In partnership with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), 60 people were invited out to DTE Energy’s Monroe power plant on Saturday, Jan. 27, to observe one of the property’s most welcomed visitor, the bald eagle. These lucky guests were selected by the USFWS from a lottery of thousands of applicants to visit the plant to observe a unique gathering of these typically solitary birds along the shoreline of Lake Erie.

Kristen LeForce

DTE Biologist Kristen LeForce providing background on the Monroe Power Plant and the bald eagle migratory pattern. Photo courtesy of Jeff Hensley, DTE supervisor.

Once an endangered species with fewer than 500 nesting pairs in the lower 48 states, bald eagles have made a tremendous comeback because of government protection and conservation efforts. In late January the Monroe plant’s population of bald eagles peaks with sometimes more than 100 birds, attracted to the property by 400 acres of heavily forested land and an open water source when most other lakes and rivers are frozen over.

“It is located along their migratory flight pattern but it’s the open water that really draws them,” said Kristen LeForce, a DTE biologist. “The plant’s warm discharge water prevents a portion of Lake Erie from freezing over, making it a great fishing spot for the birds.”

Dorothy McLeer, an interpretative naturalist from University of Michigan-Dearborn, shares stats about the bald eagles. Photo courtesy of Jeff Hensley, DTE supervisor.

The 8th annual bald eagle birdwatching tour included presentations by Jennifer Braatz, a USFWS Park Ranger, about the Detroit International Wildlife Refuge’s efforts to protect natural species and habitats, and Dorothy McLeer, an interpretative naturalist from University of Michigan-Dearborn, who informed visitors about bald eagle biology and dietary preferences. Then it was time to load up the caravans and get a first-hand look our national bird in action. With a short drive out to the shoreline, the guests are given a few opportunities to get out of the vans and observe the eagles as they perch in tall trees and pluck fish from the water.

“It far exceeded our expectations to see so many bald eagles,” said Guy Gordon, WJR radio host. Guests, ranging from avid bird watchers to children, snapped pictures and looked in awe from binoculars. All expressed feelings of gratitude for being invited to attend such a special event.

A group of avid bird watchers snap pictures of the bald eagles as they soar above and hunt for fish. Photo courtesy of Jeff Hensley, DTE supervisor.

This is just one of the many species the plant helps nurture and protect. Other wildlife that call the property home for at least a period of time in the year include frogs, owls, deer, foxes, turtles, and wild plants. Special efforts have been made to protect certain threatened or endangered species as well, including American Lotus Blossoms, Osprey, Peregrine Falcon, Double-Crested Cormorant, and many others.

To hear more about the event, Guy Gordon caught up with DTE’s Kristen LeForce. You can listen to the interview on WJR’s website or check out this video captured from the day. Interested in registering to enter the lottery for next year’s bald eagle bird watching event? Keep an eye out for open registration in November 2018 on the USFWS’ Detroit International Wildlife Refuge site. It is open to anyone in the country, but only 60 spots are awarded each year. Good luck!

Photos courtesy of Jeff Hensley (DTE) and Jake Bonello (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service).