Monday, September 19, 2011

2011-09-16 Pte. Mouillee Hawk Watch

2011-09-16 Pte. Mouillee Hawk Watch

[ work in progress - more pics later]

Judy and I had a great couple of days last week starting with actually seeing our first kettles of migrating hawks at Pte. Mouillee. We had gone to Hawk Fest at Lake Erie Metro Park (LEMP) the last two years and never saw anything like this!

Now I am talking hawk watching, not the LEMP festival. Hawk Watch vs. Hawk Festival. The LEMP Hawk Festival is always fantastic!

Hawkfest (a weekend thing) was in conjunction with the Detroit River Hawk Watch program (an on-going survey):

Judy and I love the annual Hawkfest! Even if the weather does not allow good migration viewing, we get to see wonderful birds up close and personal. This year, on Saturday, Joe Rogers presented (always an incredible show and showman); on Sunday, the Howell Nature Center showed off birds; and on both days, the Michigan Hawking Club (Falconry) showed their birds. Fun! We went a day early and missed it.

This year, we really wanted to go to nw Ohio to drive onto the Ottawa NWR for a special auto tour. We did - another blog topic, so passed on the LEMP festivities.

This blog is about hawk watching. A Michigan birder, Jeff Schultz, had been making predictions that Friday would be a good day to see the migration. His enthusiasm drove us there!

Friday, we started at Sigler Rd. – no one and no birds (that we could see …). We went to Pte. Mouillee HQ where we met a group of maybe 20 birders – serious birders with scopes set up and all. Boring … nothing we could see (but others could see them going somewhere – how do they do that???). There seemed to be a “ringleader” - who we learned to be the same Jeff Schultz whose message inspired me to try it on Friday - who shortly suggested the birds were moving south and led a move to the Roberts Rd. parking lot at Pte. Mouillee.

We went there. Soon birders were reporting kettles of birds. Where? There! Where? Etc … I could not see anything!

Fortunately a Facebook Canon SX30 friend of mine (Curt Powell) recognized me and took me under his wing. Like the other experienced birders there, he could see kettles where Judy and I only saw sky. After directions like: “over the dead trees, in the white clouds”, I could finally see “dots” in the sky with my binoculars! With his help, and looking at the scope directions of other birders, I finally was able to get glasses on a lifer bird (actually hundreds!) of a Broad-winged Hawk.

Curt was accompanied by his daughter. That really impressed me! For a high school kid to go birding with her Dad ("Boring!" I can just hear it ...) means a great bond! That's how you get kids into birding! Here's a wonderful Judy pic at the (really boring - like I said) previous Pte. Mouillee HQ site. I love it!

Biker Andy and Curt and daughter

I rarely could see the birds without binocs – but how do these guys know where to look with binocs??? Younger eyes and experience - I guess.

A few times the kettle came close enough that I could see the “dots” with the naked eye. I am not sure Judy ever could see dots more than once.

Fortunately, I had just received my replacement camera from Canon (now a T2i) and IT could also see dots once I got it on the right area after finding the birds with binocs. Unlike the SX30 (actually a great camera despite my whining), the T2i has the continuous shooting and faster focus I prefer (trust to luck!) so I was able to post a few pics on my PBase site. PBase pics of “hawk dots”:  (Do “next” to see total of 4 pics).

The message here is that you really have to be with someone who knows hawk watching! (“Don’t try this alone!”) Fortunately Curt and the others could see imaginary dots in the sky that really were hawks! Another message is that I have always doubted anyone really seeing (for example) 4000 hawks or more in a day. Like – “oh, come on …”! But really it is true!!! In the brief time (about an hour) we were with Jeff’s gang at Roberts Rd., even I (!) saw at least three kettles of about 400 hawks! Ten kettles are not so far to figure – I could even imagine a hundred kettles. Incredible!!! OK. I am a believer!

Another wonderful thing was meeting some birders I knew only by reputation or personal communication. I admit, I was a bit intimidated because I am a relatively "unknown" birder and really have nothing to offer but enthusiasm, but I did introduce myself to a couple of birders I knew from their postings. Of most interest to Judy was Andrew Dettling. I overheard at Mouillee HQ that he had already ridden his bike 90 miles. At first Judy did not understand. I told her about a BGBY (Big Green Bird Year). All bird recording must be without using any fossil fuels, and it must start at home! Andy has almost 250 BGBY species so far this year! Now, that got Judy's interest! She watched for him to arrive at Roberts Rd. on his bike, then turned around and he was already there! Fast! How did he do it? (actually his fast bike... and we were busy meeting people.) Here's a Judy pic. It was nice to meet someone "of legend"!

Andy Dettling at Pte Mouillee Roberts Rd. on BGBY

Interestingly, the official LEMP counts were FAR lower that day. Even a few miles make a huge difference! Jeff had it right on in his prediction! Thank you SO much “Ring-leader Jeff”!!! I have not been on many official field trips, but certainly this unofficial one was simple incredible! And, thanks so much Curt for personally guiding me!

[Note: the following day (Saturday) set the all-time record for birds observed! 190,000 (Yes, a hundred and ninety thousand!). It's all in how the birds' need to migrate stacks up against the weather! I have learned SO much!]

YES! I am a believer.

No comments: