This has been an interesting week for anyone following the birding conditions in Presqu'ile Provincial Park. If nothing else, one cannot help but be impressed by the extreme day-to-day, even hour-to-hour, variability in ice conditions in Presqu'ile Bay and elsewhere, which governs the behaviour and location of thousands of waterfowl. By checking the bay, Gull Island, and a few feeders, one observer was able to identify 35 species of birds in the space of 2-3 hours this morning.
At least 18 other species were seen in the Park this past week, including 11 that were not among the 49 seen in the Park during the Christmas Bird Count the week before.
Both TRUMPETER SWANS and TUNDRA SWANS have rewarded birders who have carefully scanned the hundreds of MUTE SWANS in Presqu'ile Bay. On December 27, a number of waterfowl appeared that are not common in winter, some of them staying up to and beyond the freeze-up on December 29. One GADWALL was off the government dock on December 27 and two were there on the next day. A NORTHERN PINTAIL was off Gull Island on December 27 and 31. Three CANVASBACKS, the first in several weeks, showed up on December 27, and one was still present on December 30. An estimated 2,000 REDHEADS represented almost a 4,000% increase from December 26 to 27. By December 29, that number had decreased to fewer than a dozen as the bay had mostly frozen over. Even by today, with lots of open water in the bay, only a few dozen had returned. This phenomenon (the sudden appearance and equally sudden disappearance of thousands of waterfowl) has taken place in previous winters, but not usually quite so early in the season. Where they go when they disappear is a mystery, but their arrival always seems to be a "first sign of spring" in these parts. There was also an impressive number of scaup with the REDHEADS, mostly GREATER SCAUP, but at least one LESSER SCAUP was identified. A careful search failed to turn up any RING-NECKED DUCKS, which often accompany a major influx of other /Aythya/ ducks in winter. On December 25, a female HOODED MERGANSER was seen in Presqu'ile Bay. Two RUDDY DUCKS accompanied the scaup off the government dock on December 28 and one was still there on December 31, a record late date for Presqu'ile. Perhaps not classified as a waterfowl, a very late RED-NECKED GREBE was also off the government dock on December 27 and 28.
Both adult and immature BALD EAGLES have been seen in the Park in the past few days. A NORTHERN HARRIER was again patrolling Gull Island today. The biggest raptor surprise of the week was a PEREGRINE FALCON that was harassing the ducks in Presqu'ile Bay on December 28. The WILD TURKEY that has been frequenting Bayshore Road earlier in the month was seen again at number 52. A late AMERICAN COOT was accompanying the REDHEADS on December 26-28. Two very late shorebirds were spotted on Gull Island today. They flew off before a positive identification could be made, but they appeared to be DUNLINS. An ICELAND GULL was in Presqu'ile Bay on December 27. BARRED OWLS, including one that was calling, continue to attract many visitors, some from as far away as Michigan.
A NORTHERN SHRIKE was near the Park entrance yesterday. A HORNED LARK was on Gull Island on Sunday. The CAROLINA WREN that has been visiting feeders at 83 and 115 Bayshore Road continues to do so periodically. A WINTER WREN flew out from under a boardwalk in Jobes' woods on December 28. In the perhaps misguided "signs-of-spring" department, a singing AMERICAN ROBIN on December 20 and a singing NORTHERN CARDINAL on December 24 and 27 are food for optimists. Feeder watchers continue to find a RED-WINGED BLACKBIRD at 85 Bayshore Road and nearby locations and an unprecedented ROSE-BREASTED GROSBEAK at the group campground parking lot, both as recently as today.
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. The narrow channel between Owen Point and Gull Island was ice-covered today, but the ice, while appearing to be thick, does not support the weight of a human. However, the water beneath the crust is only shin-deep. The surrounding shoreline can be very slippery. With hip waders one can walk to Sebastopol Island from Gull Island, but wading to High Bluff Island is not possible.
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.