I wanted to check out the St. Clair River today, and especially the Long-tailed Duck situation at Sarnia/Port Huron. Visibility was not the greatest (yes, it just had to snow!) but I did see something of historic proportions.
The number of Long-tailed Ducks seen wintering in the Sarnia/St. Clair River area has been increasing in recent winters. Earlier this winter we had perhaps record numbers in the Sarnia area. In the last few days, I had heard reports of upwards of 40,000+ of this species from Michigan sources. I found that difficult to believe!
I knew there were a lot of Long-tailed Ducks, but I had to see it for myself. I spent a good 2.5 hours from the bridge down to the Sidney Smith dock. Some areas were impossible to access at Sarnia (and I think there is a better overview of the whole section of river from the Port Huron side) but I got a good handle on the situation. It was very difficult to try and estimate, but I went over it several times.
All-told, I came up with 35,000+ !! So, maybe there are 40,000 Long-tailed Ducks give or take. It was impossible to get a representative photo. Most of the ducks were towards the Michigan side and the falling snow did not help with visibility.
Obviously the frozen Lake Huron has had a direct bearing on the numbers of ducks in the river. We have had harsh winters before but maybe a large number of these ducks just ended up in the lake earlier and never left. Long-tailed ducks generally tend to stay out in the lake so when it froze over they moved into the river.
I did not see any grebes today, but several have been around.
Continuous stream of ducks like this from upstream the bridge to off downtown Sarnia
On another note, the ducks are starting to starve. I noticed quite a few dead ducks along shorelines, on ice and floating downriver. Others have reported the same. Back in 2008 we had a similar situation when a huge number of Redhead and Canvasback wintered on the river. It was an icy winter and hundreds of dead ducks were seen all over by early March. It was determined that they had starved. I think things will get worse in the next couple of weeks.
Greater Scaup with clump of zebra mussels
Lots of these!
As well, some ducks are being found far inland nowhere near open water. I mentioned the merganser I saw Friday evening south of Becher. Today while looking out my window here in town, a male Red-breasted Merganser was making a beeline SE. The nearest open water is about ten kilometres away at Port Lambton in the opposite direction. No open water SE of here at all! I guess when these ducks are hungry, they get delirious! These ducks are not migrating to any degree yet, so I don't know what else to say.
Lots of Red-breasted Mergs this year
One of several White-winged Scoters