Despite the occasional snow squalls, cold temperatures, and brisk wind, we headed out for the wilds of Haldimand County, located between Long Point and Niagara. I always enjoy birding this part of Ontario. It is relatively underbirded, the rarity potential is very high, the human population is low, and there are quite a few natural-ish looking areas, such as grasslands and weedy fields, which are often home to an abundance of species. Driving the backroads, periodically stopping in decent looking areas or when you encounter a flock of something, is a great strategy to birding the county.
I'll jump straight to the highlight of the day. At one point, Barb and I got out of her vehicle to scan a field containing geese plus a white blob (which ended up being a barnyard goose). As I was scanning with my scope, Barb noticed a flock of geese way off in the distance with her binoculars, flying towards us. I got on them with the scope and immediately noticed a smaller goose with the Canadas. After they came a little closer I realized it was a Brant!
We ended up jumping back in the car and following them until they touched down in a field. Sure enough, there was the Brant hanging out with the geese!
There are a couple of theories on the origin of this bird. One option is that it is a local overwintering bird. After all, 6 were seen on January 5, 2012 not more than 10 or 15 km away along Lake Erie. Perhaps it is one of those birds? However, shortly thereafter Lake Erie froze over and the majority of the geese departed.
Another option is that it is a "spring migrant". Brant normally migrate through eastern Ontario in late May/early June however there have been a few super early spring migrants. According to Alan Wormington, one showed up southeast of Ottawa on March 17, 2010. Another early spring record was from Peter's Corners, Hamilton on March 21, 2009.
Another example is Whimbrel. They also are late May migrants, however last spring one was seen in Prince Edward County on March 23/24! A Long-billed Dowitcher (usually late April/early May migrants) showed up near Ottawa on March 21, 2012 as well. So super early birds do occur!
A final possibility is that it is a bird that wintered a short distance away where there was open water - perhaps south of Lake Erie somewhere. It's plausible that it caught up with a group of migrant Canada Geese and ended up in Ontario.
Regardless of the origin of this bird, it was a pretty cool find!
We had a number of other interesting sightings throughout the day. 4 Ring-necked Pheasants was notable since they can be a tough bird to come by in most of Ontario. I wonder if the ones we saw were "wild" self-sustaining pheasants, or someone's pets.
We saw two Snow Geese in flight in the Dunnville area as well (one was a blue morph). A couple of Pileated Woodpeckers were also a treat to see, rounding out the sightings for us. Of course, the typical spring migrants for the date were in abundance - Killdeer, blackbirds, Tundra Swans, dabbling ducks, Horned Larks, etc.
Tomorrow I have a presentation to give in Owen Sound so I will leave sometime in the morning and do some birding on the way up. Maybe the Harlequin Duck is still around, or perhaps I'll stumble upon something else interesting.
I was just looking at that pheasant picture, and I am thinking it is an escapee. The tail feathers are pretty ratty looking, which, as I'm sure you know, happens regularly in an enclosure with all the rubbing on the walls. There are also quite a few rump feathers missing, indicating there were other pheasants in close quarters that started pecking at each other - they are really nasty birds if they are kept too close. And the last thing, although this could be stretching it a wee bit, is if you look at the nostril you can see through to the other side. Normally, there is a septum there, but when pheasants are young, to prevent the pecking I just described, breeders often put blinders on the birds. These stay on via a pin through the septum, and often fall off in a few years. Of course, none of these say for sure that it is an escapee, but that's what I'd put my money on. Anyways, I've been following your blog since you started your big year last year and have enjoyed it quite a bit. Keep up the good work.
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