Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Friday, 12 February 2016

It's snowing geese!

With the warm spell of a few days ago, the waterfowl returned in considerable numbers. Geese in particular are getting a lot of attention, but not the usual Canada Geese. We've had a ton of Snow Geese, including lots of the darker morphs known as blues, to enjoy. Numbers as high as 200 have been seen, but since there are so many and they are often on the move to some extent, it is hard to know exactly how many are around. I know that number pales in comparison to the tens of thousands that show up in extreme eastern Ontario in the fall, but it is a very good number for this area. The only time I remember a larger number in the Rondeau checklist area was back in the very late 1960s, when there were a couple of thousand that came through for a few days in the fall. A hard north east wind had blown them off their usual course, and they were making use of the corn stubble fields in the south Chatham-Kent area. They would fly almost right over the house that I grew up in on their way from the bay to the corn fields. That was back in my hunting days, and a couple of my buddies and I were successful in getting two or three birds.

On Tuesday of this week, they were coming to their usual field along New Scotland Line, which they had been using for at least a week. Often they were a kilometre or more back from the road, but every once in awhile, at some point in the day, they would come fairly close....sometimes less than 100 metres from the road. They did this on the second time that I stopped that day. Just as I pulled off the road, I noted several groups of them headed straight for me, and some landed as close as about 80 metres! Unfortunately, it was a dull, snowy, drizzly day, and even at that relatively close distance, the images were not as clear as I would like. But you have to take what you get.

And when they got close enough, and I looked at some of the images more closely on the computer, I realized I had captured some of the Ross's Geese as well as some Snow X Ross's hybrids.
Snow Geese
Snows and Ross's and Canadas
 There could be as many as 4 or 5 Ross's or hybrid Snow X Ross's in this next image.
A Ross's Goose looks like a smaller version of a Snow Goose, with the following differences: smaller of course, about the size of a large Mallard; shorter legs, a rounder head, a stubbier bill, no 'grin' patch on the beak; bluish purple colouration at the base of the bill; a more vertical feather line at the base of the bill.

Of course unless you see things really clearly and from the best angle, not all of those characteristics are necessarily visible. A photo only shows that singular fraction of a moment in time when the shutter clicked, and you can't get multiple angles from one photo. To make things even more complicated, Ross's Geese hybridize with Snow Geese, so any or all of those characteristics can be more like one species than the other.

Unfortunately these images which were taken on that snowy, drizzly day are less than clear. But they do seem to fit a decent version of a Ross's
 This next one shows the closest goose to be about the size of a Mallard, shown in the foreground at the right. It maybe a little pudgier, but most characteristics fit compared to the Snow Goose just behind it.
 And a similar one with a Mallard and Snow Goose for comparison.
There have been Greater White-fronted Geese at the Ridgetown Sewage Lagoons, which I showed on my previous post. And lots of ducks on the mostly open water of Rondeau Bay, including large rafts of Canvasback.

But that was earlier this week, and with the arrival of very cold weather again, it is a different story out there. A trip today, under brighter and clearer conditions was in order. The bay is mostly frozen. The swans were still around, but widely scattered along the far edges of the ice. The Snow Geese were all packed in to a tight group, but a long way out. This group was at least a kilometre away from the closest viewing point at the end of the LTVCA trail. I counted 142 Snow Geese, although there likely were a few Ross's and hybrids mixed in, but too far away to tell.

 These shots aren't quite as sharp as I would like, partly due to the distance and there is some thermal affect from the sun reflecting off the bright snow and ice. But it was partly due to the camera.......

A side note: late last fall, I was experiencing some auto-focus problems with my Canon 7D2, which sometimes resulted in it stopping to focus altogether. It was only by turning the camera off, taking the battery out, waiting a few minutes and putting things back that it worked the way it was supposed to, at least temporarily. So in early January, it was sent in for repairs under warranty. I got it back last week, only to discover that it now failed to show any information in the viewfinder regarding ISO, shutter speed, f/stop, etc. So back it went to the repair facility. I got it back yesterday (Wednesday), so it was a quick turn-around, and today I wanted to try it out. It seems like everything is back the way it should be, but I now need to go through the Auto Focus Micro Adjustment, which is a really useful way to fine-tune the focus and match the individual camera to each lens. Going through the AFMA steps will be done soon!
Tundra Swans in flight, Snow Geese on the ice

I included a trip to Erieau, thinking that the increase in ice cover would concentrate ducks in the harbour area. There were a few American Coot hanging in there, with 17 seen. The numbers have been dwindling over the last little while. It is a far cry from the ~4000 that were there in late December! With the arrival of even more cold weather in the next few days, who knows how many of these few will survive!
Canada Geese were around in small numbers as well.

A highlight was seeing this male Hooded Merganser in the harbour, but it didn't stick around long.
Common Mergansers were, well, fairly common, and by far the most abundant duck close to Erieau with at least 100.

Bufflehead weren't really quite paired up yet, but the males looked dazzling and there was definitely some courtship in progress.
I was hoping that the Harlequin Duck and Long-tailed Duck were still around, and they might be, but weren't showing themselves. With the extreme cold over the next 2-3 days, I expect that the entire bay will be frozen over again, so birds that decide to stick around will be even more concentrated.

And now, I'm off to AFMA my camera.

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