Great Egret

Great Egret

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Waterfowl are the order of the day...hints of spring?

A few days ago it was time to check the St. Clair River. I hadn't been there since the Wallaceburg Christmas Bird Count (CBC) on Dec 27, and the river at that time had very few ducks compared to what it can look like. On that day, I had to resort to some of the creeks entering into the river to find much....even Mallards!

The sky was quite brightly overcast that CBC day, making this shot of an immature Bald Eagle flying overhead challenging.
There were a few Long-tailed Ducks...always a highlight in my opinion.

Gulls were almost non-existent. There was the occasional lake freighter moving up and down. I always get a kick out of seeing how much the bow of the ship raises the water level as it plies its way through.

On this more recent trip, things had improved a bit. There were some quite large rafts of ducks, almost entirely Redhead. There were probably in excess of 5000 birds altogether.
Raft of Redheads
There were a few other species mixed in, including Canvasback as well as one of my favourite ducks, the Ring-necked Duck.
A couple of male Ring-necks mixed in

Common Goldeneye were plentiful in small numbers, as were some of the other typical diving ducks such as Bufflehead and scaup.
Common Goldeneye
A bonus bird was this Common Loon in its winter plumage. There is often one somewhere along the river, but since so much of the river is not in view due to residential areas, there is no guarantee one can find it. This one was fairly close to my side of the river, and no housing was nearby to obscure the view.

On the way to and from the river, I checked out out the area along Meadowvale Line, just south of Wallaceburg. It has been one of the more reliable spots to find Snowy Owls this winter again, and today was no exception. There was one right close to the road, but it didn't like that the car was slowing down, so it headed farther into the field.

A bit of a surprise on this particular visit was the large number of Tundra Swans already in the field, and while I was there, more kept pouring in. There had to be more than 500 swans spread out across the field, and certainly more than I had seen in several weeks. Perhaps the recent mild weather had encouraged them to return, and they were spring migrants???

At one point a large falcon came through, flying low and fast and hugging the ground before landing briefly in a tree. I didn't get a definitive look at it, but the way the swans reacted, it was something they were concerned about, and about a third of them got up and left in a hurry.
Given the arctic flavour of the day, with Snowy Owl and Tundra Swans the only birds in view, I considered it might have been another arctic species...a Gyrfalcon. I'm not sure a Peregrine would have elicited the same response by several hundred swans. Nonetheless, I just entered it on ebird as a large falcon.

Yesterday I took a trip to Erieau. There was still lots of fog around!
Upper part of turbines rising through the fog

I noted the male Harlequin Duck at the far east end of the rocks across the channel.....too far away for anything more than a record shot. At least the water was fairly calm, allowing the auto-focus to hold on the bird. This bird has been in the area for more than a month, although not always visible.
Harlequin Duck on the far right

Today I headed over to St. Clair NWA, hoping that the warmer weather would have brought in some waterfowl. It has been fairly quiet there in the last couple of weeks, due to most of the visible area of the NWA being frozen pretty solid. And it was mostly frozen today as well, but there were lots of Canada Geese in the adjacent fields, feeding on what looked to be left over carrots from last year's harvest. There were at least 1000 Canada Geese, with some white ones in the mix. I noted them first from Balmoral Line, on the south side of the NWA, but later headed over to Bradley Line, the next road south. Of course the geese were about half way in between, in a slightly lower part of the field, so a scope was necessary to examine the flock and photography was challenging.

There were also 18 Snow Geese mixed in, including at least 4 blue phase Snows.
Six Snows on the right, and at least one blue phase on the far left
There had been some Greater White-fronted Geese seen in the vicinity of the Blenheim Sewage Lagoons earlier today, and I scanned this scattered flock carefully to see if any were here. I didn't see any but off by themselves were two small white geese, about half the size of the Snows. I was not able to see their heads, as they were tucked under their wing, so I couldn't check for the 'grin' patch which if present, would indicate they were Snows. But the very small size was pretty characteristic of Ross's Geese! Definitely an unexpected highlight, but no photos to be had.

With all the mild weather, will Snowy Owls stick around or be heading back north?