The annual Mid-winter Waterfowl Survey was conducted all along the shoreline of Lake Ontario on 12 Jan and provided some clear numbers, but coverage was otherwise sporadic this week.
Earlier I mentioned how low waterfowl numbers seem to be this winter and the survey revealed just how low. For Presqu’ile Bay and the waters surrounding Presqu’ile Park the total numbers were: MUTE SWAN 7 (commonly 600+), REDHEAD 24, GREATER SCAUP 216, LESSER SCAUP 1 (unusual here in winter), WHITE-WINGED SCOTER 2, LONG-TAILED DUCK 710, BUFFLEHEAD 12, COMMON GOLDENEYE 208, and RED-BREASTED MERGANSER 4. A HOODED MERGANSER was also seen in the Murray Canal channel, just east of Presqu’ile Bay.
The swans are most likely dispersed to the many areas of open water in the region rather than actually being down in numbers. The dearth of puddle ducks sometimes happens in periods of freeze, and Aythya diving ducks can move around too but the principal wintering ducks like LONG-TAILED, BUFFLEHEAD and COMMON GOLDENEYE are all well down. All observers doing the Presqu’ile section (from Barcovan in the east to Wicklow Boat Launch in the west) commented on the low numbers and vast stretches of lake with no birds at all. By 15 Jan the REDHEAD/SCAUP flock had built up again with 400 and 200 respectively plus eight CANVASBACK and seven COMMON MERGANSERS.
The COMMON LOON seen in Presqu’ile Bay on 15 Jan is a rare mid-winter sighting. A few BALD EAGLES were frequenting Presqu’ile Bay through the week. An immature COOPER’S HAWK was noted on 14 Jan but otherwise it was pretty quiet for hawks. Incredibly the DUNLIN/PURPLE SANDPIPER show continued into another week. One of each was seen at the tip of Owen Pt. on 10 Jan, but only the DUNLIN has been seen since on 12 and 13 Jan. As far as I know no one has been out to look since 13 Jan so one or both may still be around.
A few SNOWY OWLS are seen regularly on the ice in Presqu’ile Bay or near the beach and islands. Curiously there have been no reports of BARRED OWLS since before Christmas. A MERLIN was seen near the gate on 10 Jan. AMERICAN ROBINS are scattered about with most in the Calf Pasture area where a high of 60 were noted on 14 Jan. Outside the Park, up to five EASTERN BLUEBIRDS have been seen several times this week along Huff Rd. (just NW of the gate) on the north side of the railway tracks. CEDAR WAXWINGS have become more common over the past few weeks with a high count of 50 on 14 Jan. SNOW BUNTINGS have been essentially missing since early Dec so a flock of 80 on Gull Is. on 12 Jan was nice to see.
In the “where did that come from” department, a YELLOW-RUMPED WARBLER was seen on 13 Jan at the junction of Bayshore Rd and Atkins Lane. AMERICAN TREE SPARROWS are normally common but have been unusually scarce this winter, but several observers noted an uptick in numbers this week with a high count of 28 on 15 Jan so maybe there is some influx going on. A SONG SPARROW was seen near the gate on 10 Jan. Finally a single RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD and COMMON GRACKLE continue to sporadically visit the Birdhouse Nature Store feeders just outside the gate.
Directions: Presqu’ile Provincial Park is located on the north shore of Lake Ontario, just south of the town of Brighton. It can be reached from either Hwy. 401, or Cty. Rd. 2 and is well signed. A Park map can be found in the information tabloid available at the Park gate. Presqu’ile’s two offshore islands – Gull and High Bluff – support a large multi-species colonial bird nesting area and access is not permitted during the breeding season (10 March-10 September).