According to the Beaufort Scale for measuring the strength of wind the wind gusts on this day were at around Beaufort number 6, which is defined as a strong breeze with large branches in motion and umbrellas used with difficulty. I did not have an umbrella to check if it would be possible to use it, but there was plenty of reed that was being whipped back and forth by the gusts. Talking about “large numbers”, this is post number 200. 166 left to go. I thought this would be a marathon, but I was mistaken. I passed the “marathon threshold” a long time ago. This is more like a Forest Gump-style ultra marathon.
The petite Bufflehead was unphased by the strong breeze pushing it around on the choppy waters. Every now and then it did its funny looking dive where it sort of launches up and then dives down, similarly to how a person would dive into the water from the edge of a pool. Buffleheads can be found in the Edmonton area year round hanging out on any open water that they can find. My first Bufflehead was actually spotted in the middle of a deep freeze on January 20 in Genesee lake. It might be a small unassuming waterfowl but anyone that has the wits to survive the long Alberta winter deserves our respect.
The plan was to head out to the Heritage Wetlands park in Sherwood Park but half way there I realized that I would have to change my plans. The wind was picking up and with rain showers rolling in I had to make a quick decision if I should just scrap the plan and turn around or come up with a Plan B. I went with Plan B. As I was already in Sherwood Park I decided to make a quick visit to Emerald Lake and then decide where to go from there. To call Emerald Lake a lake is an overstatement. It is more of a storm water pond squeezed in between big box stores, a high school and busy roadways. Despite its unglamorous location the bird life can be surprisingly rich here. The main benefit on a day like this is that one can park in the parking lot of one of the big box stores only meters away from the edge of the lake. The wind blew off my cap several times and the trees were swaying in the strong breeze. A half dozen Canada Geese were swimming against the wind but did not seem to make any headway. Other than the geese, a few Golden Eye and Mallards it pond was, perhaps not surprisingly, abandoned.
I was at the Emerald Pond in Sherwood Park looking for charismatic birds such as pelicans. The pelicans were a no show, but there was plenty of Canada geese in the tall grass surrounding the pond. I did not pay much attention to the geese and as I was walking along the shore they kept a close eye on me and slowly, almost reluctantly, moved out of my way as I was approaching. As I approached one goose that appeared alone I noticed something else moving around in the grass right beside the goose. They were goslings and this would explain the slighly odd behaviour of the adult geese. The adult was herding the goslings towards the water’s edge while keeping its head high and its gaze fixed on me. As I started to scrutinize the other geese around the pond, now that I knew what to look for, I saw they all had little ones. The yellow goslings were remarkable well-camouflaged in the tall grass and obediently followed their moms and dads into the water. Once in the water the families quickly crossed the pond and got out of the water on the other side. I imagine the goslings might be safer in the tall grass as they would be easy prey for an opportunistic raptor in the open water.
I do not know much about the birding scene in the Calgary area yet, but judging from the birding-related Facebook feeds that I am following, Calgary seems to have a thriving birding scene with several hotspots that look really awesome, e.g. Inglewood Bird Sanctuary and Frank Lake. As Calgary is roughly 300 km south of Edmonton northward migrants tend to arrive there a few weeks earlier than in the capital. Over the last few months I noticed that Calgary acts as a birding early warning system, preparing us Edmonton birders for things coming our way. One of the migrants that arrived in Calgary over a month ago were the American White Pelicans (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos). I have been looking forward to seeing this magnificent bird ever since I saw the first reported sightings of them in the Calgary area. They arrived here in the Edmonton a few weeks ago. Unfortunately, perhaps due to sloppiness on my behalf or just being a noob, I have been missing them on several occasions. The latest missed opportunity was a week ago at Heritage Wetlands Park, where, after several, hours of birding I came up empty handed on the pelican front. Once I came home and checked eBird, however, someone had reported seeing pelicans at that location the very same day. As I was bemoaning my lack of pelican luck, a fellow birder suggested that I check out Emerald Pond, a small pond behind Lowe’s in Sherwood Park. On our way back from our Big Weekend a few days ago we decided to make a stop at this pond. Sure enough, as we were parking a bird the size of a small airplane swooped down over the car and went in for a water landing on the pond. Once we sneaked our way down to the water’s edge we found four adult pelicans chugging along in the water. All four pelicans had horn like projections growing on their upper bills, indicating that they are breeding adults. They went along the shore of the pond, stopping to and from and fishing up aquatic vegetation. It looked like they were eating the aquatic plants growing along the reeds in the pond. While pelicans are omnivores I have not been able to find any information suggesting that they eat plants (but they seem to be happy to devour anything that has scales, fur or feathers, including pigeons and the odd chihuahua).
Birding keeps throwing me for loops. You can drive for an hour or more to the perfect birding spot, only to not see any bird at all. Or you can go to a small pond behind a big box store surrounded by busy roadways only to find the most amazing diversity of birds. In the 20 minutes we spend at the pond we saw 10 different species. There were the usual suspects, e.g. Canada Geese, Mallards, Ring-billed Gull, Franklin’s Gull. As we were about to leave a Common Golden eye came along, followed by a pair of Red-necked Grebes. When we were about to leave (second attempt) a squeaking Killdeer landed in the reeds and, out of nowhere, two Double-crested Cormorants came in for landing scaring the living bejeezus out of the merganser. On our drive home we were discussing what else we could have seen if we had stayed longer. We will definitely be back to this unassuming pond behind Lowe’s.
It was only as I was writing this post that I noticed that there are a pair of Red-necked Grebes next to the pelicans. One of the grebes looks like it is sitting on a mound. I am curious if this could be a nest. Yet another reason to head back sooner rather.