Barred Owl

Barred Owl

Friday, 29 December 2017

St. Clair River birding and an Aythya curiosity

My territory for the recent Wallaceburg Christmas Bird Count, held on the 27th this year, includes several kilometres of the St. Clair River. Some years it is full of ducks, but this year it was not. There was a reasonably diversity, however.

Long-tailed Ducks used to be quite a rarity here, but now it is a rare to not see several dozen, at least, especially the farther north on the river you go. They are often well out in the middle of the river, so not always easy to photograph.

With the ice quickly building up in the river, the protected area by the Sombra ferry dock is a good place to check out the waterfowl. A female Hooded Merganser was hanging around......
 ....and there were a few Common Mergansers.

Both Greater and Lesser Scaup were near the ferry dock, but I only got photos of Greater. Greaters are easily identified by the round head and, when they are at rest, a slight flatness to the head.

There was a duck that at first glance was an easy call as a Ring-necked Duck. I got a few photos, but when I started looking more closely at them on the computer, I had some questions.

Ring-neck (l), Redhead (r)

Certainly the bill pattern the dark back, the brownish sides all fit Ring-neck nicely. But what about that head shape? A 'good' Ring-neck shows a slightly different shape, sometimes being bluntly crested even to the point of being broadly triangular in some respects. This bird shows a round head, especially obvious in the first and third photos. It is more like a Greater Scaup, and the slightly greenish tinge is more indicative of Greater. A Ring-neck head is usually a brownish purple. Does it have some Greater Scaup genes in its background? Both of these species are members of the Aythya genus, and they are close enough that hybrids in this genus are more common than most other duck genera. So it is possible that at some point in this bird's lineage some Greater Scaup genes crept in. I'm certainly not an expert in waterfowl genetics, so if anyone has an opinion, please share it!

There were other birds to find, including this adult Bald Eagle that swooped over some gulls, looking for something to scavenge, I expect.
 While I was watching the gulls and this eagle, I looked across the river at the St. Clair Power Plant. I had seen Peregrine Falcons there in the past, and this is what I was hoping to find on this trip. I got a brief look at this bird through the binoculars, and then reached for the camera. This next photo was taken with a full frame Canon DSLR, a 500mm telephoto and a 1.4X converter. After taking a couple of photos, I reached for the scope, and then the bird was gone. The bird was perched at least one kilometre away, so it was at a difficult distance, and with the bright sun and atmospheric haze, it isn't as sharp as I would like it to get a positive ID. Cropping the photo by about 80% doesn't help either. It looks a little big and chunky for a typical Peregrine. Perhaps it was just fluffed up due to the cold? Or is it possibly something else? Another birder had a very large falcon go by him not too far from here....could it be the same bird? Could it be a Gyrfalcon? One can't tell for sure based on this photo....perhaps it is just a female Peregrine, which are larger than males.

Canada Geese were not very abundant early in the day,  but there were a few around.

 As the afternoon wore on, it was apparent that a late day movement of geese was occurring. Several flocks ranging in size from about 60 to 150 streamed by, quite high and heading straight south. I expect the colder weather much farther north put them to flight.

I spent a bit of time inland, checking out a different part of my territory. There were a few raptors, including at least 3 Northern Harrier.
As they swept low over a field, they would scare up small groups of birds such as Horned Lark, which were widely scattered.

 All in all, it was a great day in spite of the cold. No doubt with the continued cold, bringing lots of ice from Lake Huron, waterfowl will become much more numerous, and will warrant another visit.


  1. Appears to be quite a few different hybrids the last couple of winters on the river!
    I had a similar duck to yours a number of years ago at Sombra. I figured Greater Scaup was involved.

    1. I expect there are more hybrids occurring than what we might think. Unless we get a real good look, or a decent photo to analyze, it may be hard to pick them all out. Especially if there are lots of ducks to sort through.