Great Egret

Great Egret

Wednesday, 13 April 2016

Photogenic water birds

The water front is the place to be these days. There is still a lot of water fowl around, with many of them in their prime breeding attire. Since they are either hungry for sustenance in order to continue their migration, or vying for a mate, they are quite busy with those things in mind, so are more tolerant of photographers. Of course it helps that the hunting season is not on. At the Erieau harbour, the birds are quite used to vehicles coming and going, so staying in the car and using it as a blind, really works well.

Bufflehead are one of the most numerous ducks within 'shooting' distance at Erieau these days.

It is a species that one has to look through carefully when one is trying to find the local pair of Harlequin Ducks, since the female Bufflehead are mostly dark bodied with white facial markings. Compare with the female Harlequin in the image below. The Harlequins have been around for several weeks.
One can sometimes spend quite a bit of time scanning from the main channel area and not see them. Case in point: a couple of days ago I was at Erieau for the better part of two hours, mostly photographing whatever water birds I could find in order to fine tune my camera's autofocus. I didn't see the Harlequins at all, and eventually left. However an hour later, Jim Burk had one of them in their usual spot at the far eastern end of the rocks across the channel.

Yesterday, I was on a grand tour ranging from southern Lambton County, then to Rondeau and eventually ending up at Erieau. I purposely left Erieau until later in the day, since by 3 or 4 p.m., the commercial fishing tug and associated activity is over for the day, leaving the waterfront along the channel as well as where the fish tugs are moored, very quiet and the water birds have relatively free reign over the area. Another bonus is that when the sun is out (not often these past few days!) the angle of light is much better later in the day.

I initially checked the channel, but only saw Bufflehead. I then moved a bit farther towards the lake so I could scan the lake side of the far rocks. Almost immediately I saw a male diving in the relative calm of the lake. I looked for the female, and a few minutes later saw another Harlequin a short distance away...but it was a male as well. Did the first bird just dive and swim farther away than I expected...but no, it was a second young male! And the female was in the area as well!

A little later Steve Charbonneau arrived, and I told him we had three Harlequins, and sure enough, they were all still there, although still a long way off for the kind of photo we hoped for.

They were well out in the lake at one point, but eventually came back in and hung out around the rocks. They were still in that location when we left after 7, so presumably they were getting ready to settle in for the night.

The last time anyone had this many Harlequin Ducks in the Rondeau checklist area was way back on May 17, 1960, when 8 birds were seen at Erieau. That was at a time when the overall population was healthier than it has been for a few decades.

The Willet which I found on April 8 is still there, but now it seems to spend all of its time on the tip of the south beach of Rondeau across the channel, affording only distant views and photo ops.

Photo of April 8
Photo of April 12
In spite of the lure of these two rarities, there are other water birds to enjoy, including lots of Horned Grebes in various stages of plumage development

 This next one is coming along nicely.
 This next bird seemed to be injured. Its one leg was continuously dragging behind, and it swam a bit sideways. Maybe it will linger for quite awhile before it succumbs, since it may not be able to fly to its normal breeding ground.
There are a few Greater Scaup still around, most of which are well out in the lake or the bay,

Lesser Scaup are more abundant right at Erieau. They are told from the very similar Greater Scaup by a slightly different shape to the head, and a narrow black tip of the bill which isn't always visible in a side view. Greater Scaup have a relatively wider black tip to the bill.
Lesser Scaup
Lesser Scaup
Greater Scaup
Mergansers are less common than they were a few weeks ago it seems, but both Common and Red-breasted Mergansers are still around. Red-breasteds are easily told by their darker breast in the male, and their unruly 'hair', compared to the white breast and sleeker look of the Common.
 This one is in the beginning of a dive, to go fishing.

Red-breasted Merganser female
Common Merganser
Gulls are building in numbers, and in spite of them being a noisy nuisance at times, are attractive in their own way. The adults are quite immaculate looking.
Herring Gull
The sub-adults are much less immaculate looking!
Herring Gull
Bonaparte's Gulls, that dainty member of the gulls, are starting to build in numbers. This one will have an all black hood over its head in a few weeks. When a birder sees a smaller gull with a slightly pinkish hue to its breast feathers, such as on the one below, it makes one think of that ultra rarity, the Ross's Gull in breeding plumage. Alas, the pinkish hue on this bird is a reflection of the boardwalk decking. There has never been a confirmed record of Ross's Gull in the Rondeau checklist area, although there is an unconfirmed record for one about 15 years ago. We keep looking and all optimistic birders do.
Bonaparte's Gull
Forster's Terns, which used to be quite a rarity back in the 1970s since they were generally a more mid-western species, are now fairly plentiful. They started nesting at Rondeau in the early 1980s, with dozens of nests present at times in the cattail marshes of the park. They do not breed as regularly now for some reason, perhaps due to high water levels, or more likely due to the expansion of that horribly aggressive and non-native wetland plant known as Phragmites. At least 15 Forster's Terns are present at Erieau these days, with more to come.


  1. Such a great post with beautiful photos! Thank you so much for sharing.

    1. Thank-you for your kind words, Linda!

  2. Such beautiful photos Allen! I sure hope the Harlequins stay around for my visit in early May! I hope you are enjoying the warmer weather!

    1. Hi Tianna....there is at least one Harlequin still around as of a couple of days ago, but it is hard to say how much longer any of them will still be around. Keep an eye out in your waterfront area, and maybe one will show up there before you get back to C-K!