Saturday, February 2, 2013

LaSalle's Waterbirds

Last week my Aunt emailed me that the Trumpeter swans were doing their courtship displays down at LaSalle beach in Burlington.  There is quite a gaggle of Trumpeters which has been overwintering on this beach for a few years now, part of a reintroduction program which seems to be having some success.  Almost all of the swans are wing tagged (not the nicest for picture taking) with a large number of them being juveniles which is a good sign. I'm not sure exactly when they start the more typical displays in the water, but they were definitely raising quite the ruckus and a number of them were imitating each other, bobbing their heads in sync.

Trumpeter Swan

juvenile Trumpeter Swan

While we were there, one of the swans was obviously injured, limping and being generally picked on.  I felt bad for it, but didn't think to do anything, figuring that's just the nature of things that happens in the wild.  My Aunt emailed me yesterday telling me  that she saw it again the next day and after quite an ordeal by one of the regular swan feeders, and then SPCA, they removed a lure which was caught in the swan's foot webbing.  Because it was so weak, they were planning to send it to the Toronto Wildlife Centre.  Lesson learned - call in an injured bird.

There were lots of other water birds there as well though.  I had hoped to see some new ducks that everyone else seems to report but never end up being there when I manage to visit.  A number of American Black ducks were swimming amongst the habitual Mallard ducks.

American Black Duck

And there were a few American Coots diving for snacks in the cold water.  However, there were three on the beach is not something I'm used to seeing.  They were hunting the sand for bugs I guess.  They let me get uncharacteristically quite close, possibly emboldened by all the mallards and swans which would let you pass within a meter.

American Coot

In the photo below, you can see their distinctive feet.  They don't have webbed feet because they aren't ducks.  They are actually related more to cranes and rails (read more here).  The lobes on their feet lay flat when they are walking through muddy flats or trying to dive, but fold back when they walk.  Quite an interesting design.

American Coots

There were only a few scattered Buffleheads diving off shore.

diving Bufflehead

Now, to my surprises.  I was actually taking the picture below of the female Greater Scaup as it swam through the other mixed group.  Upon examination of the picture at home, I realized that what looked like a female Mallard is actually a female Gadwall.

Canada Goose (left), two female Gadwalls Mallards (very top and centre),
two male Mallards (top right), female Greater Scaup (bottom)

What clued me in really, was this picture below.  I had thought this was just another Scaup, but realized that the colourings on the front and sides were not right.  It's a Gadwall. (life bird #108) The bill is slightly more slender, and dark.

male Gadwall

So going through the pictures again, I discovered I had another shot of something also interesting... a Mallard Gadwall hybrid (see well documented discussion here), along side a female Gadwall.  Apparently Mallards  breed with other ducks much more prevalently than other ducks.

male Mallard Gadwall Hybrid and female Gadwall  (Thanks Joanne R!)
American Black Duck
UPDATE: Joanne Redwood graciously pointed out the above corrections to me.  Though I'm not sure about one... she thought maybe the above hybrid might be a Mallard - Am. Black Duck.  But it has the "barred" feathers of the Gadwall.  Any thoughts anyone?  Joanne also pointed out that the Mallard Gadwall hybrid is commonly referred to as  Brewer's Duck, though I don't believe it is recognized as a species.

I had hoped to see something new for once here, had gone home disappointed, but was pleasantly surprised later.

My Aunt and I strolled the trail a bit and I was struck by the absence of birds.  It was a blustery day, but usually there are still quite a few birds out in this area.  We did see a few of the usual Chickadees and a Junco or two, and later one Downy Woodpecker, but not much more.  After I mentioned that though, we were treated to a close encounter with a pair of Norther Cardinals, the female much more vain and sat posing for a long time for some pictures, even holding out till the sun broke out for a few minutes.  Her husband was much more suspicious and stuck to the higher branches, giving no opportunity for incriminating photos.

female Northern Cardinal

female Northern Cardinal

What there were lots of squirrels... big fat healthy ones living off the goodwill intended for the birds who are often hand fed by walkers.  I think this one was actually eating a natural snack of Sumac fruit.

Grey Squirrel

I'll have to come back for another lunch walk here again, and this time scan the birds more carefully, not counting on catching pictures of new birds by accident.  I guess I should have put the binoculars you gave me M & D and put them to proper use!

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