One of the best birding locations in west Michigan in the 11,000 acre Muskegon Wastewater Treatment Facility. Here's what it says on their website on the page dedicated to birding:
|Ruddy Duck, #63|
Driving down the center causeway between the storage lagoons we could see a large flock of geese out on the ice. We then found the large flock of Common Redpoll that have been there all winter. It's amazing that they haven't yet exhausted the supply of seeds there. The flock is a bit spooky, and if you drive too close they leap into the air en masse, twittering and wheeling, before coming to rest 10-20 feet down the road. Getting close enough for a photo can be a real challenge, but patience usually pays off. This center causeway is a great location to find all sorts of species. Snowy Owl often hang out there when the lagoons are open, picking off unwary ducks. I saw a very rare Buff-breasted Sandpiper there and had Snow Buntings last fall (but none yet this year).
Heading down from the west side of the lagoons Lisa spotted some Eastern Bluebirds feasting on sumac berries for MBY bird #64. They were on her side of the car so I didn't try for photos. We drove over to the ponds and while we debated which two-track to take, the geese that had been on the ice lifted off and made their way to one of the flooded ponds. Hundreds of birds poured in, disappearing behind the earthen dike. We made our way over, driving the car as close as we dared to the huge flock that was feasting on the vegetation. After a couple minutes we simultaneously saw the immature Snow Goose foraging among the Canadas. I was thrilled to finally add a rarity to my year list and to be as close to a Snow Goose as I'd ever been.
|Immature Snow Goose, #65. This species has two color morphs--this bird will eventually be all white.|
We scanned the flock of about 500 geese for a Cackling Goose (a nearly identical species to Canada but about half the size, with a squat head and short bill) and watched as many of the Mallards flew off to a neighboring pond. We drove around to check them out, and found about 70 Mallard and a handful of Gadwall. Then, for no reason we could discern, the ducks in the corner of the pool took off. The sun was behind me and the birds fairly close, so I hopped out and started shooting. Mallard is one of those ultra-common species here that tend to get overlooked. I think they are strikingly beautiful birds.
|Mallard, common and underappreciated.|
As I was shooting the ducks, the geese from the next pool over--who I'm pretty sure couldn't even see me--took wing and headed back toward the storage lagoons. The sound these birds made--both with wing and voice--is indescribable. We watched in awe as the sky eventually emptied and quiet returned to the day.
We saw a female Northern Harrier patrolling the ponds--apparently this is her turf, as she is there almost every time I've been to the facility--then we drove to the agricultural fields to look for larks, buntings, and anyone else that might be there. About halfway through Lisa saw a large raptor sitting in a tree near the edge of a field a hundred yards away, and getting it in my binoculars I could see it was a Golden Eagle. This is another Michigan rarity, and I had known that one was hanging out here, but without an extra pair of eyes I don't think I would have seen it. Birding is not only more fun with a friend, it's also more productive! The eagle eventually took to the sky and I got some shots as it flew past the car.
|Golden Eagle fly-by|
As we were making our way towards the main road and thinking of heading to the pier, I got a text that a Varied Thrush had been seen at some feeders at a house up in Manistee. It was just early enough that if we left right away we could get there with enough daylight to see the bird. It was a1 1/2 hour drive, and while it was likely to stick around for days (having found a food source) we decided to drive up that afternoon rather than head home and hope to see it the next day. Because the highway was fairly close travel time was going to be about the same from Muskegon or home, so off we went. But on the way out of the facility we were waylaid by a male Northern Harrier cruising the fields. Known colloquially as the "Gray Ghost" I couldn't resist a few distant shots.
|Male Northern Harrier, the "Gray Ghost"|
After a snack and potty stop along the way we made it to Manistee by 4:15. Another couple was already there, standing at the ready in the driveway. The homeowner had graciously given us bird-crazy folks permission to come see the bird. The couple turned out to be Linda and Chuck, who used to run the art show in Manistee and who knew me and my work. Small world! After about 15 minutes the thrush appeared in a tree in the back yard--spotted yet again by Lisa's sharp eye. It seemed reluctant to come to the feeders so Chuck and I crept to the back and got a few photos for proof of this rare visitor from the West. It was a great way to cap off a good day of birding.
|Varied Thrush playing peek-a-boo|
Home, Jan. 16
#62) Golden-crowned Kinglet
Muskegon Wastewater, Jan. 19
#63) Ruddy Duck
#64) Eastern Bluebird
#65) Snow Goose
#66) Golden Eagle
Manistee, Jan. 19
#67) Varied Thrush