A Hermit at Hurdman

Hermit Thrush

Thursday turned out to be the nicest day of the second week of December. Although it was cold, the sun was actually shining for a change and I had bundled up warmly earlier that morning to cope with the -12°C temperatures. Although it was only supposed to warm up to -8°C, I intended to go to Hurdman at lunch to see if I could add a few more species to my winter list. At the feeders I found a couple of cardinals, while further along the trail I came across a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers (one male and one female) working on the same tree. I saw only one House Finch during my walk, and two male Common Mergansers on the river. Although I searched, I couldn’t find either the junco I had seen previously or the White-throated Sparrows Suzanne had said were around.

However, I did find a bird that was just as good as an overwintering sparrow – if not better. I had completed my circuit through the woods and open scrubby area (still no Common Redpolls or Bohemian Waxwings) and, figuring I had seen all there was to see, took the bike path back to the transit station. I was lost in thought, and was startled when I saw a small bird, brownish on top and white below, fly up from the base of a tree next to the path only a couple of feet away from me. At first I thought it was a female junco, until I found it with my binoculars and saw that it had spots on its chest. That’s when I realized it was a Hermit Thrush.

Hermit Thrush

This time of year, most members of the thrush family have flown south to warmer climates. A few species, such as the robin and Hermit Thrush, are hardy enough to survive our Ottawa winters, provided they can find shelter and an abundant source of food. While robins are the most likely species to overwinter in our area, the occasional Hermit Thrush may be found here as well. It remains to be seen whether this individual will stay the winter or head south after our first winter storm, predicted for this weekend…we’re supposed to get a ton of precipitation on Sunday, although at this point the forecast for snow has changed to snow and/or rain and/or freezing rain.

Hermit Thrush

During the beginning of December 2007, I came across a Hermit Thrush at Mud Lake on December 9, 2007. This was the first time I had seen this species in the winter, and it stayed with the robins there for a few days before moving on. The most famous wintering Hermit Thrush, of course, was the one that spent the entire winter of 2007-08 at Hurdman Park, which is how I came to discover this wildlife-rich oasis in the middle of the city. I didn’t see or hear of any overwintering in Ottawa last winter, so coming across this one so unexpectedly was a treat.

Hermit Thrush

After flying up from the base of the tree he attempted to glean food from the tips of the branches, hovering like a Yellow-rumped Warbler or a kinglet, before landing on a branch and eating a buckthorn berry. He then flew over the bike path and landed in the tangles between the bike path and the small feeder-lined trail in the woods. I watched as he spent most of the time investigating the few snow-free patches along the base of a log and around the slender tree trunks before I lost him in the dense shrubs. Hopefully he will discover the suet feeder along the other path, and make good use of it; and while it would be great if he stuck around for the entire winter, I can’t help hoping he will fly south and find a less inhospitable area to spend the winter, as our Ottawa winters can be quite harsh and this one is supposed to be worse than last year due to La Niña. I’ll just have to keep an eye out for him the next time I go back!


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