Saugeen Nature Searches For Winter Raptors

Eleven Saugeen Nature club members gathered on the morning of March 10th 2018, to make the annual attempt to find winter raptor species in the Grey and Bruce area before they head north to their summer breeding grounds.

Beginning north of Chesley, the group covered a network of roads as far north as Dobbinton and including stops at the flooded Sauble River. The fields yielded sightings of five snowy owls and one rough-legged hawk, both numbers dramatically different and down from last year. The river stops brought many Canada geese but also tundra swans and killdeer, and a bald eagle in the area of a nest which was new last year. Small numbers of mallards and common goldeneye swam in the river and the roadsides were lively with horned larks, early returnees, and snow buntings, lingering winter visitors.

The second area checked was the Lake Huron shore at Baie Doré at the nuclear power plant. Heated water released into the lake there keeps water open and attracts a variety of bird species. There were hundreds of herring gulls and one greater black-backed gull standing on near-shore ice and eating the dead fish which were scattered over the surface of the ice. No one in the group had seen this phenomenon of the dead fish before and all were guessing at explanations. One possible reason for the presence of dead fish on the ice was the ice itself, which was floating on waves and could have been dropping down on top of any fish in the shallow water below. Large numbers of bald eagles were present, most of them also standing on the ice along the shore. One group of ten were involved in a dispute over the fish one individual had carried to the spot. Bald eagles at one time were almost gone from Grey and Bruce, decimated by agricultural insecticides which moved up through the food chain to the apex predators. Now, however, they are thriving and numbers are increasing rapidly. Common mergansers and common goldeneye completed the mix of species at the lake.

One more snowy owl was spotted on the way home in the open fields west of Paisley. The bird species are ever changing with the seasons; our group was happy with the chance to find the mix of winter and spring birds that were out there.

Submitted by Angus Inksetter

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