Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Gulling along the St. Clair

For quite some time this winter I had been reading the reports by Blake Mann and others about the fantastic gulling on the St. Clair river - the best they have had in years. I had really wanted to check it out myself, so I made plans to bird the river yesterday.

I awoke this morning near Point Pelee to frost covering my sleeping bag but I actually had a pretty good sleep! Before long I was on the road, and after unsuccessfully trying for the Snow Geese in the onion fields again (0 for 3) I made my way to the south end of the St. Clair river.

The gulling was absolutely fantastic! Unfortunately I needed to be back in Guelph for a decent time in the evening so I could only devote 5-6 hours on the river. Because of that, I just stopped at areas with the highest gull/waterfowl concentration and ignored slower stretches. I probably missed an Ivory Gull because of that.

In total, I had about 40 Glaucous Gulls which is the most that I have ever seen at once in southern Ontario! Many of these were at Willow Park in front of Lambton Generating Station, along with thousands of other gulls. At least 5 Lesser Black-backed Gulls were seen here as well, and at least 50 Great Black-backed Gulls. 2 interesting hybrids caught my eye - the first an apparent 2nd cycle Nelson's Gull that spent the entire time I was there within 50 meters of shore, and the second superficially resembled a Slaty-backed Gull. However many things did not line up, and even though it had bright pink legs I think it was either a Lesser Black-backed Gull or a Lesser Black-backed hybrid of some sort.

Guthrie Park near Corunna was also a highlight. I added another dozen Glaucous Gulls here, but the big story was the waterfowl. Out in the middle of the river were thousands of birds! Most were Redhead, Canvasback, Common Goldeneye, Common Merganser, and Long-tailed Duck. Of note here was a drake Northern Pintail on shore.

Try as I might, I could not get any other interesting species of gulls. There were at least 40 Glaucous Gulls, yet not a single Kumlien's Gull or Thayer's Gull.

While birding along Stanley Line, I happened upon a group of redpolls. Redpolls are a confusing bunch and the taxonomy of them is not well known and is certainly in need of more studies. There was one bird which fit the description of a "southern" Hoary Redpoll, if that is even a "good" species! There could have been more in the flock but they were constantly on the move.

Other highlights:
-the locally rare Trumpeter Swans were together off of the OCF outflow
-rare in winter Gadwalls were seen at the OCF outflow (1) and the the Sombra riverfront (4)
-the Peregrine Falcon pair was sitting on the Bluewater Bridge
-a single Rough-legged Hawk along HWY 402 on my way out of Sarnia

I finished the day by checking in on the Short-eared Owls that had been reported north of London. It was pretty awesome to watch these 3 beauties hunting successfully for voles in the late afternoon. The best looks I have ever had of Short-eared Owls!

I'm looking forward to returning to the St. Clair - its gulling this time of year is only rivaled by Niagara.

1 comment:

  1. Glad you had a good first experience on the river!
    Seems to be a few different hybrids out there this winter.
    I had Kumlien's and Thayer's today at LGS!
    The two Trumpeter Swans were in the same spot today. I am tempted to think there are more than two on the river!