Monday, January 16, 2017

Erieau Rails and Trails

Sunday morning dawned crisp, clear and calm as I headed down to Erieau.  My destination was McGeachy Pond where some good birds have been seen lately.  If you have been following the sightings reports since early December, some late-lingering birds have been found here.
The area also includes the Erieau Marsh Trail (a.k.a. rail trail) which is just across the road.  Some of the McGeachy birds cross over for a change in scenery at times.
Late warblers have included Palm, Wilson's, Orange-crowned and Common Yellowthroat, while a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher lingered well into December.  A Nelson's Sparrow was found on December 13.

The Palm was actually a "Yellow" type, occasionally seen in migration.  It was locally record late as it was last seen on the Christmas Bird Count December 18.

Photo by Garry Sadler

The Wilson's Warbler I first found on December 4 and was last seen December 17.

The Orange-crowned and Common Yellowthroat are more hardy birds and will likely still be around.

Last Sunday, a "winter" Virginia Rail was discovered along McGeachy dike.  It was seen for about three days, but not since, and could very well still be present.  Virginia Rails are occasionally seen in winter and for example, I once found one on the St. Clair NWA CBC 2 January 2006.  The rail was the bird I was most interested in, but Steve and I could not find it on Sunday.
We did, however, come across the Common Yellowthroat chipping away in the tangles.  It was impossible to photograph!
The wintering Gray Catbird can be quite elusive and usually you see it like this:

However, on our second pass, it was more co-operative as it fed on berries.

The dike has lots of tangles and shrubbery with many types of berries for wintering birds.  The birds hide well in the tangles and every walk seems quite different.

This past December 3, we found a Bohemian Waxwing among many Cedar Waxwings.  It was only one of a few Rondeau area records.

McGeachy Pond was acquired by the Lower Thames Valley Conservation Authority in 1974.  Previous to that, the area was a low-lying marshy part of Lake Erie where the shoreline came up to the corner of Erie Shore Drive and Erieau Road.  A dike was constructed to close off that triangular area to create the significant wetland.
It has attracted many types of birds over the years and even some rarities have been spotted.
A viewing tower is located near the east parking lot.

Across the road is the famed "rail trail" which is the former right of way of the Pere Marquette rail line that came in to the bustling port of Erieau.

The line was abandoned in the early 1970's, but the rails along the shoreline of Rondeau Bay were left and still can be seen poking through the ground.

This trail has been an excellent spot for birdwatching and is really a "catch-all" or migrant trap during migration.  There used to be more trees along the trail as I recall, but it is still a good spot for birds.
A public trail was created a few years ago which has made access easier.
I remember in my early years of birding the first part was difficult to access, but farther down the farmers used it as a laneway where there was easier walking.
It was always a spot to check out as it seemed to attract a large number of birds.  I remember when I first started birding, stopping there one day in May, and it was crawling with migrants.  In fact, I did not get far after along period of time and eventually decided to leave after being overwhelmed!

Brewster's Warbler on the trail

It is good in winter as well since you have the marsh on the east side.  Marsh Wrens and Common Yellowthroats will attempt to winter there and it is also a good spot for birds to linger into the winter. For example, back on 13 December 2009, Jim Burk and I found a Northern Waterthrush beside the viewing stand. It stayed to be counted on the CBC the next week.

Marsh Wren

And, the trails are good in the warm season for butterflies.  An excellent variety can be found here and even some rarities.  At McGeachy, I found the first White-M Hairstreaks of the Rondeau area one year.
A couple of years ago, I found an Ocola Skipper on the rail trail-a first for Chatham-Kent.

Ocola Skipper
White-M Hairstreak

As winter goes on, we will be checking the area regularly.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

River Run II

It was a toss-up as to where to go today, but I headed upriver.  It was a good choice as conditions for viewing birds along the river was perfect.  There was no wind (for a change!) making the waters calm, and it was overcast which always seems better for viewing things on the river.  Not the best day for photography, but viewing was excellent in any case.

Sombra Mallards

At Port Lambton, I noticed a large number of gulls, including at least two Glaucous.  In fact, there were hundreds of gulls all along up to Cathcart Park north of Sombra.

At Sombra, there were rafts of ducks to look through, but most were Redhead of course.  I did note some Ring-necked among them.  Canvasback finally arrived in numbers on the river late this week as well.  I did not have the patience to scope through all of them!

A group of Tundra Swans was at the foot of Fawn Island, but there did not seem to be as many Mute Swans as usual.
At least one White-winged Scoter was in my view at Sombra, but others were reported.



Farther upriver, I saw the wintering Common Loon just south of Seager Park.  It is always nice to see one on the river in January.  There is usually one around.

A Red-throated would be better. Many years ago I did find one, coincidentally, at Seager Park!

Redhead rafts were all along the river, but I did not see much variety.  Some Greater Scaup were mixed in.

At Mooretown, a Double-crested Cormorant was swimming in the river.  Perhaps it is the one that hangs out at Shell, Corunna.  It was quite distant when I first saw it, but while looking at other things, it flew right in front of me at point blank range.  The camera was not ready!

There were not a lot of gulls off Guthrie Park this morning, but there was a good number of Common Goldeneye and Bufflehead north of Stag Island.

At Sarnia Bay, there was a good number and variety of gulls and ducks.  They all got up three times when I was there, so it was constantly changing.  Each time there was a different mix.  There were at least four species of gulls here plus a hybrid.
A splendid Great Black-backed X Herring adult came in at the last minute.  Some call it a "Great Lakes Gull".

A few Ring-billed Gulls, uncommon in winter on the river, were on the ice.

At the mouth of Lake Huron, Long-tailed Ducks were the dominant species (besides distant Redhead) numbering several hundred.  White-winged Scoters were out there as well.

Distant raft of Redhead!

The Snow Goose was still at Blackwell Trails Park.  It and the other geese must have had a hard week again as they were sleeping just like last week!

Mallard X Black hybrid

After picking up some sunflower seed in town, I headed south and tried again for the Northern Shrike on Ladysmith Line.  Any other time I have been here (including last winter), I never saw a shrike, but today luck was with me.

I headed back out to the river at Courtright and looked at some more ducks and gulls.  Nothing different this time.  The loon was still in place near Seager Park.

Near Wallaceburg, about 50 Tundra Swans were in a corn field which seemed odd for the time of year.  Checking other eBird lists, quite a few were around today in the SW part of the province.