Sunday, February 3, 2008

Sunday Ducks to Owls

Today was an interesting day. I joined the first part of Lambton Wildlife's Downriver Ducks outing. This is an annual trip starting at Sarnia and heading down the St. Clair River to look at waterfowl and other birds. It varies from year to year due to weather, ice, and numbers of ducks.
We started at the Bluewater Bridge and looked at the pair of Peregrine Falcons. We then moved over to Point Edward water plant to look onto Lake Huron. We saw a White-winged Scoter there, Kumliens's Iceland Gull (adult), and lots of Redhead, Goldeneye and Long-tailed Ducks on the lake.
Next stop was at Guthrie Park, Corunna where there were thousands of ducks, but mostly these were towards the US side. Hooded Mergansers were here as well. A Belted Kingfisher was perched nearby. Just as we were leaving, a first year Bald Eagle flew over.
Just off downtown Courtright, we found a large gathering of ducks. Possibly up to 15,000 were in this area, and most were Redhead and Canvasback. I spotted a single White-winged Scoter right away. This is probably the same one I keep finding downriver! Many other species were here as well. This spot is not usually very productive, but today the bulk of the ducks on the river were at this location.
I left the group at this point and continued downriver. I did not find anything new for this weekend.

Later in the afternoon I decided to take a drive north of town on some back roads. On my way to a particular location, I spotted a Short-eared Owl on a post beside a small pasture. I was going at highway speed, so I had to quickly stop and turn around! To my delight there were two other Short-ears hunting the field, along with a Harrier. This was just after 2 p. m. ! Sometimes Short-eared Owls can be seen during the day, especially on dull days like today. The one in the photograph was the first one I saw beside the road. It was making its raspy barking sound as I sat there. In the lower photograph, you can just make out a second owl flying over the field.
I continued on for a walk where I had the Long-eared Owls last week, but I did not find them. Driving other roads I saw several Harriers and Red-tailed Hawks and Kestrels. Seems like there are many Harriers around right now.
The Short-eared Owl used to be very plentiful in our area, but due to tremendous loss of pasture in the last fifteen years, suitable hunting habitat has disappeared. Needless to say, the grassland birds have been greatly reduced as well.



    Here is a link to an article written by the Star that talks about just what you've mentioned here: the decline of grassland species (and insect-eating species) in Ontario. These are the preliminaries of the Breeding Atlas and I can't wait to attend the launch this Sunday to hear what else they have to say.

  2. I'm anxious to see the Atlas book. I did a lot of work for it. I think I submitted data for twenty-some squares!