Tuesday 10 October 2023

Southern Lake Huron Lakewatching: Thanksgiving 2023

Not really a post to tell much of a story or anything, but just wanted to gather some interesting observations and put them out there. This past weekend (Canadian Thanksgiving) saw some excellent conditions for lakewatching on Lake Huron, with a cold front moving through starting on Friday (and really taking off starting Saturday), as well as a pressure system moving through, giving us a break in the southerly winds, with things switching around to being more northerly. With the pressure system/cold front moving in from western Canada, the winds were from the western direction. Optimal conditions.

I spent three mornings (October 7, 8, and 9) at The Bluff, a location north of Grand Bend in Huron County, Ontario. This location gives an excellent vantage point to watch the lake. I started each morning around 0730-0800h, and usually stuck around for a few hours. Interestingly, a few other parties also did lakewatches on Lake Huron, which allowed for interesting comparisons between the different locations. I want to compile these lists here, and give a brief synopsis of each day. 

First, a map of each of the lakewatch locations along southern Lake Huron, which I am defining as Lambton and Huron Counties.

As the jaeger flies (neglecting air resistance, which jaegers laugh at), approximate distances from The Bluff (Huron County) are as follows:

Waterworks Road (Huron County): 5km

Grand Bend Beach (Lambton County): 8km

Ipperwash Beach (Lambton County): 28km

Kettle Point (Lambton County): 30km

Unfortunately, I don't believe any observations were undertaken in Sarnia, nor can I find anything from the southern end of the lake in Michigan. 

Saturday: October 7, 2023

Weather comments (from my eBird checklist): Strong WSW winds, rain starting overnight but ceasing by 0800h. Variable cloud cover, with some extended periods of sun. 8-12°C.

Radar from Environment Canada Exeter station:

October 7, 2023 00:00 EDT

October 7, 2023 08:00 EDT

Hourly wind speeds from Environment Canada:

Goderich, ON

Sarnia, ON

This day was the first day of decent westerly winds in awhile, and came right after a cold front. As expected, there was a bit of movement, although I think it didn't quite live up to my expectations, personally. Perhaps it is too early in the season for large numbers of ducks and things. Nevertheless, an enjoyable day, and the conditions for birding were nice, even with the strong winds. 

eBird checklist from The Bluff: https://ebird.org/checklist/S151633524

Two other spots were lakewatched from this day. Grand Bend Beach, just 8km or so to the south had a similar day, although with higher numbers of ducks of some species, and lower numbers for other species. A common theme amongst the days was that other lakewatch locations had lower scoter numbers than we had at The Bluff, which I found to be interesting. Also, on this day, Peregrine Falcon numbers were much lower at Grand Bend Beach than we had at The Bluff, which is noteworthy. On a fun note, some of the same individual birds were seen at both lakewatches! 

Grand Bend Beach: https://ebird.org/checklist/S151618008

Kettle Point was also surveyed. Nearly twice the number of ducks were seen, as well as a couple of jaegers. Of course, the big difference in the number of Bonaparte's Gulls and terns is also of note. 

Kettle Point: https://ebird.org/checklist/S151630809

Sunday: October 8, 2023

Weather comments (from my eBird checklist): Rather strong NNW winds, gusts to 60kph. Heavy rains overnight, but ceased by 0800h (much like yesterday), and didn't really rain again aside from a few rain drops here and there. The big rain system seemed to move SE just directly north of us. Actually cleared up and got sunny with blue skies for a bit, before returning to overcast by end of observation period. Light rain starting just as we left. Cool temps 7-10°C. Not that uncomfortable to bird in actually, but wind made viewing difficult.

Radar from Environment Canada Exeter station:

October 8, 2023 00:00 EDT

October 8, 2023 08:00 EDT

Hourly wind speeds from Environment Canada:

Goderich, ON

Sarnia, ON

This was the day I was most excited for this weekend. The forecasted rain actually missed us, so we had fairly pleasant conditions for viewing on this strong NW wind day. Fewer ducks moving today, but it was made up for with some pelagic birds. At The Bluff, we had a few jaegers, and other lakewatches had some as well. Notably, scoter numbers were up, with a few hundred at The Bluff, mostly Surf, but also a number of White-winged. 

Grand Bend Beach had a great day, and despite the somewhat small distance between The Bluff and there, it was quite different. You can actually see the one point from the other point! A few more jaegers, although less ducks. More gulls, and notably a couple of Sabine's Gulls (which hurts a bit, not going to lie!). I feel confident that these birds didn't go by us unnoticed as we were quite diligent scanning the while time, so they likely came from further out in the lake in towards land around Grand Bend (??).

Ipperwash Beach was surveyed on this day. Again, they had more gulls and jaegers, but less ducks. Notably, both Parasitic Jaegers and Long-tailed Jaegers were seen, as well as a Sabine's Gull.

Notably, while not in Southern Lake Huron, a lakewatch was undertaken in Kincardine (Bruce County). Lots of differences, which isn't unexpected given the distance (~89km).

Monday: October 9, 2023

Weather comments (from my eBird checklist): Strong WSW wind, initially more W (with perhaps a slightly N component), and switching a bit over course of observation period. Clear, no precipitation, cc 80-100%. 8-9°C. Clear overnight (the first clear night in a few days).

Radar from Environment Canada Exeter station:

October 9, 2023 00:00 EDT

October 9, 2023 08:00 EDT

Hourly wind speeds from Environment Canada:

Goderich, ON

Sarnia, ON

Not a whole lot to say for this day. With winds swinging back towards the south, it was expected that things would be slower, but it turned out to be much slower. In the first half hour of observation, I had seen five individual ducks, and it didn't pick up much more after that. In general, just a lot fewer of everything. Why is that? Hard to say. Could the south winds be causing things not to move as they would on a north wind? Were the winds too strong? My personal theory is that since it was the first clear night (in this region) after the advance of the cold front, that the lake "cleared out" and many of the birds that had been on the lake the last couple of days left. I just don't think it would make sense for all the same birds to still be there, and we don't see them. Most notable is the drastic decrease in scoter numbers. Up from nearly 500 the day before to less than 70 the day following. 

The Bluff: https://ebird.org/checklist/S151817272

There weren't any other parties that I am aware of that were lakewatching simultaneously that day. I can't blame them—the weather didn't look nearly as ideal as the days preceding, and it was of course the holiday Monday. As such, no direct comparisons can really be made. However, given how slow it was at The Bluff, we left early to check out Grand Bend Beach, which we found to be similarly slow. The highlight here were three Black Scoters.

Grand Bend Beach: https://ebird.org/checklist/S151817422

I also did a quick lakewatch at Waterworks Road, but it was getting on in the morning and basically nothing was happening. 

Waterworks Road: https://ebird.org/checklist/S151816102


Anyways, it was an interesting weekend, and with the good coverage, a lot of interesting comparisons could be made. It is noteworthy how slightly different orientations, and proximity to the "funnel" at the south end of the lake affect the species composition and diversity. It is fun to speculate—I'll let you reach your own conclusions.