When true winter conditions arrived at Presqu'ile Provincial Park on Sunday, birding became much more difficult, not only because of the birders' discomfort but also because many birds went into hiding or moved elsewhere. Nevertheless, the combined efforts of a number of birders on that day proved that, even under adverse circumstances, Presqu'ile can yield a surprising number and variety of interesting birds.
A Common Loon in Presqu'ile Bay on December 18 and 19 has not been seen since the bay froze over. Now that many of the bays in the surrounding area have frozen over, the number of Mute Swans at Presqu'ile has swollen to an alarming 350 birds. Accompanying them are about 20 Tundra Swans.
Even after the freeze-up, about 200 Redheads remained in Presqu'ile Bay, finding patches of open water wherever they could. Most of them have since disappeared. Judging from past experience, they will return with the next mild spell. The Ring-necked Duck that was with them from December 17 to 19 has also disappeared. There were still three White-winged Scoters in the bay on December 19. A small group (6 or 7) of Hooded Mergansers was in the bay on December 18 and 19, and a Red-breasted Merganser was also there on December 17 and 19.
Up to three Bald Eagles have been around the Park recently, two immatures and an adult that has been sitting on the ice of the bay on three of the last four days. A Sharp-shinned Hawk spent ten minutes at a feeder, watching the smaller birds.
The remaining two Purple Sandpipers from a larger group that arrived late in November were still on Gull Island on December 19. Also on that date, three late Bonaparte's Gulls flew over Owen Point. In a classic case of being in the right place at the right time, two separate groups of birders watched a very rare adult Ivory Gull, a wanderer from the Arctic, fly past them along the south shore of the peninsula. Although there have been no subsequent reports of that bird in the area, it may possibly still be in the vicinity.
The past week has been an excellent one for owls at Presqu'ile. In addition to sightings of one each of the resident Great Horned Owls and Barred Owls, three Snowy Owls were present, two on the offshore islands and one on the ice of Presqu'ile Bay for two consecutive days. The biggest surprise was a well-described Great Gray Owl in Jobes' woods on December 18. Subsequent efforts to re-locate that bird have not yet succeeded.
The most recent sighting of the elusive Northern Flicker on Bayshore Road was on December 22, when it appeared at 94 Bayshore. Three Northern Shrikes were discovered in the Park on December 19. The Tufted Titmouse frequenting the end of Bayshore Road since October is making more and more visits each day to the feeders at 186 Bayshore Road. The four Winter Wrens discovered on December 19 (two each in separate locations) have undoubtedly been in the Park throughout recent weeks.
Two White-throated Sparrows at 83 Bayshore Road are among an unusually small number of over-wintering sparrows. After a flurry of Common Redpoll observations up to last weekend, hardly any have been seen since.
To reach Presqu'ile Provincial Park, follow the signs from Brighton. Locations within the Park are shown on a map at the back of a tabloid that is available at the Park gate. Visitors to Gull Island should be prepared to wade through shin-deep water in which there is often a swift current and a substrate that is somewhat uneven. The ice between Owen Point and Gull Island is considered unsafe at present.
Questions and comments about bird sightings at Presqu'ile may be directed to: FHELLEINER@TRENTU.CA.