Canvasbacks, Oh My! - 23 Dec 2020

Forecasts are calling for high winds, rain, falling temps, and snow for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. So my best bet for getting out would be this morning when temps are near 40F, skies are clear to partly cloudy, and wind/rain is not expected until this afternoon. I grabbed the bike and drove out to Mouillee Creek, arriving at about 7:30 am just as dawn awakened.

The Middle Causeway was quiet as I rode out toward the Banana Unit. A few "tsips" from Song Sparrows was followed by little dark sparrows flying across the dike, jumping among the phragmites. The skies were on fire as the Sun broke between cloud banks and the horizon, so it was worth taking a few images w/ the 35mm/2.8 Zeiss and 200-600mm/f5.6-6.3.

A pair of Northern Harriers were roosting on ice shelves out in the middle of the Vermet Unit, but too far away for any decent images. I was hoping to see a Snowy Owl or Short-eared Owl but neither would show. I reached the Banana saw rafts of up to 500 Common Goldeneye in the middle of Cell 4.

Winds were beginning to blow from the SE off Lake Erie so I decided to ride down around Cell 2 and loop back along Lake Erie. I would not find any ducks on Lake Erie, as it was rough w/ white-caps and blowing winds. As I reached the south end of Cell 4 I decided to walk the east dike toward the inlet to Cell 4 with the idea of maybe digiscoping the goldeneye flock with the rising Sun to my back. They would flush as a Northern Harrier flew overhead so I would have to get a few flight shots as they flew in all directions. I would have liked a few more birds to fly closer.

I then rode down to the north end of Cell 4 and headed east along the dike to loop around to Lake Erie. I spotted a small flock of birds flush ahead of me, and thought "Tree Sparrows". They turned out to be a flock of Common Redpolls!

They flushed as a group from one part of the dike to a location farther away with half the birds feeding among the phragmites and the rest on the dike. I was able to get a few digiscoped images before they flew on back to the west.

As I looped back around Lake Erie I ran into a flock of Bonaparte's Gulls foraging along the shoreline. I didn't take as many pics this morning as I had spent so much time with the a few days ago.

As I reached the mouth of the Huron River I became awestruck at the immense spectacle about to start. Tens of thousands of Canvasback lifted off the water and darkened the skies as they swirled like a murmuration of starlings. All I could do was focus on the distant flocks and fire away.

A single frame of this flock contained almost 3500 birds. Multiply this frame by another 10-15 frames and you come up w/ ~35,000 total birds. What struck me was that I was NOT seeing any Redhead among the Canvasback flocks. 

I did see smaller flocks of Greater and Lesser Scaup, but couldn't get any real close flyby shots. Common Mergansers, Common Goldeneye and American Black Ducks made up smaller flocks by the dozens.

As I reached the North Causeway I decided to take the east dike around the Vermet Unit. Apparently, a Snowy Owl was reported farther down along the North Causeway had I kept riding to the west side of the Vermet. Oh, well. I did see a single Snow Bunting.

The remainder of the ride was quiet. I stopped to enjoy the sun shining on the golden mats of cattails and phragmites along the west side of the Humphries Unit. In all I rode about 13 miles and was good and tired when I finished. Too tired to pick up all the trash strewn around the parking lot at Mouillee Creek.

I pity the fool(s) that will have to count those Canvasback rafts this Saturday when Rockwood has their Christmas Count.


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