After a minor burst of late migration on Sunday, involving a few hawks, finches, and assorted others, and the apparent departure of the remaining shorebirds (which proved to be temporary), the bird life at Presqu'ile Provincial Park (as well as the weather) has taken on a decidedly wintry flavour. Almost all of the birds found here this week could just as easily be here in January, including three rare species of diving ducks. Much of Presqu'ile Bay is frozen, but the remaining open water is concentrating the birds.
The annual winter concentration of swans in Presqu'ile Bay has begun, as nearby water bodies freeze over. An estimated 200 MUTE SWANS were joined this week by two TRUMPETER SWANS on December 6 and six TUNDRA SWANS on December 8. A major freeze and a blitz of hunters at the end of last week and on the weekend chased most of the ducks out of the marsh and Presqu'ile Bay. Some of them gathered around the offshore islands, while others, including the long-staying EURASIAN WIGEON (last seen on December 2) disappeared. Compensating for that loss was the discovery by intrepid birders braving the bitter wind on Gull and Sebastopol Islands of a female KING EIDER and a pair of HARLEQUIN DUCKS, and the re-discovery of a male BARROW'S GOLDENEYE near the lighthouse, all on December 7 - quite a day for rare ducks! The eider may have been the large unfamiliar duck seen by a Park employee near High Bluff Island on December 3, suggesting that it may have been here for at least a few days and might even stay longer, as HARLEQUIN DUCKS have done in that area in previous winters.
The BARROW'S GOLDENEYE has been present for the past three days. It is, of course, unknown whether that is one of the birds of that species that had disappeared after November 24, but in several recent winters one of those birds has lingered in that same patch of water for weeks at a time. Not quite in the same league but still of interest among diving ducks were a BLACK SCOTER (recently re-christened /Melanitta americana/, no longer considered conspecific with its European counterpart) off the day use area on December 8, a male HOODED MERGANSER off 186 Bayshore Road on December 7, and five female HOODED MERGANSERS off 58 Bayshore Road on the next day. Before the (first) big freeze on December 4, a COMMON LOON and a RED-NECKED GREBE were in Presqu'ile Bay, and the grebe was still there on the following day.
At least one BALD EAGLE was seen this week, as well as NORTHERN HARRIERS, a SHARP-SHINNED HAWK, and a COOPER'S HAWK. Only one of a group of 42 AMERICAN COOTS seen in Presqu'ile Bay on December 7 was still in evidence on the next day, much of the inner bay having frozen over in the interim. Five PURPLE SANDPIPERS on the north shore of Sebastopol Island on December 2 had dwindled to none on December 4 and one on December 7. A late DUNLIN was also present on the latter date.
The latest sightings of BONAPARTE'S GULLS were on December 3. A GLAUCOUS GULL was on the ice of Presqu'ile Bay on December 8. A few BARRED OWLS were seen in the past week, no more than in a normal winter, which has been a disappointment to the many photographers who have returned to Presqu'ile expecting a repetition of last winter's invasion.
RED-BELLIED WOODPECKERS are being seen regularly around the bird feeder at the bird sightings board and twice at the bird feeder by the group campground parking lot. The elusive CAROLINA WREN at 186 Bayshore Road appeared on only two days this week. There were 11 CEDAR WAXWINGS at the government dock, but as yet no one has reported any of the rarer BOHEMIAN WAXWINGS being seen elsewhere in eastern Ontario. Two birders got a pleasant surprise today by finding a FIELD SPARROW at the entrance to the "fingers" trail. Three species of blackbirds were seen on December 5: RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD (still present today), RUSTY BLACKBIRD (still present on the next two days), and two COMMON GRACKLES. A flock of seven RED CROSSBILLS stopped briefly on December 4, and small groups of COMMON REDPOLLS were noted on December 4 and 9.
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 not using a boat should be prepared to wade through sometimes lightly frozen, ankle-deep water (deeper when there are waves, which can come up quickly) in which there is often a swift current and a substrate that is somewhat uneven and slippery. It should also be noted that, because duck hunting is given priority on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, Gull Island, High Bluff Island, Owen Point, and part of the calf pasture are not available for bird-watching on those days. Birders are encouraged to record their observations on the bird sightings board provided near the campground office by The Friends of Presqu'ile Park and to fill out a rare bird report for species not listed there.
Questions and comments about bird sightings at Presqu'ile may be directed to: FHELLEINER@TRENTU.CA.