Great Egret

Great Egret

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Three grebes and a....

few shorebirds. Also birds are nesting and wildflowers are appearing!

On my way to Rondeau on Monday morning, I stopped in at the Blenheim Sewage Lagoons, hoping to find the Eared Grebe which was seen on Sunday. In Pond 1, was a Pied-billed Grebe, plus Spotted Sandpiper and lots of Ruddy Ducks, Northern Shovelers, Blue-winged Teal and Bufflehead. In Pond 5, a Horned Grebe in well-developed breeding plumage was there, along with the same mix of ducks. And then I noted the Eared Grebe. While binoculars were adequate, I was glad for the 'scope to appreciate these birds. At one point I had both Horned and Eared simultaneously in the field of view, which was a nice comparison, but from a distance. I did get a record shot of the Eared as shown. Even at 700mm, it is heavily cropped.

Just to make it easier to appreciate, I am posting this image of an Eared Grebe I shot at these same lagoons on Apr 26, 2011, where it was much closer!

In the sprinkler cell was a great many shorebirds. Pectoral Sandpiper and Dunlin were the main ones. A single Greater Yellowlegs and 5 Lesser Yellowlegs were present, plus the usual Killdeer. There were likely in excess of 600 shorebirds altogether.

Greater Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Pectoral Sandpiper
On occasion, something spooked the shorebirds, sending them wheeling around in concert before settling back down to the water. I looked for a passing raptor as the cause, but sometimes it seems that there doesn't need to be an obvious reason for them to take flight. Perhaps they are practicing their evasive techniques in case a predatory raptor does show up?

Pectoral Sandpiper and Dunlin
The Dunlin have a white wing-stripe, the Pectoral Sandpipers do not.

Here is a little quiz for you. I am periodically questioned about counting the numbers of birds, and especially when there are large numbers or flocks of birds in flight. The added challenge is that when birds are in motion, you can't accurately count them all. Sometimes you only have a couple of seconds to come up with a number. So take a couple of seconds and make an estimate of how many birds you think are in the flock below. 100? 133? 150? 176? 200? Or? The answer is at the bottom of this post.

It was a very pleasant way to spend an hour and a half. I had the lagoons to myself, other than the birds. Male Savannah Sparrows were scattered on the tops of hay bales serenading their mates. Waterfowl were flying about from time to time, and an immature Lesser Black-backed Gull flew by, heading for the Ridge Landfill a couple of kilometres to the west.

Blue-winged Teal

Northern Shoveler

A brief stop at Shrewsbury before heading to Rondeau didn't have a lot of action, but I noticed a Killdeer sitting in a grassy areas. It appeared to be on a nest.

Usually as soon as one approaches a Killdeer nest, the bird will get up and run away, and if you get too close, it will try and distract the intruder with its broken wing act. This bird sat tight until I got almost right to the nest before doing its distraction display, which leads me to believe the eggs are very close to hatching.

Below is the next generation of Killdeer, if all goes well. The nest is quite well camouflaged, although less so in this grassy patch than if it were on, for example, on a gravelly beach. 

I made it to Rondeau. The South Point Trail had a few of the usual birds as well as a couple of Red Admiral and Eastern Comma butterflies, but the most interesting thing was a Ribbon Snake. It is a snake of wet woods and is officially a Species At Risk. Although it looks very much like an Eastern Garter Snake, it has brighter yellow stripes, a bit of chestnut colour along the lower side, and a small white vertical patch right in front of the eye.

A walk around the Tuliptree Trail produced an adult Bald Eagle soaring overhead, and I heard one or more Sandhill Cranes trumpeting out in the marsh. At the extreme southwestern boardwalk, I had Winter Wren singing. It has an impressive, musical song, and when one hears it, it is hard to believe this little songster can produce such music! It popped out in the open briefly. Generally it breeds farther north, but on occasion it will nest at Rondeau. I had the first confirmed nesting of this species at Rondeau in the early 1980s, in an upturned tree root only a few metres from where I saw this bird this day.

Also on TTT, a Canada Goose had found a satisfactory nesting platform on top of this mossy tree root.

Along Gardiner Avenue, I came across Coltsfoot, one of the earliest spring wildflowers, although it is not native. The leaves do not appear until it has finished flowering.

A Mourning Cloak butterfly was flitting about, but shortly after it landed on this tree trunk, a Yellow-rumped Warbler came by and startled it.

The Spicebush Trail and Bennett Ave had a great show of wildflowers. Wildflowers have been slow to show this spring due to the never-ending winter, but they are finally waking up, and have really come on nicely in the last few warmer days. Hepaticas, both sharp-lobed and round-lobed species, are the most abundant. Their leaves are not well developed at this early stage of flowering, so it is tricky to tell one from the other. These photos show it emerging from the leaf litter on the left, and from a very rotting log on the right.

Cut-leaved Toothwort, below, is just beginning. It is named for its extremely dissected leaves. Some other toothwort species will be showing up soon.

Bloodroot, named for the reddish sap of the roots, is another early species. When it first appears, the leaves are very tightly wrapped around the stem, but after a few days the leaves will be more obvious as shown in the lower photo.

And so the flowering season, and the nesting season is well underway!

Answer to bird quiz: I find that almost everyone underestimates the number, myself included. The number of shorebirds that are all or in part showing up in this image is ~300. Did you come up with that number? Post a comment here, or send your thoughts to me privately or anonymously if you wish.


  1. Yes--I underestimated--189 !
    I'm often questioned about how to count large #'s of birds--not easy ! ?

    1. Thanks for trying the bird number quiz, Irene. I know I still look at the photo and think it sure doesn't look like that many, but I tried very carefully to do the count, and was surprised it came very close to 300....maybe 296.