After a cloudy, unsettled week, the Thanksgiving long weekend dawned bright and sunny with beautiful blue skies overhead. Even though I was feeling under the weather, I managed to get out for a couple hours each day to get some exercise and fresh air. On Saturday I went out much later in the morning than normal, after a quick stop at the grocery store; then I went to Jack Pine Trail to enjoy the fall colours and to look for some Fox Sparrows, ducks, and other fall migrants. It was a little cool in the morning, only about 7°C, but the sunshine was warm and the temperature was supposed to rise to about 15°C. It was definitely a beautiful day for a walk in the woods!
The trees seemed to have reached their peak fall colours, and the sunlight filtering through yellow leaves gave the trail a beautiful, soft golden hue. Even the entrance to Jack Pine Trail looked inviting.
I hadn’t gotten very far before I found my first flock of juncos. These birds nest further north in the coniferous woods of the boreal forest and winter in large flocks in open woods and brushy clearings. Although large numbers migrate through the Ottawa region in the spring and fall, only a few small flocks stay the entire winter in places where food and shelter are available like the Fletcher Wildlife Garden and, surprisingly, in the wooded areas by the Trail Road Dump. Stony Swamp is an excellent place to see huge flocks of these small, dark sparrows during migration, and on Saturday morning they seemed to carpet the trail all the way to the OFNC feeder area (which has not yet been put up for the winter).
Although I saw plenty of juncos and a few White-throated Sparrows along the trail, there were no Fox Sparrows around. Normally Jack Pine Trail is the best of the Stony Swamp Trails to find them, although I’ve also seen them at the Beaver Trail and Sarsaparilla Trail in previous migrations. Even though I didn’t find my target species, I found several Golden-crowned Kinglets were foraging high in the evergreens, and heard a robin calling from the depths of the woods. This species has disappeared from the lawns and rooftops of my neighbourhood and is more easily found in the woods where berries are abundant.
My next stop was the boardwalk, where I was hoping to see some different duck species with the resident mallards and perhaps a shorebird or two. The woods surrounding the pond were dressed in their fall colours, and the scene was enchanting.
The water levels have risen quite dramatically, so there were no shorebirds; however, a beautiful female American Wigeon was swimming near the cattails in the center of the pond.
She disappeared behind the cattails, then emerged a few minutes later. To my delight she swam fairly close to the boardwalk, stopped in a shallow spot and began to preen.
Slightly smaller than a mallard, the wigeon is a common and increasingly abundant dabbling duck. Although it breeds in shallow wetlands, ponds, marshes, and rivers in northwestern North America, the American Wigeon can be found throughout the rest of the continent during migration and in winter. It has a smaller bill than any other dabbling duck and is the dabbling duck most likely to leave water and graze on vegetation in fields.
Although the Blue-winged Teals were gone, there were still half a dozen Green-winged Teals in the pond as well. I threw some seed down on the bank to entice the ducks closer, but only the mallards showed any interest….the teals were foraging in an area quite far back from the boardwalk, and the wigeon seemed more interested in preening her feathers.
I left the pond and walked to the back of the trail, where I saw a Hermit Thrush lurking in the thickets. There were no ducks in the pond at the back, so I decided to head back the way I had come rather than proceeding through the meadow. I saw the same flock of juncos, both species of nuthatch, and the usual Blue Jays and chickadees on the way out. It had warmed up a little by then, and there were a couple of chipmunks and Autumn Meadowhawks around in the sunny open areas. Leaving the trail, I thought the outhouse set among the crisp autumn colours looked wonderfully rustic.
After leaving Jack Pine Trail I went for a drive down Moodie Drive where I saw a Red-tailed Hawk perching in a tree and several Hooded Mergansers and scaup in the large quarry pond. I drove by the Trail Road Dump where a small flock of American Pipits were foraging in the weeds just behind the fence. Finally, I went to the Richmond Lagoons, passing a Turkey Vulture gliding over the fields along Barnsdale Road, where I was hoping to see more waterfowl. Only the usual mallards, black ducks, Wood Ducks were present on the water, while a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers foraged in the trees near the parking lot.
It was a wonderful day to be outside, and although I would have liked to have stayed out a little while longer, I was tired and needed to go home to get some rest. The pipits were probably the best find of the day, although seeing the wigeon so close in the pond at Jack Pine Trail was definitely the most exciting encounter. It’s not often I am able to get so close to these beautiful ducks!