The weekend after New Year's is traditionally when we attempt a waterfowl count. This is an annual census that takes place around the southern Great Lakes. I always do the St. Clair River. The usual species were found, some in good numbers. Of the less common stuff, I usually get a scoter or two, and this year was no exception.
I started a first light on Walpole Island. It is imperative that one gets out as early as possible, because by early afternoon, things will have dispersed. That goes for birding at any time! I do not know where things go later in the day, but first thing in the morning is almost ALWAYS the most productive. I found that this was the case on Saturday. I had reached Sarnia by noon, and then headed back down the river to see if there was anything different. It was a marked difference from the morning. It seems amazing how things disappear! Good thing I did it Saturday, because Sunday morning there was dense fog. As well, the temperature had risen considerably, and I have found over the twenty years plus of birding the river, that when it is milder, you will certainly see fewer birds.
Anyway, I started off with a sizable raft of Canvasback/Redhead near the tip of Russell Island, as seen from Walpole Island. Mute Swans were there as well.
At Port Lambton, off Brander Park, I was delighted to see a White-winged Scoter. It just came to mind that the scoter is a new species for my Brander Park List! I have an impressive list for there, but that is a topic for another time.
There were ducks all along the way, but the next concentration was at the head of Fawn Island south of Sombra. This spot is always good in the winter for waterfowl. There were large numbers of Mute and Tundra Swans, and Canada Geese (including one Cackling Goose). Also, lots of scaup, Redhead and Canvasback and other divers.
Near the Sombra ferry dock, I spotted an odd Aythya duck. It looked mostly like a Greater Scaup, but was obviously different. After doing much research on the internet and in books I have, I still could not say 100% what it was crossed with. I strongly suspect with Ring-necked Duck. It had the white "spur" on the forward side, but the back and wings were mostly gray. Who knows?
While across from Detroit Edison plant, I spotted one of the Peregrine Falcons atop the building. They obviously nest there, and are seen every winter as well.
At Shell Oil Refinery dock at Corunna, there were many Hooded Mergansers. They seem to like this spot every winter for some reason. On the way back, I also spotted a Pied-billed Grebe there.
Up in Sarnia, a Surf Scoter was near the harbour. I spotted this bird before on December 29.
At Point Edward, at least 25 White-winged Scoters were out on the lake. That is an excellent number for winter there. Not much else though.
I spotted one of the local Peregrine Falcons there near the bridge. They nest on the bridge.
There is always a different mix of birds at Sarnia. Long-tailed Ducks are there. These are almost never seen farther down the river. Quite often American Coots try to winter in Sarnia Bay. I found one there for the count.
Birding along the St. Clair River in winter seems different than what it used to be. The milder winters have everything to do with it. By Christmas, thousand of diving ducks would congregate on the river and last till late February. Nowadays, we have not had the concentrations of the old days, even in the middle of winter. Canvasback and Redhead constituted the bulk of the ducks in those days, and they still do for the most part. But now we see more Mallards, swans and certainly geese. Swans were never seen on the river in winter, but Mute Swans have had a population explosion in recent years. As well, Some Tundra Swans have decided to winter on the river. They never used to be around in the cold months!
Of course, in the "really old days", there was nothing on the river. It froze solid! My grandparents always talked of skating on the river, and even driving cars over to the US. Routes would be marked by discarded Christmas trees. They even had fun racing ice boats down the river!
On Sunday, I tried for the Harris's Sparrow. It was not at the site, but I did find a large sparrow flock nearby in an evergreen hedgerow. There were many White-crowned Sparrows and others, including a Field Sparrow. The Harris's was likely them.
At home I had lots of Redpolls, finally. Thirty to forty decided to drop in for the day. I had one that was much larger, and I am not sure what to call it. It was not a Hoary, but it was certainly different. Maybe the rostrata form of the Common Redpoll?
All the counts and surveys are done, so time to just do casual birding all winter!