Duck, duck, goose

Becky Vargo • Mar 14, 2019 at 12:00 PM

Grand Haven residents Ted and Deb Colthurst were excited to see a pair of long-tailed ducks Wednesday afternoon when they checked out the channel from Grand Haven State Park.

“They are beautiful,” Deb said, confirming that this was the first time they had seen the colorful waterfowl.

Birders consider a first sighting a “lifer,” and the couple agreed it is much more exciting when the bird is one not normally seen in the area.

The Colthursts started birding when they moved to Grand Haven Township. Ted noted that the bird migration is picking up, now that the rain and warmer weather are causing the ice to melt. 

He pointed out a large flock of greater scaups moving up and down the Grand River. A common merganser dipped and dived alone in the channel. A pair of Canada geese honked their greeting as they flew overhead.

“We watch all the migrating birds,” Ted said. “We have seen 98 species of birds in front of our house in the 11 years we’ve been there.”

The couple live by the Grand River near Millhouse Bayou.

“I just sighted three wood ducks on the ice in front of the house yesterday,” Deb said Wednesday.

Ted noted that some sandhill cranes had also returned to their area.

Retired Ottawa County naturalist Chip Francke agreed that the spring migration was just starting, but not much of it was long-distance travel.

“Most of the birds there now are winter ducks who are usually out on the lake,” he explained.

Even though Lake Michigan has a lot of open water, the ducks will go where they need to go to get food.

The last couple of days, there have been hundreds of greater scaup in the Grand Haven channel. Francke said he was at the channel Tuesday and saw, in addition to the greater scaup, common golden eye, red-breasted merganser, white-winged scoters and one long-tailed duck.

One thing a lot of people might not know is that the National Audubon Society has designated parts of Lake Michigan as an IBA (Important Bird Area) for the long-tailed duck.

“It’s not protected, but it’s one of the largest congregations of them in the world,” Francke said.

The IBA runs from the shoreline out 5 miles, from Allegan County to Benzie County. 

About 23,000 long-tailed ducks were reported off Holland State Park on Jan. 8, 2010, Francke said.

Now is a great time to see the ducks, Francke said. They are concentrated in one area and there is parking nearby.

Francke said Pigeon Lake is open and that’s another good area to see the ducks. But what you see can change from day to day, he added.

Francke said one indicator that the migration has started is the arrival of the Canada geese.

“The early migrants are definitely moving in,” he said. “Mid to late March is when it really starts going.”

Francke said the most interesting waterfowl sightings recently were a Barrow’s golden eye in Allegan County and a harlequin duck (last seen Feb. 16) on Pigeon Lake.

Anyone interested in learning more about birding can check the Ottawa County Parks & Recreation Birding News at news.miottawa.org/march-birding-update.

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