Great Egret

Great Egret

Saturday, 21 March 2015

The demise of river ice

It is interesting to see the stages that the river goes through as spring arrives. There has been sooo much ice everywhere for so long.

But finally where there is flowing water, the ice is disappearing. This first image shows the state of the Thames River at Chatham. With the exception of a bit of ice clinging to the edges, the water is completely open with a good flow.

Downstream a bit, at Prairie Siding, it looks a bit different. There is some open water, but the channel is clogged with various sized chunks of dirt-brown ice that has been broken off

Just a short distance farther along it is completely choked off with chunks of ice.

And a bit farther, it doesn't appear as if there is much change at looks like it did for most of the winter....relatively smooth solid ice.

In fact it was like this all the way to the mouth of the river and out into the lake. But if one looked closely in spots, there were a few very small open areas where one could see a fairly strong current flowing just beneath the ice. It is at this stage where the ice is the most dangerous. No one in their right mind would venture out onto the ice in the first 2-3 photos, but with the ice looking like this last photo, one might be tempted to get a last bit of ice-fishing in. And in fact at Lighthouse Cove, there were people out on the ice on the lake...they had even driven their ATVs out! But with the fast flowing current under the ice, it is deteriorating from underneath more quickly than from above, and one would be very foolhardy to go out under these conditions.

A small creek along the road going to the Jeannette's Creek boat launch had some open water, and under the tangle of branches on the far side were three male Hooded Mergansers, but too shy to show themselves completely.

At Erieau, it is the same story, but on a different scale. The ice on the lake and the bay is still fairly intact. However the water flows steadily through the channel in either direction, depending on the wind and wave action out in the lake. As a result the ice is totally gone in the channel, which allows for recently arrived waterfowl to use the sheltered conditions to rest, feed and court. There was a small variety of several species a day or two ago. Common Mergansers were by far the most numerous, with about 160 birds seen, along with much smaller numbers of others species.
Common Merganser
Red-breasted Merganser
Common Goldneye
Lesser Scaup
Typically at this time of year, there are thousands of Tundra Swans in the air or on the bay or in flooded fields in the area. I recall years ago, while sitting at my desk in the Visitor Centre with the windows closed, I could hear the din of swans. They were about three kilometres away out in the southern end of the marsh and bay, but the noise was memorable. I'm not sure whether that was in indication that my hearing was much better then, or the sound proofness of the Visitor Centre was that poor....regardless, it was an event to remember. I took the time to walk out the south beach to see what the racket was all about. There were at least 10,000 swans, and several thousand geese and ducks as well, totalling 16000-17000 birds. My field notes said the date was March 30, 1978, so maybe there is still time for some good numbers to appear.

This year has been somewhat seems every year is in its own way. We've had our share of precipitation in the form of snow over the winter, but in reality it has been quite dry lately. Therefore there are few flooded fields, and with the bay still frozen pretty solid, there are few swans using the area. This is also the case in the former Dover Township, northwest of Chatham. In some years, especially those years when the Thames River flooded its banks, there were many hundreds of hectares of flooded cornfields. The swans, geese and ducks numbered in the tens of thousands, and if one could access a road that wasn't closed due to the flooding, it was fabulous...probably the premiere place for waterfowl viewing that year, but at the expense of many local human residents being inundated by flood waters, unfortunately. This year you are hard pressed to find any standing water in the fields. And so there are very few swans in Chatham-Kent this year, at least so far.

I did find a few hundred swans a few days ago in Dover, which had attracted swans, geese and ducks, including these snow geese. There are three snows and two blues, towards the far side of the wet spot and on the left hand side of the photo.
My most recent trip by that place has shown that there is even less water now, and fewer ducks. But the occasional Killdeer and Turkey Vulture was in the area!

Happy spring everyone!


  1. HI Allen! I saw three male hooded Mergansers at the mouth of the Thames ( Lighthouse Cove) on Friday. They were wide out in the open there. Are they common this time of year?

  2. Sorry - Previous comment was from Deb. :)

    1. Hi Deb. Hooded Mergansers are not what I would call common or abundant, but they are usually present in small numbers where there is quiet water. River edges are good places to find them now that the ice is disappearing.