Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lake Michigan today

I know. It's been a month.  Have I been neglecting my blogging duties? yes.  Do I have an excuse? no.  I somehow keep getting distracted. I go to post something, and end up not writing anything. This time, I'm going for gold and post my adventure from today.  

This morning, I got up and headed over to The Lake.  My goal was to find a Black Scoter for my year list. I have never been able to see all three species of Scoter in one year. I always see at least two, but am never able to track down the third one. Interestingly enough, it's always a different Scoter too. Never the same one twice in a row.  
It's now Nov and I'm still failing.  I saw one Scoter all day and it wasn't the Black Scoter that I need.  It was a lonely, miserable Surf Scoter. Oh well, next time.  

I did however, see some cool birds.  

It all started around 11:00 this morning when I and my "trusty" Ford Taurus arrived in Port Washington, WI.  Parking at the harbor, I hopped out, grabbing my scope before I locked the door and headed towards the pier.  The winds were light and from the west. The skies were clear. A Cooper's Hawk sailed overhead. It was going to be a good day.  I scanned the harbor briefly with my binocs before turning my scope on the breakwater. Nothing unusual. Just the regular suspects. Canada Geese, Mallards and a large flock of gulls way too far out in the heat waves to ID. Ignoring them, I turned my attention to the closer group sitting on the breakwater. Through bins, they all seemed to be the same. I decided to take a look with my scope just to be sure. "Hmm, typical, just Ring-bills. Oh, there's a Herring; more Ring-bills; a few more Herrings and....... hey!  What's that???"  The gull with the dark mantle stood out like a sore thumb.  "Hmm, dark back, clean white chest, slightly streaked head. Seems to be a Black-backed Gull. Probably Lesser Black-backed...... hey wait a minute......... It has greenish, pinkish colored legs and a massive bill........ hmm.... let's compare with the Herring Gull next to it..... GEEZ! That's a big bird!!"
Of course, by this time, the typical thoughts were running through my head "Kelp Gull?? No way, the mantle isn't dark enough and those legs are pinkish, not straight green...... Of course!! It's a Great Black-backed Gull!!"  
Great Black-backed Gull, while definitely an uncommon bird, isn't exactly rare for Wisconsin. We do get a fair number of them every year. This was the first time I'd seen one in Wisconsin for quite some time though. I don't get over to the lake very often.  
Feeling a bit elated, I stopped at one of my favorite sandwich places in Port Washington (fortunately right there at the harbor) to grab a bite to eat and to post my findings of the morning. 

After lunch, I headed north along the lakefront, stopping at various accesses along the way.  
One of my first stops was the County D access at Harrington Beach SP.   
As I pulled up to the end of the road, my thoughts were running back over what had been seen here in recent weeks. Red-throated Loon, Black-legged Kittiwake and Little Gull were a few of the goodies that had turned up just off the point at Harrinton Beach. For some reason, that stretch of lake is always productive.  Unfortunately, none of the aforementioned species turned up for me. I was doomed to an hour of sorting through Greater Scaup and, even though it was a year bird (as pathetic as it might seem), literally thousands of Horned Grebes.  
As I stood on the beach, scoping the ducks, I happened to glance up and notice a slightly larger gull flying towards me. As it came closer and the angle changed, I was quick to note the complete lack of any sort of black markings on the wings. It was as if someone had taken a Herring Gull and painted it white. My brain went into overtime thinking "I bet that's a...... GLAUCOUS GULL!!!" I happily finished out loud.  Glaucous Gulls are regular winter residents along the Great Lakes and can be quite common but on my side of the state, they're quite rare so I was happy to see one.  My next stop was the Oostburg access.  I parked, hopped out and started scanning the lake. More (several thousand) Scaup, few hundred more geese, a few thousand of the same gulls I'd been watching all day...... "Hey...... that gull is tiny!"   Once again, my brain went into overdrive. "Kittiwake? No, it didn't have the black "M"....... Little Gull perhaps? It did have the dark spot behind the eye......."  Then the bird turned towards me, displaying a white leading edge to the wing. Starting narrow at the wrist and broadening through the primaries.  "Dang it..... it's a Bonaparte's Gull........"  While always fun to see, Bonaparte's Gulls (or "Bonies" as they're commonly referred to) are quite common during migration. Especially near the coasts. When I was in Louisiana several weeks ago, I saw quite a few Bonaparte's Gulls along the beaches.  Sometimes, you can see hundreds or even thousands at a time. 

Me next stop was the Harbor in Sheboygan. One scan with the bins was all that was needed. Dead.  I headed a little farther up the lake to North Point. In the past, North Point has had some crazy birds. Glaucous-winged Gull, Slaty-backed Gull, Kittiwakes, Sabine's Gull, Jaegers, ect.  I parked and started walking south along the shore. Mallard, mallard, more mallards. Not even a Scaup which had been so plentiful farther south.  I turned around and headed north to the shelter at the point. A quick scan revealed only more Mallards and all Ring-billed Gulls. Not even a Herring Gull. I turned and started heading back to the car. As I did so, I happened to glance at the lake and noticed (to my surprise) a smaller, slighter duck working it's way south along the edge of the rocks.  I lifted my bins. A moment later, my suspicions were confirmed. It was the female Harlequin Duck that had been wintering at this very spot for the last 5 years. Looks like she's up for her 6th year now. Perhaps one year she'll stay into the summer and bring a male with her. Perhaps......... 

Having little light left to work with, I started driving the long 3 hour drive home.  
In all, it was an excellent day. The weather was perfect. Not too cold and almost no wind at all. The birds were cooperative and I was able to see a few species that I don't see every day.  In the case of the Harlequin Duck, it was only the 3rd time I'd ever seen that species and only the 2nd time in the USA. In both cases, it's highly likely the same bird, so my count still holds. I've only ever seen 2 Harlequin Ducks. One on Moraine Lake in Banff NP, Canada and one at North Point, Sheboygan, WI, USA. 

I'll be attending the Lansing Loop field trip on Sat so hopefully I'll find time on Sun to post about that. 

Til next time, 

Happy Birding! 


Ali Iyoob said...

Congrats on the great finds. I am still missing a lot of my northern gulls.

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