25 December 2015
What better thing to do on Christmas Day than to go for a good walk in the park? Especially so when the temperature hovered around 10°, as this totally abnormal warm December continues. As you can from the pictures below there is not a hint of snow on the ground, nor a patch of ice on the water.
The number of waterfowl is down considerably as many species are tending to remain farther north during this prolonged period of open water. Very few birds were close to shore, and it was interesting to observe this fossil-embedded rock as we made our way across a breakwater which extends into the lake, to try to get a little closer for better photographs.
Mallard Anas platyrynchos was one of the few species to populate the rocky shoreline and this handsome male was loafing for a while. His mate was in the water just out of camera range so perhaps he was guarding her also.
The local Black-capped Chickadees Poecile atricapillus were, as always, very happy to see humans bearing food, and this one patiently waited his turn to alight on the hand of a delighted child, perhaps having this magical experience for the first time.
You don't have to be a child, however, to take pleasure from this intimacy with nature, and here is my outstretched hand with a bird feeding on peanuts.
I always wonder what encoded bit of this species' DNA makes them so confiding and so willing to come to the hand of a human. Few other species are so bold. Red-breasted Nuthatches Sitta canadensis will readily come to hand, but I have never been able to induce a White-breasted Nuthatch Sitta carolinensis to do so. Blue Jays Cyanocitta cristatus and Grey Jays Perisoreus canadensis display little fear and will take food from the hand, but very few other species can be coaxed to do the same thing.
We saw a couple of Double-crested Cormorants Phalacrocorax auritus among the ducks, geese and swans, not unheard of at this time of year, but relatively unusual.
Trumpeter Swan Cygnus buccinator is the signature bird at LaSalle in winter, but the number present was down considerably.
Greater Scaup Aythya marila was probably the most numerous duck present, with a few White-winged Scoters Melanitta deglandi mingled in with them. The scaup were co-operative in terms of photography; the scoters not so much!
Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula were also much in evidence and curiously they were already displaying courtship behaviour. It makes one wonder whether their internal clock has been somehow disrupted by weeks on end of warm weather; however, perhaps this behaviour has another meaning in early winter.
Bufflehead Bucephala albeola was present, but in small numbers only.
The only species of gull we saw was Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis whereas American Herring Gull Larus smithsonianus would generally be the most numerous by now.
The Grey Squirrels Sciurus carolinensis were always on the lookout for a friendly human with food and they seem particularly sleek and fat this year.
This Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis was content to feed on the ground on seed tossed there by humans, but even though it fed within a couple of metres of the chickadees on my hand it remained wary and would flush at any unexpected sudden movement.
At the end of the woodland trail on the way back to the car we heard the loud, joyful song of the Carolina Wren Thryothorus ludovicianus and it did not take us long to find the source of the loud musical notes.
In recent years the invasive Zebra Mussel Dreissena polymorpha, which arrived in the Great Lakes in ballast discharge, has become a huge problem. It multiplies at a prolific rate and clogs water intake pipes and fouls, in one way or another, just about everything it comes into contact with. In the winter the docks, pontoons and other devices related to boating are removed from the water, and the following images show the extent of Zebra Mussel accumulation.
It was a wonderful way to spend the afternoon, with many other people out enjoying the air on Christmas Day - a welcome respite no doubt from a surfeit of food, drink and contrived merriment. Nothing like a chickadee on your hand to give you a real feeling of joy and well-being at Christmas.