Great Egret

Great Egret

Wednesday, 31 December 2014

St. Clair National Wildlife Area CBC preview

Tomorrow, New Year's Day, is the 35th annual St. Clair National Wildlife Area Christmas Bird Count. It has been on various days within the count period over that span of time, but in recent years, January 1 seems to have worked out the best. And it is a great way to start the new year! Although there are challenges with organizing this count, it is still fun and worthwhile. I have been the compiler/organizer for more than 25 years.

Today I went out looking just to see what the conditions were like, and maybe find a few birds. I roamed around the former Dover Twp and noted three Snowy Owls in their usual choice of locations around the Winterline/Mallard Line area. But all were well out in the fields and on the ground. It could be that the windy conditions convinced them it was more comfortable there. I expect that we will have a new record of Snowy Owls recorded tomorrow. Given the recent cold weather, it is likely many other birds have left the area, and Snowy Owls might be the only species that sets a new record....time will tell.

There are still a few Tundra Swans around, but not in the numbers of a few weeks ago, when this next image was taken.

I headed over to the mouth of the Thames River at Lighthouse Cove. All of the moving water was open, but still water was mostly frozen.

Looking upstream from the river mouth

Out to Lake St. Clair
 Certainly the colder weather of the last few days has made a difference. Ice is forming, and being blown across the lake to pile up along the eastern side of the lake. There is a lot of open water farther out, with ducks and gulls visible, but off a long way.

Around the open water were a few things of interest: a Ruddy Duck was cooperative right close to the dock.

On the other side of the dock, was a group of ducks. Most were of the farm yard/hybrid variety.

There are a few good looking Mallards here, but their behaviour indicated that they were used to hand outs. As soon as I arrived, they left their more sheltered area and came right over! The ducks with a lot of white in various patches are hybrids between Mallards and the duck in this next image, a Pekin duck, which is a common domesticated/farm yard species. Of course these are not countable for the CBC.

There was, however, a much shyer duck that is countable: a female Hooded Merganser.

Upstream from the mouth is Jeannette's Creek, and a boat launch there provides great views of the river. It is from here where I've captured some of my favourite sunrise photos of the Thames, which are featured elsewhere on my blog.

 Who knows what might be lurking here, and seen on the count day? Perhaps a heron or two, an egret, a Bald Eagle, or all of the above? So much of this area is relatively inaccessible, unfortunately, but one can always hope.

A bit east of Jeannette's Creek, and also east of the large church on the south side of the river, was a Snowy Owl. Blake featured it in a recent blog, where it was sitting on a fence around a rural residence and quite close to the road. Today, however, the owl (I assume it was the same one) was in the field immediately south of this residence, sitting by a protruding black drainage pipe. And the pipe wasn't the only black thing there.....about 50 crows were in the immediate vicinity. I didn't notice any aggressive interaction between the two species.

Crows are definitely a part of the C-K landscape. Our highest CBC total was almost 160,000 crows back in about 2000. That was when they were relatively easy to count before day break as they left their night time roost. Since then their roosts have been less consistent due to human disruption, so our numbers are not nearly as high, or not likely as accurate either. I expect the same number of crows are around, it is just more difficult to count them and it wasn't exactly easy before.

This is my 90th post for the year, which began last March. Tomorrow starts a new calendar year, so Happy New Year everyone!