Great Egret

Great Egret

Friday, 8 April 2016

Willet & Harlequins, Snowy & Forster's

I was at Erieau this afternoon, hoping for an opportunity to get some better pics of the pair of Harlequin Ducks which have been present for several weeks. I find that later in the afternoon is better, as all of the commercial fish tugs have come in, and there is no boat activity at the main channel. Also the angle of sunlight is better for photography.
The Harlequins can be seen at other places earlier in the day, but usually a scope is required. In the channel, binoculars are all that is necessary, and some folks have had them quite close.

Today they were in the channel, part of the time working along the main pier with a group of Bufflehead, but were not very approachable. Bufflehead are still pretty common, but so photogenic.

The Harlequins drifted off across the channel and spent a bit of time at the southernmost end of the far breakwall, and then began working their way northward along the breakwall. This is one of the better shots I got.
 While I was watching the Harlequins, I temporarily lost sight of them and as a result of some quick scanning, noticed a largish shorebird on the far breakwall. I knew there had been the occasional Greater Yellowlegs reported in southern Ontario in the last few days, including one at Erieau, and figured that was what this bird was. It wasn't close, and I just got a look at it through the camera. When I got home and had the pics on the computer, I had second thoughts. I noted the rather stout straight beak and the pale gray legs.Yeowsers! That doesn't fit a Greater Yellowlegs! It must be a Willet! After careful looking through several reference books, I concluded it was a Western Willet, due to the lack of any pale pinkish colour at the base of the bill. And some references state that the Eastern Willet is strictly along the eastern coast, whereas Western Willets are the more common one inland, even though they breed in the mid-west.

Here are two of the better shots I have. The camera and lens combination works out to about 22X magnification, and with the cropping on the computer, this image is now at about 40X, so it isn't as crisp as I would like.

 After sending the shots off to Blake M, Jim B and Steve C to get another opinion to see if I was overlooking anything, the consensus was that it is indeed a Western Willet. Had I seen the bird fly, it would have been much easier to confirm, but I didn't see it arrive or leave. It was only on the break wall for a few minutes, and left when I was looking at the screen on the back of my camera.

This may be a new early record for Ontario. I have yet to find or hear about any record earlier than April 13. Considering that there have not been many shorebirds reported in Ontario so far this spring, not surprisingly due to the wintry weather, this record is even more unusual.

There have been a few other, less notable species around to enjoy. Forster's Terns are back, with half a dozen or so at Erieau in the last couple of days. I heard one or two at first yesterday, and then one was cooperative enough to land in a decent location for me.
Snowy Owls continue to linger. This one was at the end of the street that goes to the bay at Shrewsbury.


  1. Maybe it is Willie the Willet from Blenheim Lagoons last year!
    Nice find in any case. Never expected I would see on this early. It took me until fall to get one last year!
    I sat at the pier for well over a half hour this morning before I spotted it on the Rondeau beach facing the government dock.

    1. Ahhh...Willie....could be. I don't see them every year myself, so it is nice to get that one on the list. I wonder how long it has actually been here.