Sunday, March 22, 2009

First weekend of spring: Great Horned Owls' nests and Greater White-fronted Goose

On Saturday morning I started out early for Schneider Road pond in western Washtenaw County to see Greater White-fronted Geese (Anser albifrons) which had been reported there for the past week. Driving south on M-52, I came across a huge field pond that had four Tundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus) swimming around.
At Schneider Road pond I found seven and possibly more Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis.)
There were hundreds of Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) around the pond and in the corn fields on both sides of Schneider Road, many at a significant distance. There was no sign of Greater White-fronted Geese. I drove around some of the roads to see if I could get a better look at the fields and the birds in them. No luck. I returned to Schneider Road pond and decided to give it one last look. A good thing. First I found this Tundra Swan which had not been present before.
And to add more good luck, a pair of Snow Geese (Chen caerulescens) not seen before flew in as if they would land on the pond. They flew around the pond several times before flying off in the direction of Pleasant Lake.
Still, no Greater White-fronted Geese for me here. Having other errands to do, this was essentially the end of my Saturday birding.

On Sunday morning I had planned to go to Belle Isle but switched my plans for Point Mouillee upon reading that Will Weber found a Greater White-fronted Goose there on Saturday. To rub more salt into Saturday's unsuccessful birding, several birders found the Greater White-fronted Geese at Schneider Road pond later in the morning on Saturday. The construction on I-75 South has exits 27 and 26 closed. This forced me to drive five miles further south to take the Newport and Swan Creek exit. A good thing. Driving north along U.S. Turnpike to the Mouillee Creek parking area, I spotted a large, and exposed nest on the east side of the road which intriqued me. I pulled off on the side road to get a better look.
Really cannot see too much from this photo, but the cropped image below reveals more detail.
Two distinct ears are almost lined up with the tree's "V" trunks. The thing about this nest is the location. In the photo below you can see how much in the open it is. Yet, it was a soundly built nest at a good height and the owl fit snuggly inside. I could not see if any hatchlings were also in the nest, but I think that, given the time of year, there were but the owlets were still small.
Still, the location of this nest is unique. It reminded me of the Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus) nest we found in Arizona last April; also a very exposed nest. I only have the cropped image below of that nest, but it, too, was in an area of scanty trees and right alongside a road.
This very crowded Great Horned Owl's nest was found outside of the small town of Sunsites just west of the Chiricahua Mountains in southeast Arizona.

I parked at the Mouillee Creek parking area around 8:30 am and spent the next 3-1/2 hours walking out the Mouillee Creek dike and all around the Vermet Unit. I don't believe I have ever walked around the entire Vermet Unit before. That's the nice thing about birding Point Mouillee this time of year. It is not too hot. My head and my legs can remain engaged for a longer period of time.
Is there any surer sign of spring at Point Mouillee than the calling and singing of hundreds of Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus?)
Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) were present in gangs like this and larger all over. I have no idea how many Mute Swans there were, but two hundred is not too large a guess and may be too conservative.
I had four of my first of the year sightings in Michigan that included Wilson's Snipe (Gallinago gallinago), Great Egret (Ardea alba), a large flock of Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor) feeding over Lake Erie and one of the two Eastern Phoebes (Sayornis phoebe) is above.
Love sick Canada Geese were everywhere. These two had found a nice resting spot alongside the dike between the Long Pond and the Lead Unit until I came along and disturbed them. They let me know about it, too.
I did not see any raptors, but waterfowl were everywhere in scenes like the one above. Great Blue Heron (Ardea herdias), Pied-billed Grebe (Podilymbus podiceps), Wood Duck (Aix sponsa), Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos), Gadwall (Anas strepera), Northern Pintail (Anas acuta), American Wigeon (Anas americana), Northern Shoveler (Anas clypeata), Blue-winged Teal (Anas discors), Green-winged Teal (Anas crecca), Redhead (Aythya americana), Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris), Lesser Scaup (Aythya affinis), Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula), Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola), Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus), Common Merganser (Mergus merganser), Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis) and American Coot (Fulica americana) were those I picked out of ponds like these with just my binoculars. I'm sure I missed seeing other species.

But, did I see the Greater White-fronted Goose? I had just about completed my trip around the Vermet Unit and was almost back to the Mouillee Creek dike and had given up on seeing the goose when I heard a different honking and saw a single bird flying. The bird appeared to fly from the Lead Unit and came across the Long Pond and just ahead of me over the dike between the Long Pond and the Vermet Unit. Smaller goose, pinkish bill! It flew around and appeared interested in landing in the Vermet Unit, but continued to fly and finally landed in the Lead Unit on the south side of the Mouillee Creek dike.
This is a binoscoped image taken with a new little camera that I've purchased for digiscoping. (I did not drag my spotting scope all the way around the Vermet Unit.)
This is the cropped image of the same photo. I took many shots with both my 6 pixel 12x Canon PowerShot and the 10 pixel 25mm wide angle Lumix above. I got shots from both cameras that would have worked here, but I'm just lucky that this shot turned out the best. Others were blurs of water, sky and phragmites.

Finally, I drove to Lake Erie Metropark to purchase my annual pass and to see if I could find the previously reported Great Horned Owl's nest at the park entrance.
Almost exactly in the center of this photo is a darker splotch that is the nest. Below is the cropped image showing at least one downy owlet. There were actually at least two owlets, but only one shows up in this photo.
Very successful birding for the first weekend of spring, 2009.

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