Saturday, February 9, 2008

Miscellaneous Observations and Notes

Today is a rather slow day. It was snowing again early this morning making roads treacherous. I went out anyway, but did not see much. There were not a lot of ducks on the St. Clair River to look at and pulling off to look would have been difficult due to the snow. Very little was on the back roads in the way of birds. I wonder where they are today?
Duck Addendum: I took a ride out to Walpole Island this afternoon going via the Snye Rd. I found the raft of ducks with Gadwall from yesterday at the bend where the Johnston Channel starts. On the St. Clair R. off Walpole I found a small but interesting raft of mostly Canvasback/Redhead. There were two Gadwall and a male American Wigeon with them. Also a female Redhead with a "frosty" head. The wigeon was quite feisty trying to compete for food with the divers.

Yesterday at least four Gadwall ducks were on the Chenel Ecarte (Snye River) near where I work. I had not seen them yet this winter in the area, but they may have been around. We should be seeing more of these and other waterfowl soon, as signs of spring.

Gadwall at Rondeau spring 2006

I updated my last blog post with a photo of the Spring Birds of Point Pelee booklet. I also corrected the spelling of Wressell's name--it should have two "l's". The article in the Kent Historical Society booklet only showed one "l" so I was going by that.
The Bachman's Sparrow was last reported in Ontario in 1966 according to Ross D. James in his ROM publication Annotated Checklist of the Birds of Ontario (1991).

Another old booklet I picked up at the same used bookstore was a publication from the Royal Ontario Museum from 1937. It is: No. 11: BAIRD'S SPARROW, by B. W. Cartwright, T. M. Shortt and R. D. Harris.
On the inside front cover is scribed "From the library of the late W. E. Saunders through the kindness of A. A. Wood". I already mentioned Saunders in my last post as a well-known ornithologist. Albert Andrew Wood (1885-1963) was a well known naturalist in the London and Chatham area and was noted for his preparations of bird skins. Many of his are now in the ROM. A. A. Wood was also mentioned in Wressell's article. He was instrumental in the formation of the Kent Nature Club, and contributed new bird records for the county.

Back to the Baird's Sparrow paper, I know T. M. Shortt as a famous artist who did the illustrations in Bodsworth's Last of the Curlews.
The Baird's Sparrow is a western bird breeding in the prairies of Canada as far east as eastern Manitoba. And, you guessed it, it is another severely declining species. Certainly loss of habitat has lots to do with it. This species was first discovered by J. J. Audubon in 1843 in North Dakota.
The paper was a result of studies made from 1929-1931 by the authors. The study is quite detailed, so I will not go into it here. The Baird's Sparrow nests in similar situations as the Savannah Sparrow, quite often in tufts of grass on the ground. Obviously it is vulnerable to predators, and with the disappearance of grasslands, it further is at risk.
There has only been one Baird's Sparrow officially recorded in Ontario, and I was lucky enough to see it! In early July 1996, a friend and I planned a week long trip to Rainy River. It turned out to be one of the greatest trips I ever took because the weather was perfect and we saw lots of birds. Ten life birds were added to my list!

Anyway, the day after our arrival, we got word from John Lamey (who was vacationing there as well) that he had discovered a Baird's Sparrow in a field near our camp. "Ya, right!", was what we thought. We eventually checked up on it, and sure enough a Baird's Sparrow was singing in the field. We did not see it at first (typical of Baird's Sparrows), but the song was distinctive. An unexpected bonus lifer!
For the next four days we saw this bird and heard it constantly singing. It was probably singing for a mate that never came. That song is etched in my mind, and it is my dream to find one in Chatham-Kent or southern Lambton County some day. As it is a declining species, those hopes are somewhat slim.

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