Nature Notes for March 18, 2011
Last Sunday, March 13, a group of Willow Beach Field Naturalists visited Presqu’ile Provincial Park in search of migrating waterfowl. Although there were not the thousands of ducks which will probably have arrived by the time you read this, there was a good diversity of waterfowl.
Viewing conditions were quite good. It wasn’t too windy (40 kph winds had been forecast earlier in the week) and the cloud cover meant that there wasn’t a glare from light reflecting off the water.
At the lighthouse, the extreme southeast corner of the peninsula, the Long-tailed Ducks were in quite close to shore. Although they weren’t close enough to please the photographers, they could be seen quite well using a spotting scope. Long-tails were most numerous here, although there were also other diving ducks – Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser and Common Merganser.
Although the rare Barrow’s Goldeneye, which has wintered here, was seen by another observer on the previous day, our group failed to find it.
The group braved snow drifts over the access road and mud to stop at the Calf Pasture, which can provide an overlook of Presqu’ile Bay. However, we found that the ice edge was just east of this viewing site, so we didn’t stay long here.
The same birds could be seen much better from the area of the government dock off Bayshore Road. The species make-up is different here than on the open lake and included Mute Swan, Canada Goose, Redhead, Canvasback, Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, Greater Scaup, Lesser Scaup, American Wigeon, White-winged Scoter, American Black Duck, Gadwall.
There were also two American Coot, which is not classified as “waterfowl”, but is often found with waterfowl in migration. Rather than webbed feet, it has wide lobed toes which enable it to walk on mud.
There were not huge numbers of any of these species. If the weather stays relatively warm this week, many more birds will probably arrive to swell the flocks by next weekend. March 19 and 20 is the annual Waterfowl Festival at Presqu’ile Provincial Park. There will be knowledgeable volunteers at viewing platforms in the park to help visitors see and identify what they are seeing.
Presqu’ile is a major migration stop-over for migrating waterfowl. They arrive from further south and east. Many winter on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. They rest and feed while waiting for lakes further north to become ice free before they continue to breeding grounds further north. Several species which pass through Presqu’ile nest on the western prairies and in the taiga and tundra of the far north.
In addition to the waterfowl, our group encountered a number of American Robins, Common Grackles and Red-winged Blackbirds. Although there have been many wintering robins this year, these birds were probably the vanguard of returning migrants.
A couple of lucky members of our group got a look at the Boreal Chickadee which has been wintering on Bayshore Rd. I wrote about this species in an earlier column this winter, and the bird is still around.
A stop at Cobourg Harbour on the way home found the visiting King Eider still there. He has stayed long enough to please the most impatient photographer.
Also at Cobourg Harbour, we added a new species for the day – Mallard! We hadn’t seen any at Presqu’ile.