Friday, November 13, 2009

A Meeting At The Casino

Notice anything is the picture above? Yeah, that is the Casino on Belle Isle. The original structure was built in 1887 but it burned down. Redesigned and rebuilt in 1907 by Albert Kahn, the Casino that now stands is a total gem. By the way, while we call it a "casino", you don't gamble there. Back in the day, folks would simple gather in the cool shade and be social. It was a nice location for friends to gather. Think of it as a meeting place.

See that pile of feathers in the foreground? Yup, there was meeting there, too. But it wasn't friendly....

Knowing the weather was supposed to be great this past Wednesday, a birding buddy and I hit the road. Our mission was to track down ducks. The Detroit River can be an awesome place when the ducks are in town and by early to mid-November, they should be, right? In any case, one always hopes to find something cool.

Starting at the south end of the river, we hit Elizabeth in Trenton, Bishop Park in Wyandotte, Dingle Park in Ecorse, Loranger Park in River Rouge and found exactly zero ducks! Okay, we found we a few Mallards, but that was it! You have to be kidding, right? With spirits a bit befuddled (despite finding Ring-necked Pheasant just a few block east of the GM HQ and finding Jim the Mockingbird and his squeeze on West Jefferson in Trenton by the car wash), we made our way to the final part of out tour, Belle Isle.

After making the turn on to the Island, we swung into the first lot. That duck one hundred yards out into the river seemed to be defying all of our attempts to name it. Finally, with a scope it was confirmed. Hah! A plastic decoy! Find THAT one in a field guide! Further down the way, a small raft of ducks needed some attention. For the record, it was basically the ONLY raft of duck we found - some Scaup, a few Canvasbacks, some Redheads and some Buffleheads. That was more or less it. Maybe 30 ducks, right? Ooooooooohhhh (sarcasm). Intent on finding something cool, we set off to check the rest of the island. Maybe a Cackling Goose?

After moving to the other side of the island, we spied a group of Canada Geese. Beyond them in the grass? A Peregrine Falcon on a kill! No doubt one of the Detroit birds. Now we're talkin'!!! Using the car as a blind, we moved to the other side of the field. There it sat, not 50 yards out. It was basically "stoop, tug, and eat" with feathers from the kill flying all over the place. After a few minutes, it started to get vocal and took off. Like a bunch of biology geeks, we had to find out what it had been eating. Boy, it was really nice of that Ring-billed Gull to sacrifice itself so the Peregrine could live....

As if the whole episode wasn't cool enough, it came back moments later! Unfortunately, we were still dilly-dallying at the kill site so it kept going....and landed on the light pole less than 100 yards away. Again using the car as a blind, we crept up under the bird, but the lighting was all wrong. So, we kept going (under the light pole!) and moved about 100 feet past it. Perfect late afternoon light. Crawling half way out of the sunroof, I took a whole series of photos (including the cropped but unaltered image below). Breathtaking.

So the total duck numbers were a bust. Very disappointing for mid-November. But to see one of the world's most impressive raptors at spitting distances? Too cool.

So, yeah, I guess the Casino on Belle Isle still is a meeting place of sorts. Mr. Gull? Meet Mr. Talon....

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