Sunday, January 15, 2017

Duck Watching Along Mighty Lake Michigan

It was time to do a bit of bird watching; winter cold, or no winter cold.  Fellow birder Robert Massey had a free Saturday morning too (Barbara was working) so the two of us jumped in the "IBIRD" SPT (silver pick-up truck) at around 8:00 AM and headed to Milwaukee's east side.  At Robert's home along the Menominee River Parkway; a woman has fed the Mallards for years.  Because of timing, I was able to witness their early morning waddle-march from the north to the south across the road.

They would bunch-up at the edge and then flow across in a straight line to her driveway; heading for the backyard to where the feed was supposedly located.  How many days, weeks, years these ducks and their offspring had been doing this is unknown to me.  Whether there was even any food for them when they got there was also a mystery; but some "pull" was making them attempt that practiced journey day after day, week after week, year after year.

The weather was cooperating with a mild 23 degrees and virtually no wind as we stepped out of the truck at the Linwood water treatment plant for our first of six looks. Canada geese were already present on the grass along the banks of the Lake Michigan shoreline.  The snow was mostly gone due to the recent mild weather that had included actual rain.  This meant that they could easily crop at the grass to fill their bellies with what they needed to sustain themselves.

Dozens of their cousins, sisters, brothers, etc. also swam in the frigid water of the great lake just off

shore.  Along with these common residents and visitors to Lake Michigan were some species that only seen to over-winter here; Buffleheads, Common goldeneye, Lesser and Greater scaups and Red-breasted and Common merganser.  As we would discover in the several stops we would make; the Buffleheads seemed to prefer the northernmost shoreline and could not be seen as we ventured southward.

From, "A diminutive diver, one of our smallest ducks, often very energetic in its feeding. Related to the goldeneyes and, like them, nests in cavities; but unlike other hole-nesting ducks, the Bufflehead is small enough to use unmodified old nest holes of Northern Flickers, giving it a ready source of good nest sites. Less sociable than most ducks, seen in pairs or small groups, almost never in large flocks. Takes wing easily from the water, flies with rapid wing beats. The name "Bufflehead" is derived from "buffalo-head," for the male's odd puffy head shape."

One of our most memorable (audible) moments was when we walked across the frozen goose-poop
littered grass from the parking lot at McKinley marina to the water's edge.  As we neared the sidewalk that runs along the lakeshore boundary, we unwittingly scared dozens of goldeneye that were (previously unseen) huddled against the rocks and the 12 foot drop from above to below.  They all suddenly skedaddled eastward just above the water's surface making a gloriously loud whining noise with their rapid wing beats to escape the interlopers to their quiet morning paddling.

Joggers and people with their dogs were out in force as we stood at each place with our scope and binoculars.  One of the most interesting discoveries to me was to see the many ice-fishing enthusiasts that were enjoying their Saturday on the frozen water of the Lakeshore State Park lagoon.  This proximity between angler and the buildings of downtown Milwaukee was both surreal and fascinating to me. Who would have thought that these two vastly different scenarios could co-exist; bustling urban life and serene outdoor sportfishing?

In all we stopped along Linwood,  Lakeshore drive at Bradford Beach, McKinley Marina, Lakeshore State Park, the area under the Hoan bridge carved out for the Milwaukee smelting community and the old Coast Guard impound lot and the famous, ever-present but badly deteriorated blue trailer.  Our final stop for the morning was to view the hundreds of the same species we had been seeing that had congregated at the breakwall just south of the Lake Express Ferry.  All in all we saw hundreds and hundreds of birds in just a few hours time that seemingly thrive in the ice-cold waters of our great lake.  C'mon out and play on a winter's morning...plenty of others are and having a great time!

Robert Massey with the spotting scope

Lone Black duck on the ice
Goldeneye walking on water?

Our Species List:

  1. Red-breasted merganser
  2. Common merganser
  3. Mallard
  4. Greater Scaup
  5. Lesser Scaup
  6. American Crow
  7. Herring gull
  8. Black-backed gull
  9. Ring-billed gull
  10. Black duck
  11. Bufflehead
  12. Common goldeneye