The numbers of waterfowl continue to grow on the Thames River as a direct result of the increased ice coverage on the Great Lakes. Reports from this past week indicate the Great Lakes are 80% ice covered, with Lake Ontario being the only one with any significant open water. Many species of diving ducks that typically winter on either Lake Superior or Lake Huron are unable to feed in these locations due to the ice. As a result, they are migrating further south and showing up on the Thames River. Common Goldeneye, Bufflehead, Greater Scaup, Canvasback, Redhead, and three types of Merganser have all been recorded. Recently larger numbers of Long-tailed Ducks have shown up too.
This past week while out walking through Springbank Park I was enjoying all of these wonderful species and added three new species to my life list: Red-necked Grebe, White-winged Scoter and Red-throated Loon. Three new species in just a couple of days is quite exciting. I regularly submit my observations to ebird as well as The Middlsex/Elgin/Oxford Natural History Observations group, and decided on these days my sightings of these species, especially the loons were worth submitting. I first submitted to ebird where they deemed all three species to be rare and required more information to confirm. I photographed all three species during my outing and was able to submit these photographs to confirm my sightings.
After submitting my observations to the Middlesex/Elgin/Oxford Natural History Observation group I received an email from the group’s record keeper to confirm that I did in fact see two Red-throated Loons, as they are virtually unheard of in our area. I also submitted my photographs to this group to confirm the loon sightings. I was quite thrilled to learn that these were the first Red-throated Loons recorded in winter in Middlesex County since 1898. These birds breed in the arctic and winter on both coasts of North America, as well as the Great Lakes, with inland sightings extremely rare. Knowing how special this sighting is makes it by far my best to date.
The number of birders increased over the course of the week along this stretch of river after reporting the sighting, with many hoping to see this pair of loons. Another report came in from later the same day as my initial sighting that one of the birds was seen in the same location. This was the last report of the birds in the area.
My guess is that these two Red-throated Loons were migrating through to the Eastern Seaboard and used the Thames River as a quick stop over to rest and feed before carrying on their journey. As is the case a lot of times in birding, I was in the right place at the right time and am truly grateful. Who knows, it may just be another 116 years before another one is seen in this county.