Great Egret

Great Egret

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Snipe hunt, waterfowl survey etc

With the Christmas Bird Count season behind us, less intensive birding, etc is the order of the day at least for me. There is a mid-winter waterfowl survey that takes place in the first week of January across the continent...okay so the first week of January isn't really the middle of winter...I don't know why that term was used. Regardless, a waterfowl survey takes place during that time, with the results being used to gauge the long-term health of the waterfowl populations. I began coordinating this locally back in 1987, during my MNR days. It was always fun to get out and do some focused counts within the tri-county area wherever waterfowl could be found. When I retired 5 years ago, I continued doing a route as a volunteer.

Fortunately the St. Clair NWA CBC falls within the survey period, so those waterfowl results can be used for the waterfowl would be difficult to duplicate the survey effort again. The SCNWA CBC waterfowl results are almost always impressive. This year was fairly normal. We totalled 25983 individuals of 22 species. The year 2007 was memorable, and our best single CBC when we tallied almost 96000 individuals of 28 species.
Redhead and scaup
There have been some huge numbers of individual species over the years on the SCNWA CBC. For example: Canada Goose (17413 in 1984); Tundra Swan (10870 in 2016); Gadwall (185 in 2007); Am Black Duck (5370 in 2007); Mallard (35800 in 2007); Northern Pintail (172 in 1997); Green-winged Teal (325 in 2012), Canvasback (25800 in 2007); Redhead (15200 in 2007); Greater Scaup (3203 in 2004); Common Goldeneye (479 in 2006); Common Merganser (2899 in 2008); Ruddy Duck (663 in 2016); etc. The Lake St. Clair marshes have been well known for decades by waterfowl hunters and specialists, which is the reason so much of the wetlands have been acquired by private hunt clubs as well as the federal government.

This past weekend was the time I set aside to do my waterfowl survey route. What a difference a few days of cold weather makes with strong northerly winds! The southern shore of Lake St. Clair, once you get west of the mouth of the Thames River, is not prime for waterfowl. Wetlands are almost non-existent and the waterfront is largely built up. Nonetheless there are sometimes small numbers of waterfowl to add to the overall survey.

Not so in 2017. This is what Lake St. Clair looked like from the mouth of the Thames.
There was a small opening not far from shore, but the only birds making use of it were a handful of crows. Presumably they were picking at the remnants of a dead fish abandoned by a gull.

This next photo was taken from the Belle River marina, looking west towards Windsor. Not a speck of open water in sight.
It was at this point, I decided to discontinue my waterfowl survey along this stretch. The first time ever I have been skunked here!

One of the things I did notice were several large plumes of smoke coming from the north end of the lake. These would be the marsh fires that occur almost annually at Walpole Island, where people are burning dead Phragmites which had been sprayed late in 2016, or they were clearing the cattails so they could trap muskrats. Fire has been going on there for centuries.

Having abandoned this part of my route, I returned to Chatham to check a portion of the Thames River where the warm water outlet is. As expected there was a bunch of ducks, mostly Mallards of course, with a small number of Am Black Ducks, but there is often a few others. This time it included Northern Pintail, Green-winged Teal and Hooded Merganser.
Am Black Duck and Mallard
Female Hooded Merganser
So the day wasn't a total washout for recording waterfowl. I did have time in the day to check on Snowy Owls closer to Wallaceburg. I came across 4 altogether, with three of them being in one field along Meadowvale Line. They must be getting tired of people searching for them, however, as they are often well away from the road and even a cropped photo taken with a good telephoto isn't as close as one would like.

Yesterday I decided to go to Erieau, as I hadn't been there for several days, and with the ice build-up along the lake shore, some open water right at Erieau would likely have a few species of waterbirds there.

There were 17 species of waterbirds, not including gulls! Things like Tundra Swan, Ring-necked Duck, both scaup, Canvasback, etc., etc. Not all were in decent photo range, however. I was hoping that the Harlequin Duck might be there, but not that I saw. It has been missing in action for awhile now.

I also swung by Stefina Line, where there is a sizable pasture that is sometimes grazed, sometimes not. When it isn't grazed it sometimes attracts Short-eared Owls, but I haven't seen any reports of them there this year. One thing that is there all the time is a medium sized drainage ditch that has lots of low vegetation in it. Most winters it has some open water, and also a Wilson's Snipe hanging out. This is what it looks like from the road....there is a WISN in there.
 Can you see it? Maybe if I zoom in a little closer....
 How about this one?
It plays hide-and-seek behind the clumps of vegetation, so is often difficult to see.

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