Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Epic Icy Bird Adventures - Part III: Muskegon Wastewater

Click here for Parts I and II.
Muskegon Wastewater was chosen for our final birding destination for a number of reasons. It is a large expanse of land that is managed in such a way that it provides excellent habitat for large numbers of birds, and allows access to people that want to watch them. Normally you need to pick up a day pass to be granted access to the site, but Eagle-eyed Cohen has scaled the dizzying heights of birding fame by scoring a year-long access permit. No one knows how he did it, or what he did ... most of us are too scared to even ask. 

We stopped briefly at the administration building and checked out the activity at the feeder there. The sound of American Tree Sparrows was deafening, OK, that's hyperbole, but it was quite loud. A few other birds, Chickadees, Blue Jays, Starlings, etc were around but none of the winter finches I was still holding out hope for.

Pulling into the site we starting scanning ditches, trees, power-lines, etc looking for raptors. In the last week Golden Eagle and Northern Goshawk had been spotted here, in the past Gyrfalcons and Snowy Owls have been seen hunting here. Google-eye Murphy was the first to spot an immature Bald Eagle flying across. As we piled out of the car to get a better look, an Adult flew in and perched in a tree not too far away from us. He spent some time looking haughtily at us and generally giving off an air of magnificence.

Bald Eagle
After driving around the vast waste water ponds, where we saw Canada geese, Mallard, American Black Duck, Gadwall and Redhead, we moved on to some of the fields to the south where Short-eared Owls are often seen hunting in the early evening. As we drove, I spotted two eagles perch up in a tree and we again got out to take a closer look. The distant birds were hard to see with the driving snow, and were occluded by a number of branches. However, Bruce insisted that he thought he could occasionally see golden colouring in the head of at least one of the birds. Just as we made the decision to try and hike closer to see if we could get a decent view the birds both took off. Bruce was able to get the birds in his scope and confirm that they were both indeed Golden Eagles. We watched them fly for some time, so captivated that it didn't occur to me to try for a photograph.

Further down the road, we saw the tell-tale signs of a birder parked up on the side of the road with a large lens protruding out of the window. Around the car, above the fields on either sides, at least 5 Short-eared Owls were hunting in the fading light. It was a magical sight, and although I've seen this bird before, I'd never been treated to such long clear views before. We even got to hear their bizarre calls, sounding like a whiny cat at times, at others a barking dog. We watched them until it was too dark to see, the perfect end to a perfect day in my humble opinion.

Short-eared Owls

All in all, it had been an excellent day of birding and adventure. The scenery was stunning it would have been a great day to get out and hike around even if we hadn't seen a bird, but we'd done far better than that. Bald and Golden eagles, Snowy and Short-eared Owls, White-winged Scoter (lifebird!), Long-tailed Duck, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Mergansers, that's a good day however you look at it. 

32 Species were seen in all, including the Mallard x American Black Duck hybrid.

Mute Swan – Cygnus olor
American Black Duck – Anas rubripes
American Black Duck x Mallard (hybrid) – Anas rubripes x platyrhynchos
Mallard – Anas platyrhynchos
Canvasback – Aythya valisineria
Greater Scaup – Aythya marila
Long-tailed Duck – Clangula hyemalis
Bufflehead – Bucephala albeola
Common Goldeneye – Bucephala clangula
Common Merganser – Mergus merganser
Ring-billed Gull – Larus delawarensis
Herring Gull – Larus argentatus
Mute Swan – Cygnus olor
Canvasback – Aythya valisineria
Redhead – Aythya americana
White-winged Scoter – Melanitta fusca
Red-breasted Merganser – Mergus serrator
Snowy Owl – Bubo scandiacus
Canada Goose – Branta canadensis
Gadwall – Anas strepera
Bald Eagle – Haliaeetus leucocephalus
Red-tailed Hawk – Buteo jamaicensis
Golden Eagle – Aquila chrysaetos
Rock Pigeon – Columba livia
Mourning Dove – Zenaida macroura
Short-eared Owl – Asio flammeus
American Crow – Corvus brachyrhynchos
Black-capped Chickadee – Poecile atricapillus
White-breasted Nuthatch – Sitta carolinensis
European Starling - Sturnus vulgaris
American Tree Sparrow – Spizella arborea
Dark-eyed Junco – Junco hyemalis

1 comment:

  1. "sounding like a whiny cat at times, at others a barking dog" I'd like to hear that some day.