Unexpected Surprises

Common Redpoll

Last weekend Deb and I spent the morning birding in the east end.  It’s been a while since we’ve been to the Frank Kenny area, and as we’ve heard no reports from the east end we thought it would be worth taking a look.

The day started out sunny but cold (-14°C), so we were happy to be in the car driving around.  It soon became clear why there have been no reports from the area: there was nothing to see!  We drove from Trim Road to Wall Road and the back roads around Frank Kenny and Giroux and didn’t see a single hawk, let alone a Snowy Owl or a shrike.  There were no Snow Buntings, Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, or American Tree Sparrows to be seen either. All we saw were crows, and, close to the farm buildings, pigeons and starlings.

A stop at Petrie Island produced a few birds of note, including a single Canada Goose on the ice near a couple of fishing huts, two Brown Creepers, and a small group of Common Redpolls flying over.  There was a long patch of open water on the Ottawa River, but there were no ducks or gulls or eagles to be seen.

The only worthwhile stop on our trip was along Milton Road, where we found half a dozen Wild Turkeys, a Rough-legged Hawk and a coyote of all things! I noticed an animal meandering along a field and thought it was another dog at first, as I had just seen one in a field a good distance away from its farmhouse.  I wasn’t sure, however, so I asked Deb to pull over so we could have a look.  She confirmed that it was indeed a coyote, so I brought out the scope so we could have a better look.  I also took a couple of photos, which didn’t turn out too badly despite the distance:



I was thrilled with the find, especially as it’s only the second one I’ve ever seen in the Ottawa area, despite the supposed “infestation”.  Hopefully this fellow is as smart as coyotes are said to be and manages to avoid human contact and survive the winter.

We wanted to go to Mer Bleue, but the closure of Anderson Road put an end to those plans.  We decided to head back to the west end, stopping first at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden where we saw nothing unusual, and then heading south to Manotick.  A male Northern Pintail had been discovered on the open water of the Rideau River below the dam so we decided to check it out.  There must have been 200 ducks resting on the ice on the north side of the bridge, and although we scanned them carefully we couldn’t see the pintail.  Then I noticed a duck resting by herself.  Her flanks were a warm orange colour, and when she raised her head I realized the duck was an American Wigeon!  This was a completely unexpected surprise, and we watched as she jumped into the water and began swimming closer.

American Wigeon
Eventually she climbed back up onto the ice just below the bridge, had a good preening session, and settled down for another nap.  While I was busy photographing the wigeon, Deb noticed the male Northern Pintail on the ice much further away.  He was sitting by himself near the bend in the river, then, like the wigeon, took a short swim in the ice-cold water.  He passed a few Common Goldeneyes before returning to the ice.

American Wigeon

These two species are not typically found in Ottawa during the winter.  However, most ducks only travel as far south as they have to, spending the winter wherever there is open water.  A few years ago Deb and I saw a couple of wigeon at Amherst Island, and one has been reported this year along the Ottawa River near Deschenes Rapids.

Our last stop of the day was the Hilda Road feeders where we were hoping to find the Hoary Redpoll.  We were surprised by the large number of Common Redpolls present, and despite our best efforts couldn’t come up with the frostier-coloured Hoary.  In fact, there were very few species around – only a handful of American Tree Sparrows, Black-capped Chickadees, and Blue Jays were present with the Common Redpolls, which seemed to number at least 100.  A Hairy Woodpecker was feeding on the suet, and although we heard Bohemian Waxwings, we couldn’t find them.

Common Redpoll

The only mammals at the feeder were a couple of squirrels, although we saw one deer and one porcupine in a tree along Rifle Road.  We were hoping to see a Snowshoe Hare but none were present.  It’s been a while now since I’ve seen one at Hilda Road.

Common Redpoll

The redpolls were surprisingly unafraid of me when I got out of the car and stood about five feet behind the feeders among some smaller shrubs.  Some landed practically at my feet to eat the fallen seed, while others perched in the shrubs before flying to the feeders.  A hodgepodge of feeders are now hanging from the small trees, including suet balls encased in orange mesh and what looks like plastic peanut butter jars and pop bottles with openings cut out for the birds.  Some of the latter were lying on the ground – perhaps the victim of the clever squirrels or raccoons.

Common Redpoll

After taking in our fill of the redpolls (perhaps my favourite of all the winter finches) we left them to enjoy their food in peace.

February is such a dreadfully slow, quiet month for viewing birds and wildlife, and despite the paucity of birds in the east end we were fortunate to discover a couple of unexpected species in our travels that day.  Finding birds like the wigeon, the pintail and the redpolls gives me a reason for going out and help keeps my interest alive in the dull, quiet time before spring migration begins.

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