Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Ross's Goose...or ?

Ross's Goose has been considered for a long time as one of the rarest species of breeding goose in North America. The first evidence of this species breeding in Ontario was in 1975, when two of my former MNR and now retired colleagues (Paul Prevett and Fred Johnson) observed flightless young at Cape Henrietta Maria along Hudson Bay while they were working out of Moosonee. The population has continued to expand. During the second Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, it was recorded with breeding evidence in 6 atlas squares.

While it is still a rarity, it has been seen much more regularly in the last couple of decades than before. One just has to look at the number of reports in Ontario on eBird, Ontbirds or other rare bird reporting sites to see just how much more frequently it occurs. Of course part of that is due to many more birders being out in the field and with higher quality optical equipment than several decades ago.

Ross's Goose nests in Snow Goose colonies, and as the latter species has expanded considerably in Ontario over the last few decades, it isn't all that surprising that Ross's Goose has expanded as well.
Nesting 'blue' phase Snow Goose, from scan of 1990 slide taken in Polar Bear Prov Park
Waterfowl are known to hybridize with regularity when the opportunity arises. Hybridization between Snow Goose and Ross's Goose may occur relatively frequently since they nest in the same colonies. With Ross's Goose looking like a smaller version of Snow Goose, it is possible that the two species think that as well, which facilitates hybridization. And that presents a problem for birders who want a clear cut species in order to put that check mark on their lists.

Recently two small white geese have been present at the Keith McLean Conservation Area, just outside of Rondeau Provincial Park. The high water levels and greater snow melt than usual allowed a fairly large but shallow pond to form at the south end of the CA, much of which was easily viewable from the adjacent road. There has been a typical mix of waterbirds present which vary from day to day, including Canada Geese (of course!), Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, American Wigeon, Gadwall, Mallard, Green-winged Teal, and others.

This next photo shows one of the birds observed by several folks. The photo was taken with a lens magnification of about 14X, so it is magnified a little higher than the average 8 or 10 power binocular view would provide. At first it looks good for a Ross's, being a small goose (that is a Ring-billed Gull out-of-focus in the foreground), with a round head, no obvious grin patch, a bluish area to the base of the bill and a fairly straight feather line at the base of the bill. Ross' Goose...check.
A few other shots, including the two of the birds.

Being chased by a probable Herring Gull

Next is a bit closer look, zoomed in. But with this closer view, questions start to arise. The bill looks a bit longer than a pure Ross's Goose, which normally has a short, stubby bill. And there is a hint of a grin patch, which Ross's should not have.
Zooming in even closer, the bill clearly does not look good for a pure Ross's Goose. If birders had viewed the birds with a 'scope and not just binoculars, they might have had the same questions come to mind.
After careful consideration, I changed my initial conclusion of Ross's Goose on eBird to a hybrid between Ross's and Snow Goose. I'm not sure how many others who checked off Ross's Goose will do the same, but the fact is that neither bird is a pure Ross's and to be accurate, should be recorded as a hybrid.

A few years ago I had taken photos of what I was initially convinced was a Ross's Goose out near St. Clair NWA and posted it as such along with a photo. I was contacted by a waterfowl biologist who had considerable experience with Ross's and Snow geese, among others, and he pointed out some of the less obvious characteristics that indicated the bird in question definitely had a mix of both species. Since that time, I have tried to be more careful when indicating on my lists which species I am reporting, as in many cases, the bird(s) show hybridization.

Does it really matter? It is apparent that this bird is 'mostly' Ross's....not 100% but still a beautiful bird. Nonetheless many checklists on eBird will likely remain as Ross's, and therefore muddying the true picture of Ross's vs hybrid.

With this in mind, it is likely that many Ross's Geese reported on eBird and other reporting sites are actually hybrids.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Looking back.....looking ahead

 Looking back......

It was four years ago, in early March 2014, that with some trepidation, I joined the blogging world. The time has flown by, and it has been a rewarding experience. Thanks to all of you readers for making it worthwhile!

I've posted over 340 times in that span. The topics as initially expected, varied widely on subjects about the natural world, with an emphasis on southwestern Ontario and especially Chatham-Kent. The most frequently read post by far, with almost 5500 views to date, has been one of several I wrote about Lyme Disease. That in itself has made this blog worthwhile in my opinion, as Lyme Disease continues to be a poorly understood thing that can affect so many people who spend time out doors, or who have pets that do. Fortunately the risks, identification and treatment options are becoming a lot better known but there are still many conflicting ideas put forth as authoritative.

The country with the most page views of my entire blog is the USA with almost half the total views. Next comes China, followed by Canada, Russia, France, Portugal, Germany, Brazil, United Kingdom and Ukraine. I'm not sure what this means, but I found it interesting.

As you know, I really enjoy photographing the natural world, especially if 'a picture is worth a thousand words' so that I don't have to write out as much! So far I have included more than 4200 photos. Here are some of my favourites that I have used.

Forests, although few and far between in this part of the province, are a favourite site to explore and photograph, whether it be spring wildflowers or overall landscapes.

White Baneberry

Clear Creek Forest Provincial Park
 This next one was featured in a Canadian Geographic calendar.
Fish Point Provincial Nature Reserve
 Many of my photographic attempts are pre-planned, but some are more serendipitous. I wanted to get photos of my sweetheart admiring these three individuals of Tuliptree along the trail of that name at Rondeau. She struck a tree-hugger pose, and I got this one. It turned out to be the best of that event!
Marie amongst Tuliptrees
Huge Tuliptree along a Skunk's Misery trail
Photographing in foggy conditions can be fun.

The sloughs of Rondeau are often worthwhile to check out. Prothonotary Warblers are endangered and declining residents in a handful of swamp settings in southwestern Ontario.

Prothonotary Warbler
 Being at the right spot at the right time enabled me to capture this Mink when it paused briefly while scampering across a rotting log.
 Shallow sloughs may eventually get fairly dry over the season, enabling lush greenery to emerge. This is one of the sloughs I need to cross in a relatively remote part of Rondeau to check on one of the rarest orchids in Canada, shown in the following photo. The only known place for it in the entire country is at Rondeau.

Nodding Pogonia (Triphora trianthophora)

Macro photography is fun. 
American Rubyspots along the Thames River
Boogie-woogie aphids on an American Beech
Red-banded Leafhopper
 This next one features a White-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly, chowing down on some sort of midge.

 At the other end of the scale is the very large Bald Eagle, with a recently caught fish.
 Forest birds can be quite colourful.
Scarlet Tanager

Red-headed Woodpecker
In more open landscapes, which is much of southwestern Ontario and especially Chatham-Kent, are some lone trees. This American Elm, featured next, is one of the largest of its kind, surviving on a road allowance and has escaped (so far) the ravages of Dutch Elm disease.

There are lots of open spaces to choose from. Some include wetlands.
Lake St. Clair wetland, near Mitchell's Bay
This next one is of a rare Marbled Godwit feeding in the shallows at Mitchell's Bay along Lake St. Clair. I was able to get out in my kayak and get quite close.

 A Great Egret often gets some attention. Having one soar overhead against a bright blue sky is always a treat. Being backlit shows the delicate nature of such a large bird, with the almost translucent white wings and the limited amount of bones supporting all of those flight feathers.
 A small colony of the more western Yellow-headed Blackbird was fun to observe at relatively close range for several breeding seasons. They were nesting close to the road near Mitchell's Bay and entertained many people, some of whom came from quite a distance.
 Willets are another relatively rare species, and the three shown below were part of a group of about a dozen that were found at Shrewsbury, on Rondeau Bay.

Lake front sites give lots of opportunity for photography. The lake can be quite placid....
Erieau harbour
 ....or quite riled up, and it is on these occasions when the dynamic shorelines can undergo change.
Erieau harbour
 Sunrise can be an inspiring time to capture scenes along the water front.
Erieau looking across Rondeau Bay
Sunrise along Lake Erie shoreline at Erieau
Tallgrass prairies are a favourite open space I explore as much as possible, both in Ontario where it is quite limited.....
Walpole Island First Nation
 ......and in the mid-west, where there are many more to explore.
Sky Prairie, Missouri
 Various bird species are more apt to be found on prairies and prairie like areas than in other habitats.
Short-eared Owl
While the Short-eared Owl is currently found locally only as a wintering resident, it formerly nested when larger prairies and wetlands occurred in southwestern Ontario. Of course Snowy Owls are here only as a wintering species, although some may show up in late fall and linger into early spring.

It is no secret that I like waterfalls as well. There aren't many close to home, but I enjoy seeking them out in my travels. Some favourites are:
Hogg's Falls, along the Niagara Escarpment near Flesherton

Rock Glen in the conservation area near Arkona

Brooks Falls, north of Huntsville

 In the far north of Ontario, is the huge Hudson Bay Lowland, which I was fortunate to camp on and explore for almost a month in total over two successive years.

At the other extreme, in southeastern Arizona is the Sonoran Desert, with the iconic huge Saguaro Cactus dotting the arid landscape. I've been to this area half a dozen times, and can never get enough.

A typical breeding bird of southern Arizona and adjacent states is one that has shown up on two occasions in Chatham-Kent, of all places, and both times in the late fall/early winter period. The one shown below stayed around long enough to be on the Christmas Bird Count!
Vermilion Flycatcher, just north of Wallaceburg

Looking ahead......

I expect there will be more of the same types of blog posts. Of course none of us know exactly what the future holds for us, but my intentions are as follows:
-complete the series on Natural Areas of Chatham-Kent (there are about three more parts to go);
-tidbits highlighting my regular exploratory forays across Chatham-Kent and beyond;

Some tentative blog post topics include, in no particular order:
-How old is that tree?
-Tips on forest photography
-Will all those cute little bunnies, birds and other newly born/hatched wildlife survive to adulthood?
-Prescribed burns in Ontario: has the pendulum swung too far?
-One drink too many (I'll keep you guessing on that one!);
-Old growth forest;
-Bison birds;
-A conundrum in science;
-How an ecologist views the landscape;
-Changes in the birds of Kent County, comparing a 1940s era unpublished manuscript to today;
-Invasive species: the elephant in the room;

So stay tuned if you like! Hopefully you are getting as much enjoyment out of checking out my blog as I am in sharing it!
Sunset over Lake Erie, taken from the ferry Pelee Islander