By Nikki May
Grey Bruce Line or Highway 10 cuts north at the midpoint between Bruce and Grey Counties. The winding courses of the Saugeen and Sauble Rivers and their tributaries intersect this busy road at several points north of the picturesque village of Scone. In the spring the river flood zones are alive with migrating waterfowl – ducks, geese, swans, and many other species.
On April 27 several of us took a driving tour along the Line, stopping at several side roads to explore the flood plain in detail. The tour was enlivened by dozens of birds; Wood Ducks, American Wigeons, Blue- and Green-winged Teals, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Pintail, Hooded Merganser, Northern Shoveller, Bufflehead, Common Goldeneye, Great Blue Heron, Mute Swan, Aythya spp. (ie Diving Ducks)
Many of the ducks are beautiful even when drifting along on the water, like the Wood Duck pictured in this newsletter. Several others, who might look rather drab on the water, are gloriously colourful in flight. An example of this is the American Wigeon. A pair took off while we were watching, revealing a gorgeous patterning on the undersides of their wings.
Another highlight of the tour was a Bald Eagle’s nest. At first all we could see was a very small part of the brooding bird’s head. But then the other parent flew in and stood on the edge of the nest for a while. At this point the brooder raised its head above the edge of the nest and both birds were visible in our binoculars. The nest is set way back in a nicely flooded swamp so it is well-protected from predators. Males and females share the task of keeping the eggs warm, although females spend more time brooding than males. The male will bring food back to the nest for the female when she has been on the eggs a long time, but she does get time to fly and hunt for herself. Eventually the standing bird took the air, displaying the magnificent wing span of this regal species.
At the smaller end of the scale, dozens of swallows flying over the water sparked a discussion about how these insectivores survive the chilly windy days of spring. These species are in decline overall because of declining insect populations and habitat, but it must be particularly challenging for them at a time of year when very few insects are on the wing. The Tree Swallows appeared to be diving down and picking food off the dead grasses standing above the water. Their eyesight must be exceptional to see such small prey on the faded leaves and stems.
Others seen on this trip included Swamp Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, Killdeer and nest with 3 eggs, Mourning Doves, Barn Swallow, Kingfisher, Kestrel, Grackles, Ring-billed and Herring Gulls and Cormorant. Also Chickadees, Red-bellied Woodpecker, White-breasted Nuthatch. All in all, a very good trip.