Saturday 14 September 2013

Gannet in The County!

I decided yesterday that I was overdue for a trip into "the county" as people around here like to call it. My first stop was Charwell Point, an amazing spot that Brandon showed me not long ago - it has a nice mix of habitats: a good duck/heron pond, a beach, and an area of big willows that attracts migrant passerines. It is also a small peninsula in Lake Ontario.

I was happy that I brought rubber boots; even with them I almost got wet crossing the "gull pond" that is in the middle of the point.  I suspect that because the water is so deep there this year, duck hunters weren't using the spot as frequently.  It was quiet for birds, so I decided to do a short lake watch at the end of the point.  I'm glad I did! After not seeing much I noticed a big white bird coming in from the east -  I put up my binoculars and was floored to see an adult Northern Gannet! I snapped a couple photos as it flew by. I pulled my scope off my tripod and set my camera on it to get a video of the bird once it had landed on water.  The bird continued further and further back to the east, where I eventually lost it.  The entire duration of this was 5 minutes (9:25 - 9:30 am).

Here are some pics and a video (you need to watch the video in HD otherwise you don't see much):

That was the highlight of the day, however, bird activity did pick up: I saw a couple nice flocks of warblers and I finished at Charwell Point with a decent 63 species.  See my complete eBird checklist.

Gannets, while common at breeding colonies (like Bonaventure Island) and elsewhere on the east coast are very rare here in Ontario, with usually only a few per year at best. Of those, the vast majority are first year birds that presumably wander up the St. Lawrence and eventually make it to Lake Ontario. In fact, prior to 2013 there were only 3 records of adult gannets accepted by the OBRC:

-May 13, 1983 at Prince Edward Point, Prince Edward County found by RKF Edwards
-November 24, 1990 at Moore Point, Durham Region found by Brian Henshaw
-October 23, 2012 at Netitishi Point, Cochrane District found by Josh Vandermeulen and Alan Wormington

The bird I saw is quite likely the same adult gannet that has been "stuck" on Lake Ontario for several months.  Here's the eBird map showing gannet sightings in the past year:

Adult gannet sightings from Lake Ontario in eBird since last fall
Those records, plus a couple not shown on this map that I knew of (please contact me if you know of others) are listed below in chronological order:

-September 1 at Hamlin Beach State Park, Monroe County, NY by Dave Tetlow
-October 13 at Gravelly Bay, Jefferson County, NY by Antony Shrimpton
-October 21 at Derby Hill, Oswego County, NY by Bill Purcell and Ken Burdick
-May 1 at Prequ'ile Provincial Park, Northumberland County, ON by Fred Helleiner
-May 7 and 18 at Hamlin Beach State Park, Monroe County, NY by Andrew Guthrie
-July 25 at Presqu'ile Provincial Park, Northumberland County, ON by Steve Oswald
-September 1 at Brandon's Condo, Hamilton, ON by Brandon Holden
-September 10 at Colonel Sam Smith Park, Toronto, ON by Garth Riley and David Pryor

Given the rarity of adults on Lake Ontario, there is a strong argument to be made that these all involve the same bird.


  1. Nice! Do you ever get big waves off the tip of Charwell Point? It looks pretty exposed there...

    1. Hi Bob, the whole south shore can have pretty good waves, especially off Point Petre just to the west.