By Robyn Gillam
On a blusterous late January day in Pier 4 Park, the wind blew loudly through the trees across a cloudy sky as water heaved in dark mounds in the harbour and ice fragments jangled. However, on Macassa Bay, it was calm. A huge collection of water birds– Canada Geese, Mallards, Trumpeter Swans and the odd Scoter –was parked comfortably on a sandbar stretching halfway to Bayfront Park. Although the bar was pretty crowded and some small birds had to jostle for position, there was remarkably little fighting, only a low, contented hum of subdued quacks and honks.
It’s the location that brings so many different birds together. Outside of the boating channel, the unusually shallow waters provide plenty of easy meals located between the nesting sites of Pier 4 and Bayfront park. The bar is great place to socialize going into breeding season. Unnavigable for boats and sheltered from the strong currents and winds that sweep across the harbour, this is the perfect place to grab an easy meal, meet prospective mates and raise a family. By later in the year, when there are more people around, most of the young are hatched and growing up fast.
A couple of weeks later, the temperature had dropped sharply and the bay and west harbour were covered in a layer of ice, topped by snow. Only Canada Geese could be seen flying around in formation. Mostly, though, they were congregating just of the northern shore of Bayfront park, a favourite location for most water birds. As they marched across the ice, they walked, as well as flew in single file, or in pairs. They might stop to drink at a thawed puddle on the surface, or just sit quietly. However, it didn’t stay quiet for long. There was a crescendo of honking as a formation burst above the treetops and the geese out on the ice answered with many different types of voices.
While Canada Geese like to socialize in close proximity, they also communicate at a distance, through these sounds. Out on the ice, or nearer the shore, they take advantage of different conditions and fewer people to fan out all over the bay as the sun becomes warmer and the spring approaches.
The birds mesh well with their environment, as they have done for millennia. During a thaw there is plenty of food in the shallows and the sandbar provides a place to rest those webbed feet as well as an opportunity to socialize: there is room for all types of birds. A cold snap is particularly congenial for the geese, who can fan out over the snow covered ice, a surface both vast and intimate. A human needs skis or an ice hut, but the geese roam freely, able to walk or fly, if they so choose. The frozen lake is not so much a food source, as the site of play. There is more to adaptation than survival.
For more info see Cornell University’s Website, “About Birds”