Great Egret

Great Egret

Monday, 9 June 2014

Shooting cormorants....

I was out kayaking on Saturday to explore the southern end of the Rondeau Bay/Marsh. There are a couple of small sandy islands where gulls, terns, shorebirds and cormorants make lots of use of. The water is higher this year, so the size of the islands are considerably smaller than they were the last couple of years.

But along the way I noticed some logs resting at the edge of the marsh.....they were covered with some big mothers.......turtles that is:-). Some logs had at least 15 turtles on them, where others had a smaller number. Altogether I must have seen at least 40 turtles, and they were all Northern Map Turtles, a species of Special Concern. Of the eight species of turtle that occur in Ontario, seven of them are at some level of risk.

Since turtles are cold-blooded, it is especially important for the females to bask and soak up the sunlight energy, to warm themselves and maintain their physiological activity so the eggs inside can be laid early enough in the season, so that the developing embryos will be able to hatch early enough in the season (typically late August/early September) so they can prepare for the dormant season. Whew! Timing is everything.

Where basking spots are not too plentiful, they will sometimes overlap one another.

They are fairly tolerant, especially when one drifts up quietly in a kayak with very little movement, But at some point, they will topple into the water, and stick their noses and eyes up and as soon as the way is clear again, they will climb back on the log.

While I was glad to see so many turtles, my real intent was to see what was making use of the islands at the south end. There weren't too many surprises.

A few shorebirds were present, including Dunlin (4), Semipalmated Sandpiper (~15) and Baird's Sandpiper (~6). I thought there might have been some White-rumped Sandpipers, but even though they flew around from time to time giving great views of the rumps, there were no White-rumps.

Dunlin and Semiplamated Sandpiper

Resting Dunlin

Dunlin peering up in the sky, checking a flying bird

Semiplamated Sandpiper
Baird's Sandpiper

Double-crested Cormorants are an increasing species wherever you go. It is hard to believe that as recently as 1970, it was a species being considered for inclusion on the Endangered Species list!

Over the last couple of years, with the sandy islands being somewhat larger than they are today, there were ~55-60 nests of cormorants present, jammed in quite close to one another. It was hard to get an accurate count this day, but I estimated there were at least 45-50 nests. Some were still at the egg stage, with others with recently hatched young, and still others had half-grown young.

Fortunately for me, the best angle for shooting these birds was on the upwind side of the colony. When for a brief time I was downwind, the stench of excrement and dead fish was considerable.

Perhaps what was a bit of a surprise, is that a short distance to the north, is a larger island that is mostly covered with various types of vegetation, including some young trees. Over the last few months, this area was treated for Phragmites, that scourge of wetlands. And for the first time, it was evident that the cormorants were making use of these trees. I counted at least 20 nests in those trees, so altogether, the cormorant colony has grown, unfortunately.

I was on the lookout for Neotropic Cormorant all the time I was out there, but given the 2-3000 birds present, most of which were reluctant to let me get very close, I was not able to find one.

Herring Gulls and Caspian Terns were loafing on the island with fewer cormorants.

Although the Caspian Terns were in full breeding plumage, I didn't see any evidence of them nesting. Herring Gulls, however, were nesting on one of the more vegetated islands.

But most surprising was to see a pair of Herring Gulls nesting in a tree! I don't recall having ever seen this species nesting in a tree before, but a check of the literature indicates that on rare occasion, they will nest in a tree. The evidence was now before me.

Nearby, was a 21st century gull, making use of a solar panel, sort of....I'm not sure what the solar panel was powering...perhaps a light to mark a boat hazard just off shore, but regardless, this particular gull found a use for the pole.

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