Great Egret

Great Egret

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Outings in mild mid-winter settings

 I've been out a few times since the last post. The mild, open winter conditions certainly make it easier to get around, and there have been very few other people out and about, so it is easy to keep a distance.

 I did want to check on the Great Egrets that have been hanging around the mouth of the Thames River, and in particular the Jeannette's Creek boat launch area. Sure enough, there were at least three birds still there, as well as one or two Great Blue Herons and a few Bald Eagles. The egret was in the canal right beside the boat launch, and the heron was on the far side of the river. No eagles were within photographic distance on this trip.

 A drive around the former Dover Township can be worthwhile, and with no snow on the ground, the Snowy Owls are a lot easier to find even if they are well out in the fields. A fair bit of cropping is usually required.

I haven't been to Rondeau a lot in the last couple of weeks, but a couple of times. Woodlands are fairly quiet, and one can go for long walks without seeing many species, or even birds. I did manage to see and photograph a few, including the Bird of the Year highlighted in the previous post.

This American Tree Sparrow seems to have something not quite right with its eye.
The cardinal was more intent on feeding on something on the ground than it was in avoiding the stare of my camera lens.
The cavity in this American Beech tree has been a popular spot for a roosting Eastern Screech Owl. However I only see it there about one time in ten, so it must have multiple roosting cavities, or it can sit down and out of sight.
With no ice along the shoreline, and lots of wave action along with the high water levels, shoreline erosion continues unabated. This concrete slab is associated with the former south campground office, which was in operation from the late '50s (I think) until the early '70s when, record high levels at the time, caused flooding in the campground and it was closed. Depending on the wind and wave action, sometimes there is enough deposition of sand and gravel to cover the concrete, but at the moment, it is quite visible again, and a definite reminder of the constant of change.

At one point just before returning to the parking lot, this Virginia Opossum scampered across the road in front of me. It disappeared in some thick shrubby undergrowth, so I was not able to get anything different.

Yesterday I decided to take a drive to Erieau, since I hadn't been there for several weeks. There was the usual gull mix, but not many duck numbers. A bit of this and a bit of that, but no large numbers of anything. However the entire bay as far as one could see was open, so waterfowl had lots of area to choose from to avoid the wind and waves. The more protected area of the marina harbour did have a few things.


Redhead female
I was pleased to find the previous two species, as well as a couple of scaup that I couldn't get photos of. I was especially glad to have caught up with this Horned Grebe hanging out in the main marina slip. It is in its full basic, non-breeding plumage. A closer look at the first photo shows the position of the legs, towards the back of its body. This is typical of the grebes and loons, and it makes it difficult for them to walk on land. Hence you almost always see them on the water, unless you happen to find a nest which is close to the water's edge to minimize the requirement for walking on land.

House Sparrows aren't hard to find, but it has been a long time since I have bothered to photograph them. This one was in a group of about 60 birds all huddled in some dense shrubbery. It was quite open, obviously, but the sky background was not exactly what I would like. But you have to take what you get and make the most of it.
A side trip to Shrewsbury did not turn up much other than lots of Canada Geese and at least three Bald Eagles. These two were at the edge of the ice, while a third was in a nearby tree and was camera shy.
Now that the colder weather has arrived, and with it a little bit of snow, it will be interesting to see what turns up at feeders, or a few open patches of water that will be slowly decreasing in size. Winter has arrived, at least for the moment.

Monday, 11 January 2021

And the 2021 Bird Of the Year Is.....

 ,,,,Pileated Woodpecker!

For those readers who are members of the American Bird Association, and get periodic email updates, you will likely already know this. For the past few years, the ABA has picked a bird to be the Bird of the Year, and it has included species such as Ruddy Turnstone, Cedar Waxwing and Green Heron, all of which are great, popular choices. The Pileated Woodpecker is no less a favourite of many people, birders and non-birders alike and probably better known to non-birders than the three mentioned above. It is a large bird, and very distinctive with its red crest, and probably where the idea for the Woody Woodpecker cartoon character came from. The Pileated Woodpecker has a very distinctive call, which also possibly resulted in the Woody Woodpecker laugh.

The Pileated Woodpecker generally likes large woodlands. I have read where normally a territory for a single pair of these woodpeckers is approximately 600 acres. But they have become somewhat accustomed to people, as some people living in or adjacent to woodlands have them coming into their yards. Once you have seen one of these, it is not something easily forgotten.

The species is widespread across the eastern and northern USA, and across much of southern and eastern Canada. At Rondeau Provincial Park, there are probably at least 5 or 6 pairs. On the most recent Christmas Bird Count, only a few short weeks ago, there were 7 birds reported. They can be notoriously hard to find when you are looking specifically for them, and at other times, they can be very tolerant, even cooperative for the photographer. Here are a few images I've taken of this impressive woodpecker at Rondeau.

You are more likely to see evidence of their presence than the actual bird. Their holes are distinctive, often showing elongation.

With their massive beaks, they can really tear into a tree trunk to go after the beetles and such that they can tell are working away inside. They can leave an impressive amount of large chips on the ground below.

Nests are hard to find, and the adults are quieter and more wary in the nest vicinity. The nest cavity access is fairly small considering the size of the bird, and mostly rounded, but a little flattened at the bottom. The photos above show a male, with the crest being red from the beak to the tip. The bird in the next photo is the female, as the forehead is brown, and only the last part being red.

It is truly an impressive bird, and an excellent choice for Bird of the Year, as it happens to also be the bird featured on the Ontario Field Ornithologist's logo.

Thursday, 7 January 2021

The Last Christmas Bird Count, Red-throated Loons, and a Great Egret!

 Last weekend was the Skunk's Misery Christmas Bird Count. The weather was not promising, but is winter and when you pick a day several weeks in advance, you have to take what you get. There was a bit of wet snow over night and into the early morning the day of the count. When I got to my first site, the St. Vincent de Paul Camp, this is what I saw.

I got a few birds, but as is often the case, the woodlands are a bit quiet this time of year. A few woodpeckers, such as this Hairy shown next, as well as some Wild Turkeys, Mallards and a single Herring Gull were among some of the species I came across.
I drove a few roads, checking out some places before I met Brett, who I typically team up with to cover a sizeable county forest in extreme southwest Middlesex. Even roadside habitat wasn't terribly productive, other than Am Tree Sparrows, a Black-capped Chickadee and some Mourning Doves, in the next photo, among other species. The day was quite overcast and even foggy, as the photo shows.

The county forest had a few things, such as Great Horned Owls, Pileated Woodpeckers, a Red-bellied Woodpecker and a Red-tailed Hawk. Other than crows, which could be heard off in the distance almost constantly, in the approximately 3-4 kilometres we walked, we had about two birds per kilometer! Not exactly what one hopes for, but it is what it is.

Due to the light precipitation and increasing fog where one could only see about 100 metres, I decided to call it a day around 2 p.m. I ended up with 22 species, not one of my better days on this count. The overall count ended up with 64 species.

The next day I met up with Kevin, a seasonal Rondeau staff naturalist member, who was home from university. Kevin and I did a lot of black lighting this past year. On this day, we were on the lookout for cocoons of some of the large silk moths, which are a little more visible when the trees are leafless. We found a few, including about 8 of the Promethea Moth, which looks like this. This photo was taken a few weeks ago, on a sunnier day than the day we were out. Unfortunately the pupae in all of the cocoons we saw had emerged, which left us wondering where the ones to emerge in 2021 were.

In addition to the several Promethea Moth cocoons, we saw this Cecropia Moth cocoon. It too had emerged. Undoubtedly there are many more, so hopefully there will be a few of these species come to visit our black lights in 2021. Who says you can't go mothing in the middle of winter!

There has been quite a number of Red-throated Loons off the east beach of Rondeau some days. On one day earlier this week, Steve counted about 143 swimming or flying by the Dog Beach access, in only a couple of hours! Very impressive! So the next day, I decided to check out the lake from various vantage points. The northern most access points in the park did not seem to have any loons, but there were a few things like American Tree Sparrows that popped out of the vegetation.

By the time I got to the Dog Beach access, there they were. They were about 300 metres or so south of the access point, so I started walking south to try and get better looks and, hopefully, some photos. Unfortunately there was a fish tug heading towards the loons, so I didn't have much time. I got a few photos from quite a distance. The loons were probably at least 400 metres off shore. Some were swimming and diving, while others were getting a bit nervous with the approaching tug, and started flying around. After just a few minutes, they all got up and headed southwest and out of sight. I got a few distant photos, and these are all heavily cropped. I counted about 45 birds altogether.

 As I left the park, one of the many resident White-tailed Deer was casually munching away on something along the roadside.

Today I spent a bit of time at first, roaming around the former Dover Township. I came across 7 Snowy Owls, including this one.

A male Northern Harrier was out hunting, and I managed this distant, quick photo.
At one point I came across an adult Bald Eagle out in a field, and clearly it was hanging on to something. In a matter of minutes, the eagle eyes of some of its compatriots arrived to see if they could get in on some of the pickings.
There was a bit of harassing going on, but the adult kept possession of its meal as far as I could tell.

A little later I decided to check out the area of the Thames River near its mouth, since there had been a couple of Great Egrets seen here over several days in late December and into early January. Undoubtedly they were present during our St. Clair NWA bird count, but due to the weather, were not seen so they will go into the record as a count week species. We had one on count day back in 2016.

I checked from the Jeannette's Creek boat launch. Looking downstream, I did see an egret on the Chatham-Kent side, but it was at a great distance, and even after being heavily cropped, this is the best photo I could get at this point.

It certainly isn't very clear, so I decided to try some better vantage points in the Lighthouse Cove area. I didn't see any sign of it there, but did see a few Double-crested Cormorants, considered a bit rare for the time of year according to eBird, but seeing how everything is open, it isn't all that surprising. 

Leaving Lighthouse Cove, I headed back to the Jeannette's Creek boat launch. The bird had moved across the river, and it stood out a bit more as it was in the vicinity of the marina there. The photo is ever so slightly better.

As I was mulling over returning to Lighthouse Cove, I slowly moved away from the boat launch, and suddenly got a glimpse of something white partially hidden by Phragmites along the small canal on the north side of the parking lot I was leaving. It was another Great Egret! I maneuvered the vehicle to a better spot and got a photo through a gap in the Phragmites.
And then I maneuvered even closer, getting some much better and closer photos from the truck.
No question that it was a great way to end an outing!




Saturday, 2 January 2021

The 41st Christmas Bird Count at SCNWA

 In what has become a tradition, the St. Clair National Wildlife Area Christmas Bird Count was yesterday, January 1. While we used to pick that date as waterfowl hunting had ceased by January and would make access to the several private hunt clubs more likely, in recent years the hunting season has been extended. As a result, some of these private marshes are no longer accessible, but it varies from year to year. This year we had a little better access than some years.

This count began in 1981, organized by the regional wildlife biologist of the Canadian Wildlife Service of the day. Beginning in 1988 I became the coordinator/compiler of the count. Since I live within the count circle, it made sense and works quite well.

On January 1, 2021, about 16 (mostly) regular participants started out early in the day. Some were out well before daylight, trying to document screech owls during the relative quiet hours before the storm. The day started off not too badly: cloudy and just below freezing, with a light east wind. By shortly after day break, the wind had picked up, still from the east, but increasing to around 18-30 km/hr. And then it went downhill from there. By early afternoon, it was 30-50 km/h, still from the east, and with a bit of rain, mixed with ice pellets and freezing rain. Several folks, especially those who had traveled a bit of distance to be here, decided it was time to call it a day. Smart move, as the conditions did not improve much, if any.

A frequent winter sight at SCNWA

The main part of my territory included some of the most productive area of the NWA. Even in the coldest weather, there are a couple of spots that never seem to freeze, and there is always quite literally a ton of birds. I decided to carry my camera and telephoto lens, along with my 'scope and binoculars, as even with the very poor weather conditions for photography, one never knows when it will come in handy. I'm glad I did, in spite of the extra weight.

 This first photo shows a very small segment of the concentration of waterfowl. The Tundra Swans are obvious, but there are also Mute Swans, Canada Geese, Mallards and American Black Ducks.

 Overall in this extensive open patch of water, I counted/estimated over 550 Tundra Swans, 12 Mute Swans, 1250 Canada Geese, 7 Snow Geese, 2300 Mallards and 300 Am Black Ducks. There were also 4 Cackling Geese, 5 Greater White-fronted Geese, 5 Northern Pintail, an American Wigeon, 3 Green-winged Teal, 27 Northern Shoveler, a Redhead, 17 Ruddy Ducks and a single Hooded Merganser, plus a Pied-billed Grebe and an American Coot. At least those are what I saw, but with so many ducks being obscured by the larger geese and swans, who knows what else might be there? I spent at least an hour slowly scoping back and forth as more and more birds became noticeable.

A more spread out group of mostly swans

A cluster of the Northern Shovelers

It was quite awhile before I noticed the Greater White-fronted Geese, as they were hidden behind the swans most of the time. Even at an equivalent of almost 90 power, the birds are not all that clear, but you can see the small brown geese with the orangey bill and white patch at the base, three of which are shown next.

As is often the case, Snow Geese hang out here, mixed in with the other geese. This next photo shows the seven birds: 5 white ones and on the far right, two of the 'blue' colour phase.

There is always a steady stream of birds coming and going for various reasons. While I was in this part of the NWA, I had no less than 4 Bald Eagles flying about, and that got the attention of the waterfowl. On a couple of occasions, an immature eagle flew right overhead and not that high up. This next photo was hardly cropped at all. It isn't a great shot, but that is what happens when shooting a predominantly dark bird against a very white/gray sky.

Here is the group of Snow Geese that got up and left at one point due in part to the eagles.

As I was nearing the westernmost end of the dyke trail, I was startled by a noise around the bend. It was a White-tailed Deer, that instead of turning around and heading back the way it came, decided to try and cross the partially frozen canal beside the berm. As it hit the ice, it skidded across to the other side, with feet flailing in every direction. Once it got to the other side, it quickly scrambled up the bank and disappeared. Meanwhile, the other two that were with it made a smarter decision with, I'm sure, less risk. They retreated and paused briefly a couple of hundred metres down the trail, to consider the threat.

Upon returning to the parking lot, I decided where to go next. On the way out the lane way of the NWA, a Great Blue Heron decided to fly along beside, and then in front, of me. This first photo is through the front window of the truck.

Another rear view of the heron.

I normally have 2-3 smaller areas away from the NWA to check out, but there was nothing of note at any of them. I drove along the north side of the river, as birds, and especially waterfowl, are on the move there as well. The most common species was Common Merganser.

Male Common Mergs

Female Common Mergs

On the other side of the river, presumably watching for some erring waterfowl, or a dead fish to float by, was this immature Bald Eagle.

Snowy Owls are always a highlight at any time, and I wanted to make sure that there were a few reported. I went to the part of the count circle where I knew there had been several, and was not disappointed. I saw 8 altogether, but all well out in a field. This first one hardly ever had its eyes open, as it rested in a worked up field of corn stubble.

This one was sitting in about the only patch of snow left in the field.

In spite of the less than ideal weather, the count tallied 89 species, with one group yet to report in. The only new species for the count was Trumpeter Swan, perhaps a bit overdue. Our highest ever was 93 species, and we have only exceeded 89 species four times in 41 years, so I think everyone is overall pleased with the results in spite of the weather. 

One more count to go, for this season.