Yesterday I wrote about Lake Erie Metropark with all its amenities, many that I’ve yet to discover. There are still nature trails to be walked. There will be return trips as Autumn approaches, to view the colors, and, if I’m lucky, perhaps even a deer, an owl or some migrating birds.
I thought I’d expand my horizons a little as to Lake Erie, so I booked myself on a two-hour river boat cruise entitled “Eagle’s Eye Nature Cruise” and its advertisement read as follows: “Take a naturalist’s tour of the lower Detroit River to discover the rich variety of plant and animal life living here in this area, now a part of the International Wildlife Refuge. The river is host to a wide variety of habitats, from submerged plant beds and shoals to coastal marshes. And yes, we know where the Bald Eagle nests are!”
That sounded fun and interesting to me. I saw my first bald eagle back in the tail end of January, when I went down to the Detroit River on a cold Winter day to watch the eagles who live on uninhabited Mud Island. The eagles live there year around, and, in the Winter they are more visible in the bare trees, especially if you watch them swooping down from the treetops to catch fish in the Detroit River. At that time, there were ice floes galore and several eagles were perched right on the ice floes. I stood in a pavilion with others, mostly nature-lovers like myself, but several photographers lined up, cameras on tripods, their long lenses trained on the tree and those elusive eagles. My camera only captured a brown dot on an ice floe so the photo was not impressive. I would, however, return a few weeks later, on an equally bitter cold day, with my binoculars in tow. Aah – a much better view of these regal birds!
A fellow blogger, after reading my post, suggested I check out Tofino Photography if I really wanted to see impressive eagle images: https://tofinophotography.wordpress.com and all I can say is wow! Wayne’s scenic sunsets, wildlife shots, and, especially his up-close eagle photos are just amazing.
So, I wondered if I could see what Wayne sees right here in Southeast Michigan?
Yesterday’s impromptu trip to Lake Erie Metropark was also to scope out the river boat and take a few photos of the marina before this trip. I originally intended to do those photos today, but when the weather forecast called for 94 degrees F with a “real feel” of 100 degrees F (34C/37C) this afternoon, I decided to forego that little jaunt before the trip. Not only was it hot, but we had high humidity and haze as well. Ugh!
I did stroll around the marina yesterday and checked out the pleasure boats and many sailboats.
After strolling around the marina, I chatted it up with a couple from Chelsea, Michigan, who were bemoaning a windless morning, but they were not going to let that stop their time on the water, opting to kayak instead of taking out their sailboat. They told me they often saw the “E/V Clinton” set out from the marina on its many Summer Discovery cruises.
I saw the “E/V Clinton” moored in the corner, so I took a photo of it from the dock:
Then, since no one was around, I went up the gangplank and peered into the boat and got a close-up photo of the boat.
Later, while walking along the shoreline, I saw the “E/V Clinton” bobbing around in the water nearby. I took a picture of it and checked out its destination when I got online later … it was on a four-hour cruise called “The Big River Meander” which explored the Lower Detroit River.
It’s funny, how your perspective about climbing on a boat changes as you get older. When I was in my late twenties/early thirties I enjoyed traveling. I did it alone as my friends had other interests. I hooked up with a tour group or took a cruise. I was on cruises to the Bahamas, Greek Islands and a two-week Panama Canal cruise. Also there was an overnight ferry trip that crossed the Baltic sea from Finland to Russia. Many times the cruise ships could not dock at small islands so we went in by tender. Along with fellow passengers, I’d climb into a small boat, leaving the “mother ship” to arrive at the shoreline, where we’d disembark at our destination.
I was fearless, never giving a thought to what could happen, but maybe I should have, given the fact that I don’t now, nor have I ever known how to swim.
After booking this little river boat adventure online and getting my confirmation, I started to think about the trip some more, and, thoughts of the “Minnow” and the ill-fated “three-hour tour” mentioned in the theme song from the TV show “Gilligan’s Island”, kept cropping up in my mind. I shook my head at my silly thoughts.
But, then came the tragedy of the duck boat sinking on July 19th in Branson, Missouri.
Well, that clinched it – I contacted them and asked for a refund, based on that incident where seventeen people lost their lives. Their policy was/is no refund unless they cancel a trip.
So I put on my big girl panties and just dealt with my sudden fears and went (despite the fact the weatherman said there might be a pop-up thunderstorm today).
The weather was horribly hot as I stepped aboard the boat. Captain Joe greeted everyone and was chivalrous as he lent a hand to help all the women board his vessel.
Here is Captain Joe.
I sat in the back of the boat, a/k/a the stern, to get a bit of a breeze and be able to take pictures without the glare from the windows. Once the “E/V Clinton” had glided out of the marina, down the channel and out into Lake Erie, the narrator, Kevin, and his assistant, Rosemarie, began the instructive portion of the cruise.
We passed a group of about 100 mallards, all with the same dull-brown plumage. Kevin told us these ducks were moulting right now, so the drakes had lost their teal head feathers and colorful markings and had “eclipse” plumage in the interim. At this time we were told that the eagles might not be too visible as they, too, were moulting. That was too bad since the focus of the cruise was to see the eagles.
This river cruise is part of an educational series of cruises sponsored by Michigan State University and Sea Grant (http://www.miseagrant.umich.edu/sdc/cruises/), so there was some “show-and-tell” items which were circulated to the group by Kevin and Rosemarie as we passed various points of interest.
Some of these show-and-tell items were either photographs, or real-life fish, birds or animals. We saw some of the popular fish from Lake Erie, including a 30-inch sturgeon …
… and the head of a muskie with quite a set of choppers.
There was another ugly predator fish but I can’t remember its name.
A few times Captain Joe poked his head out of the pilot house to say too many of us were sitting on the right side as the boat was listing to the right … yikes!
I was enjoying the cruise, the narrator’s info and the visual aids, until we passed an island where there are a lot of sea birds called terns. Instead of a photo of a tern, a long plastic cylinder with a stuffed tern inside was passed along to the group. A taxidermist had impaled the dead tern onto a stick and that stick could be pulled out of the cylinder to inspect the tern. Well no, just no! I found that a little macabre. I shook my head “no thanks” and waved my hand to pass it along to someone else. I did likewise when they circulated a real mink that had been mounted on a board so we could see what critter was eating all the turtle eggs at one particular venue. I passed on touching the mink or seeing it up close. We also saw the shell of a large painted turtle when we passed an area where many turtles gather to lay their eggs (often only to be scavenged by mischievous minks). I passed on handling all these items, plus the fish mentioned above.
Apparently the lotuses that I was impressed with yesterday are not as gargantuan as they usually are due to our long Winter and cold Spring and an atmospheric event called a seiche. We saw a lotus pod and also a single dried leaf from one lotus.
There was a lot of big boat traffic on Lake Erie and the winds, at around 17 mph, made it seem a little choppy to me. Nothing to be worried about (despite my initial trepidation), but I decided not to head up to the bow, as they recommended we hang onto the railing up at the front of the boat and I could not take pictures and hang on as well.
We passed many types of boats … pontoons, large watercraft and some beautiful sailboats and many of their occupants waved as we passed.
Toward the end of the boat trip, Captain Joe suddenly cut the motor and we were told we had arrived at Humbug Island, a haven for bald eagles. Here at Eagle Point, most of the eagles have nests in the tall trees at this natural habitat which is part of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge.
Nearby Humbug Marsh also has eagles, so we were told to grab our binoculars and watch the treetops carefully. Since we were stopped, I moved closer to the bow to look for eagles, their nests, or maybe even eaglets. I was hopeful, but there was only one bald eagle that flew from one tree to another and was identified by his plumage color (mostly brown) as a juvenile (approximately three years old). Here is a map of the wildlife refuge and I think I’m going to go there on one of my weekend excursions: https://www.fws.gov/uploadedFiles/humbug%20trail%20map.pdf
While we were stopped, there was another highlight. A camera was dropped from the back of the boat to take photos beneath the “E/V Clinton” so we could watch big screen TVs to see the underwater plant life, and, if we were lucky, a few fish might wander by. The camera showed no fish, but plenty of seaweed and wild celery floating around down there. This area of the Trenton Channel was the shallowest portion of Lake Erie, a mere nine to eleven feet. We stayed “parked” here for about 15 minutes, then headed back to the marina.
As we pulled away, I took a photo of Humbug Marsh. The twin candy-cane striped smoke stacks are often referred to as the “Trenton Stacks” and are part of the Trenton Channel Power Plant.
The eagles might have been a no-show, but an osprey and a great blue heron glided by the boat while we were cruisin’ and there was one seagull who decided to sneak a peek inside the boat.
This seagull swooped down low enough that I could get a close-up of him. I asked if his name was Jonathan Livingston Seagull but he continued on his own journey and did not divulge this information to me.