A couple weeks ago the first of the Great Blue Herons arrived back on their nests at the Holland Ponds rookery. I only found out about this large communal nesting site last spring, so I still get very excited about it. I had checked the eBird listings to remind me of when they got here last year, so I knew it was about time. And when Hiking Michigan announced that they were here on March 6, I jumped in my car and went over to take a look.
The area around the rookery is protected (well, at least by warning signs), so the view is from a distance and through the woods. But the thing is, these birds are like living sculptures, so even from a distance they make a striking sight. Like this:
There were six birds on nests when I was there, and some of them were already exhibiting courtship behavior. I watched this pair doing some displays and beak touching, as well as some nest repairs. There are several dozen nests at this rookery, so it’ll be fun to watch as more birds arrive to fill them all up in the coming weeks.
This single American Coot has been hanging out with the Mallards at the pond for at least the past couple of months. The Mallard flock had been up to about 200 birds, but there were only about 50 there on this day. The lone Ring-necked Duck that had also been there was nowhere to be seen. I watched the Coot for a while to see how he interacted with the Mallards. On my past visits he always seemed to be alone among them, not really part of any little groups. But this time he was tagging along with a small group of Mallards as they swam around the pond. They didn’t seem to mind, as I didn’t witness any aggression toward him or from him. In fact, when he climbed up on this partly submerged branch, the two Mallards moved over to make room for him. But they quickly decided three was a crowd, and the male Mallard swam off, leaving his female to keep the Coot company for a bit.
There was someone else making his presence known at the pond too. When I first heard his call I thought, “What’s that?!” It took me a couple minutes to suddenly realize I was hearing the distinctive rattle of a Belted Kingfisher. These birds like to sit on branches overhanging the water, giving them a great vantage point for multiple fishing forays. So they’re pretty easy to find once you hear them. I admit to lots of frustration trying to get a good photo of one though. I even tried hiding behind a bench for a few minutes, hoping this one would come closer. It didn’t help that someone came up and wanted to chat for several minutes right in the middle of this. I tried to get the curious guy to look at the bird through my binoculars, but he seemed to want to talk more than he wanted to see the birds. In the end I had to settle for a few heavily-cropped photos like this:
The most excitement of the afternoon involved the Canada Geese congregating on the frozen marsh near dusk. These very common geese are well known as noisy birds, and there’s almost always lots of honking to be heard at this location. I usually don’t spend much time looking at the geese, but there was so much commotion I decided to sit and watch for a while. One of the first interactions I saw was two geese attacking each other violently. The sounds of their wings hitting each other and the ice was loud, and it was accompanied by the squawking cheers and jeers of the rest of the gang. I didn’t get photos of that interaction, but I got lots of pictures of geese chasing each other around. (I’d suggest clicking on these pictures to see the larger versions — some of them are just begging for funny captions.)
I’ve found that this year I’m starting to spend more time watching the birds interacting with each other rather than just counting them for my eBird reports and snapping a few photos as documentation. It gives a whole new dimension to my birding experience when I pay attention to how they go about their lives — where they live, what they eat, and what they do during the day. My world has become much more interesting lately. I’m so grateful that I discovered the world of birds!