Bob and I could think of no better way to shed the winter blahs than to go for a hike at Tommy Thompson Park, on the Leslie Street Spit here in Toronto, Ontario. That is where we came across a raft of Redhead Ducks.
Tommy Thompson Park is only open to the public on weekends and holidays, so we seized a recent sunny, warm Sunday to explore the protected habitat.
As we made our way out along the man-made peninsula, Bob and I followed the shoreline that overlooks Lake Ontario proper. We have seen a mink in the past, making its way from the protected harbour to lakeside, and thought we might be lucky enough to come across one this day, but no such luck.
About two-thirds of the way out the spit from the entrance gate, there is a small lift bridge, and at that location, the water had remained open all winter long.
As a consequence, it was a magnet for wintering ducks, swans and geese in light of the fact that most rivers and lakes had totally frozen over. Even a large percentage of the surface area of the Great Lakes had become a solid mass of ice.
There was everything from Greater Scaups to Common Goldeneyes, and Mallards to Long-tailed Ducks, but the Canvasback Duck that had been seen only a day earlier did not make a show on this lovely March afternoon.
A regular feeding frenzy ensued over the length of time that Bob and I stood on the bridge. It was of particular interest to watch the Redhead Ducks when they surfaced after diving in search of food. This one has a zebra mussel clasped between its upper and lower bill.
Quite the drama would unfold each time any zebra mussel-bearing duck popped to the surface, and it would immediately become the main attraction. In this case, other ducks followed in pursuit, hoping that the Redhead Duck would become clumsy and drop its tasty morsel for another to promptly steal.
It was no simple matter for any of the Redhead Ducks to ingest the zebra mussels. Often, so many of them would be stuck together that a duck would shake its head or manipulate the mussels in its bill to try to dislodge one from the other and make it easier to swallow.
Redhead Ducks were not the only species enjoying the benefits of the prolific zebra mussel population. Here, we see a Greater Scaup about to swallow one.
With the bright sunshine the day we visited Tommy Thompson Park, it was easy to see why the ducks were so active. Just like the rest of us, they were soaking up the warmth of the strengthening rays of the sun.
It would only be a few short weeks before the ducks could swim freely all along the shoreline of Lake Ontario. As it was, the sun was working its wonders and eroding the ice to a dangerously thin thickness.
It was such a pleasure to see so many of the beautiful Redhead Ducks in one location. Their bright red heads certainly were shown to great advantage.