Great Egret

Great Egret

Sunday, 4 October 2015

4W weather = Sabine's Gull, etc

The very recent 4W (wild, windy, wacky and weird) weather is a time that birders (and photographers) love to see arrive. One could use a few different synonyms to describe the weather, such as tempestuous, rough, inclement, turbulent, violent, etc. and all would fit. It is unusual for the strong northeast to east winds to be sustained for several days.

It is not a time that is likely appreciated as much by the birds or other types of wildlife, as it can be stressful in finding food and shelter, and migrants are sometimes blown off course from their usual routes. Of course such winds from these directions may hasten the migration of certain types of birds, such as raptors, as evidenced by significant movements observed at the various hawk watches. And when watching some of the gulls and terns over the lake these last few days....well it almost seems as if some of these strong fliers revel in it.

These conditions are instrumental in shaping the landscape, particularly shorelines, as anyone who has waterfront property can attest. Sand spits in particular, being initially formed by water currents and wave action, are also altered by them.

I've shown this first photo previously, but it is relevant to today's post. The pier provides shelter from the prevailing winds and waves, but it also interrupts the shoreline currents and causes long-term deposition of sand on one side. This results in the severe loss and erosion on the other side. Before this pier was constructed in the 1800s, the beach of Erieau on the left more or less aligned with the south beach of Rondeau Provincial Park, on the right. This photo taken in 1989 shows how much a century or more of interference with the normal water currents has modified the shoreline. Erieau is being built up, and anyone who has been to Rondeau is well aware of the major erosion along the shorelines there.
These next few photos show what was happening at Erieau in the last few days. Clearly it was not advisable to be walking out on the pier! Even the gulls, terns, cormorants and shorebirds which are often seen there were not doing so these days. The first three images were taken on Friday.

 The next images were taken on Saturday. Note the difference in the colour of the water....clearly a muddier look to it due to the roiled lake. Needless to say, it was a thrilling (and damp) time to be so close to these forces of nature in action.
The beach is normally connected to the base of the pier at this point. The continuing spilling over of the waves has washed that away.
This next image shows the water pouring into the campground, which is at least 100 metres from the channel.
There were dozens, probably at least 100, Horned Grebes flying back and forth in the troughs formed by the waves. This group of 20+ was taking shelter in the relative quiet on the western side of the pier.

There were hundreds of gulls and terns flying along the lakeshore at times. Occasionally they would be soaring high up and other times they would disappear in the trough between the 3 metre high waves, only to wheel up again. When they got tired of this, they would come to rest on a quiet stretch of the beach. An occasional jaeger would be seen well out, and almost always too far away to conclusively identify it to species, but it was believed that all three species....Parasitic, Long-tailed and Pomarine.....had been seen.

A Black Tern was noted on a few occasions, and at one point came in close enough to attempt a photo.

Ducks of various species were seen, including scaup, mergansers and scoters, but always too far out to photograph. Small numbers of shorebirds were noted, including Black-bellied Plover, Sanderling and White-rumped Sandpiper. At one point a possible Purple Sandpiper flew by mixed in with some Sanderling.
Black-bellied Plover

White-rumped Sandpiper
There are at least a couple of Sanderling in the spilled-over water in foreground of this next image.

One of the main attractions of being at Erieau these last few days was the occurrence of up to four Sabine's Gulls. Given that they moved around a lot, it is impossible to know how many for sure, but this species was first noted on Wednesday and sometimes two or more were seen daily until Saturday. All were juveniles.

I first saw one on Wednesday afternoon. Steve Charbonneau had seen one shortly after day break that day. When I arrived mid-morning, he and I got side-tracked by the sight of a jaeger off in the distance. We are sure it was a Long-tailed, but cannot be conclusive due to the lighting and distance. At any rate, there was no further sign of the Sabine's. However later in the day when I returned to Erieau and started scanning the lake under much better light conditions, I did observe a Sabine's Gull out over the lake, and coming my way. In the few seconds it took to reach for my camera anticipating the bird getting within shooting distance....I lost it and did not see it again.

Fast forward to Saturday, and one or more were reported at various times, but never where I was. I was actually at the Rondeau entrance, in hopes that the sheltered area at the north end of the park would have a few gulls, terns, etc. There were gulls and terns, and rafts of ducks but I never looked through them all. It was then when Steve texted me to say that a Sabine's was on the water between the Erieau marina and the western tip of the Rondeau sand spit. Fifteen minutes later I was there, only to be advised that a Peregrine Falcon had come through moments earlier scattering the gulls. We looked and looked, and eventually noted the Sabine's flying with a few other gulls over the surf near the rocks east of the pier. After awhile, it returned to the relative quiet water along the Rondeau sand spit. It was a distant shot, with the bird bouncing around on the waves so focus was challenging, so most of my images were not kept. Here are a couple of the better ones. (Camera info: Canon 7DII, Canon 500mm II f/4, Canon 1.4X III, ISO 800-1600, 1/800-1/1600 sec, f/5.6 or f/4.5)

In between my times at Erieau, I ventured elsewhere to look around Rondeau Bay. Shrewsbury was a definite stop, as the sheltered area to the southwest of the dock area was good for gulls and terns. Upwards of 500 or more gulls, mostly Bonaparte's were arriving and resting on the water, but I couldn't see anything more unusual with them. A steady stream of Common Terns were passing through the area.
At least 20 Pied-billed Grebes and a few Horned Grebes were nearby. Some of the Pied-billed Grebes were right close to shore in the emergent vegetation.
Several small flocks of Rusty Blackbirds were working their way along the shoreline. These are the first I have seen this autumn.
In some of the larger drainage canals emptying into Rondeau Bay were some species taking shelter from the less favourable conditions on the bay.
Double-crested Cormorant

Redhead and Ruddy Duck
The weather looks like it is settling down for a few days, but who knows what has blown in waiting to be discovered? The occurrence yesterday of a Eurasian Dotterel along the Lake Huron shoreline is tantalizing, to be sure, but what else is out there?


  1. Allen, great collection of photos and insights. I have heard that the tip of Point Pelee has been severely eroded due to the recent weather we have had. I'm sure some great birds will be found as a result of this wacky weather. Good birding!

    1. Thanks, Dwayne.....erosion is sure to be a problem at various locations, and the windiest month of the year, November, is still a few weeks away!

  2. Rather incredible weather! I am interested in seeing what is left of Rondeau's south point shoreline!

    1. I plan to get out to the southeast part of Rondeau tomorrow to see what more damage has taken place. I was there last Wednesday and there was one spot where a bench used to be, where another few metres were gone.....not sure what to expect after these last 3 days!

  3. Wonderfully captured wild weather and it's consequences.Thanks.
    love and blessings,Paula.

    1. Hi Paula. Thanks for your comment. Sometimes the wildest weather can be the most fascinating to experience if one can do it safely (and keep the camera equipment from getting too wet :-).