Mer Bleue on the First Day of Spring

Pileated Woodpecker Deb and I returned to the east end on Sunday.  Now that the Canada Geese have arrived in massive flocks, we wanted to check out the traditional spring flooding areas along Milton and Frank Kenny Roads to see if we could come up with a Snow Goose, Killdeer or some puddle ducks among the flocks.  We found the geese without any problem….there must have been over 5,000 at each spot along the Bear Brook floodplain!  Despite spending a great deal of time scanning the flocks, however, the only other species we could come up with was Ring-billed Gull.  We didn’t even see any mallards.

There were a few other birds of interest around, including a couple of flocks of Wild Turkeys, a single Horned Lark on Giroux Road, and a couple of Red-tailed Hawks at the same spot on Russell Road although on opposite sides of the road.  We also had our first muskrat of the year swimming in a water-filled ditch on Milton Road and three deer on Giroux Road.

Since we didn’t make it to the Mer Bleue bog on our previous outing to the east end, we spent about an hour there first thing in the morning.  The first bird we heard was a robin calling from a tree top just off the parking lot, along with a couple of Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles near the gazebo.  There was a porcupine asleep high in a tree by the picnic area, the first one I’ve photographed in 2011.

Porcupine

There was a thin layer of frost on the ground, but at least the snow had all melted in the open areas.  Deb pointed out some pussy willows with soft, fuzzy catkins just beyond the boardwalk, a wonderful sign of spring.  They were too far off to photograph.

Mer Bleue Boardwalk

A couple of Red-winged Blackbirds were ambling along the boardwalk, perhaps searching for seed left for them by previous visitors; this one flew into the marsh as soon as we approached and began calling.

Red-winged Blackbird

It was lovely to hear the sound of so many Red-wings singing in the marsh, and since there was no background traffic noise to detract from the experience I decided to shoot a short video:

He was very cooperative, and in appreciation of his song I left some sunflower seeds for him on the boardwalk rail.  We then continued along the boardwalk, which looked lovely with the frost crystals sparkling in the sunlight.  Although frozen, the water level of the bog was quite high, reaching the bottom of the wooden planks.

Mer Bleue boardwalk

As we walked along, Deb and I noticed several tiny moths fluttering in the plants next to the path.  They were difficult to photograph as they were so small; this was the best photograph I could manage.  The warm sun and still, windless day must have enticed them to come out of hibernation even though the air temperature was still quite cold.

Unknown moth

Another image of the picturesque boardwalk:

The boardwalk

Although we didn’t see any other wildlife in the bog, we noticed evidence of beavers at both ends of the boardwalk in the marsh.  We saw a small lodge and a small dam at the beginning of the boardwalk, and two large beaver lodges at the end of the boardwalk.

Beaver Lodge #1

One of the lodges was right next to the boardwalk.  Deb climbed on top to see if she could hear any sounds within but was unsuccessful.  It would be interesting to return early one morning after the ice melts to see if the beavers are active.

Beaver Lodge #2

After leaving the boardwalk we found more bird species in the woods, including a Pileated Woodpecker tapping on the tree right above the trail.  A Hairy Woodpecker was also foraging nearby.

Pileated Woodpecker

The OFNC maintains a feeder in a small grove of conifers, and the bird activity here was amazing.  Although only chickadees seemed to be using the feeder, we noticed Mourning Doves, Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Redpolls and American Tree Sparrows feeding on the ground.  A couple of Blue Jays were calling close by, and a robin was singing prettily just beyond the woods.  We even heard a couple of American Tree Sparrows singing, although it took me a couple of minutes to realize that’s who was singing.  Surprisingly there were no nuthatches in the area.

When we left the trail, the porcupine was still sleeping in the same position.  We noticed a second one in another tree behind the parking lot, along with a number of Common Redpolls.  A fellow birdwatcher was leaving just as we were, and pointed out an unexpected bird in a tree close by: a male Eastern Bluebird!  Although we thought he was unusually early, Chris Lewis says he’s right on time.  He fluttered down to the ground occasionally, perhaps gleaning insects from the leaf litter.  This was one of the best birds of the day.

Porcupine
We decided to go to Earl Armstrong Road next to see if any other bluebirds had arrived.  Unfortunately we didn’t see any new spring arrivals other than a Great Blue Heron flying overhead.  We did see a groundhog, though, my second of the day (and year) and Deb’s first.  It was a great day for mammals!

While we were driving, I picked up an email message from Ontbirds advising that two Ross’s Geese had just been seen in the west end close to home!  Deb and I headed to Twin Elm Road just north of Cambrian, where a whole field was flooded with water.  Much of the Jock River close by, however, remained frozen.

The two Ross’s Geese were easy to pick out; they were the only two small, bright white geese with the multitude of Canada Geese.  I did ask one observer how to tell that they were both Ross’s Geese and not Snow Geese, and he advised that the Ross’s Goose has a round head rather than a triangular head, and the bill is quite stubby.  Further, the Snow Goose has a prominent “grin patch” whereas the Ross’s Goose doesn’t.  Although none of these features are visible in this photo, the image does show how clearly they stand out from the larger Canadas.

Ross's Geese and Canada Geese

The Ross’s Goose, once considered rare in eastern Ontario, now shows up in Ottawa annually, though never frequently or in great numbers.  It breeds in the far north, and its migration route to its wintering grounds in the southwestern United States traditionally used to be much further west, over the prairies.  However, this species’ range has been expanding eastward since the 1950s, both on the breeding and wintering grounds.  Deb and I were thrilled to find this goose so easily; we’d only seen this species once before, separately, when a single Ross’s Goose spent several days in the fields along Milton Road in the fall of 2009.

With this addition to the day’s list, we considered our outing a success.  Even though we didn’t see everything we wanted to – such as the puddle ducks or Snow Geese or Killdeer – we still managed to see some fantastic, yet unexpected birds.  That’s what makes birding and nature-watching so rewarding and so interesting.

I added a final mammal and year bird to the day’s list after I got home.  The chipmunk which had appeared in my yard on St. Patrick’s Day was back again, this time sitting in the bird feeder stuffing his cheeks.  This was my first chipmunk of the year, and is likely the one I had last year since he came up to the deck to take the seeds I left for him there.

Eastern Chipmunk

Later in the day, I was surprised to see a Turkey Vulture soaring above our subdivision!  Other recent yard birds include at least four different cardinals; I’ve seen two males together, and one male with two females on a separate occasion.  A male and female were in my backyard yesterday morning looking for food.  A pair of Mourning Doves comes to my feeder frequently, and can sometimes be seen sitting on the fence together.

The grackles have returned, frequently showing up in small flocks, and once I noticed a Red-winged Blackbird among the flock in the tree across the street.  So far I’ve seen none of the blackbirds at my feeder.   A pair of House Finches shows up at my feeder every now and then, though I hear the male singing most mornings.  I’ve also seen a robin twice now.  Spring is here, and it won’t be long until migration is in full swing!

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