Sunday, August 22, 2010

2010-08-20 Point Mouillee

2010-08-20 Point Mouillee, 10:00 am - 12:30 pm, 78 - 83 humid degrees, mostly sunny

This blog is basically completed (maybe I'll add a few more pics - or maybe not ...) on 2010-09-22 - finally! Done! I think I finally said most of what I want to say. Has it really been a month? Well, yeah ... so it takes me awhile .. we have been busy fall birding and just "doing". Hey, at least I am sharing my experiences! I think I do it for us at least as much as for sharing with y'all - probably more. I hope you like!

Today ( ... for continuity I speak like I am writing this on the day we went there, and to keep current what I previously blog-posted ...), Judy and I birded at Pt. Mouillee (Monroe County, Michigan). We wanted to see the exceptional birds reported on the Southeast Michigan birder's listserv (see below link to Bruce Bowman's site).

This place is challenging – especially in heat and humidity! No shade at all!

It was a hot day and we started late, but we got a few great pics! Some of the famous Michigan birders had been there this day and saw many more birds with their scopes (most of which would have been lifers for us), but we did just fine anyway!

I had the map I printed off from the Point Mouillee DNR site, and kind of figured out how far we could go on “empty tanks” (i.e., bladders) and fully charged (i.e., MacDonald’s breakfast). We parked at the Sigler Rd. lot and ventured forth. Fortunately we also carried lots of water. By the way, the lack of restrooms there soon becomes moot as dehydration sets in on a hot day! Don't "sweat it" (as in worry about it) - because you actually will (in the physical sense)!

We learned from experienced people we met along the way (a couple of trip leaders- Jim Fowler and Mike McCullough who were scouting the place for a trip the following day) that the places where people were seeing and reporting birds (the best spots were on "The Banana" and on the Vermet Unit) were about 3.5 miles away - one way – from the Sigler parking lot.  Right!

A returning birder confirmed this. “It is by the trees over there”!

We had planned to make it to the closest corner of the Vermet Unit from where we parked (it sounded from the listserv that Vermet was the place!), but enroute learned that we would have needed scopes even if we had been on the best side of Vermet. We had binocs and cams, but chose not to carry the heavy scope and tripod. We turned around after reaching the near edge of Vermet (our goal - about a mile and half one way). It was a great temptation to continue, but knowing that we were not even close, and remembering that we had to return from wherever we walked, we turned around. We followed our plan. We shot lots of pics enroute. We had a great day anyway and the memories I share here.!

We made it to Vermet Unit!
(I think the trees in the distance are the cottonwoods that have filled in Cell 1 of the Banana Unit.)

I had been reading about “cell 3” on the birder's listserv. I used the Michigan DNR map and assumed it was the the "3" of the Long Pond Unit – hey, that’s the only "3" thing on the DNR map! We met another birder with binocs, a scope and tripod – much lighter than ours we had left in the trunk – who basically was frustrated. He had made the same mistake and walked even farther and was returning, yet had not walked to the “promised land”. Actually as it turned out, we had our best shots in the DNR Zone 3 (Zone - not Cell!) of the Long Pond Unit - three species of shorebirds (including the "lifer" Willet)  and our best pics ever of Pied-billed Grebes, so the "3 thing" was not too far off! (I think if we had gone a week later, we might have seen the King Rail there!). It’s a muddy canal right next to the dike and birds were up close and personal and basically unafraid! It doesn't look like much, but it worked out fine!

Our Best Site - Canal at Long Pond Unit Zone 3

Killdeer and Pied-billed Grebe

I had not done all my homework by checking out Bruce Bowman's site (I always keep making the same mistakes! If I would just go to Bruce’s site first rather than searching on my own, I would be far better off!) Bruce’s site offers 4 maps. One is the DNR map I had - it is really directed towards hunters. The best map shows actual mileages between multiple intermediate spots on the dikes (a copy of this was given us on the dikes by one of the trip leaders – Mike - who was scouting the place with Allen C. and Tom  on bikes). It is really useful for judging distance and endurance – you have to remember you gotta come back as well!. And I note the real "Cell 3" (actually part of The Banana) is a damn site closer to a parking lot – the south one off Roberts Road – than where we entered from Sigler Rd. We started from Roberts Rd. on a subsequent wonderful trip the next time (blog in process...) and. yes, it is much more reasonable!

On the way, we met Allen Chartier and company returning on bikes from their birding expedition that day. Judy took a few pics as always with her shorter lens setting (Thank you, my wonderful companion!!!).

Now, this is the way to do Pte.Mouille!!!

Note the openness and lack of shade! Point Mouillee just goes on "forever"! You can see the cottonwoods of Cell 1 in the distance over Mike's shoulder. I really like this pic because it shows how experienced birders approach a place like Pte. Mouillee! Sure beats walking!!!

L to R: "Dr. Bob", Tom Schlack, Allen Chartier, Mike McCullough

(I just have to wonder about the black box Tom was carrying. Was this "The Briefcase" or "The Football"  we hear about in the news sometimes? It sure looks impressive to me!)

It turns out that Allen was responsible for the best map posted on Bruce's site, and has it in his book. Yes, I know - always read Allen's book first before going to a new place! I keep re-learning this lesson as well. Read Allen's book and check out Bruce's site! Nuff said!

If you combine Bruce's map 1 and map 2, you get what is in Allen's book.

In a separate communication, Allen mentioned to me that the former "Lead Unit" in his Guide (and mostly used by birders) has been renamed the Humphries Unit. I understand it has something to do about how you pronounce "Lead Unit". You could pronounce it "leed" -  as in the first unit  - for which it was named  - or you could prounounce it as "led"  - possibly mistaken for the old shot pellets birds sometimes ingest - not so PC now! (Thanks, Allen for explaining this to me! It makes sense.)

From my research, I know that in the past there were some car break-ins at the southern parking lot, but when we left at about 12:30 pm today, we were the only car at Sigler Rd. and when we drove to the southern lot closer to the action there were six cars there. We were told that it is being monitored more now.  Note: on subsequent visits, we did see the lot being checked several times each day! Good stuff!

It was a great day for us. We did not record lots of interesting lifers as anticipated, but we shot some great pics and got a great story to tell.

Lesser and Greater Yellowlegs (verified)

I have never seen them together before. Yes, one is greater than the other.  I shot both species together! Really cool!

Willet! - "Lifer" (verified)

It looks rather non-descript on the mud, but lacks the yellow legs (even I can figure that out!). Yet, it does not have the drab gray breast of the willets in some bird books.

I think it is interesting that I am calling this a "lifer". I saw tons of Willets (and Avocets and lots of other goodies very rare in Michigan - ah, those were the days!) on the mudflats around San Francisco in my "former life", but I was not a "birder" then. I had taken a course in vertebrate biology and was a "bird watcher" in the sense I always carried binocs and a copy of Peterson in my vehicle when I went fishing or collecting seaweeds. I did record observations in my field books, but I cannot find the silly books now. I think I gave them to one university or another when I donated my collections. So, unless I find my old field notes, I am just choosing to start again. Oh, the stories they (the books) would tell!

On the other hand, it's cool to start again - I'm back to my teens and early twenties! Ah youth! It is really about almost as exciting as I remember it - well, at least from the birding perspective. Actually, from the birding perspective, it is even better than what I remember. Bird watchers were a rather strange sort and not as macho as I chose to represent myself then. Now birding has "come out of the closet" and represents a huge economic and social force! It's "in" and contagious! Besides that , I think it is now a great "chick magnet" for guys! Anyone who is knowledgeable in any outdoor pursuit just naturally seems to have a magnetic attraction. Hey, if women loved a guy like me who was mostly dedicated to walking beaches looking for seaweeds (oh my gosh, seaweeds!!!), once the "stigma" was removed,  I can see that a birder would be even more interesting!  Especially here in the Midwest lacking the natural appeal of ocean walks! Whew! 
 (Oh - did I digress? It happens ...)

Back to the story ...



What a difference flying makes! I am thankful for a few lucky pics! I well remember waiting for them to fly so I could be sure of what I saw around SF. Yes, I even guess sometimes the impatience of  my youth encouraged flight with a tossed stone. I sure wish I had owned a digital camera with "free film" back then!

Yellowlegs and Willet !

It is sure much easier to tell the difference when flying! And, that one is sure not a killdeer, dear!

(I make this reference remembering that just last year I had a Killdeer flying over Holland Ponds, and saw the striped wing pattern and asked for input on my terribly out-of-focus pic! "Killdeer", a few replied! OK , I got it! Judy and I now well know the Killdeer sounds! They are common and unmistakeable! We are using more of our senses now! Thanks guys!)

Osprey! (verified)

We thought ospreys were only around nesting sites like at Kensington, but this sure looked like the bird book pics. He circled many times, always coming closer. We waited. What luck! Wow! Incredible! I have quite a few pics of this bird who circled a few times. Geez! If I can ever shoot anything in the skies other than Turkey Vultures and the occasional Red-tailed Hawk, I am really fortunate! How special!!! This encounter alone was worth the walk!


Here are a few pics of a Greater Yellowlegs at Zone 3 of the Long Pond Unit. I like a couple because they show "bird camo" on the mudflats. Gray things on stick legs that look like plant stalks. I suspect an aerial view  - as seen by a predator - would be very informative.

I like these because they show an Oedipal personality of the birds (not that they really cared about looking at themselves...). Judy always likes a bit of anthropomorphism in bird pics. I think she just likes kissing in general ...

And, I just plain like this long-strider!

The following is the Buckeye Butterfly. It came north from Ohio in a large quantity this year. Even UM fans love and seek photos of this one. :) 

I love this pic where the "eyes" on the lower wing are hidden. I think it is an "anime happy face"! It is sure hard to shoot with its wings spread just right!!! We tried for a long time! Lucky!!! "Here's looking at you (i.e., me), kid"! You just gotta smile back!

Happy Face Butterfly!

Another interesting thing along our walk was seeing a whole field of sunflowers. I guess we really did not notice them on the way out, but on the way back we noticed lots (really lots - dozens!) of Red-winged Blackbirds. Cool! Besides the pure natural beauty of the expanse, I think it is a great food source for the birds. I assume they were planted. Yes, maybe for a hunter audience, but certainly the majority of avian visitors will escape unharmed and better fed. Lovely!

After reaching the Vermet Unit and shooting pics of many American Coots, we headed back. As we were trudging along the Long Pond Unit (the long walk with little to see), we saw a vehicle approaching. Melted as we were by the heat, we stuck out our thumbs. It had been decades since I last hitched, but I am pleased to say it still works. I guess the border patrol agent could tell just by looking at us that we could really use a lift, so he invited us to ride in back. Another first - it was the first time (and hopefully the last) either of us had been in the cage in the back of an enforcement vehicle. Thank you so much for "capturing us"!!! I doubt our lives had been actually saved, but at that time it sure felt like it (gotta wonder), and it sure felt good to get back in the car and crank up the AC! Shortly thereafter, we were revived enough to discuss the memories of the day, and plan a better way to "do the Mou"!

We had learned many lessons about birding Pte. Mouillee. First, always "do your homework" (suggestions were provided above). Second, never set out mid-day on foot especially when the weather is so hot and muggy! And, third, if there are scheduled driving tours led by Audubon clubs (like there was the next day), jump on the possibility! Pte. Mouillee is a fantastic place, it is just huge in scale, and most of the good stuff now tends to be about a 5 mile round trip! If you do the whole round trip along the edges from Sigler and back along the roads, it's over 12 miles! (Now, there is a challenge for the really serious Hiking Michigan long hikers! I added this last note because I know Rob Golda usually links my blog on his HM site ...)

I hope you enjoyed this "ramble" and have a better idea of the challenge and joys of Pte. Mouillee!

"Dr. Bob"


You saw that occasionally I noted "verified" on some pics. I did this to let you know that a reputable person agreed with me.

I can't believe I am really talking like I know something about Pte. Mouille! But, actually after three visits, and after having finally done my homework, I really do! It is a national treasure here in Michigan!

You will now have to wait until sometime after hunting season to go out there.  (I am not sure when it reopens for birders or hikers.)  Be sure to do your homework first! It is a wonderful challenge and a great opportunity to see birds and environments you may not see elsewhere! I do not know about spring, but obviously it is a significant stop-over for migrating fall shorebirds! "What a trip"!!!


Cathy Carroll said...

Excellent blog post, Bob. For all newcomers to Point Mouillee, I will definitely refer them to this blog post. Additionally, your photos are terrific. Your Greater and Lesser yellowlegs in the same image is great for comparison. I especially like the third image of the Willet in flight.

"Dr. Bob" said...

Thanks, Cathy. This is certainly high praise from a person I consider one of the best bird bloggers ever! Next I have to work on my blog from the day we birded there with you. Yes, it sure takes me much longer to collect my pics and thoughts. I am pleased you will refer my blog here; it took three visits before I had even begun to figure out Pte. Mouillee. I will be far better prepared next year when I come back and read my notes.

Kim S. said...

Wow, Dr. Bob, thanks for sending me the link to your Pte. Mouillee posts. You've got some great photos here -- I hope we can get some like this tomorrow!