Great Egret

Great Egret

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Early spring challenges

The camping season at Rondeau has begun. It opened for 2016 last weekend, although due to the snowy weather there weren't a lot of campers.
I did see a couple of tents. I'm not sure how long they stuck with it on the weekend!

Many days have been overcast, and with a bit of rain. But some early season migrants are persisting, as they normally would. There have been lots of Fox Sparrows in the last few days. I saw about 12 at one location along the South Point Trail, although most were reluctant to provide clear photo ops.

Song Sparrows also arrived in good numbers a short while ago. They were difficult to find over the winter this year.

Killdeer have been around for a few weeks. This one was taking shelter from the brisk, cold wind by hunkering down behind a large tree trunk.
 Northern Flickers are abundant. This one has its feathers fluffed up to provide a bit of insulation against the cold.
 Eastern Phoebes are plentiful. It is unusual to spend much time at Rondeau and not come across a dozen or more. For a species that is predominantly an insect eater, they do surprisingly well in a season with very few insects.
Brown-headed Cowbirds are more abundant than they were over the winter. Not that anyone is looking forward to their arrival! They are drab birds, and notorious for laying eggs in the nests of other birds, including some species that are at risk. They are native to North America, but are a lot more abundant in the east now than they were historically, since they are mainly an open landscape species. Therefore they were much more abundant historically in the prairies and plains farther west, where they followed the herds of bison.
Female (l) and male (r) cowbirds
There have been some sunny days, and on occasion it can even be a bit warm. That brings things out like this Eastern Garter Snake.
 Red-bellied Woodpeckers are year round residents here in southern Ontario, but it is always nice to see and hear them.
 Feeders are great spots to find them.
 White-breasted Nuthatches are commonly found at feeders as well.
Another insect eating species is the Tree Swallow. They often come back in late March or early April. A few days ago it wasn't uncommon to see a flock of 50 or more at a time. They aren't as adaptable in their feeding habits as phoebes, so I don't think the swallows are doing very well at the moment. Hopefully they had enough reserves to return to a warmer place where insects were more plentiful, or take their chances here without the benefit of a food source.
 There is always enough carrion around from the winter kill to keep the recently arrived Turkey Vultures (Condors?) fed up.
 The sloughs are looking quite full and photogenic. Hopefully a few Prothonotary Warblers will arrive in about a month to make use of them.

 A species that also depends on wooded wetlands, including the Rondeau swamp forest is the Wood Duck, which nests in tree cavities. Wood Ducks look a little out of place sitting high up in a tree. I noted this female checking out a large old tree trunk with potential cavities for a possible nesting site. Large old trees are very important to the nesting success of this beauty!
Female Wood Duck
Male Wood Duck
There are other signs of spring to enjoy. Plants are beginning to flower, such as this Silver Maple, one of the first to flower well before the leaves appear.
Male flowers of Silver Maple
Female flowers of Silver Maple
The mosses are looking bright green these days. This one already has fruiting bodies on it.

Some birds are on the move out of southern Ontario. Waterfowl were around in the tens of thousands just a few weeks ago, but lots of them have left for their breeding ground farther north or northwest. There are some lingering, and even Rondeau Bay has a few hundred or even a few thousand remaining as the birds wait for better weather to head off.

There are very few breeding records for Canvasback in southern Ontario.
There are no breeding records of Greater Scaup in southern Ontario.....their stronghold in Ontario is the Hudson Bay Lowlands, so these birds have a long way to go.
 Redhead does nest in southern Ontario, albeit limited largely to the large wetlands around Lake St. Clair, with even less frequent occurrences in large marsh complexes elsewhere.
Hooded Mergansers nest in small numbers here in the south, and the same can be said for Northern Shoveler, one of the more distinctive ducks with its huge bill.
Hooded Mergansers
Northern Shoveler
Snowy Owls should be heading north, and presumably some have. However a few of the birds that arrived this winter are lingering. Is there something they know about the weather that we don't? This Snowy, or one of its kind, have been using the roof of this house a few times, given the extent of the white-wash.


  1. Nice post. Plenty to look forward to as spring moves forward. It's always exciting to see what shows up. A hooded merganser nested on our pond last year just outside of Stratford. First time I've ever seen that here. I'll be keeping my eyes peeled again this spring in case they return.

    1. Thanks, Jonathan. Hopefully this latest blast of winter will end and spring will be more apparent in the next few days!

      Hoodies are beautiful little ducks, so you are fortunate to have one nesting close by. I hope it found last year's experience worthy of repeating in 2016!