Spring Arrivals

Song Sparrow After a week of above-zero temperatures (at least by day), the snow has started to melt and migration has begun in earnest. I went out yesterday at lunch to see if I could find any new arrivals.  Rather than heading out to Hurdman Park, I decided to visit Billings Bridge Park a little further upriver to see if I could find a few Red-winged Blackbirds to photograph or the first Wood Ducks of the year.

As I had noted during my outing at Hurdman, the Rideau River is unusually high.  Once again it has spilled over its bank along a small section of Billings Bridge Park, and the low-lying lawn there is under water as well.

The first birds I saw upon my arrival were dozens of Ring-billed Gulls flying over the park and walking around the parking lot, dazzling in their crisp white-and-gray breeding plumage.

Ring-billed Gull

It was a very gusty day, and I caught this fellow with his feathers being ruffled by the wind.  He is walking along a portion of the lawn that is about an inch under water.

Ring-billed Gull

This is an image of the bike path looking west toward the Bronson Street bridge.  Again, there are large puddles on either side of the path where the grass should be.  This is actually not as bad as the flooding I photographed in April 2008 when the waters of the Rideau River came almost all the way up to the parking lot and the bike path shown here was completely submerged.

The bike path through Billings Bridge Park

Three pairs of Canada Geese were present in the park area.  Two pairs were swimming in the river close to the shore, while the third pair was munching on the grass.  This one started honking when I started walking toward him to take a few pictures.

Canada Goose

He joined his mate and kept a watchful eye on me while she fed.

Canada Geese

There were no other spring migrants at the park; I didn’t see any Red-winged Blackbirds, grackles or Wood Ducks, and none of the groundhogs had emerged yet from their hibernation.

Yesterday (Saturday) I spent an enjoyable morning at Mud Lake.  Although the temperature started out at -3°C and only rose to 1°C by the time I left at 1:30pm, the sun’s warmth made the temperature feel much higher.  As soon as I got out of the car I saw a White-breasted Nuthatch creeping down the trunk of a tree right beside my car and heard several Red-winged Blackbirds singing.  I walked along Cassels Street toward the base of the Ridge and found a few sitting right out in the open, calling.

Red-winged Blackbird

I ran into fellow OFNC members Bev and Dave just as I was about to walk up to the Ridge, and when they told me they had just seen a Song Sparrow near the south side of the filtration plant I changed my plans and headed there next. Two cardinals were singing a duet as I walked toward the building, and I heard the Song Sparrow’s distinctive chip note before I saw him scuttling along the edge of the parking lot.

Song Sparrow

He didn’t sing for me as he sang for Dave and Bev, but he gave me some nice views as he searched for food in the gravel.  I tossed some seeds down about twelve feet away, but he flew across the lawn toward the shrubs at the edge of Mud Lake.  There I found two juncos foraging on the ground, a Common Grackle at the water’s edge, and a female cardinal in the shrubs but couldn’t relocate the Song Sparrow.

Song Sparrow

I circled the filtration plant after leaving the juncos.  The water of the Ottawa River is beginning to open up, and about 200 Ring-billed Gulls were loafing on the ice at the water’s edge.  A couple of Canada Geese and about ten Common Goldeneyes were swimming in the channel between the shore and the island.

Walking across the lawn toward the Ridge I found three robins feeding in the grass; this one flew up into one of the conifers when I tried to approach them for a photo.

American Robin

Several Canada Geese were feeding on the lawn as well, and I found more in the area that goes behind the Ridge to the water’s edge.  About six or seven of them and twice as many mallards were being fed by a man right from his hand.  I stayed long enough to ascertain there were no Wood Ducks among them, then left the ducks and geese to their meal.

Canada Goose

I stopped to photograph this Red-winged Blackbird on the Ridge before continuing on my way to the woods.

Red-winged Blackbird

There was still plenty of snow in the woods, and the path was quite icy from the snow melting and then freezing overnight.  The chickadees and two White-breasted Nuthatches came up to me looking for food.  I was happy to oblige them – and the black squirrels that soon followed – by throwing some peanuts and sunflower seeds onto the ground.  As I was busy feeding the birds, my attention was snared by a Brown Creeper which had just flown to the base of a nearby tree.  I abandoned my post as a human birdfeeder to try and get closer to the creeper in order to take a few photos.  I got close enough for one decent photo – probably the best Brown Creeper photo I’ve taken in a while.

Brown Creeper

I was also distracted by the crows which seemed to be harassing something high up in the pines.  I thought the object of their harassment might have been a Cooper’s Hawk or an owl, but when the crows flew off hot in pursuit of their nemesis I didn’t see anything other than a flock of black corvids.  Then I heard the indignant croak of a raven and realized they were trying to chase off a larger corvid!  Ravens have nested in the Mud Lake woods for at least the last two years, and I wondered if the nesting pair had returned.  If so, the crows were certainly not pleased.  This individual was photographed along Cassels Street.

American Crow

It has been an excellent past couple of days, and I accomplished my goals of finding and photographing some of the new spring arrivals.  I can’t wait to see what turns up next!

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