Great Egret

Great Egret

Monday, 28 April 2014

Rondeau on the last Sunday of April

Yesterday (Sunday) was another great day of weather for hiking......not so great for seeing lots of birds. The Ontario Field Ornithologist's group had its annual late April trip, and the ~30 participants reported seeing 79 species which included a trip to the Blenheim Sewage Lagoon. The trails of Rondeau are getting busier with birders as the days go by, and with the decent weather, birders expect to see lots of birds. But the incessant east or northeasterly winds do not bode well for many birds to interrupt their northward migration to stop in at Rondeau. Hopefully that may change in the next couple of days. I know I've said that before, but one has to be optimistic!

As much as I like seeing lots of birds, and rare ones too, I enjoy just being out and taking whatever comes along. It may be the usual species, the not-so-popular species, the wildflowers, fungi, insects, herps (collectively reptiles and amphibians) or mammals. Or the behaviour that some of these species exhibit. Or the diversity of shapes and colours that the natural world has in abundance. And if I can capture some of this by camera, so much the better.

I prefer the quieter trails, where wildlife is more likely to be present, or at least not as likely to be put off by numerous or noisy people. Some trails and some parks get so busy that you feel like you are shuffling along in a grocery checkout line!

On this past Sunday, the South Point Trail looked quite busy. So I parked at the Visitor Centre just as many more vehicles were arriving, grabbed my camera gear and headed off....not on a trail, but westward on Gardiner Ave, crossing the same sloughs that the Tuliptree Trail crosses, then north on the closed (to vehicles) section of Rondeau Road, east on Bennett Ave, then south on the closed section of Harrison Trail, back to the Visitor Centre. During that hike of approximately 6 kilometres, I saw 4 cyclists and two joggers, and not a single other birder.

I came across two male Hairy Woodpeckers displaying and trying to establish ownership of a bit of forest territory.

Hairy Woodpeckers, at least in southern Ontario, seem to be on a bit of a decline in the last couple of decades. I attribute it to an increase in the number of Red-bellied Woodpeckers which, up until the 1970s, was an exceedingly rare species here, but is now more widespread and abundant than Hairy W/p.

As I stood motionless along the road at the edge of a slough, a pair of Canada Geese swam up to within 15 metres of me, and much too close for my telephoto lens. I wish Wood Ducks were so tolerant!

A little further along, a single Turkey Vulture was perched high in a dead oak tree with its massive open branching.

It must have been there for awhile, for as I was walking past, it must have felt the urge for its morning bowel movement. Fortunately I was a little beyond its range :-)

I saw the usual array of kinglets, creepers, Hermit Thrushes and Rusty Blackbirds. I heard the tremolo trumpeting call of one or more Sandhill Cranes off to the southwest in the marsh. And I had a brief glimpse of my first of year Swainson's Thrush.

By the time I got back to the Visitor Centre, the crowds had subsided, so I ventured onto the Tuliptree Trail. Some hikers were well ahead of me, but in my choice to amble slowly and watch carefully, I never caught up to them, and no one else came along in the hour or so I spent on the trail. Birds were few....a Wood Thrush had been seen by one or more parties earlier in the day, but I never caught up to it. A Winter Wren was there, in its usual spot. A small number of Rusty Blackbirds continued to forage at the edge of the larger sloughs. And the nesting Canada Goose (photo posted in previous post) was incubating its eggs, neck outstretched and trying to look as inconspicuous as possible. From along the northwesterly boardwalk, I glimpsed some movement at the water's edge. It looked at first like a muskrat, but muskrats are not often found in that habitat. A closer look, and I was surprised to see a Mink!

I watched it for about 10 minutes as the lone one else was within earshot or viewing distance, so by moving quietly, I was able to capture a few shots. It was heading in the general direction of where the Canada Goose was nesting, and had the Mink gotten a whiff of the delicacy that was available, there would have been no end to the commotion! However the weasel got close enough to me to realize that it didn't have the slough environment to itself, and so it made an about face and headed back in the general direction it came from.

Mink are quite capable swimmers, and can dive underwater for short distances. On occasion instead of climbing onto or going around a tree root, it chose to dive under it.

Just past the northwesterly boardwalk, I encountered a male Brown-headed Cowbird. This species is not particularly unusual, in general, but I was a bit surprised to see it so far from the entrance to the trail. They are generally considered an edge or open habitat species. The place where I saw it would be considered, in the ecological scheme of things, in what is known as 'interior forest', which is typically forest that is at least 100 metres from the edge, and relatively safe from edge species. Cowbirds are, of course, notorious for not building their own nests, but instead lay their eggs in the nests of other birds whose eggs are more or less a similar size. The young cowbird usually hatches a little sooner than the young of the host species, and will get all the food that the adults bring. A nest that successfully raises a cowbird will have no surviving offspring of the host species. This is a fascinating topic that could involve a lot of discussion, which I won't take time to go into on this post. Suffice to say that normally forest interior bird species such as Red-eyed Vireos and Acadian Flycatchers are relatively safe from the parasitic behaviour exhibited by cowbirds. But if cowbirds do intrude into interior forest habitat, then those other species are at some risk.

On the way to the north end of Rondeau, I stopped in at McArthur's cottage to see if the Yellow-throated Warbler was around. I had stopped earlier in the day (and week) as well, but on all occasions, although there was lots of bird activity of the usual species, no Yellow-throated Warbler appeared. But Common Grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, Chipping Sparrow, Song Sparrow, American Goldfinch, both nuthatch species, Blue Jay, Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker and Mourning Dove were all coming and going, gorging on the available seed. A single American Tree Sparrow seemed a little late, but given the late arrival of spring, maybe not so much!

Sure they are all relatively common species, but are interesting in their own right.

I next stopped at the north end of Harrison Trail. I had White-eyed Vireo here a couple of days ago, and it was reported again earlier today. But unless it is singing, it can be quite difficult to detect as it flits furtively through the shrubbery.

I noticed some raptors moving, and photographed this adult Red-tailed Hawk.

At the log pond, all was quiet except for a single Blue-headed Vireo busily feeding in a fully flowering willow tree on the far side of the pond. Too far for any photos, but nice to see it as the first one of the year for me.

An adult Cooper's Hawk was being harassed by Blue likely has a nest nearby, but I didn't detect it.

A brief stop at the Spicebush Trail led to long chats with several birders I knew. One of them showed me a photo of a Baltimore Oriole which had appeared at his feeder earlier in the day just north of the park. In the time we spent in the parking area, there wasn't much bird activity, and those coming off the trail confirmed the quiet, so with only the occasional Hermit Thrush and a brief appearance of a Pileated Woodpecker, complete with its drum-roll and distinctive vocalizations, I decided to go elsewhere.

The final stop for the day was the north end of the Marsh Trail. There was less wind, and lots of light, which had its advantages for insect and bird activity and hopefully photography. Song Sparrows and kinglets were about all the land birds I could muster, so I spent some time being entertained by Common Terns. There were several of them going back and forth over the quiet, shallow water along the trail, and every once in awhile they would go into hovering mode, then make a quick plunge after a minnow. They were mostly back-lit, however, making for some challenging photography. I will have to make the attempt to be here much earlier in the day under similar conditions.

The lower photo was taken just after the tern emerged from a may be able to see some water droplets trailing behind, as it shook itself before moving on.

One cannot go along the Marsh Trail anymore without being distracted by the ever increasing number of wind turbines across the bay. They are supposed to be a minimum of 500 metres from either the lake or bay edge, and in all likelihood they are. However they are such huge, imposing structures that they dominate the landscape. Again, the lighting wasn't great, so this photo only shows a few, back-lit ones taken with the equivalent of a 700mm telephoto lens. But the previous time I was out, from the lowest level of the observation tower I made a count and, looking from east to west, could see parts of as many as 180 turbines across the bay!

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