winter Wren were highlights in Area 4.
Area 3 had high count for Horned Larks (135) and most raptors, including a nice Rough-legged Hawk.

Area 2 (Whiting Plant/Erie Marsh) once again provided the most species (63) with notable birds being the American White Pelican and Orange-crowned Warbler, 37 Swamp Sparrows, 1 Fox Sparrow, 22 Winter Wrens, 4 Great Horned Owls, 1 Wilson's Snipe, and 4 Northern Pintail. Allen Chartier provided some additional commentary on this area's totals:

"It is possible that the fish kill from several weeks ago, when the temperature dropped rather suddenly, may have contributed to the large number of birds still present at the Whiting Plant, in addition to the abundance of open water there and completely frozen water everywhere else. Away from the lakeshore, gulls were extremely sparse this year where most years they are flying overhead everywhere in our area. The number and variety of passerines along the shoreline at the plant was exceptional this year. The dominance of Ring-billed over Herring Gulls and Scaup over Common Mergansers suggests that gull and waterfowl migration had not progressed as far as in most years we've done this count.

At the Erie Marsh Preserve, they had apparently done some burning since last year, as there were some more open spots that had previously been solid stands of Phragmites. These areas seemed to be favored by greater numbers of sparrows than we normally find here, especially Swamp Sparrows. The good numbers of raptors, including 6 Red-tailed Hawks and 4 Northern Harriers, might have been taking advantage of the greater visibility of prey in the more open areas. Along the dikes, especially along the unfrozen channels leading out from the Sulphur Pond, songbirds were numerous and we saw many sparrows and Winter Wrens diving into holes in the snow, apparently to forage on the bare ground underneath, which was odd. Also unusual was the behavior of some waterfowl that were apparently hiding under ledges of ice at the base of the dikes. Near the start of the walk, we watched as two Mallards, an American Coot, and a female Wood Duck swam out from under an ice ledge that didn't appear large enough to shelter even one individual. This mixture of species was also unusual. At another spot a Mallard, three American Black Ducks, and four American Coots swam out from underneath a ledge, that appeared to extend underneath the dike but we couldn't be sure. The large number of Winter Wrens is something I can't explain...I've only had this many in a day once before, on Belle Isle in fall migration in October." - Allen Chartier

©2010 Mark Wloch
Finally, in a separate e-mail on 21 Dec 2010, Mark Wloch reported that the White Pelican is still visible at the Whiting Plant, out on open water of the lake, and appears to have been spotted by members of the Toledo, OH CBC during their count week.  Mark was able to get a photo of the bird on 20 Dec 2010.

My deepest thanks go out to Mark, Nate, the Area Leaders, and all who participated in this year's count.  A special shout-out to Terri and Joe Janssen, who went out after dinner and found an Eastern Screech Owl after learning that we had not recorded a single one today!

A gallery of all images submitted can be accessed here!