29 November 2016
Our usual complement of eight was diminished a tad this week as Miriam, Carol and Francine were all under the weather to one degree or another - minor ailments but enough to keep them inside for the day, and Mary couldn't make it. However, I was joined by Judy, Franc, Jim and, as a bonus. Cara Poulsen, a University of Waterloo student you have met in previous posts. In a peverse way, it was good that some of our usual crew couldn't join us, since Cara wanted to join us and we don't want to let our group get beyond eight participants.
Judy had expressed an interest in heading down to Lake Ontario where the spectacular concentrations of waterfowl have started to populate the area, so that is what we did.
Our first stop was at the DesJardins Canal in Dundas, ON where ducks often congregate in fairly large numbers, always close at hand since the canal is quite narrow. In addition to waterfowl, the surrounding vegetation harbours numerous passerines. This Dark-eyed Junco Junco hyemalis posed nicely for a picture.
Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows Spizella arborea are two species that are emblematic of of the fall influx of northerly breeders, and both were present.
There was abundant Goldenrod Solidago sp. and Teasel Dipsacus sylvestris (and other assorted grasses) to provide lots of food for seed-eating species and American Goldfinches Spinus tristis were quick to take advantage of this bonanza.
There are few trees, but they were exploited by Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens and Red-bellied Woodpecker Melanerpes carolinus but we had a clear line of sight only on this male Downy, searching for insects, grubs and spider eggs under the bark.
Ironically, waterfowl, the primary purpose for our visit, were in short supply. There were numerous Canada Geese Branta canadensis, Mallards Anas platyrynchos, and a pair of Hooded Mergansers Lophodytes cucullatus, but not a single other species. The most photogenic of this entourage were the mergansers, but they took one look at us, flew to the opposite bank and concealed themselves in the reeds.
We moved on to LaSalle Park in Burlington where we were confident that the waterfowl populations would be greater and more varied - and such turned out to be the case.
Numerous Greater Scaup Aythya marila were present, some even close enough to shore for photographs.
There were at least a hundred Ruddy Ducks Oxyura jamaicensis swimming, diving and feeding, but this is a tiny duck and they were quite far out. A lone female came a little closer than the others, albeit briefly, before it rejoined the main flock.
By this time of the year American Herring Gulls Larus smithsonianus have often replaced Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis as the most populous larid, but we saw few of the former and Ring-billed Gulls predominated everywhere. There seems to be a bit of an irrational bias on the part of some against gulls, but I always enjoy them and this Ring-billed Gull in flight shows what truly beautiful creatures they are, graceful and streamlined, masters in the air.
Substantial rafts of Common Goldeneye Bucephala clangula are common sights now and numbers will continue to increase over the next few weeks. These hardy little ducks take all the harsh weather that winter can throw at them as they survive on wave-tossed Lake Ontario. There are a few species which cause one to scratch one's head wondering how the the name was ever derived, but as the picture below shows Common Goldeneye has a moniker to suit.
This juvenile Common Merganser Mergus merganser is well equipped to handle the vagaries of winter and the savage weather it can sometimes deliver.
Mute Swan Cygnus olor is an introduced species, resented by some, but it is a magnificent creature, worthy of our admiration. In addition to its beauty, it is a dedicated parent and staunch defender of the family - traits we admire in humans.
Mallard is the most cosmopolitan of all ducks and is the ancestor of many strains of domestic duck. This male in flight is paradigm of grace and aerial skill.
Buffleheads Bucephala albeola populate the Great Lakes in equal measure to Common Goldeneye and are a familiar sight on the winter waterscape.
American Black Duck Anas sparsa hybridizes so frequently with Mallards that it is an increasingly rare sight to encounter pure American Black Ducks. This individual seems to have some degree of interbreeding.
As we walked along the woodland trail cheeky Black/Grey Squirrels Sciurus carolinensis scampered along with us, hoping for handouts. Several of them had these curious pale ear tufts.
There were a few Redheads Aythya americana on the water, often singles and hanging out with other ducks.
Trumpeter Swans Cygnus buccinator, surely the most regal of all swans, can always be found at LaSalle Park in the winter, where they dominate all of the other waterfowl. When they are vocal it is easy to appreciate why they are called Trumpeter Swans.
To end the day we moved on to Stoney Creek, past Hamilton and on the way to Niagara Falls, to check out two reliable spots, Fifty Road and Creanona Boulevard, where close access to the water can be gained, with very large concentrations of waterfowl.
Many Buffleheads were present.
As were substantial flocks of Common Goldeneye.
Long-tailed Ducks Clangula hyemalis have arrived in their usual huge numbers, riding out the swell and diving to feed on zebra mussels. This male is coming in for a landing.
Three species of Scoter were present, but usually very far offshore. White-winged Scoter Melanitta deglandi was most numerous.
It was a fine day of birding with much to be enjoyed. I have little doubt that we will be doing this trip again before the winter is out.