My Deerest Friends

White-tailed Deer

Deb and I spent Sunday birding the west end. It was supposed to be sunny and a few degrees above zero; although the temperature “warmed” up as promised, the sun stayed hidden behind a thick bank of clouds all morning. Undeterred, we spent the first half of our morning doing some “car” birding. We checked the agricultural fields in the area between Richmond and Kanata and found a couple of good birds almost right away: a flock of about 50 Snow Buntings in the fields at the intersection of Barnsdale and Twin Elm, and a flock of at least 150 Bohemian Waxwings in the trees a little further along Barnsdale. We watched the waxwings fly down to the ground in ones and twos, and wondered what the attraction was. We had less luck at the Richmond Lagoons and Moodie Drive quarry pond, both of which were almost completely frozen over. There were hundreds of Canada Geese present, but no Snow or Ross’s Geese which we were been hoping to find.


Our car birding (which yielded hardly anything else except a flock of about 7 Wild Turkeys and two Red-tailed Hawks) took us to Shirley’s Bay. Although ice was developing on the water near the shore, the river was still open further out and we saw a large number of ducks towards the first island. We called to get permission to go birdwatching on the dyke then headed out to get closer to the ducks.

The woods were fairly quiet, with only a White-breasted Nuthatch, a raven, a couple of chickadees and a Hairy Woodpecker livening up the gray day with their calls. We were just approaching the fence that blocks the dyke when a small noise in the trees above me caused me to look up. I was startled to see the dark body and white tail feathers of an adult Bald Eagle taking off from a tree branch directly overhead! He must have been sitting right above us as we entered the little clearing. He landed in a tree overlooking the small creek (which was still open) deeper in the woods where it was impossible to get an unobstructed view of him.

A second Bald Eagle was perching in a tree on the opposite side of the bay. We also saw two black ducks, at least six Hooded Mergansers, two Common Mergansers, a couple of scaup, and a large number of Common Goldeneyes. We walked about halfway to the first island to scope the ducks before turning around and heading back to the shore. The bay side was frozen over, though a beaver or muskrat lodge in the middle caught our interest. We didn’t see any sign of the mammal living in it.

Our last stop of the day was the Old Quarry Trail. We saw the usual chickadees, a single Red-breasted Nuthatch, 2 robins, a Pileated Woodpecker, and a small flock of streaky finches which landed at the top of a tall tree. They didn’t sound like House Finches or Pine Siskins; Deb and I both believe they were Common Redpolls, but the light was so bad and they were so far away that we couldn’t see any red on them to confirm their identity. This winter is supposed to be a good one for seeing redpolls according to Ron Pittaway’s Winter Finch Forecast, and I’ve been eagerly awaiting their arrival. They, and other finches such as crossbills and Pine Siskins, have been reported from different spots in Ontario, though not in big numbers. I have yet to see any myself. Unfortunately, we’re not likely to see the lovely Pine Grosbeaks this winter.

The best part of our walk was seeing the White-tailed Deer up close. Almost as soon as we entered the woods two does walked up to us looking for handouts. I scattered some seed on the ground and watched as they ate.

Although I quietly held out a handful of seed, the two does were too skittish to feed right from my hand. One took a couple of faltering steps toward me before becoming interested in the food I had already tossed onto the ground.

A little Red Squirrel also came out to feed on the seeds and nuts; he seems so tiny compared to the deer!

During our walk we saw more deer in the woods, though none of them were as friendly as the two at the trail entrance. It’s amazing how tame the deer are at this trail. I worry that some harm may befall them because they are so trusting of humans, but at the same time it is thrilling to see their graceful beauty up so close.

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