Sunday, January 27, 2008

From Owls to Ducks

I was not sure what I was going to do in the birding department today, but from what I saw yesterday, I decided to check some inland spots north of here. Hardly any ducks were on the St. Clair River yesterday, so I almost did not go to the river. But it was a good thing I did. More on that later.
Bickford Line is an excellent nature corridor with many large woodlots. It is good at all times of the year. Today, I stopped first at Moore Wildlife Area, but it was rather disappointing. There are always wintering Yellow-rumped Warblers, titmice, nuthatches and woodpeckers (inc. flicker) in abundance. I did get a couple of flickers and heard a titmouse, but not much else. The birds must have been elsewhere today. I had Yellow-rumped earlier in the winter.

I then moved east down the road to the McKellar Tract. This is a crown-owned chunk of property with a variety of habitat including pine plantations. Obviously it is good for owls. I had hoped to come across a Saw-Whet, but instead I flushed a group of six Long-Eared. I managed to get a few photos, but lighting was not good, and branches were in the way. I also saw a Short-eared.

I have no doubt a Saw-Whet was in there, but there were too many trees to check. It was a nice walk, and no other birds besides a couple of chickadees. I will check again next week perhaps.
Well, I might as well check the St. Clair River anyway! I started at Lambton Generating Station with not much, so I then started moving down river and noticed quite a few things to look at compared to yesterday.
At one location, I came across a male American Wigeon--the first for the winter. (There is always one somewhere). Now, this was not any ordinary location, it was the exact same spot I first saw the Ivory Gull in 1995! I will always remember that spot.

Just north of Sombra, I noted large rafts of Canvasback/Redhead. As far as I could see there were large numbers. Quite a few Ring-necked Ducks were seen as well. Where did all these ducks come from??
It was here that I spotted a white-winged gull. An immature Herring Gull was beside it on an iceflow, so the size comparison was evident. It was slightly smaller than the Herring, so that would make it an Iceland. It was an adult of the Kumlien's type because it had the slightly grayish primary tips and little head streaking.
Gulls have been scarce on the river this winter, and the northern white-winged gulls have been almost absent, so this was a real bonus.
Just south of Sombra at the head of Fawn Island, I saw a real bonanza of ducks. This location is quite reliable for large numbers of ducks in the winter. Mostly Redhead were here and they were tightly packed! I looked for half an hour and did not see anything unusual until I spotted a scoter. For the longest time I was thinking that it was a Surf, but then I did see the white wing patches. White-winged Scoters can hide the white patches very effectively. The facial pattern between the two scoters is slightly different, but it is sometimes hard to discern.
A little farther down, I picked out an American Coot among hundreds of Redhead in one raft. It looked out of place!

There were several rafts of mostly Redhead all the way down to Walpole Island. The last large raft was off the north end of Walpole, but I did not look at it because I would have to take the long way around onto the island.
It was interesting to note the difference from yesterday as hardly any ducks were to be seen. I would think all these ducks came from Lake St. Clair that is freezing over with the recent cold weather.
Also interesting was the fact that the northernmost rafts were mainly Canvasback, while the southernmost rafts were Redhead. Canvasback must have a more northerly distribution!
There were probably 30,000+ ducks out there today.
Today I saw at least fifteen species of ducks, Mute and Tundra Swans, and Canada Geese, plus a coot! Finally a good day on the river.

1 comment:

  1. Glenn Coady was telling our group that Coots actually have it pretty tough. Apparently there are a few species of duck that have learned to follow coots so that when they bring up a fish/food parcel, they can go in for the steal. Something to look out for the next time you see coots with a group of ducks!