Fredericton Nature Club /
Club de la nature de Fredericton

Meetings are held at the Stepping Stone Centre (15 Saunders St.) in Fredericton
at 7:00pm on the 1st Thursday of the month from October to April.
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Annual Waterfowl Trip - April 11, 2009

Spring sun brings waterfowl fun along the St. Jun.   Our annual walk in rain boots was a good one last April.   Last year, the exceptional flooding had closed the road at Maugerville, but this year we had open road until the Jemseg ferry area.   With all the birders in the region, there is a strong chance somebody has reported a 'good bird', even providing detailed directions.   Numerous rare/uncommon birds had been sighted along the flooded St. John River from Maugerville to Jemseg and with high hopes 7 members of the FNC hit the puddles.   Often, we have a nice outing, but miss the rare birds.   Not this year!

It was a bit chilly at 1°C (especially since the day before was 10°C) and ice filled half of the ponds and river, mainly below the new Trans Canada bridge.   The river was rather quiet – no rafts of scoter or scaup.   A few Common Mergansers were on the river, and we started the day with a fantastic, fully-extended male Hooded Merganser who kept displaying, floating downstream, then flying back to the same spot on the river – a female must have been nearby, or maybe he was warming up in front of the mirror.

The waterfowl were in every pond and puddle.   Black Duck and Mallard were ubiquitous on every pond while gulls (mainly Ring-billed) and Canada Geese were common but found in clumps on fewer ponds.   Green-winged Teal were the common small duck, but we did see 4-6 Blue-winged Teal.   American Wigeon were widespread but fewer in number than expected.   Several of us commented on the large numbers of Ring-necked Duck– large groups of mainly males floated in the open sections of the ponds, usually up against the trees, farthest from the road – I suspect 300 were in the area.   Northern Shoveler and Pintail were found in 4-5 places but usually in small numbers of 2-3.   Gadwall, always a harder-to-find species in the area, were spotted 3 times.   Wood Duck and Common Goldeneye were in most ponds, as well as within the flooded silver maples along the river edge.   We missed out on Eurasian Teal (the European race of Green-winged Teal) and Eurasian Wigeon (European species).   Both are seen each year, and were in the area this week – but, they must have been hiding under our Blue-phase Snow Goose!

                               

We tried twice for this beauty.   It was reported the day before for McGowan's Corner but we couldn't find it on our downriver trip.   An advantage to the Jemseg ferry being of-line (due to the flooding, not the government ) was that we returned by the same route, and heard from Don Gibson where to find the goose.   The goose was with 20 or so Canada Geese on field and water behind the farm buildings, and behind an annoying kid on a dirtbike.   Snow geese are a good, but regular sighting in New Brunswick – a blue phase (dark body and white head) is much rarer.

Not so rare, but rare to inland waters, was a male Common Eider.   It wasn't even on the river, but acting like a puddle duck, bobbing in the flooded field just south of McGowan's Corner.

The trip south of Jemseg was a bit quieter – the flooded road prevented us from getting to far.   However, Doug Jackson and Peter Pearce found a single bird at the 'Community Barn' in Upper Jemseg – an Ipswich Sparrow.   These birds breed on Sable Island, the sandy, windswept island 150 km off Nova Scotia, and winter along the southern eastern coast.   They are a larger and very pale subspecies of Savannah Sparrow.   It was a life bird (albeit a subspecies rather than a full species) for all except Peter Pearce, who once found one on a Fredericton Christmas Bird count.   I know Doug Jackson was quite pleased to get a lifer, and I was downright giddy – I think everyone should do a lifer dance!   We'll have to work on Doug.

We had a long look at a Mink, and 2 Moose started a 'moose jam' on the highway as cars pulled over.   For most of us, we saw our 'first of the year' for Osprey, Tree Swallow, Kestrel, Great Blue Heron, Snipe, Killdeer, and Kingfisher.   And we saw some 'last of the year' species – an Iceland Gull stood with Ring-billed Gulls among the ducks near Sheffield.   And a Rough-legged Hawk, sitting in a tree above flooded fields was not the image we are used to for this winter visitor.   Both species will soon head up to the Arctic to breed.

Finishing off our day was another hoped-for rarity.   Again, we had missed this on our first pass but Don pointed us to the spot (we did get the Ipswich Sparrow for Don, so a nice trade).   The flooded fields around Casey's Restaurant aren't large and maybe the gulls could also smell french fries because among 15 or so Ring-billed Gulls, was a very nice Lesser Black-backed Gull.   Another European species, but likely now breeding in North America, the Lesser is smaller and the back is gray rather than the dark black of our Greater.   We also saw Ring-billed Gull # 150, which had been wing-tagged as part of water quality study on December 29, 2008 at a Wal-Mart parking lot in Northborough, Massachusetts.

So, we had a great outing – lots of waterfowl, lots of firsts of the year, a bunch of rarities that stuck around, and discovery of our own rarity.   Now, if we can just get Doug to do a lifer dance!

                               

    Graham Forbes