19 March 2019
The last day of winter was a bright, sunny day and a visit to Long Point, where Tundra Swans (Cygnus columbianus) should be arriving in their thousands seemed like a fine plan. Judy and Mary had other arrangements for the day, but we met up with Franc, Carol, Jim and Francine to begin a rewarding session of birding.
Our first stop was at Port Rowan harbour where the sheer number and variety of waterfowl out on the bay was staggering. Most were far out, however, and seemed to be moving farther away as we watched.
There were many Tundra Swans and a few were reasonably close.
In the distance we could also see two Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) perched against the shoreline, no doubt ever vigilant for a duck in trouble.
We scanned the harbour from a couple of different vantage points and while the spectacle of such a huge concentration of waterfowl was very exciting, it was also distant. However, we were confident that as we explored other areas of the Long Point complex closer views would be possible.
Our next stop was at the Lee Brown Waterfowl Management Reserve, but the water there was still frozen solid and not a duck was to be found. In this general area Tundra Swans historically have congregated by the thousands and I have been present when a bare field having barely shed its cloak of snow is transformed back to white by thousands of swans descending on the dun coloured soil. Today was no exception, there was a constant procession of swans coming in, called noisily to each other, in sheer exuberance perhaps to be returning to their Arctic nesting grounds, going home so to speak.
This annual rite of spring is one of the greatest of all natural spectacles to be witnessed in Ontario, an event that fills me with awe each time I see it.
Sandhill Cranes (Grus canadensis) populate Long Point and the environs year round, but we saw only five individuals the whole day.
Turkey Vultures (Cathartes aura) have returned to the province and a couple were spotted in a conifer, one spreading its wings, perchance to capture the warmth of the sun.
Carol had spotted a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) and while we were watching it another bird flew in. It played hide and seek with us for a while but finally showed itself reasonably well. An Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus) is always a pleasing sighting.
We moved along to the headquarters of Bird Studies Canada where the assortment of species can sometimes be very rewarding.
As you might imagine Miriam could not resist taking a picture of this barn quilt.
In recent years barn quilts have popped up in many counties in southern Ontario and they add a pleasant dimension to the rural landscape. I find them very attractive.
The pond at Bird Studies Canada was still frozen, but we noticed something at the lip of the entrance to a nesting box designed for Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) and, knowing that it is not unusual for Eastern Screech Owls (Megascops asio) to opportunistically occupy these boxes, were delighted at what we found.
The box was far away but you can see the owl quite clearly taking advantage of the warmth in the sun's rays. This view was especially exciting for Carol who had never been with us before when we had located a screech owl.
For the past couple of years when we visit Long Point, Carol's sister Betty who lives there, always permits us to take our lunch to enjoy it inside at her house, a very kind gesture indeed. If she is not at home Carol knows where to find a key to the front door, but today Betty was there to welcome us, and we were all delighted to see her. A fresh pot of coffee enabled us to enjoy our lunch with a steaming hot drink.
Our next stop was at the Long Point Bird Observatory and in homage to my good friend, Phil Slade, an English blogger who interned at Long Point many years ago, I am including a couple of pictures that might bring back fond memories for him.
It seemed that we could barely turn our heads without seeing scores of Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) and Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus).
This Red-winged Blackbird seemed to exhibit partial leucism, the first time I have seen the condition in this species.
As is so often the case, a Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) perched quietly in a tree, aloof from the raucous scrum of blackbirds and sparrows below.
Red-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta canadensis) was a very common species, being seen frequently throughout the woodlot.
On our way back along the causeway we stopped at various points and a Merlin (Falco columbarius) accounted for the absence of songbirds in the immediate vicinity.
Its crop was bulging so I suspect it might have just eaten and was resting to aid in digestion.
The ice on the bay was starting to melt a little at the edges but in general it was still locked in ice.
An American Beaver (Castor canadensis) had embarked on a particularly ambitious venture! When the ice recedes it will perhaps return to finish the task.
Invasive phragmites are a real problem throughout Ontario's wetlands, and while a major (and expensive) attempt at removal is underway at Long Point, it remains a serious issue.
Hooded Mergansers (Lophodytes cucullatus) aplenty were seen close to shore, males outnumbering females each time we saw them.
Ring-necked Duck (Aythya collaris) was also quite common. In the photograph below you can actually see the very faint ring for which this species is named - a name (along with a few others) that seems to have been conferred by a taxonomist with a perverse sense of humour!
We saw literally thousands of Tundra Swans but only two Mute Swans (Cygnus olor) the entire day.
But there were many, many Canvasbacks (Aythya valsineria).
Just before leaving the causeway to begin our journey home we pulled over to the side for one last look at the Tundra Swans, a fitting end to a day of excellent birding, another encounter with nature at its best.
We will return in the fall when the swans undertake their reverse migration to winter off the Atlantic coast. À la prochaine, mes amis!