Watch the Birdie

By Nick Lico/Photographers Joan Zeller Bonin, Mike Gronley & Robert Weir

We associate the arrival of spring with the return of birds and we know when they start migrating south that our warmer days are behind us. Yet several special birds choose to spend winter in Macomb County, including some that are only seen during the colder months.

A little preparation and know-how can make watching these magnificent creatures more memorable.

“At Lake St. Clair Metropark, we can see migratory ducks until the water freezes. It’s also a great place for seeing migratory owls and a resident horned owl. Occasionally we’ll get rarer owls, including short-eared owls. We’ll get migratory hawks and red-bellied woodpeckers,” said Julie Champion, the Metropark’s East District interpretive supervisor. The park is also a great place to see loons, grebes, geese and swans.

To see our national bird, go to Stony Creek Metropark. It hosts a nesting pair of bald eagles, as well as ospreys, red-tailed hawks, buzzards, crows, turkeys, sandhill cranes and owls. To observe the bald eagles, Joan Zeller Bonin – a photographer and volunteer eagle observer at Stony Creek – offers the following advice: “You have to be very quiet because eagles don’t like humans. Remember that this is a protected species. It’s imperative that people stay behind the barricades during nesting season because the babies need space to fl y. That’s why barricades are up until mid- August,” she said.

As Champion explained, Stony Creek visitors are also likely to see bluebirds because they have nests there. They require more open areas, which are found at Stony Creek. “If there are crab apples and small fruit on the trees and shrubs, bluebirds will hang around,” she said. “Last year in November we had a golden eagle fly over the wood trails at Stony Creek. That’s something you don’t usually see around here,” Bonin said of the eagle that is about the size of a bald eagle.

More commonly found in the North and Western regions of North America, the golden eagle will occasionally migrate here for the winter, as do a number of birds commonly found in colder regions.

“Sometimes snowy owls come down from the north. They will show up almost anywhere, including the tops of buildings in Mount Clemens. To see canvasback ducks, few places in the world are more ideal than Lake St. Clair Metropark,” said Allen Chartier. He has been banding birds at the park since 2004.

As one would expect, ducks are quite common in Macomb County and winter is an ideal time to see some of the less common ones.

“I got some great shots of a brant goose, which is an arctic goose, at Brandenburg Park in New Baltimore last year,” said Mike Gronley, an amateur photographer and bird enthusiast. “It had not been seen in Michigan for six years.”

He offers the following advice for those wishing to photograph birds, especially eagles: “Patience is the key. If you see an eagle in the tree, you have to be patient if you want to capture that perfect shot,” he said. “Get familiar with their territory, the trees they perch on and where they’re going to be next. Realize that just because the birds aren’t there now, they’re likely to be back. Always have the sun at your back and as much as possible, shoot from inside your vehicle.”

Another photographer points out that taking wildlife photographs in winter doesn’t necessarily require braving the elements.

“Go to Stony Creek and sit in the cozy warmth of the Nature Center. You’ll see birds, deer, raccoons and a variety of other wild life,” stated Rob Weir. The Washington Township resident lives at the northern end of our county, giving him the luxury of photographing from his kitchen window.

“I have a heated bird bath. I don’t see bluebirds in the warmer months but see them in the winter and they come in a small flock, six to eight at a time. People are amazed by the photos. You see this vibrant blue in a fi eld of white,” he said.

For those looking for a new winter activity, birding offers several benefi ts. “You might see birds that are not commonly seen in Michigan, such as a Harris’s sparrow. Bird watching is a good way to get out of the house, enjoy some fresh air and work off some of the extra pounds most of us tend to put on during the winter,” Chartier said.

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