Even though winter is still a full calendar month away, this year it came early to eastern Ontario. On Sunday, November 16th we got our first real snow of the season. It came down on and off all day, heavy enough at times to make me question going out birding, though it didn’t really accumulate as the temperature warmed up to 0°C in the afternoon.
Saturday was the much better day for birding, though I didn’t stay out too long as it was cold but sunny. I started off with a walk around the ponds by my place, but the sub-zero overnight temperature had resulted in ice forming on about half of the ponds. As a result, there were few birds of interest around – a single Dark-eyed Junco, a small flock of goldfinches, and a Northern Cardinal were feeding in the weedy field, while three Common Mergansers were the only interesting waterfowl on the water. Four Snow Buntings flying over were also great to see – this was the first time I’d seen them over the ponds, bringing my list up to 61 species.
After a couple of days in the low single digits, Remembrance Day started out cool but quickly warmed up to a beautiful, sunny 14°C. Warm days in November are rare, so I took advantage of the weather and went out to Hurdman Park for a walk. I was hoping to find a couple of lingering migrants, or perhaps some Bohemian Waxwings or winter finches, and I thought I definitely had a chance of finding one more Autumn Meadowhawk. The nights haven’t been too cold yet, and there haven’t been any heavy overnight frosts, either, so it seemed likely that one or two of these hardy dragonflies might be out enjoying the final warm day of the season.
The weather forecast last weekend didn’t look too promising. Some snow, some sun, some cold mornings; I wasn’t sure I wanted to go out, but the lure of the outdoors overcame any initial reluctance. Owls are moving through Ottawa on their way to their wintering grounds, so I thought I would spend Saturday morning in the woods looking for the elusive Long-eared, diminutive Saw-whet, and majestic Great Horned Owls, all of which I needed for my year list. After that I planned to go up to the river in the hopes of seeing some scoters, loons, grebes, etc. The snow was supposed to start around 1:00 so that would give me plenty of time to find some good birds.
November arrived cold and blustery. I wore my winter coat for the first time and was glad to have it as the wind was pretty chilly, even though it was still a couple of degrees above zero. We were supposed to get a mix of rain and snow on Saturday, November 1st, but as the precipitation didn’t materialize I was able to get in a good morning of birding. I started my weekend with a stop at the storm water management ponds by my place. The Great Blue Heron was still there, as were four Hooded Mergansers and a female-type Common Merganser. I wasn’t able to pick out any Cackling or Snow Geese amongst the 500 or so Canada Geese, but five Green-winged Teals at the very back of the pond were a nice surprise; this is only the second time I’ve seen this species here.
Late October – it’s not my favourite time of year for birding. The mornings are often cold, requiring a hat and gloves, and the shrubby edge habitats
I wrote about previously are deathly quiet. Gone are the numerous warblers and vireos and flycatchers of yestermonth; pishing may bring out a couple of chickadees, kinglets, sparrows, or if I’m really lucky, a late Yellow-rumped Warbler. American Tree Sparrows and Snow Buntings, winter residents both, have just begun to arrive. I haven’t seen any Snow Buntings yet, but when I visited Hurdman Park on Thursday I saw three American Tree Sparrows as well as several starlings and robins feeding on the wild grapes. I also saw a Northern Flicker and Yellow-rumped Warbler. It’s getting late in the season, so every sighting of these birds could be my last.
The last dragonfly on the wing in Ottawa is the Autumn Meadowhawk. Although individuals start flying in mid-June with the other meadowhawk species, this species’ flight season can last into late October or even early November. They are hardy enough to survive a few light frosts as long as daytime temperatures remain warm and sunny, but once we start receiving a few heavy frosts the remaining population dies off. As the daytime temperature starts to fall, they are often found perching on the ground, sometimes using the surfaces of fallen leaves to warm themselves.
I saw a few Autumn Meadowhawks this week when I visited Hurdman at lunch. I went mostly to look for birds, and on Thursday I counted 11 species on my walk. Highlights included a single Yellow-rumped Warbler and a Northern Flicker, both seen along the feeder path. Large flocks of robins and starlings were feeding on the wild grapes in the same area, and I found three American Tree Sparrows in the vegetation. I also noticed a couple of Autumn Meadowhawks perching on the ground; a pair in tandem flew off toward the river together.
It rained all day on Saturday, so when the sun came out on Sunday I was eager to get out and go birding. My goal was to hit a few spots along the Ottawa River to check out the waterfowl; with the passage of the system that had brought in the wet weather and the drop in temperature the day before, I was hoping to find some scoters, grebes, loons, diving ducks, and perhaps even my first Brant of the year.
On a whim, I decided to stop in at Sarsaparilla Trail first. While I wasn’t expecting another Golden-winged Warbler, I was hoping to find a Fox Sparrow.