Great Egret

Great Egret

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Open water is where the action is....

The trouble is, with so much snow and cold, there is very little open water anywhere. But thanks to some warm water outlets strategically located, there are some areas worth visiting.

A couple of days ago I had to be in London, so I decided to look for the Harlequin Duck which had been reported along the Thames River on several occasions recently. The good news was that it was seen the day before I was to be in London. So I struck out along the river at Springbank Park, hiking upstream and downstream for a total of at least 5 kilometres looking through all sorts of waterfowl. Unfortunately I struck out on seeing the Harlequin, too.

These first two photos show how open part of the Thames River is, and there are lots of ducks and geese scattered along. This open water is primarily the result of a warmwater outlet just around this corner of the Greenway water treatment plant. The river immediately upstream of this outlet is frozen solid as far as one can see. There are some other open sections closer to the Fanshawe Dam.

In spite of not seeing the Harlequin, there were lots of other species to search through.

Mallards and Redhead


Common Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Long-tailed Duck
I noted 12 species of waterfowl altogether.....not bad considering the time of year and on an inland water way!

I also had an immature Bald Eagle soar over a couple of times, not very close, however.
And along the path were places where people had scattered peanuts and other goodies for landbirds, so Black-capped Chickadees and Northern Cardinals were quite noticeable.

The next day I decided to go up along the St. Clair River, since I hadn't been there for well over a month. As has been reported regularly on Blake's Blog, much of the river is packed with ice, especially along the Ontario side. There were the usual ducks scattered in the open patches around the Sombra ferry dock, and a few open patches along the shoreline in the Branton Cundick park area. Elsewhere I was surprised at how much open water there was north of Bickford Line to the Mooretown area, but was clogged with ice north of Guthrie Park.  A warmwater outlet north of Bickford Line was helping keep some of the area open, and due to the very cold weather, caused steam to come off the water.

There were small groups of waterfowl, including Mute and Tundra Swans mixed in with Canvasback, Common Goldeneye and others.

Mute Swan

Tundra Swan

One species I hadn't expected was Ring-necked Duck, but there were two males resting in a quiet place along the river edge at one point.

On the return home, I drove through parts of the former Dover Township where up until recently, as many as 10 or more Snowy Owls could be found within view of the roads. But either it was too cold or too breezy or a poor combination of both conditions...I didn't see a single one. In fact the only raptor I saw of any kind was this adult Bald Eagle immediately across from the St. Clair NWA, feasting on some unrecognizable torn apart critter.
A few crows were nearby, presumably hoping for some scraps, but staying a safe distance so they didn't end up as dessert after the main course!

Yesterday I decided to check the warm water outlet along the Thames River a bit downstream from the Keil Drive bridge here in Chatham. It is about the only open water for miles, and the following image shows just how small it has become. Earlier in the winter it was up to 10 times this size, extending for at least a couple of hundred metres downstream.

If you look closely to the left of the ducks, you may be able to see an abundance of snowmobile tracks.

Apparently the ducks have become nonchalant about one point while I was watching, three machines came roaring by, one which was no more than 3-4 metres from the edge of the resting birds.

The good thing about the open water area being this small is that the ducks that remain are much more concentrated. There were about 350 Mallards here, mostly resting on the ice but also vigorously chasing one another in the water or taking short flights around the area. Someone brings corn to the nearby parking lot from time to time, which has provided much-needed sustenance to these birds which I am sure has helped their energy levels.

Some of the Mallards even had time and energy to do some duck yoga :-).

I noted eight species of ducks here altogether.....not bad for such a tiny opening.

Common Merganser

Common Goldeneye
 At one point I watched this Common Goldeneye practice its neck-stretching and head bobbing in preparation for courtship. But he was a loner.....there were no females to be wooed.
Green-winged Teal

Lesser Scaup


A trip through parts of rural Chatham-Kent shortly after enabled me to see several loose flocks of Wild Turkey. They are quite bold, and presumably quite hungry, seeking out the shallower areas of snow in the hopes of finding something to eat. There were at least 30 birds in 5 flocks altogether.

Interestingly the raptors seem to have almost vanished. In driving about 500 kilometres across mostly rural parts of Middlesex, Lambton and Chatham-Kent in the last three days, I saw a grand total of the two Bald Eagles noted above, and only two Red-tailed Hawks! And the latter two birds were in a dead tree adjacent to a weedy pasture. I guess most raptors have left for warmer places, or at least better meal time options.


  1. I was tempted to go to London today just for the Harlequin. With my luck, I would see everything but the Harlequin! Not worth it for just one duck....still a good chance for one on the St. Clair River.

    1. Yes I would not be surprised if there was one somewhere along the SCR. Unfortunately, as you know, most of the open water is on the Michigan side.

  2. The Thames is where I got my start in birding...but I didn't see a Harlequin until over a year later.

    1. Hi Quentin....thanks for stopping by. The river can be full of surprises, but so much of it is not accessible so some of the goodies can be tucked away from view.