Monday, December 25, 2017

A Snowy Morning - 23 Dec 2017

My plan was to scout Pt. Mouillee SGA as part of the Rockwood CBC to be held on 26 Dec 2017. So, when I woke up to a quarter inch of fresh snow and a steady snowfall in progress I decided to push on with my plan to bike the dikes. I just hoped that the ground would be firm enough. It was, but the now steady-falling snow and snow-covered ground made biking a real effort. I would put in 9.32 miles as the eBird flies during my 2.5 hr visit.

Captured w/ Nikon D500 and 300/2.8 VRII
I parked at the Mouillee Creek entrance and rode the Middle Causeway toward the Banana Unit. Several cars were parked in the lot and deer/rabbit hunters were in the field. I would pass one hunter gutting a deer alongside the Humphries Unit across from the Vermet Unit. But, before that I came upon a Snowy Owl perched atop a pole 50 yards north of the junction of Long Pond and Vermet Units on the dike to my left. Digiscoping a video was the way to go in low light and gave me a chance to compare the 1080P Slow-motion capability of the Sony a6300 with the 4K video capability of the same camera.

Here is the Slow-motion version:

Here is the same distance at 4K (with 1.5X crop factor)

Image quality is definitely improved with the 4K setting, but the Slow-motion is very good, as well. It will be especially useful for fast-moving birds, like foraging shorebirds.

I continued on, making sure not to disturb the owl, which would be found on the return trip in the same location. The trip around the Banana Unit and Cell 3 was uneventful. Lake Erie was open except for a few ice flows next to shore, and no ducks were to be found. A few Common Goldeneye and Bufflehead were in Cell 4.

I stopped at the mouth of the Huron River and Lake Erie and gazed upon an impressive raft of Canvasback (and some presumed Redhead) floating a quarter-mile out. My eBird count was 5000, but 20,000 birds would not surprise me. The raft extended beyond view, and I was too tired to follow it around Cell 5, so I continued west along the North Causeway.

I spotted another Snowy Owl sitting out in the middle of the Vermet Unit. At first I thought it might be the individual I saw earlier, but upon riding the dike between Long Pond and Vermet Units toward the Middle Causeway I saw my original bird in its same location.

Captured w/ Nikon D500 and 300/2.8 VRII
As I approached the Snowy Owl the snow finally let up. I was covered in snow and it was starting drip down my face. The camera and bins were snow-covered and fogged over, so I hoped the digiscoping camera was still dry inside my coat. I stopped 100 yds short and hoped to approached the bird, which was near the Middle Causeway, but 20 yds away from the new/inside dike of the Long Pond Unit. It still flew, first to the inner dike about 50 yds away, then continued on where it landed atop the Zone 10 sign of the Long Pond Unit.

I was able to ride the Middle Causeway down toward the owl and scope it safely across the canal separating the two dikes.

Captured w/ Nikon D500 and 300/2.8 VRII

Within minutes I had a Gray Ghost (male Northern Harrier) glide along the canal between me and the owl. It never noticed the owl. It was followed by an American Kestrel flying due north that "Kli-kli-kli'd" as it passed over the owl but never stopped.

Nikon D500/300/2.8
I decided to take another video of the owl as it quietly scanned its surroundings. With the snow stopped the skies had brightened enough to do another 4K vs. 1020P Slow-motion video comparison. As soon as I started capturing videos a second, female Northern Harrier appeared in view out in the Long Pond Unit and began flying toward the owl. This bird hovered for 1-2 seconds above the owl and got its attention, but continued on without further harrassment. In the 4K video below you can see it looking up and following something around, and then see the harrier pass in the background.

Nikon D500/300/2.8

Captured w/ Nikon D500 and 300/2.8 VRII

Here are the two videos. You can figure out which ones are which...

By now I was starting to feel the temperatures dropping, and I was soaked, so I bundled up and biked back to the car. I stopped just long enough to see another harrier, and another pair of kestrels. A light-phased Rough-legged Hawk then passed over the Walpatich Unit as I rode by.

I returned to car and headed home exhausted but happy.

Pte. Mouillee SGA, Monroe, Michigan, US
Dec 23, 2017 8:32 AM - 11:07 AM
Protocol: Traveling
9.321 mile(s)
16 species (+1 other taxa)

Tundra Swan (Cygnus columbianus)  50
Mallard (Anas platyrhynchos)  5
Mallard (Domestic type) (Anas platyrhynchos (Domestic type))  2
American Black Duck (Anas rubripes)  8
Canvasback (Aythya valisineria)  5000     Mouth of Huron River and Lake Erie. Raft half mile long. Presume Redheads as well. Majority Cans, though.
Bufflehead (Bucephala albeola)  2
Common Goldeneye (Bucephala clangula)  26
Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus)  1
Common Merganser (Mergus merganser)  6
Northern Harrier (Circus hudsonius)  3
Rough-legged Hawk (Buteo lagopus)  1
Ring-billed Gull (Larus delawarensis)  150
Herring Gull (Larus argentatus)  24
Great Black-backed Gull (Larus marinus)  1
Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus)  2     One in Vermet on ice and 2nd on dike between Long Pond and Vermet. Digiscoped.
American Kestrel (Falco sparverius)  3
American Tree Sparrow (Spizelloides arborea)  45

View this checklist online at

This report was generated automatically by eBird v3 (

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