Winter is less then a week away and temperatures are not feeling very wintery. However, the Thames River is offering nice views of some winter waterfowl. The Thames River is a popular overwintering area for a wide variety of diving ducks, and many of the regular winter visitors are now present.
Over the past week I have been checking out various sections of the Thames River between Springbank and Harris Parks. This my favourite section of the river for finding winter waterfowl. The most abundant species present throughout this section is the Common Merganser. Several small groups of Hooded Mergansers, were also observed on this section of river. These small ducks, especially the females, are sometimes difficult to spot from a distance. Their dark plumage blends in against the river, so watching for movement or a ripple on the water can be helpful. The males, with their white feathers on the sides of their crests, are much easier to locate. Many times I spot the males first, then notice the females mixed in within the group upon closer inspection. Buffleheads are also present, but not in the the same numbers as the Mergansers yet. Earlier this week I noticed my first pair of Common Goldeneyes of the season on the river.
These, and other ducks, overwinter annually on the Thames river and will be present throughout the winter months. If you wish to view some of these species on the river, but do not want to cover the several kilometer section I mentioned, than I would suggest Greenway Park. I observed the highest concentration of winter waterfowl between the CN overpass and the outflow at Greenway Pollution Control Plant. This narrow section of river provides excellent views, even if you don’t own a pair of binoculars or spotting scope. Make sure to move slowly and quietly along the banks as many of these northern species are not as accustomed to human presence as our resident ducks. The slightest noise or erratic movement will startle these birds, causing them swim to the far side of the river or fly off.
As winter sets in and temperatures fall, many of our local water bodies will ice up. As the amount of frozen water increases across the area, so too will the number of ducks on the Thames. Often in January and February the Thames River is the only open water in the area for these diving ducks to feed, making it the perfect place to observe winter waterfowl. If observing winter waterfowl is on your birding wishlist this season, than I highly recommend checking out the Thames River.