cloudy with sunny breaks

PHOTO POST

A long stretch of warm but gloomy weather finally made room for a week of old-fashioned winter, with brisk winds, the odd sunny day, and even some ice buildup on the shoreline.

Lightshower II

Lightshower

How cold did it get? Cold enough on Saturday that there was only one person fishing at the breakwater – but not cold enough for him to keep his gloves on.

Fishing at the edge

The cold weather was a delight to some of us, providing the kinds of sights we may only see for a few days a year.

Construction

Construction II

Waterline

We knew it wouldn’t last, of course. By Sunday night a warm wind picked up from the southwest, and by Monday morning the waves had chopped much of the shore ice into slush.

Splash at sunrise

By afternoon we were treated to a typical lakeshore squall, with warm fluffy snowflakes whipped along in a biting wet wind.

What Great Teeth

The snow drifted along with the sand, moving across the beach and straight into the harbour channel.

Heritage Winter

A storm like this might put you in mind of seeking shelter in a forest. If you’re small of stature, though – an ermine, perhaps, or a rabbit – quiet pathways through the lakeshore marsh are an even better place to get in out of the wind.

Shelter among the reeds


Photo at top of post: Cloudy with sunny breaks (full-size version here)

 

fragile february

PHOTO POST

A few days of very early spring, brief periods when it felt like the depths of winter – and now and then, a few days somewhere between those extremes. February, we hardly knew you.

Not many of the diving ducks which typically winter here have been hanging around Port Darlington this year. Perhaps there are just too many other options, with almost no ice anywhere on Lake Ontario and many creeks and rivers flowing freely through much of the past month.

We’ve still seen the dabbling birds, though, especially Mallards and Canada Geese, who are content to stand on shore-fast ice when they aren’t feeding in shallow waters.

At Ease in Swift Current

Flight of Five

Scaups have been scarce. But as the sun dipped low one afternoon, this female Greater Scaup swam through the rippled reflection of a dry-docked red boat, to spectacular effect.

Greater Psychedelic Scaup

One place birds were not scarce was around our backyard feeders. As many as two dozen goldfinches, mourning doves, juncos, sparrows, nuthatches and chickadees gathered for hours each day. When there wasn’t room on the feeders or on the ground beneath, they waited their turns from the trees.

Blue Sky with Gold Finch

American Tree Sparrows (foreground below) and Dark-Eyed Juncos (background) were just as happy feeding directly from the finch feeder as from the ground.

Sparrow one and Sparrow too

On snowy, blowy days appetites seemed to be sharpened and the feeders were seldom unattended.

Sheltered Finch

Snowy Squirrel

Cardinal on Vine

Junco with Winter Grasses

The swift swings in weather reshaped the shoreline almost every day. Strong waves piled up banks of stones and freezing spray locked the stones into place. No matter. The next day’s warmer waves carved the formations from underneath while sunshine loosened the icy cement from above.

Just This Minute 2

Just This Minute 3

If you were lucky you could see colorful stones illuminated by sunrise – and remnant ice-shells illuminated by sunset.

Just This Minute 4

Just This Minute 5


Photo at top of page: Just This Minute 1 (click here for full-screen image)

 

the north side of a storm

PHOTO POST

On this edge of Lake Ontario the wind did blow, but for the most part the snow did not fall.

Beach Breeze

The great Christmas storm of 2022 brought us gale-force winds for thirty-six hours but very little snow. At the height of the storm there was almost as much sand as snow blowing across Port Darlington beach.

But the waves crashed and plumes of spray blasted the breakwater through the cold night.

Night Waves

By the light of day it was clear the bay had churned over until each breaking wave was heavy with sand.

Standing Still, Three

Standing Still, Two

Standing Still, One

To some residents the aftermath of the storm brought good cheer. Flocks of gulls found lots to eat amidst the undulating slush and kept watch for the best spots.

Gull Wing

Close Quarters

Even small floes, just big enough to stand on amidst in the ceaseless motion, were prized real estate.

Maintaining Focus, Two

Slush Surfing

As gulls fluttered, grabbed, dodged and shrieked, partially congealed waves whispered to the setting sun.

Frequency Modulation


Photo at top of post: Maintaining Focus, One (click here for full-screen image)

 

sweet water songs

PHOTO POST

It was a brisk Saturday morning as I made my way to the lakeshore.

Getting from here to there

I wasn’t after fish, but those who I sought would be fishing, or so I thought. I was on the trail of Long-Tailed Ducks, hoping to capture not only pictures but sound.

Writing in 1925, Edward Howe Forbush called these birds “perhaps our most loquacious ducks,” adding that “their resounding cries have been likened to the music of a pack of hounds.”

The trick was to get close to their deep-water haunts, without slipping into the deep myself. I failed that morning, but when I returned late in the afternoon the Long-Tails went about their business with little notice of my presence. I was pleased to note there was little wind, giving me an excellent chance to hear and perhaps even record their song.

Chapter thirteen

Long waves

Four’s Company

In the video below you may also note the odd Scaup and Goldeneye. (You may need to turn up the speakers to hear the Long-Tails’ calls, about 20 seconds in.)

Sun was setting over a frozen harbour channel as I made my way home.

Mouth of the Channel

The glassy water gave no hint of a coming storm.

Night Flight

Yet the bay was transformed by sunrise. A stiff south wind had picked up overnight, collecting thin sheets of ice from across the lake and depositing them, in a million pieces, on our shoreline.

Dawn breaks on Sunday

Waves were rolling up against the ice edge, so far from land that the scrunch of ice against ice was barely audible.

Blue Silence

Zig-zag-sun

But waves are nothing if not patient. On Sunday night a rhythmic smashing of ice had grown louder than the wind. By Monday morning the ice sloshed back and forth against the shoreline, shards splintering. By Tuesday morning the ice had returned to water.

(The video below is best viewed full screen, ideally on a screen approximately the size of Lake Ontario.)

lakeshore medley

PHOTO POST

When you’re looking for fresh new scenery on a daily basis, the January lakeshore obliges – especially when the temperature plunges, heavy snow falls, and waves rearrange the ice, water and steam ceaselessly.

Breakwater Boulder (click image for full-screen view)

As dawn breaks frost is forming on icicles at the waterline.

Mouth of a Cave

The delicate filaments of frost are gone by the end of the day … but they’ll be back soon enough.

Sunset Arch

Gentle waves roll over pebbles at sunset, carving a path under a coating of ice.

Sunset Flow

It takes much bigger waves to topple the more massive ice formations.

Snaggletooth & Friends

Right along the coast is not always the best place to go looking for fauna, as most species of waterfowl stay well away from shore. But just a short drive to the west at Lynd Shores Conservation Area, it’s not hard to spot lots of wildlife.

White-Tailed Deer

Mourning Dove at Evening

Barred Owl

When you love ice and snow the lakeshore is a special place, not least because the sounds are just as beautiful as the sights. Here’s a short suite from the shoreline over the past week:


Photo at top of post: Branching Out (click here for full-screen view)

 

 

back yard blizzard

PHOTO POST

When a blizzard blew over a few days ago the wintering birds knew what to do: gather round the feeders and feast.

Like most blizzards in Ontario’s deep south, this one was mild in temperature. But perhaps the birds sensed that much colder weather was on the way. They were so intent on taking their turns at the feeders they paid little attention to pesky paparazzi.

Finch and Junco (click images for full-screen views)

American Goldfinches (above right) worked at the nyjer thistle seed all day. Dark-eyed Juncos (above left) gave it a try too, though their fatter beaks aren’t a good fit for the narrow holes in the finch feeder.

Woodpecker Candy

The Downy Woodpecker (above), as well as its larger lookalike the Hairy Woodpecker, hammered away at their high-calorie treat – seeds frozen in a suet block.

Inspector Starling

The Starlings gave it a try too but had a harder time of it.

American Tree Sparrows found their picnics at ground level.

Tree Sparrow in Tall Grass, 1

Their name is a misnomer, since they nest and forage on the ground. Grass seed is a favoured food, and a deep drift of snow put the seed heads on tall stalks within a short hop.

Tree Sparrow in Tall Grass, 2

By the time the sun rose the next morning the wind had calmed, the snow was no longer drifting, and the skies were clear. There is no better time to stroll the beach, watching the light show play out where sand and stones meet ice, waves and the first rays of sunrise.

Sedimentary Colours 1

Sedimentary Colours, 2

Sedimentary Colours 3

Sedimentary Colours 4

The rest of the beach is equally beautiful with bright cottage colours set off against new snow.

Cottages at Port Darlington

When I return home the birds are again busy in the back yard and this Junco waits for a turn at the feeder.

Junco on White


Photo at top of page: Snowy Morning Doves (full-screen version here)

walking into winter

PHOTO POST

Gliding through the harbour one morning just before freeze-up I spotted a mink.

Though I’ve looked many times since, it proved an elusive sight. No more mink so far, but instead …

On the beach a crayfish rested its final rest, still but still intact, having escaped the mink and the pike and the herons.

Mine eyes have seen the glory

At the edge of the woods just after sunrise, maple keys grabbed the light.

Key

What work of abstract expressionist art did the sunshine reveal? Is it an alien crop circle, seen from a spaceship? 

Tooth Trail (1)

No, just the hard work of beavers who have been chewing through twigs and trees.

Tooth Trail (2)

As mornings got colder the starlings sought warmth – even if that warmth had to be created by fluffing their feathers and being as round as possible.

Points of Light (2)

The miraculous chickadees survive the coldest mornings in spite of their tiny size. But they certainly appreciate a bowl of unfrozen water to drink from.

At the watering hole

The big lake remains open though wind and waves scatter icy spray across the shoreline.

Winter Wave

When the harbour channel remains thawed it’s a great place to watch waterfowl in the warmth of afternoon.

Shimmering down the creek

But when both winds and temperature drop, the channel and the marsh begin to freeze.

Perpendicular Ice

Gulls gather one day at the lakeshore, another day in the centre of the marsh. For a few days, at least, the Ring-billed Gulls were joined by a less common visitor – a Great Black-backed Gull who stood still and did its best to act inconspicuous.

A giant among us

And then one morning dawns very cold and even the harbour channel is mostly solid. Canada Geese huddle on the ice in small groups awaiting the sunrise.

Minus Twenty-Two Morning

Will the cold last? Not likely, but we do our best to enjoy while we can. And if some day very soon the sun shines on an open harbour again, I’ll be looking for that mink.

Beautiful Niche (2)


Photo at top of page: Beautiful Niche (1)click here for full-screen view

spring forward

PHOTO POST

We all have fond memories of that most welcome season, when instead of going out to play on ice, we sneak out and slop around in mud for the first time.

But how many of us have had the thrill of sliding into the muck wearing a pristine white suit?

Clean White Suit

A pair of Mute Swans were the first to try out this puddle in the Bowmanville Marsh, on an afternoon when most of the marsh was still covered in ice.

First Flowers

Just a few days later, Snowdrops were poking through mud and leaves without sullying their white coats in the slightest.

Whiskers on Blue

With their jet-black attire, what fun would it be for a squirrel to play in the mud? So they stick to the high road, except when it’s time to drop down to ground level to check a food cache.

Still Life with Circles

It’s not a bad idea to study the forest from a mouse-eye view, because visual treats abound on this lively backdrop of mosses.

Shelter and Shadow

Along the waterfront, a remnant of shore ice had one more opportunity to soak up sunrise before joining the waves.

The Shape of the Shore at This Moment

Shape of Shore II – Echo

Shape of Shore III – Lifeform in Sand

Shape of Shore IV – Drop of Blue

Some of our less common spring visitors are fishing the mouth of the creek. From left, female and male Hooded Merganser, female and male Greater Scaup.

Mergansers, meet the Scaups

The Long-Tailed Ducks are feeding too – but also keeping their wings in shape for their long flight to the arctic coast.

Water off a duck’s back

In a small hole in the breakwater, icicles catch the afternoon sun once more – but the colours of algae and water-soaked wood are coming into season.

A Window on Water


Photo at top of page: detail from Leading Edge (full-screen image here)

 

black and white in colour

PHOTO POST

You may know that at this time of year lots of black and white ducks – Buffleheads, Greater and Lesser Scaup, Common Goldeneye, Long-Tailed Ducks – show up on Lake Ontario. You may have heard that they dive for their food, eat a variety of mollusks, crustaceans, fish eggs, aquatic insects, sometimes even aquatic plants.

All very interesting, you say, but what everybody really wants to know about these black and white ducks is, “What colour are they?” I present here the results of my research on this complex issue.

Depending on the sun and wind, I found, a few of our study subjects may often be spotted keeping company with the multitudes of Canada Geese on one side or the other of the harbour breakwater. So off we go ….

Moments before sunrise (click images for full-screen view)

As daylight brightens I approach the edge of the shore ice, hoping to spot some waterfowl.

Temporary Fixture I

Temporary Fixture II

A male Long-Tailed Duck is showing the earliest signs of the intricate brown patterns that it will wear when it reaches its summer nesting area on the arctic coast.

Compound Arc

A female Long-Tailed Duck appears in the harbour channel, sporting a subtle palette of grays and browns.

Quiet Ripples

A female Lesser Scaup* dressed in rich browns disappears and surfaces among the still slumbering geese.

Among the Geese

In full sun a male Greater Scaup shows us why he’s nicknamed “Bluebill”.

Bluebill on blue

He turns his head and gives us a flash of iridescent green.

Bluebill with green

Not to be outdone, a Common Goldeneye gives us the same green, and then throws in a free bonus colour.

Green Goldeneye

Can you do purple?

Conclusion: Preliminary findings indicate that black and white ducks are blue, brown, gray, orange, yellow, purple and green. Further research is recommended.


Photo at top of page: Just focus on the duck (click here for full-screen view)

Greater and Lesser Scaup are known to be difficult to distinguish so I can’t guarantee which Scaups are pictured here. Even allaboutbirds.org authorizes this fudge: “It’s okay to record Greater/Lesser Scaup on your eBird checklist if you are unsure of the ID.”

wintering at sea

PHOTO POST

In our house, if a lake is big enough so that we can’t see across to the far shore, then we’re allowed to call it “the sea”.

Many ducks, we’re pleased to report, agree with our interpretation. In winter we have as company several species of ducks who ordinarily shun frozen lakes and typically hang out along the New England coast. The open waters of Lake Ontario, they seem to believe, are as good as the sea.

In recent months groups of Goldeneye, Scaup, and Long-Tailed Ducks have been visible off the coast in Scarborough, Pickering, Whitby and here in Port Darlington – though they don’t typically get within good camera range.

Blue Rainbow

On a recent excursion to Cranberry Marsh, at lake’s edge south of  Whitby, the diving ducks kept their usual distance but a pair of Trumpeter Swans swam right up to the shore.

Young Trumpeter

These beautiful birds had been hunted nearly to extinction but are now making a steady recovery, thanks in no small part to determined work by Ontario conservationists over the past four decades.

The Trumpeters’ resurgence is apparently not welcomed by the Mute Swans who have taken over much of the habitat for large swans.

Trumpeter, chased by Mute

Mute Swans will also chase each other or will chase Canada Geese – but there was no obvious reason why all these geese suddenly decided they had to take to the air.

All Together Now

At home in Port Darlington, the north winds have been cold enough to shape some shore ice.

Lively Ice

Where waves bounce against ice, feeding conditions seem especially attractive to true diving ducks.

Bluebill

Though most of their number stay well off-shore, one or two Greater Scaup (above) and Common Goldeneye (below, with Mallard) have plied the narrow harbour channel recently.

Goldeneye

By the heat of the morning sun, as steam rises off waves, fishing near the breakwater is well-nigh irresistible.

Hot Sun

Making Strides

Drops of Ice

Swells break against the shore ice, the water churns and foams – and now and then a Long-Tailed Duck or two ventures close to play in the surf.

Home on the Waves

That’s winter at its finest, down by the seashore.


Photo at top of page: Scratching the Surface (click here for full-screen view)