Great Egret

Great Egret

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Another Rondeau/Blenheim Christmas Bird Count

This past weekend was the Blenheim/Rondeau Christmas Bird Count. It was started in 1939, and I've been on it every year since about 1969. Over the years, I've estimated to have seen at least 137 species of the ~190 species that have been recorded since the count began.

In recent years my territory has included the South Beach of Rondeau, all the way to Erieau. Then I return, drive out the Marsh Road and walk the south half of that trail. All in all it usually totals about 15km or more, often carrying about 14 lb of stuff. There is one area where there isn't even any cell phone coverage....probably the only place in Chatham-Kent where that is the case!

It is a real workout, especially as one gets older, and the weather conditions have varied considerably. I've canoed on this count, and I've almost been blown into the lake due to the fierce wind at the very exposed south beach area. But it is always a treat to get in such an out of the way place at that time of never knows what birds might be out there! Over the years I have even had about 10 species of shorebirds!

This is what the South Beach looked like for the 2015 bird count...clear sailing all the way.

But with the several inches of snow, freezing rain, ice and snow drifts of recent days, it was a different story. The sudden arrival of winter snow made the access roads impassable to get to the starting point of these remote areas, and since there is always so much walking once I get there, I didn't want to walk an extra several kilometres. Besides, with the wind and ice conditions being what they were, chances are there might not have been as much as some years anyway. So I decided on a different strategy. Since so much other area of the park never gets covered, I thought I would deviate from my usual route and experience what most other bird counters do.... a lot less walking in a more forested and edge habitat.

Scanning the lake is often worthwhile, so I started scanning from the east end of Bennett Ave. The lake was pretty empty, but at the horizon one could see large groups of waterfowl moving through the distant haze. I suspected scaup and mergansers, and found out later that more than 7400 scaup had been reported from the Morpeth Cliffs area. The best species of note for me at this point in the day was a pair of adult Bald Eagles, one of which came in off the lake to perch beside its presumed mate. The many branches interfered with the focus, but at least you can see what they were.

Checking out a feeder along Lakeshore Road just a bit south of Bennett turned up a good variety of birds, including some of the few cowbirds I saw all day, as well as Fox Sparrow, White-throated Sparrows, Tufted Titmouse and others.
Fox Sparrow
Tufted Titmouse
The woods were quiet....there was the occasional Downy or Hairy Woodpecker, Dark-eyed Junco or White-breasted Nuthatch, but overall very quiet.

At times, the only birds to be seen were those flying high. There were hundreds of Canada Geese as well as a few Tundra Swans moving west-southwest, clearly on the move from farther afield. I guess winter had arrived farther north as well!
Flock of 47 Canada Geese

There were lots of hikers out.

And others who were content just to sit along the trail in one place and smile.

The shrubby and grassy areas along Lakeshore Road were the busiest for birds. I noted an American Robin and a couple of Hermit Thrush.
Hermit Thrush
And lots of American Tree Sparrows.
I had hoped to find Chipping and Field Sparrows mixed in with the myriad tree sparrows, and likely they were there. However with the recent freezing rain providing a crust on the snow, every step one took made enough noise that the flocks of sparrows took off before they could be adequately scanned. So no Chipping or Field Sparrows on this day for me.

I did get a pleasant but not totally unexpected, species. While scanning out over the lake with the 'scope, I looked down the shoreline and noted a small sparrow type bird heading directly at me. I followed it through the scope and when it got close enough, switched to my binoculars. It landed by a tussock of grass not more than 10 metres was a Savannah Sparrow! It is a species that isn't always recorded for the count, so I was pleased to add it to my list.

I didn't get a photo of the Savannah Sparrow, but this lake freighter was more accommodating, albeit too far away to get a clear shot.
One doesn't often see lake freighters this close to the east shore, but I suspect with the brisk west-northwest winds that day, it was easier to sail in slightly calmer water closer to shore.

Another adult Bald Eagle was spotted in a cottonwood tree along the lake.

I stopped at the Visitor Centre, just to make sure the Eastern Towhee was there. It is technically in Blake's territory, but right on the edge of mine, so I took the liberty of looking for it.

Eastern Towhee
All in all, it was quite a good day, especially given the way the weather was initially forecast. I ended up with 47 species for the day....a bit lower than my normal list, but then the habitat was decidedly different. The overall count was 111 species, just shy of our record of 115 set in 2008 and repeated in 2009. Undoubtedly that may be the highest total for Ontario bird counts again this year.....we are regularly in the top two or three counts, and more often than not, right at the top. There were several species that were seen the day before, but not on the actual day, so the record could have been broken if all species that were around were recorded.


  1. Always enjoy hearing about the Christmas Bird Counts. Apparently I know a friend of yours up here Allen. Ken Yaraskovich volunteers for the Bruce Trail as do I. Saw him a few days ago.

    1. Hi Stew.....thanks for stopping by. Yes, Ken and I go back a long about 1975! I last saw him in November.

  2. Hi Al

    Actually, Long Point has, by far, been the number one count in Ontario over the years and the two counts tied at 111 this year. Just sayin'. Nothing like a little friendly competition. :-)

    1. Hi Ron....I think that over the very long term, you are correct, but without looking over the details, in the last couple of decades it has been much more even. It is nice that it is a friendly competition, however.

  3. Oh BTW!

    Love your blog. The best one out there.

    1. And thanks for your very kind is especially appreciated, knowing your expertise in writing and photography!

      Happy New Year!