Great Egret

Great Egret

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Goose, Goose, Swan

Any readers who have kids may suspect I adapted the title from the Duck, Duck, Goose, game. It's true...but since this post doesn't really deal with ducks, but lots of geese and swans, hopefully you will pardon the writer's licence here.

Waterfowl are present in southern Ontario in increasing numbers these last couple of weeks, as mentioned in some of my previous posts. Since the Lake St. Clair area, including local marshes, have always held an attraction for migrating waterfowl, it is definitely worthwhile checking things out when hints of spring appear. The fields of harvested corn, beans, carrots or whatever, are an added attraction. And as far as waterfowl are concerned even though it is still January, if the snow and ice disappear, it gives them reason to gradually move north with these conditions, so that eventually when they make that bigger push to their arctic or sub-arctic breeding grounds, it is less distance to travel.

Greater White-fronted Geese had been reported in the Blenheim area a few days ago, and so last Monday I headed for the sewage lagoons there. Sure enough, there were 6 in the far pond, along with several dozen Canada Geese.

A couple of days later, Jeremy Hatt reported good numbers of various goose species near St. Clair NWA. I couldn't get out for a day or so, but yesterday I put it on my schedule. And just east of SCNWA, between Heron Line and Rivard Line, a good number of ducks, geese and swans had congregated, with more arriving all the time. The best views were from Rivard Line.

Some of the most obvious birds were Tundra Swans, their white bodies showing up against the dark landscape and their melodious kloo, kloo calls filling the air.

There were a couple of larger swans somewhat by themselves, so I grabbed a couple of shots of them just because they were relatively close at hand. But since I was really trying to check all the geese, which were smaller, more numerous and blended in against the snow-free landscape, I didn't pay close attention to these swans. My least fortunately when I got the images transferred to my computer and I started looking through them, I realized these were Trumpeter Swans!

Their larger size, the larger and longer bill, the lack of any yellow in the lores, the wider and less pinched black area in front of the eyes, the straighter line of feathering along the base of the bill and the pointed feathering at the top of the bill (the pointed feathering is most obvious on the bird on the left in the lower photo) all are characteristic of Trumpeters. I vaguely recalled hearing an odd swan call, lower and more nasal than a Tundra while I was there, but it wasn't heard often.

Trumpeters used to be a regular breeding species in the Great Lakes region, but were extirpated from Ontario more than a century ago. It was re-introduced in Ontario in the early 1980s primarily in central Ontario, and it has been gradually expanding ever since. Records in Chatham-Kent are very few and far between in the last few decades. However almost a year ago, there were 2-3 birds that showed up in Rondeau Bay at Shrewsbury and were around for several weeks. Once the ice broke up entirely and all the waterfowl dispersed, the Trumpeters were rarely seen, although Blake and Steve had three flying through as late as April 23. Interestingly, a Trumpeter was observed just outside of Rondeau, along Cty Rd 15, on June 7. There is habitat around Rondeau Bay, but no one that I have come across ever saw any evidence of breeding, although they could have done so unnoticed.

Regardless, there were two Trumpeters here near SCNWA. Maybe a few will be the norm again.

As mentioned, geese were the original target of my search on this day. And I was fortunate to see several kinds, including some of the rarer species.

Snow Geese are not all that rare in Chatham-Kent, but certainly are not in the numbers that they occur in in eastern Ontario, where at the peak of their migration, it is not uncommon to see 50,000 -100,000 in a day. But seeing at least 50 in one field here was a nice treat. In this first photo there are about 23 birds. Not all are the white phase, of course.

 This next photo show two of the blue phase Snows, with their dark bodies and white head.
 And here is a first year blue phase Snow, told by the dark head.

There were more Greater White-fronted least 8 by my count. Three of them are in this next photo, standing quite close together. They are slightly smaller than the more abundant Canada Geese, but their browner body, pinkish-orange bill and white feathering at the base of the bill are all diagnostic. The second photo shows one in flight, and a closer look might explain why one of the other names for this species is 'Speckle-belly".

Greater White-front in flight
There were some Cackling Geese as well. They are diminutive versions of the typical Canada Geese, but their shorter legs, smaller body size, shorter neck and stubbier bill are characteristic. I didn't get any photos on this day, but this next photo is one I took less than a year ago in a field close to SCNWA.
Cackling Goose in the centre

There were other white geese in the field. They are smaller versions of the Snow Geese, called Ross's Geese, and there were at least 6 in the field. They are not much larger than a Mallard. Some of the key features, besides their size, is the lack of the 'grin' patch on their bill, the straighter drop to the white feathering at the base of the bill, and the smudgy bluish-gray colour at the base of their bill. They also have a shorter, stubbier bill and a more rounded head. These next two photos are of different birds. The first one is quite probably a hybrid between a good Ross's and a Snow, which happens regularly. The subsequent off spring typically show a mix of the diagnostic characteristics. The bird in the first photo is small, but not quite as small as a Mallard. The grin patch is lacking, and the base of the bill shows the bluish-gray colour, but the bill looks a bit longer than a pure Ross's. Conclusion: a probable hybrid.
This next photo is probably a better example of a good Ross's Goose, showing all of the typical characteristics.

While out and about, I did wander some of the roads in the former Dover Township to see what Snowy Owls I could find. Without trying too hard, I came across 7 birds. Most were a long way from the road, and some were not visible except with binoculars. Typically they were standing beside a clump of grass, or a post of some sort. This next photo is of the closest Snowy I found, and it was taken and subsequently cropped to the equivalent of about a 30X 'scope view.


  1. Most of that stuff was out there today except for the White-fronted. An amazing assortment for this time of year!
    At least I beat you with 8 Snowy Owls today. lol.

    1. Yes....time for a Pink-footed to show up to really add some spice!

      It would be interesting to do an intensive survey of Snowies....if 6-8 or so are relatively easily found, there is likely a dozen or more.

    2. ...and your 8 were beaten today by Steve and Jim's

    3. ....but that is only 6.5 owl each for those guys, so we both beat them :-).