Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Bird Count Port Credit Mississauga

The 46 annual Christmas Bird Count took place yesterday, Saturday, December 19. Last year, on this same day, there was a huge storm (see this blog post Lake Ontario storm).

This year, we saw perfect weather for counting birds in the morning, and in the afternoon, for cheering on the 2010 Olympic Torch Relay in Port Credit (Mississauga), Ontario.

Harlequin Duck with Mallard
South Peel Naturalist Club (http://www.spnc.ca/Index.html) does most of the Christmas Bird Count on one day, but includes sightings of for three days before and three days after, especially if sighting are of unusual birds like the harlequin duck I spotted on the Thursday before.
Harlequin Duck Lake Ontario Mississauga
The male Harlequin was swimming, bobbing and diving for food, and generally appearing to have a great time, but doing so so far from shore I had trouble getting a clear picture. I aplogize for the focus but you'll get the general idea. 'Harley' the Harlequin is almost as colorful as 'Woody', the Wood Duck at Lake Aquitane.

Scaups Lake Ontario CBC Day South Peel
So on the morning of the Christmas Bird Count day, I bundled up and walked through the Brueckner Rhododendron Gardens on a sunny, windless morning just before 9 a.m.

As I approached Lake Ontario, I was a little surprised to see the large waves rolling from the south. A Nor'Easter was moving up the U.S. east coast, wreaking havoc with heavy snow and high winds, but thankfully, Mississauga only got this show of waves.

Lake Ontario CBC Day Mississauga
The picture above shows the view southwest towards Hamilton, Ontario. I was concerned that given the wave action, the usual swans, geese, scaups and ducks would have gone on to more temperate waters. But the chilly waters didn't seem to bother them.

Mallards Shoreline Lake Ontario Port Credit
This picture shows mallards on Cranberry Cove, the bay that fronts the Rhododendron Gardens in Port Credit.

Lake Ontario Sculpts Ice Forms Cranberry Cove
Waves formed ice sculptures along the shoreline, testament to the chilly temperatures of the past week. This day, the temps were about minus 6 C (21F).

Mallards Lake Ontario Shoreline
I left the Waterfront Trail where it passes the Petro Canada lands west of Saddington Park, and made my way closer to the breakwater so I could check for any birds close to shore. This is where I had spotted the Harlequin two days earlier.

It was also near this spot that I met my first and only Bird Counter, a man with a scope on a tripod, binoculars hung from his neck, making his way in stops and starts along the waterfront.

Peering through his binoculars into the morning sun glinting on the lake, he informed me that he spotted in the distance a group of Mergansers as well as the Mute Swans, then retraced his route to meet up with his bird-counting partner.

Mallard Ashore Lake Ontario
I retraced my route, too, back to Bruckner Rhododendron Gardens, this time leaving the Waterfront Trail to take a rough pateh through the scrub and shrub along the breakwater, where I was delighted to see this group of mallards on shore. What caught my eye was their lovely orange legs, so rarely seen when they are swimming, yet such a bright spot on a wintry day!

Shoreline Shrubs Decorated for Christmas
Another bonus for early morning, off trail walkers was the unexpected, cheery sign of the holiday season: Two scrubby junipers hung with red balls and tiny ornaments.

Two days earlier, the day of the Harlequin duck, I took a short video of Greater Scaups in Cranberry Cove.
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Mark, CBC co-ordinator for South Peel Naturalists Club, told me that the first Christmas Bird Count took place in 1900! And that there are thousands of Christmas bird counts over three weeks across North America ( a Twitter Pal informs that one is taking place on Bowen Island near Vancouver).

In South Peel, which includes Mississauga and Oakville, the CBC comprises a 15 mile wide circle centered between Britannia Road and Lake Ontario. Counters work in teams, each responsible for one of 6 strips that cover this count circle.

How to count birds in motion, such as the scaups in the video?
"You do your best to eyeball the count," says Mark. "You count out a set number -- 50, 100 -- and then count the number of 50-bird groups."

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