Saturday, April 2, 2011


Detroit Harbor, Washington Island -

Days this past week were marked by cold nighttime temperatures, frosty mornings, and then milder, sunny afternoons.  

As snow melted from the roofs, steam arose, water dripped and then froze.

Sparkling patterns of icesicles were too tempting for Aidan and Magnus to resist, trumping for the moment Oreos in the Ziploc bag.  

Toward week's end it warmed enough by noon to create respectable sap runs, this being the second major week - and likely the last - for local sap producers.

Detroit Harbor is still frozen over, and although ice shanties have been removed, a few fishermen still try their luck, making the trip out on snowmobile or four-wheeler.   Except for the soft edge where the ice sheet meets shore, this harbor still has a two-foot thick covering of hard ice.   But very little ice is seen along the ferry route these days, and a good thing, since the ferry schedule increased Friday to six daily round trips from the two trips of Jan-Feb-Mar.

There's more and more bird activity, now that spring is on its way.   Geese have moved in, staking out their claim along the marshy shoreline.  Swans can also be seen, dozens of them swimming in open water near the ferry dock.   Sandhill cranes are around now, too, squawking as they take off across the harbor.   We've had a hawk in the neighborhood that likes to bring its lunch of a small bird or rodent to the edge of the beach where Main Road ends.  Early one morning it gave chase to a gliding pheasant along the waterfront.  We think we've also spotted the first great blue heron of the season.

Eagles are seen near the islands year around, often sitting out in the open on protruding ridges of ice when the ferry passes by.  No longer a strange sight, eagles are still wonderful to spot, for their size, color, and commanding presence.

That is why I was taken by surprise this morning as I rounded the major curve on Lobdell Point Road and a mature bald eagle swooped down from a tree behind me, then led me for at least half a mile along the twisting Point road.   This eagle stayed over the centerline of the road, about 30 feet above the pavement, as occasionally it turned its head to one side or the other to see if I was still following.

When it had banked around the sharp corner at Gordon Court and passed the graveled Henning Road cut-off, the eagle coasted up to a perch in a large maple tree on a branch that overhung the roadside.

That was pretty amazing, I thought, following close behind a low-gliding eagle, with the bird leading me toward the ferry dock, so-to-speak.   I was just as surprised 45 minutes later when I drove the mail van from the ferry to the U.S. Post Office.   This same eagle was still on the same branch and was now posing for a couple who had spotted it as they drove along.  They were thrilled and amazed by their find.   After unloading the mail, I drove home to get my camera, then took a few photos of the eagle on my return to the dock.  (Unfortunately, my digital camera's telephoto feature no longer works.)  

Unsure of my photographic results, I drove on to the Ferry Office, picked up a small hand-held video camera, and then drove back to film the eagle.  He (it) was still in its perch.

Could this be the same eagle we've seen in summer each day sitting atop one of the two poles near the Plum Island fog signal building, the one the ferry crew calls "Walt," because he appears to routinely track  ferry activities?    This eagle from its Lobdell Road vantage point, whether it was Walt or another, had observed the string of cars discharged by the mid-morning ferry, as well as other vehicles passing to or from the ferry dock.  

Attentive. Interested. Patient. That is how this bird could be described.

This brings me to my last paragraph, a pitch for the Island Birding Festival, scheduled for the weekend of June 4-5-6.  For a listing of activities and a registration form, please go to this site:

Its a great way to enjoy the outdoors and to share information with other birders, and an opportunity to see parts of these Door islands not otherwise accessible to individuals.  And, this year there happens to be a guest speaker for Saturday evening's gathering who is an expert on bald eagles!
  - Dick Purinton

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