I am back from my birding expedition to the frozen tundra that is Belle Isle! We went out with a great bunch of folks, 14 to start with, who were willing to brave the cold temps and the biting wind for a chance to see an unfamiliar bird.
Belle Isle is in the middle of the Detroit River, which separates Windsor, Ontario from Michigan. The entire region, from the south shores of Lake Erie on up along Lake St. Claire and Lake Huron, is a huge flyway for migrating birds. Additionally, the area around Belle Isle is generally the last of the open water in the area, so it gets flooded with gulls and waterfowl. Anyone without enough sense to fly south for the winter seems to end up here.
From the island one gets a great view of Detroit, partly because it's so far away you can't see the blight. (My heart breaks every time I drive through this city.) But it is an attractive skyline, with the Renaissance Center and the Ambassador Bridge.
The river was choked with ice, much of it looking like this:
But there was open water to be found, and most of it was packed with birds. Here some Goldeneye are joining the group. Note the two Common mergansers smack in the middle.
There were not that many Canada geese, which can be a real nuisance around here. This small flock was headed for the open water under the bridge to the island.
With everyone looking out to the river for waterfowl, this little American tree sparrow was nearly overlooked.
It was a good group, led by Steve Santner and Fred Charbonneau of the Detroit Audubon Society. They were knowledgeable and more than happy to point out what they were seeing out on the water. Here Andrew, a British fellow in town for business who hitched a ride in our van, checks out some gulls.
Surprisingly, the hit of the day was a gull. This one, a Greater black-backed gull, was hanging with some geese on the Detroit side of the river.
On the Canadian side Steve spotted these two, which he came to identify based on size and leg color as two different species--a Lesser black-backed gull in front, and a Greater behind. Detroit is nearly at the far western edge of the range of both these birds, and the group was a-twitter about them. Unfortunately they were quite a ways off, so the images are pretty poor (note, however, the Canvasbacks in the background).
Eventually the larger bird took wing.
After the shoreline drive we stopped and took a short hike into the woods in hopes of seeing a saw-whet owl that has been seen hanging around, but no one was home.
I look forward to heading back out to this area in the spring, perhaps making a trip to Metro Beach MetroPark to catch the migration.