Another New Bird at the Ponds

Red-breasted Merganser

Waterfowl are starting to move through our area in good numbers now, so on Saturday afternoon I headed out for a walk around the storm water ponds to see if anything new was around. I chose a late afternoon visit to check on the geese there – they are usually heading out to the corn fields by the time I get there in the morning, so I was hoping to catch them returning for the night – bringing with them, I hoped, some other interesting species. I’ve had both Snow Goose and Cackling Goose there in the past, and I didn’t think it was out of the question for a Greater White-fronted Goose to stop in. It was a warm but windy afternoon, so I was also hoping to see a few late-season butterflies.

When I arrived I was happy to see several hundred Canada Geese congregating on the ponds already. Because the sun was getting low in the western sky, my plan was to cross the bridge and walk along the western pathway with the sun at my back after a quick check of the southern pond. I checked the mucky spit for shorebirds, and although I saw one on the opposite shore, there were none in the area where I’d seen the Stilt Sandpiper and Pectoral Sandpiper a month ago. There were, however, quite a few mallards and black ducks in the small bay.

American Black Duck

American Black Duck

Mallard

Mallard

I spent some time scanning the geese and eventually picked out a bright white adult Snow Goose with two juveniles. My heart leapt with excitement as this was a new high total for this species at these ponds – the previous high total was one.

Snow Goose (juvenile)

Snow Goose (juvenile)

I quickly walked around the pond in order to get closer to them. Of course, as soon as they saw me heading in their direction they began swimming toward the middle of the pond. I did get one decent shot of the three of them together.

Snow Geese

Snow Geese

While I was on the eastern shore I decided to check out the yellowlegs I had seen. It was a Greater Yellowlegs, as I suspected – they are more common in mid-October than their smaller counterparts. When I headed back the way I came I found a second one near the base of the shorebird spit.

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

The only other birds of interest were a pair of Double-crested Cormorants and a Great Blue Heron standing beneath the Hope Side Road overpass.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

There weren’t many songbirds around – I only found one Yellow-rumped Warbler and one Song Sparrow in the trees lining the path, and saw a group of American Crows flying over together. A few chickadees and goldfinches brought my songbird total up to five.

The gulls were in their usual spot on the western bank, and I found a single Herring Gull among the Ring-bills.

Herring Gull

Herring Gull

I decided to head home then, as there didn’t appear to be any other unusual waterfowl with them. A few moments later I saw a bird dive beneath the surface. I told myself it was probably just a cormorant, but when it resurfaced I realized it was a merganser. The only two merganser species I’ve recorded here before are Hooded and Common, and this one was not a Hoodie, so I hurried over to get a better look. It was either a female or a non-breeding male, with a grayish brown back and a thin reddish crest. I looked for the telltale field mark of a Common Merganser – the straight line sharply dividing the brownish-red head from the grayish-white neck – and didn’t see it. The white chin and bushy crest were also missing, which meant this wasn’t a Common Merganser, but a Red-breasted Merganser – a new species for the ponds!

Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser

This is the 101st species recorded at the ponds according to eBird, and one I wasn’t expecting to see here as Red-breasted Mergansers prefer larger, deeper water bodies, such as Lake Erie, Lac Deschenes, and the Moodie Drive Quarry. I was thrilled to find yet another new species here, my 95th; perhaps with waterfowl migration picking up I might add a few other ducks to the list before the year is over!

Altogether I ended up with 15 species around the ponds and no butterflies. The days are getting shorter, as are my eBird and insect lists. Still, there is a good month left of migration before the winter species return, which should keep birding interesting for a while.

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