Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Lake Michigan Field Trip

By: Ty Baumann, Director - Bay Beach Wildlife Sanctuary

Despite the frigid temperature and brutal icy wind our hardy Bay Area Bird Club members made a birding field trip on December 2, 2010 along the Lake Michigan shoreline starting at Port Washington. Our target bird was a Black-Legged Kittiwake, a small and rather uncommon member of the gull family.

After braving the wind chill for an hour scoping the harbor finding Canvasbacks, Greater Scaup, Ruddy Ducks, Gadwalls, Common Goldeneyes, plus Greater-black backed and Glaucous Gulls - it was time to warm up, but we weren't giving up. Putting one car near the north breakwater and one car near the river channel we waited and hoped for a showing. The Kittiwake didn't disappoint. Appearing out of who knows where, the bird flew in low over the river and continued to soar making circles around the south gazebo area. We had excellent views and continued to watch this special bird for 10-15 minutes before we left the harbor and continued on the tour.

Our planned route next included a drive along Six Mile Road just north of Holy Cross. We slowed for some Horned Larks and several Rough-legged Hawks. Then, there on the ridge, to the east, was a Snowy Owl. North of the owl we encountered a huge flock of Snow Buntings estimating between 800 -1,000 individual birds. Across from the Harrington Beach State Park entrance we saw a lot of bird activity in the small wood lot and brushy habitat - a little pishing and up popped the Harris’s Sparrow, staying near the road for all eleven of our members to get a good look. At Sheboygan we started on the Blue Harbor Hotel and Convention Center side of the river. Using our binoculars and spotting scopes we scanned through dozens of Common Goldeneyes. Very quickly the Barrow’s Goldeneye was found providing excellent close viewing for everyone. A group of Sheboygan birders we encountered said a Tufted Titmouse was visiting a bird feeder in a nearby neighborhood. After scanning the feeders and bushes the Titmouse flew in directly above our heads. That was fun! On to North Point where a Harlequin Duck was found south of the parking lot diving in the strong waves with Buffleheads and Goldeneyes.

We saw many Rough-legged Hawks between Sheboygan and Harrington Beach, both going south on the highway early and back along the lakeshore. We had Peregrine Falcons in Port Washington and Manitowoc. The ferryboat harbor had lots of gulls but only 1 Greater-black-backed Gull. A Bald Eagle scattered all the rest of the gulls. We ended seeing 47 species on this very cold day. Congratulations to Brian Pierce for a 5 "lifer" day. Our next scheduled fieldtrip is February 6th, which leaves the Sanctuary at 4:00 am. We will be driving to the Three Lakes area and through the Nicolet National Forest concentrating on locating the boreal bird species.