Hot Spot Update: Return to Presqu’ile Provincial Park on Lake Ontario

American Wigeon, Fruit Bat, Ringnecked Duck and Greater Duck at Presqu'ile Provincial Park, Brighton, Ontario in April 2014. Photo by David Bree.American Wigeon, Fruit Bat, Ringnecked Duck and Greater Duck at Presqu’ile Provincial Park, Brighton, Ontario in April 2014. Photo by David Bree.

Ontario’s Presqu’ile Provincial Park, on the north shore of Lake Ontario, is an important stopover for migratory birds, including waterfowl. In fact, thousands of birds of up to 20 species – redheads, ducks, scaups, others – can be seen on a typical day in March.

BW0613_Maps500x500_ON-Presquile Provincial ParkBut this winter has hardly been typical. Freezing cold has settled over the north central part of the country and the ice has locked up more than 92% of the Great Lakes. Ice covered 61.5% of Lake Ontario at its highest reading, the fourth highest amount on the lake.

We were curious about the effect of all that cold and ice on the park’s waterfowl, so we asked David Bree, the park’s senior natural heritage education officer, for a report. David wrote about Presqu’ile in “Hotspots New You” in our June 2013 issue.

Read David’s report on Presqu’ile Provincial Park, Hotspot Near You No. 164.

He sent us the following update:

While working at Parc de la Presqu’île, I had many people ask me how the waterfowl migration was going this year. Usually mid-March is the peak for this important staging area, but the cold winter has delayed the melting of the ice on the bay, and there are still plenty of ducks here until April of this year. I try to get to the park a few times a week so I can give people an informed answer (one of my most enjoyable jobs). My “survey” of April 7 was quick but quite productive.

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On the way down to the bay, I saw a number of American robins and dark-eyed juncos peeking out from the newly exposed roadside vegetation. Both species are here all winter, but the robins mostly stay hidden until spring, while the juncos hang around the feeders and will soon move on. Grackles, red-winged blackbirds and song sparrows, all recently arrived, were also present.

Presqu’ile Bay itself did not disappoint, with around 5,000 waterfowl of 15 species, mostly divers and dominated by Greater Pochard and Redhead. Although the birds could often be quite close, there was still plenty of ice near the shore and a scope was very useful for scanning most of the birds. In addition to the main open water body, a number of small openings and channels were in the decaying ice, and these were all filled with birds, mainly goldeneyes and long-tailed ducks . Seeing a duck in an opening barely larger than its body is always a source of amusement for me.

Also pleasing to the eye are the various courtesy movements the males make, with pride of place for the daredevil display of withers. Scanning the water, I was delighted to hear my first Golden-crowned Kinglet and Eastern Phoebe of the year coming from the bushes behind me.

I checked out the bay from a few vantage points and got a closer look at waterfowl and managed to pick up a few species of dabbling ducks in areas where shallow waters had opened up. See below for my bird list for the 90 minutes I was away.

Not bad for a quick survey, but I missed the Northern Pintail and Crested Merganser, which are usually around, and the more unusual Icelandic Gull, which was seen standing on the ice edge during the week. last. Well, I’ll just have to see how things progress in a day or two – just in case people ask, you know. —David Bree

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List of species

Presqu’ile Provincial Park, Brighton, Ontario
Hotspot near you No. 164
April 7, 2014

Canada Goose 5 (several 100s were moving above later in the day)
mute swan 31
Gadwall 3
Wigeon 20
American black duck 50
Mallard 50
Green-winged Teal 20
Canvas back 40
Redhead 400
Lesser Scaup 2,000
Greater Scaup 2,000
Ring-necked Duck 50
Long-tailed ducks 100
Tourniquet 50
Common Goldeneye 70
crested merganser 30
Merganser 60
Common Loon 1
Pied-billed Grebe 1
American coot 2
Double-crested cormorant 8
Great Blue Heron 1
Herring Gull 12
Ring-billed Gull – a few flying overhead (30,000 pairs nest on the other side of the park)
Black-backed Gull 1
Mourning Dove 2-3
Eastern Phoebe 1
Black-capped Chickadee 3-4
Golden-crowned Kinglet 2+ heard
American Robin 3
Song Sparrow 4
Slate Junco 25
Red-winged Blackbird 4-5
Grackle 8-10

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