I was able to convince a crack-team of birders to join me, it was like the A-team of birding, there was no way this day could be anything less than epic.
|Eagle-eyed Bruce Cohen|
Arriving at Grand haven we made our way towards the pier across the beach. I made a surprising discovering, frozen sand is slippery, who knew? After the others had stopped laughing at my impromptu dance moves as I strived to stay up right, they discovered that they also had to walk across the treacherous sands of slipperiness, and they were no more graceful in their traverse. Still, it was impossible to deny the beauty of the place ... at least while you were successfully staying on your own two feet anyway.
|Grand Harbor beach|
Looking out at the horizon through my binoculars it was evident that there were literally thousands of birds flying there. The birds themselves were not resolvable even through a spotting scope, but it was an incredible view nonetheless.
|Thousand of flying birds hover over the distant horizon|
|Grand Harbor Pier|
|Nonchalant use of pushchair on frozen pier|
A quick scan of the birds hanging around the rocks was the first task. Harlequin Ducks are known to hang around on or near rocks preferentially. There were no obvious signs of anything promising: Mallard and American Black Ducks were clustered around the rocks, along with the odd Bufflehead and Common Merganser.
|A number of birds that are not Harlequin Ducks|
|Ice floes ... sans Harlequin duck|
|Mallard x American Black Duck (Hybrid)|
|American Black Duck|
|Mallard drake demonstrating the use of air-brakes|
|Headless Mallard drake ... teleporting in I think|
|Mallard drake - Water-skis extended|
Another pair of tough birds to ID are the scaup. Greater and Lesser Scaup and extremely similar to each other. Separated typically by differences in size, subtle differences in the shape of the head and whether white in the wing extends from the secondaries to the primary feathers or not. Seen close up and in a mixed flock these differences are relatively obvious, but birds seen from a distance are often impossible to tell and it takes considerable experience to make a confident judgement. Here, we were luck enough to have numbers of Greater scaup close enough to see their distinctive head shape, and occasionally, when in flight, the white primary feathers.
Eventually, after a good few hours of scanning the waters around us, we accepted that if a Harlequin Duck or Western Grebe was still here, we probably weren't going to see it. We decided to cut our loses, and try a new location about 30 mins drive away at Pere Marquette Park, in Muskegon. As we headed back I took some time to enjoy the sculpting of ice over the lighthouse and other structures:
Strolling back gingerly along the ice strewn pier, trying not to end up head first in the ice soup to my immediate right, I was also scanning the gulls flying around. I was particularly looking for gulls that did not have black tips to their wings, or at least notably paler ones, in the hope of finding a Glaucous, iceland or Thayer's gull. No luck, Ring-billed and Herring were all I could find today.
|Continue to Part II|