Sunday, 11 March 2012

A wild Smew chase, part 3 (a.k.a.: third time's the charm)

The title pretty much sums it up! After the Varied Thrush and Eurasian Wigeon success yesterday I raced back to Guelph last night. Since I had had a combined 7 hours of sleep during the previous 2 nights, I squashed my original plan of driving straight to Long Point and sleeping in my car once I got there, since I'm pretty sure I would fallen asleep en route.
Five hours after arriving in Guelph, I was on the road again to Long Point. As opposed to Friday, with sub-zero temperatures and gale-force winds as well as snow, today was sunny and calm.

I arrived at my preferred destination - the marina along the causeway - and set up shop hoping the Smew would come by. I was hopeful since it had been seen at this time the last 2 mornings. At 8:03 AM something scared all the ducks out of the bay. I scanned them with my binoculars and picked out one that looked exactly like my target bird! It had a white head with a small amount of black on the face, a white neck, a striking white and black back, and black wings with a large white window - the adult male Smew! It was flying with 5 or 6 Common Mergansers, which eventually joined up with the large swirling mass of scaup, Canvasback, wigeon, Redhead, and Bufflehead. The birds turned and headed away from me. It appeared that the Smew had landed way out in the middle of the bay, on the east side of a large cattail "island". Excitedly I called Brett and a few others - apparently no one else saw the bird in the swirling mass of ducks. I spent the next little while scanning the ducks with Barb Charlton, Rob Dobos, and Ron Ridout to no avail. We did get a flyby Snowy Owl (just about took out Brett, Dave, and Reuven!) and Eastern Meadowlark, a singing Eastern Towhee, as well as a White-winged Scoter, rare for this part of Long Point.

After that excitement and being thoroughly sick of ducks and waterfowl in general, I decided to take it easy and go for a stroll through the provincial park.

It was pretty quiet (except for the thousands of blackbirds) but I did come across a few flocks of American Tree and Song Sparrows with my first-of-year Fox Sparrows mixed in. 2 Common Redpolls flew over and close to 10 Killdeers were making a racket.

Common Grackle - Long Point

Song Sparrow - Long Point

I also photographed a few other common species that I had neglected to so far, giving me 86 total species photographed this year in Ontario. If I'm lucky I may reach 300. As you can see from the next photo, it doesn't have to be good quality to count!

Fox Sparrow - Long Point (take my word for it)

 Red-winged Blackbirds may be common, but they sure as heck are a good-looking bird and it takes me most of the spring before I'm sick of them. :)

Singing male Red-winged Blackbird - Long Point

After I was done in the park I sauntered over to Big Creek to spend a bit of time. The ducks were quite numerous - I counted over 800 Northern Pintails and 1200 Mallards, among other species.

Big Creek - Norfolk Co.

Northern Pintails - Big Creek

A meadowlark was flying around and I was happy to see my first Savannah Sparrow for the year here as well. Extremely early migrant? It was my earliest Sav for Ontario by nearly 3 weeks.

Savannah Sparrow - Big Creek

What's a trip to Long Point in the spring without Sandhill Cranes? Their bugling call is one of my favorite sounds of the early spring and Sandhill Crane is one of my favorite species that can be found in Ontario.

Sandhill Cranes - Long Point

Sandhill Cranes - Long Point

Sandhill Cranes - Long Point

It was a beautiful day in the field and I added 5 more year birds including my first code 6 of the year - the Smew. The other four year birds were Eastern Meadowlark, Eastern Towhee, Fox Sparrow, and Savannah Sparrow. Time to go to bed!


  1. Josh,

    The Savannah Sparrow would certainly be a spring migrant, possibly record-early for Long Point so better tell RR about it. A Savannah / Vesper type thing went whipping by Richard Carr and myself at the Tip on March 7 but we couldn't get on it --- would have been record-early for Point Pelee for either species.

  2. Josh,

    Just saw a Savannah Sparrow on the lawn at DeLaurier House .... so there you go! Waiting for the rain to stop.

  3. Alan,
    Was that Savannah record early for Pelee? Waiting to hear back from Ron about mine.

  4. No the earliest date for Point Pelee is March 10 (1983 and 1986). But it was my personal earliest. This week is going to be wild for spring migrants, and no doubt there will be a few that are record-early. My target bird within the next 7 days is Louisiana Waterthrush.