Great Egret

Great Egret

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Early spring action

It seems like spring is reluctant to arrive for good, but it is providing hints of what is to come, and a few jaunts around the country side have been interesting.

On a couple of the briefly warmer days, there have been birds, herps and butterflies all to enjoy.

I saw my first of the year Eastern Phoebe a few days ago....two different birds, in fact, in different parts of Rondeau. This member of the flycatcher family is an early migrant. Although it eats mostly flying insects, in cold weather when insects are scarce to non-existent, they will eat berries.

There has been a moderate influx of Northern Flickers.......
....and a much greater number of Turkey Vultures. It doesn't seem that long ago when the last of the fall migrant vultures were dipsy-doodling across the sky on their southern journey. In the lead article of the most recent issue of OFO News, written by noted Ontario birder Ron Pittaway, raptor taxonomy was discussed. Included in that article was the point which cited Palmer in his 1968 work Handbook of North American Birds that our Ontario vultures were not related to Old World vultures but more closely related to the Condor group. In Ron's article he suggested that maybe it is time to change their name to Turkey Condor! That will take a bit of time to get used to, if it happens.

Typically as soon as the ice is off the ponds in the forests, the earliest amphibians emerge, including salamanders and frogs. I have heard Leopard Frogs, Western Chorus Frogs as well as Wood Frogs at times, and some of the larger sloughs of Rondeau have dozens of Wood Frogs clucking away in their attempts to attract mates.
Wood Frog
Unfortunately as some of the snakes emerge, they seek out the warmest sites to bask on, and this can lead to their death by vehicle. This Northern Brown Snake was not only smushed, it was decapitated along a paved road in Rondeau.

Butterflies that overwintered as adults, may appear in areas on sunny warm days. I have seen Red Admiral (but it was too quick to get a photo of) as well as Mourning Cloaks.
 It was trying to place its wings perpendicular to the sun's rays to get the maximum effect, until it flew up onto a tree trunk.
Groundhogs go into hibernation for the winter, and are emerging from their dens. This one was along a road side, and looked a little sleepy.
Snowy Owls are lingering, as they often do in an irruption year.

Waterfowl are numerous these days, and are getting into mate selection and even egg-laying mode. A pair of Mute Swans has taken up residence in McGeachy Pond, as is usual, and has a nest.

Canada Geese are paired up. I saw this one trying to look as inconspicuous as possible while floating in some shallow water. Its mate was nearby. Normally they would be squawking a lot, and moving away from any intruder. However these two were totally silent. Their behaviour suggests that a nest with one or more eggs is nearby, but probably just at the early stage and the adults are not yet incubating full time.
With all the ducks around, it is entertaining to observe their courtship displays. It varies with the species, and often involves some type of head bobbing, chasing, wing display, ducking and diving and various auditory sounds. Sometime it involves all of those things!

Red-breasted Mergansers are quite common in the area right now. I observed some of their antics at Erieau a few days ago.

A bad hair day
 Neck stretching, above, typically followed by semi-submersing themselves, below.

Vocalizations between two males
The happy couple
One of the highlights of the duck world locally in the last few days has been the presence of two Harlequin Ducks at Erieau. A single bird was seen periodically earlier in the winter, but lately a male just coming into its breeding (alternate) plumage has been seen with a female. They aren't always easy to find, however. It took me three visits to the Erieau waterfront to finally catch up with this pair. On one occasion I had been looking and watching for about 30 minutes or so, and finally left. A little later I found out that if I had waited another 15 minutes, the pair of them were quite visible out in the main channel. Timing is everything......however the next day I did get to see them within minutes of my arrival. They flew in from the marina area and went across to the eastern edge of the rocks on the far side of the channel, where they proceeded to spend a lot of time diving into the surf. They seem quite at home in the rougher water. As a result due to their constant bobbing and disappearing into the surf, it was difficult to get a good photo. Auto focus was not going to work, so I had to anticipate approximately where they might surface, and manually focus the lens in hopes of getting something reasonably useful. They aren't the greatest shots given the light, the manual focus and the distance, but are identifiable.

male with the female just going under
male in centre with Red-breasted Mergansers on either side


  1. Allen, a great collection of early spring sightings. The Snowy Owl photo at the top of your blog is stunning! I just might try to go see those harlequin ducks at erieau... They would be life birds for me! -DM

    1. Thanks, Dwayne....that Snowy was a real treat to see and photograph, and at really close range.

      Good luck with the Harlequins....they were seen late this afternoon again, right in the main channel, so they are still in the area.