This weekend will be full swing for Christmas Bird Counts. The Rondeau/Blenheim count is on the 17th and I have been out scouting around a bit over the last couple of days. The onset of winter in the last few days, earlier than we would like, has caused a lot of water birds to depart as much of the open and still water is now quite still.....frozen solid. However the cold and snow it will concentrate the remaining birds, especially around feeders.
It wasn't all that long ago that the roads and trails of Rondeau looked like this:
Something tells me that we will not break any records for species observed on this count! Just as I was taking the first of these snowy trail scenes, I heard some Sandhill Cranes approaching from behind me. Normally they are vocal enough that you can hear them from quite a distance but this time, when I turned around and starting looking for them, they were almost right overhead, and only about 2-3 times the height of the trees around me. I had the wrong camera/lens combination for bird photos (full frame and wide angle) so I counted them, and came up with 42. I noted on ebird that Steve had this same group flying west over Erieau about 15 minutes later, so likely this group won't be around for the count.
The birds that are still around are making do, with some like this Fox Sparrow finding a bit to eat along the plow-scraped roadside. I found 7 Fox Sparrows today along the road sides.
Not far away, this Mourning Dove was soaking up a bit of sunshine while resting out of the wind, on the ground.
Red-bellied Woodpeckers are also permanent residents, and can be found at feeders or elsewhere.
Common Grackles were quite abundant a few weeks ago. Nowadays they are not 'common' at all but this one was hanging around the Visitor Centre feeder......
Needless to say, there weren't too many people lining up for picnics.
The lake is still open, although a bit of ice is building along the shoreline. But a couple thousand Canada Geese seem reluctant to leave the area, and can be seen flying about.
There is a nice wide creek along Stefina Line, a bit southeast of Blenheim, where there is lots of soft mud, and it seldom freezes over. There must be a spring of some sort feeding it. There is a profusion of low vegetation and tufts of grass, and it seems every year a Wilson's Snipe can be found. There is no guarantee, however, as yesterday it wasn't seen but today it was in its usual spot.
At the end of the day yesterday, I stopped beside an old pasture that has been partially planted in prairie vegetation. It was a wonderful place to find Dickcissels most of last summer. I was hoping to find a Northern Shrike perched on a hawthorn shrub, or a Short-eared Owl flying about at dusk. I didn't see either of them, but this Northern Harrier was quite active. Unfortunately for photography, it wasn't the best of conditions, as the sun had set and holding a 500mm lens while taking a picture at 1/40th of a second even at a fairly high ISO wasn't what I had hoped it would be.