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18 May 2010 @ 05:32 pm
A Birding Vacation Part IV: Amherstburg  

Although we had spent a long day at Point Pelee National Park, there was one other place we wanted to check out before we went back to the hotel to settle in for the evening. This was Amherstburg, where a White-faced Ibis had been seen hanging around Big Creek for the past few weeks. It took us about half an hour driving west along County Road 20 to reach the area, and we knew as soon as we saw all the Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons in the wide, sluggish creek that we had found the place. A few cars were already parked along the shoulder before the bridge, so I pulled over too, grabbed my camera and went to see what all the birders were looking at.

White-faced Ibis

The White-faced Ibis was perhaps the easiest rarity I've ever chased - he was standing in the water not more than ten feet from the shore! Smaller than the herons and egrets, with a long, downward curving bill, he was a beautiful sight with all of his iridescent hues of rusty chestnut, purple, green and bronze. I was awed to see this rarity, and to see him so very close.

White-faced Ibis

This individual was very far from home. A species of the southwest, the White-faced Ibis breeds in marshes and irrigated areas in Utah, Nevada, and California, preferring shallow freshwater marshland where islands of vegetation are available. It may also be found in coastal Texas and western Louisiana all year round, and large flocks may be found around the Gulf Coast and in southern California during the winter. While this species rarely occurs east of the Mississippi River, it can be highly nomadic, wandering about the western states in spring and summer in search of appropriate breeding and foraging habitats. In the late summer, the White-faced Ibis tends to wander far from breeding locations, with a few birds even reaching the east coast.

The White-faced Ibis is very similar to and is often confused with the Glossy Ibis, which breeds primarily in Florida and along the southeastern coast; however, the ranges of the two species overlap only within a small area along the Gulf Coast. They can be distinguished only by slight differences in coloring of the face and legs; the White-faced Ibis has red legs, red eyes and a white-bordered reddish face, whereas the Glossy Ibis has darker legs, dark eyes, and lacks the red facial skin.

The White-faced Ibis often feeds in large flocks, and prefers habitats with standing water. Like an oversized shorebird, this species wades in shallow water or wet areas, probing the bottom with its long, sensitive bill. It feeds on a variety of prey, including insects, small crustaceans, worms, fish, and snails, detecting them mostly by sight or by touch. (From the National Audubon Society website.)

Foraging White-faced Ibis

Once I had gotten my fill of this spectacular bird, I turned my attention to the other birds in the wetland. Most noticeable were the large numbers of Great Egrets, Great Blue Herons and Mute Swans, with several dozen of each species. There were some shorebirds present in the mudflats at the edge of the creek as well, notably Killdeer, a Solitary Sandpiper, and both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs.

Great Egrets and Great Blue Herons

Great Egrets

The Mute Swans here are wild, unlike the captive "Royal Swans" of Ottawa which spend their summers floating along the Rideau River. The large size of the swans is apparent when viewed next to the Ring-billed Gulls which were also present.

Mute Swans

Two of them were quite close to the road; however, the rest, perhaps 30 to 40 in all, were much further away. One was even sitting on a nest in the middle of the creek, too far to photograph.

I turned my attention back to the ibis, which had by this time flown to the other side of the road. He joined the Ring-billed Gulls on their rocks and began preening. Although a long-legged bird, the White-faced Ibis doesn't seem all that much bigger than the gulls. The gulls flushed a few times, for reasons known only to them, and when they flew the ibis flew with them.

White-faced Ibis with Ring-billed Gulls

The gulls and the ibis wheeled up into the sky at least twice before settling back on the rocks in the still waters of the creek; the last time the ibis circled around a few times before flying off in a southwesterly direction. We didn't see him return, so perhaps he realized it was time to rejoin his flock in the southwestern states and returned home. I don't believe he was seen in this location again.

Even if the ibis hadn't been present, it was an amazing place, with a mind-boggling number of swans, egrets and herons compared to the lesser numbers we see in Ottawa at any one time. However, with the ibis present, it was definitely well worth the trip to see such a spectacular bird!

Mute Swan

  • Lifer #262 White-faced Ibis