Today was a beautiful day, with temps in the mid 70s (F) and breezes at 15-20 mph. Eric took the day off and we decided to go kayaking. (We’d planned to go yesterday but when we saw that severe thunderstorms were predicted we tossed that plan and went birding instead. As it turned out there wasn’t a drop of rain until late in the evening, and then it only lasted a few minutes….thanks weatherman!) With the brisk wind today, we knew it would be a bad idea to go out on 500-acre Stony Creek Lake, so we went to Lake Sixteen instead (in Orion Oaks Park). It’s much smaller — about 90 acres — and best of all, there’s no beach. Beaches mean noise, and noise is exactly what we don’t want when we’re trying to enjoy a nice day floating on the water. There’s a small fishing pier, and only non-motorized boats are allowed. It’s almost the perfect lake for kayaking. I say almost perfect because it doesn’t have any overhanging trees for shade on those scorching hot days. Even with its smaller size, the water was pretty rough today as a result of the wind. At one point I thought I might be stranded on the far side for a while because the winds wouldn’t let me paddle back across to the boat ramp.
I normally take a backpack with me on my kayak, filled with camera, binoculars, phone, sunscreen, bug spray, water, and snacks. (And sometimes even my Kindle.) When I tell you that I decided not to lug the camera along today, those of you who are paying attention will guess that there’s a reason I mention it. And there is. But more about that in a minute. (The photos in this post were all taken with my phone.)
Right after launching on the east shore, we noticed a family of swans on the far northern edge of the lake. Ever since I read about that man being killed by a swan recently, I’ve been sure to keep my distance from them, especially when they have babies. Eric laughed at me, but followed me when I headed for the west side of the lake instead. The wind was coming from the north, pushing us sideways, but we eventually made it across. Not much bird action over there, so we headed into our “secret” cove at the south end, where we can often find a Great Blue Heron at least. The cove was shielded somewhat from the wind, and we both drifted into the lilypads so our kayaks would be kept from blowing around while we scanned the trees with our binoculars. We found lots of good birds here, including Great Egret, the expected Great Blue Heron, Tree and Bank Swallows, and Common Yellowthroat. Eric said he saw Bluebirds before I caught up with him, but I never saw them.
After about an hour of puttering around, we started to head across to the other side again. This time we were heading into a strong wind and it took all the strength I have in my weakling arms just to make slow progress. There’s a small island in the lake, measuring roughly 150 by 300 feet, and when I got there I decided to sit awhile and
rest see if I could hear any birds. Almost immediately I heard a Marsh Wren calling. I’ve heard these secretive little birds at Hawk Woods twice this month, but have not been able to find them. They sing loudly and constantly, and it’s easy to pinpoint where they are, but they somehow remain invisible. I’ve been frustrated with my inability to lay my eyes on them, so today I decided to wait them out. Eric didn’t have the same desire to find them, so he went exploring somewhere else.
I lodged the front of my kayak into an indentation in the cattails, keeping my paddles locked into the vegetation. Then I waited. And waited some more. I could hear them but they seemed to be on the far side of the island. But I stayed put. I played their song on my Audubon app twice to see if they’d respond. I think I must have sat in that spot for 20 minutes. Then I heard them not far away, maybe 30 feet or so. I slowly backed out of my little hiding spot and drifted for a minute. Suddenly I saw something brown fly from a spot just 20 feet to my left, but it went around the bend and I lost it. I waited. I saw something brown fly back past me again. Then this little brown thing flew into a spot right at the water’s edge, 2 feet above the water line. I got my binoculars on it in a flash…and BAM! I had him. Finally! Not only was I looking at a beautiful little bird, but I had found its nest as well. I watched him/her going in and out of that nest several times, carrying something in. I’m not sure if it was taking in insects (I didn’t hear any babies) or nesting materials. And once it came out of the nest with a gooey white clump of something…I can’t figure out what that might have been. I know some birds take waste out of their nests, but this couldn’t have been that. Or could it? I dunno, but it looked slimy.
Here’s why I mentioned that I didn’t bring my camera along today: Can you imagine the pictures I could have gotten of that Marsh Wren? From only 20 feet away with a 400mm lens? Oh, man, I’m SO done with this birding-without-the-camera experiment. I don’t care how much hassle it is, I’m taking my camera with me every time I go kayaking from now on! Here’s the best I can do this time, a link to the Marsh Wren photo on the Cornell website.
After watching for ten minutes I reluctantly left them alone to go about their business. It’s hard to leave when you want to watch so badly, but I didn’t want to stress them too much. (If I’d known they had a nest there I probably wouldn’t have played my birdsong app either.) So I paddled across to where Eric was watching birds near the boat ramp. We found a couple of Song Sparrows and a Yellow Warbler, then called it a day. A Gray Catbird was calling from the trees beside the car as we loaded the kayaks back up. We had a very productive two hours on the water, finding more birds than we expected there.
Here’s my full eBird report for the day:
Orion Oaks County Park, Oakland, US-MI
Jun 25, 2012 1:00 PM – 3:00 PM
Comments: Kayaking on Lake Sixteen Submitted from BirdsEye Log for Android v1.07
Mute Swan X (An X means the birds were present but I didn’t get an exact count)
Great Blue Heron X
Great Egret X
Turkey Vulture 3
Eastern Kingbird X
Tree Swallow X
Barn Swallow X
Marsh Wren 2 – Finally SAW them instead of just hearing them! Also found a nest and watched them go in and out several times. Viewed in Lake Sixteen from my kayak. The nest is on the island in the lake.
American Robin 1
Gray Catbird 1
Common Yellowthroat 1
Yellow Warbler 1
Song Sparrow 2