Great Egret

Great Egret

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Sandhills, Snowies and Swans in C-K

I wasn't going to go after the Crested Caracara up near Wawa.....congrats to those who took the chance and saw it, of I did something a little more local. I explored the former Dover Twp part of Chatham-Kent, since some Snowy Owls have been seen with a little more regularity in the last few days.

I noted my first of the season on the weekend, a single bird that was well out about half way between the two roads, so photos were challenging. This first shot is of the one I saw, and it is greatly cropped.

Today was a different story. I had heard from a couple of other local birders who had been out yesterday and seen as many as three snowies, so today I ventured out to try and get some better shots, as well as roam more extensively than I had on the weekend.

The one I had seen on the weekend was there, in more or less the same spot. A little farther down the road I came across another one, also well out in the field. A third one was seen along yet another road, but also too far for a useful photo. I checked the area along Meadowvale Line, east of Hwy 40, where several snowies were seen last winter. Due to the fact that most corn stubble had been plowed under, the fields didn't look too appealing, and I didn't see any owls. But near the corner of Baldoon Road and Greenvalley Road, where I took the photo of the snowy at the head of this blog late last winter, I did see another snowy, but again too far out to bother with. (Side note: I have no idea where the name Greenvalley came from......this part of the landscape is as flat as a pancake!)

I was giving up hope of finding a snowy worth photographing, so decided to meander along the north-south Big Pointe Road instead of following the various east-west ones I had been on mostly to this point. At one section that I didn't realize was a dead end since a bridge had been decommissioned, I went to the end and looked for a place to turn around. I was concentrating on the messy road conditions, not wanting to get stuck in such an out of the way place. When I got mid-way through my three point turn, I happened to look out the window and couldn't believe what I was seeing....this is an uncropped image, other than making it square! The Snowy Owl was standing on a concrete slab just across the narrow ditch and was not paying any attention to me.
The light was good, but there were a few shrubs to contend with in order to get the type of photo I wanted. It would have been better if I was on the other side of the break in this road, so I quickly retreated to the main road, went around the block and came back up along Big Pointe Road from the other direction.
The bird was quite cooperative, as snowies sometimes can be. The next image is slightly cropped. The bird decided to move a short distance away to a post in the field which was surrounded by grass, so I left it to its quiet reverie.
My total number of snowies for the trip was five, certainly a good start to the season. It wasn't that long ago that seeing only one or two during the winter was normal, and this would be at least the third season in a row where they seem to be around in greater numbers than what their normal cycle would be. I have some thoughts why this is so, which just may be the subject of a future post.

I made a side trip into Mitchell's Bay, to take a quick look at the lake. The water was very calm, and one could see ducks a long way out. One nice looking male Canvasback was feasting on the aquatic vegetation that had accumulated in the small channel at the end of the road, which enabled me to get this photo from the car. Since it is the duck hunting season, I expect if I had to get out of the car this duck would have been long gone, quite quickly.

Sandhill Cranes are becoming more abundant in recent years, both as migrants as well as the local breeding population. Blake, in his blog and on ebird, refers to his experience of regularly seeing 60-100 or more birds most days just north of Walpole Island, along the St. Clair River. While those numbers don't often occur in west central Chatham-Kent, smaller numbers can be found regularly. A dozen here, a dozen or more there, and they do add up. On the weekend, I came across a flock of seven well out in a field, with five of them close enough together for me to get this distant shot.
On my travels today, I saw ten very close to this same location, but much closer to the road. I couldn't get them all in my field of view, so I settled for these five here.
A little later I was up near the Bear Creek Unit of St. Clair NWA at the north end of Bear Line, and saw 18 leave a field. Presumably these were one of the group of 18 that Irene Woods saw in her travels yesterday. I didn't get photos.

Swans are around in numbers that are building. There are several hundred in the immediate vicinity of St. Clair NWA or part way between there and Pain Court. I expect with the colder weather over the next few days or weeks, there will be several thousand making a din across the landscape!

With Christmas Bird Counts not far off, (the SCNWA count is on Jan 1) I hope that these birds will stick around for a few weeks yet.


  1. Allen--I guess I missed the Owl at the dead-end of Big Pointe.
    I, too, was concentrating on "not getting " stuck in the mud puddle--lol! Balmoral Road is also getting a bit mucky with
    the big rigs hauling out carrots. Birders must remember to leave lots of room for our farm equipment. Here in Chatham_Kent---We grow for the World ! Right ?

    1. I saw those tracks on Big Pointe and wondered if they were either yours or Garry's. The puddle wasn't too hard to negotiate around, and if I hadn't and gone the rest of the way, I probably would not have seen this owl. Balmoral has a lot of earth clods on it from the carrot harvesting procedure, but the road itself is fine as far as I can tell. There has been lots of traffic to the Balmoral Club where their huge new accommodations have been built over the last few months.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks, Stew.....having cooperative and striking subjects always helps!

  3. Fantastic birds - love your Snowy and the Canvasback! I need to find my first Snowy of the season.

    1. Thanks for your comments. It might be a little harder to find a Snowy Owl now that the landscape is blanketed with the white stuff :-(.