Close Encounters - 14 Dec 2010

I celebrated my last work day for the year by heading towards Monroe to do some birding.  Skies were clear, and it was a cold 15ºF.  Driving south on Jefferson I looked for the Northern Mockingbird in Trenton but failed to see it.

A stop at Pt. Mouillee HQ off Campau Rd. yielded only a few birds.  The Huron River was frozen out to the mouth of Lake Erie and only a  small hole in the ice held open water.  A group of American Coot were sharing the open water with a Common Goldeneye, Canvasback male and female, Lesser Scaup and a Ruddy Duck.  The sun was out of the southeast and directly backlighting the ducks, so digiscoping was not an option.  The winds were blowing hard, so I took refuge next to the evergreens next to the boat launch.  I was a bit saddened to see a dead Mourning Dove at the base of one tree, and its mate hunkered next to it trying to keep warm.  Though I was less than a foot away, it was too cold to fly away, so I took care not to startle it.

Leaving the parking lot I stopped by the gate and watched the Black-capped Chickadees feed on the seed left by a generous visitor.  A Fox Squirrel stopped for a few moments to ponder my presence, then headed for the seed pile. A White-throated Sparrow was the only other bird nearby and it remained back in the trees.

I drove down Roberts Rd. toward Rheaume Rd. and found only a single Red-tailed Hawk.  With nothing to photograph I continued south along Turnpike Rd. toward Monroe with the hopes of finding a Tree Swallow reported by Bob Pettit a day earlier.

I stopped on the Raisinville Rd. bridge over the Raisin River and scanned east and west looking for the swallow.  I failed to find it (it would be seen the next day, however), but did spot a Bald Eagle several hundred yards downstream.  As I fussed with my camera the eagle took off toward me and literally sailed just a few feet above the car.  I didn't see it until it came up from below the bridge, and by that time it was too late to grab the camera.  So I just watched as it flew up and over the car and headed upstream.  I had to settle for a single Horned Lark as I headed back east along Elm Ave.

Next stop was at Sterling State Park, where I spotted a couple more Bald Eagles soaring low over the parking lots.  Again, I was too slow with the camera and had to settle for nice looks through the car windows.  I hiked out to the beach hoping to see something in the lake, but found nothing but a few Herring Gulls.  Inland ponds were already frozen and void of birds.

Heading back north along Dixie Hwy/US Turnpike I made another stop along Rheaume Rd.  This time, however, I spotted a distant Northern Harrier flying low along the road ahead of me.  It banked sharply left, then landed momentarily in the trees.  It flushed before I could get close enough to photograph, however, and took off toward Pt. Mouillee. 

I spotted a pile of bird seed near the fence to the landfill, so I parked the car to see if any birds would come to feed.  A European Starling sunning in the trees just a few feet away provided glorious views of its iridescent feathers.  And just a few moments later I was pleasantly surprised to see a Swamp Sparrow come out of the phragmites and begin feeding on the seeds.  It was soon followed by a small flock of American Tree Sparrows

I spent some time photographing the Swamp and Tree Sparrows from the confines of the car, and took advantage of their frequent flushing to grab photos as they landed on the tree branches nearby.  A Dark-eyed Junco joined them a while later and provided a few more photo opps.

I even spent a few minutes playing w/ the Coolpix P6000 taking some digibinned images through the new Zeiss Victory T*Fl 8x42 binoculars I received for my birthday (and Christmas, and next year, and the next...).  I'll post a more detailed review on the binoculars in a bit, but for now they rocked, and provided some nice chromatic-aberration free images. 

I then decided to get out and do some digiscoping, so I left the car and grabbed the scope from the trunk.  Hunkering down behind the car to protect myself from the wind, I began to digiscope the Swamp Sparrow and Tree Sparrows from about 15-20'. 

As I snapped away the birds suddenly scampered for cover.  Next thing I know the Northern Harrier whistled past my ear and dove for the birds.  I could hear its wing beats as it passed just a foot from my head, but couldn't move fast enough to get a photo as it took a swipe at the sparrows before heading off up the road.  I'd been crouched for so long my legs were cramped, so I couldn't get up to photograph it.  Way cool, though!

I then made another stop at Pt. Moo HQ before heading to Lake Erie Metropark.  With winds still blowing, digiscoping the ducks in the open water was still problematic, and illumination was still no better than this morning.  I then headed over to Cove Point (off of Lee Rd.) at the south end of Lake Erie Metropark.  The lake was crowded with thousands of Canvasbacks, American Coot, Redhead, Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Common Merganser, American Wigeon, Gadwall, and Tundra Swans.  I spent some time taking a digiscoped video, scanning the lake 180º from south to north, but the winds were making it difficult to maintain focus, so I had to settle for a record shot.  Still, it was (and still is) quite a spectacle to see.

I then headed home, stopping just long enough to try to photograph (unsuccessfully) another Red-tailed Hawk.


Kevin said…
Great captures Jerry that is a real challenge with those temps!!

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