The harsh winter’s brutally low temperatures has caused areas of the lake to freeze over that in previous winters stayed open. Having some open space in which to operate, some ducks had become year around residents. So have they managed to survive Clark Lake’s Polar Vortex? John Deming recalls what he saw while watching the DamCam “I did see a duck land in the water in front of the dam and actually sit on the dam itself for a few minutes. I watched to see if it would jump in the pool below the dam and head downstream, but it didn’t. It flew away instead.”
In an email from Monday, February 24th, John’s brother wrote about his experience that may relate to Clark Lake’s situation:
“This past Saturday I drove to St. Ignace around 4 PM. About 500 yards before I reached Nun’s Creek, which, like all of Lake Huron, is completely frozen, I saw something move on my left. Sitting atop a pile of snow that had been pushed-back by the snowplows was a drake, common merganser. It appeared to be preening itself. I only had the opportunity for brief glance but it appeared healthy but definitely in a place where it had no chance to survive. There was no open water that mergansers, diver ducks, loons, etc. require to take off. I wanted to stop and take a picture but there was a big truck behind me so I couldn’t stop. I drove back home later that night and found the bird, now dead, lying on the shoulder of the road right next to the pushed-back snow pile. It did not appear to have been killed by a predator as it was not torn apart, the legs, wings, and head were all intact. My guess is that the snowplow came by again and the bird, which had been sitting next to the edge of the pushed-back snow, was killed by a plow.
“Today I drove into town to the drugstore and while there I somehow got on the subject of the merganser I had seen on Saturday. A woman standing next to me at the counter told me she was eastbound on M–134 and when she was about 3 miles from Detour she saw three bufflehead walking down the middle of the road. She said she stopped her car and attempted to catch one as did another woman in another car who was westbound. They were both unsuccessful.
“It’s very common for ducks to spend the winter here but in past years there has always been lots of open water, enough for them to feed and rest. But, this year Lake Huron, in fact all the Great Lakes, is frozen over, or nearly so? When it freezes over, any merganser, diver duck, or loon had better be heading south or risk freezing to death when the last bit of open water turns to ice. As for the merganser I saw and the three bufflehead, I can only guess what happened? My guess is that they were flying, perhaps for a long time, to find open water. Since there virtually no open water, they became exhausted and may even have been starving? It’s possible they were disoriented due to their fatigue and hunger, conditions that may have been made worse by a storm? But, on Saturday, while it was below freezing, the sun was bright causing some of the snow and ice on the road to melt. My guess is that the dark blacktop with the melting snow and ice looked, from above, like a river. Once these birds were on the “river” they were trapped, unable to fly. Since they couldn’t fly without the open water necessary for them to takeoff, sooner or later, they would have been killed by ravens, wolves, fox, eagles, coyotes, etc.
Does anyone at Clark Lake have something to add to the winter duck story? Please email your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.