Great Egret

Great Egret

Sunday, 4 May 2014

Yellow-headeds galore, and a whole lot more

Marie and I spent part of today exploring the shoreline of Lake St. Clair, in the Mitchell's Bay area. First off was the west end of Angler Line, where Yellow-headed Blackbirds have been showing up this spring. As you can see, I wasn't disappointed! The males were sitting up quite visibly, keeping watch over their staked territory. Every once in awhile, a female would pop into view, but not long enough for me to get a photo. The females have only a little bit of dull yellow in the face, throat and upper chest area, otherwise they are a mottled dark black and brown colour.

The next photo shows an adult male in full song. It isn't musical as humans would normally describe song, with various coarse sounding grunts and other noises. But for the Yellow-headed Blackbirds, it works!

They can get into some awkward positions on occasion, depending on what they are grabbing on to.

They were all in view from the road side, and sometimes quite literally on the road edge. I took this photo from the car as the adult was hunting for a bit of grit or something right on the edge of the road. It did not seem to be bothered by me at all, but hastily retreated into the marsh vegetation when a mini-van went by at medium speed.

I would estimate that there were at least 6-8 males here, all within a fairly small area. I presume there is an equal number of females, but only saw them on occasion. Yellow-headed Blackbirds are typically much more common in the central and western part of the country. They used to be regular in small numbers at St. Clair National Wildlife Area, but have moved northward along the shoreline marshes of the lake. Usually they are in private marshes that are a lot less accessible than this one.

If you want to find them, go towards Mitchell's Bay and along Angler Line, which is the road immediately south of Mitchell's Bay, go towards the west (lake) end and look into the marsh on the north side of the road, as shown in the map below.

Just a few hundred metres east of this spot is southern entrance to the Lake Shore Trail, which goes between Angler Line and Mitchell's Bay.

This trail opened up just under a year ago, and goes along a drainage canal, wet woods and the marshy edge of Lake St. Clair. There is also a short boardwalk leading to an observation platform looking out over the lake. On the eastern side of the trail it is all farmland.

The early hours of the day should be good for observing birds, as the morning sun will highlight the bird activity. I was hoping for some songbird activity, but of the warbler group, I only came across about 15 Yellow-rumped Warblers feeding in the willows and cottonwoods which are coming into flower.

I heard a Sora in the marsh, had two Wood Ducks fly by, and saw a Greater Yellowlegs feeding along the shallow water at the edge of the lake. There were several Great Egrets....probably at least 8 altogether, and included the occasional one that did a fly-by. Great Egrets have a nesting colony on Walpole Island.

Well out in the lake, but visible from the observation platform there are some islands made up primarily of cattail vegetation. I saw a lot of gulls and terns flying about them, but they were too far away to identify. I must get the kayak out and head on looks like a great spot for Forster's Terns and possibly Black Terns or other gull/tern species to be nesting.

Several Forster's Terns were passing by, occasionally diving for a minnow.

In the drainage canal were numerous Painted least 20......basking in what little bit of sun there was to increase their physiology. Basking is particularly important for the females, as egg-development and laying is highly dependent on this increase in physiology. With the way the spring has unfolded to date, I am sure they are behind in their schedule! Hopefully they won't be too far behind, as it might affect the eventual hatching of the young which is ordinarily in late August to early September. If they are delayed much later, it could affect their ability to survive over the winter.

Marie and I were particularly taken with the swirly nature of this log the turtle had chosen to bask on.

In another pond along Angler Line were several American Wigeon, Gadwall and Green-winged Teal. From Mitchell's Bay itself, I checked the north end of the lakeside parking area where a small sandbar produced various terns, gulls, a Snowy Egret and shorebirds including up to 3 Marbled Godwits in the fall of 2013. The water levels are currently higher, and there was no sandbar to be seen.


  1. Those Yellow-headed Blackbirds are nature nuggets! Not every year they are close to the road in that marsh.

  2. Thanks for the map. I might have to go out and see those after work this week. I've seen them only once at Pt Mouillee in Michigan (and never got a chance to photograph them). Great photos!