Back to Winter Again

It was a bit of a shock coming back to winter again after spending some time in a temporary spring setting in South Carolina. There hadn’t been too much snow in our area while we were away so we didn’t get stuck with much snow removal before we could get back to the task of seeing what birds were hiding in the wintry woods. Surprise..surprise there wasn’t much of a change since we had been here two weeks ago 🙂

Over at Baie du Dore the Bald eagles were still having fun harassing the ducks with their occasional flights. This juvenile Bald eagle flew close enough for a reasonable photo before heading over to the eagle tree to perch with some of its friends. There were still about 30 Bald eagles visible but some had already departed in order to get started on the spring tradition of nesting and raising a family.

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One of the first things we did after getting back from the south was go on a birding outing with the Bruce Birding Club. For the time of year we did quite well seeing 49 species of birds including a juvenile Harlequin duck at Baie du Dore. James and Becky had seen this bird earlier in the week and it stuck around for our birding day. The juvenile Harlequin is the duck on the left in the photo. It was spending some of its time swimming with the Common goldeneyes in the photo. This species of duck is usually found near salt water but in the winter they sometimes end up near the Great Lakes to give us a bit of a treat. My brother who lives along the shore of the ocean in British Columbia has these ducks in front of his place on a regular basis but finds it

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exciting to actually see some Mallard ducks at his place at times. It really is interesting to see what is rare in one location but common in another. The Harlequin male in full breeding plumage is quite a handsome duck but seldom do we see any here. A few years ago we were treated to two of them in Thornbury as they cruised the Beaver River in search of tender young fish to eat. The fishermen there weren’t keen on the birds as they looked at them as eating too many of THEIR fish!

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During this time of year there are a multitude of geese on the open ponds and foraging wherever they can find an open field. Most of these are made up of Canada geese but often you will be able to pick out what you think might be smaller geese that look quite similar to the Canadas. These will likely be Cackling geese but always be aware that there are several subspecies of both Canada (seven) and Cackling (five) making identification VERY confusing. I usually go for the obvious when a goose has a very stubby bill and head and is about half the size of the Canada geese that they are with. In the following photo you can see the obvious difference in the geese pictured.

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As you scan large flocks you might even come across different goose species sprinkled in among the large numbers of Canadas. One of these that we had the fortune of seeing often this spring was the Greater White-fronted goose. In the past few years these

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geese have become more common a sight in this area. Unfortunately this year our photos have all been from quite a distance but you can see the orange bills and the white colour in the front of the beaks of these large birds. They are a bit smaller than the Canada goose but still quite a large bird. Other geese that do stand out a bit in the crowd are Snow geese and Ross’s geese. We were lucky enough to get word from James and Becky that there were two smaller white geese along the shore near Kincardine. Off we went to see if we could get some views of these suspected Ross’s geese. As you can see from the photo we did indeed get great views and photos of these two geese.

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After looking at the geese, looking at the photos and talking to other birders it was decided that the goose on the left was a Ross’s goose and the one on the right was a hybrid Snow goose/Ross’s goose. The right goose was a bit larger, had a bit longer bill and a slight ‘smile’ line on the bill that Snow geese do exhibit. So this was a two for one shot showing what happens when geese decide to snuggle up to one of the other species during breeding season 🙂  This can also happen with Canada/Cackling geese making the identification of the bird even more difficult.

As the season progresses single winter birds start to make way for pairs of birds as spring fever starts to settle in…….even though its only March and this is Bruce County 🙂 One of the large hawks that will soon vacate the skies is the Rough-legged hawk. Often in the winter you will see this bird perched exhibiting a more horizontal look to it than other hawks ( Red-tailed hawks have a more vertical look to them when perched. It has dark and light morhs as well so it can look quite different and still be the same species. A dark morph is quite a beautiful bird. This one didn’t mind us getting a bit close for a quick photo.

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They get their name from the feathers that they have on their legs, possibly to help keep legs warm during the colder months. These birds you see on their own as they will soon leave to breed much farther north.

Signs of spring are starting to creep in though as the first American robins of the season are already out lending their chirps to the spring air. You do see them more than hear them at first but its always nice to see that first red breast and know that spring

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is indeed close to being just around the corner. By the time summer arrives these birds will be flying everywhere feeding their young but for now they are indeed a special sight. When food is readily available in winter American robins will actually not even need to migrate but they are so secretive that you seldom even know that they are still around.

You still remember that winter, or at least cold weather still has a firm grip on the countryside when you see a Snowy owl sitting in a field keeping watch on its surroundings. These large birds of prey seem to be staying around a bit longer now and can regularly be seen on top of hydro poles or out in a field even after the weather gets quite warm. Many head back to the tundra to mate and start another generation of owls

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but a few seem content to watch for food and not worry about flying hundreds of miles to the north. Maybe some day if enough food is available to them they might learn to live here all year round. The world is certainly a changing place these days.

As March marches on the Tundra swans also begin their northerly trek to their breeding grounds far to the north. From mid March to the end of April you might see these large graceful birds flying through the air or foraging in an old cornfield or bean field.

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They can be seen in the thousands in flooded fields close to Grand Bend near the end of March as they fuel up on the way north. Often Snow geese or a variety of duck species can also be seen with them as they forage in the fields. These birds look very similar to Trumpeter swans but are a bit smaller. They often have a bit of yellow showing on the facial skin in front of their eyes as well a more pointed line between the eyes where the bill meets the forehead versus the Trumpeter swan. Ducks as I mentioned are also heading north to breed. Some are in pairs as these Wood ducks are with the male

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starting to show off his bright colours. Other duck species don’t necessarily form breeding pairs but are also heading north to get an early start on their breeding grounds as the receding snow allows. Another large bird you can easily see at this time of year is the Sandhill crane. These birds can migrate in large flocks or also in smaller numbers. The Lesser Sandhill crane breeds in the arctic, the Greater Sandhill crane breeds near the north of the United States and south of Canada, and the Florida Sandhill crane stays where it is to breed in the southern United States. There is also an intermediate sized crane that breed in central Canada. There are actually several subspecies and this table will give you an idea as to how confusing it can be to decide exactly which one you are looking at as subspecies can overlap in territory a bit. Click on the following link and then select ‘appendix 1″ down towards the bottom of the article.

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These two were starting to do the courting dance when we saw them and we hoped they would stay near the swamp where we photographed them but later on when we checked back they had moved on to another location to make their nest.

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As signs of spring were showing up everywhere our time was coming close to depart Bruce County once again to check out the birds in a new place for us. Panama here we come. On April the 1st we would be flying south to spend two weeks with Alfred and Brigitte Rabb, being introduced to many new birds in a much warmer place. The next story on the blog will be about some of the birds we saw during our Panama visit.

Stay tuned for more birds!! 🙂 🙂

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