Winter Birds and Summer Birds

On Sunday Deb and I went birding along the Ottawa River. It was still windy with lots of dark clouds moving through, and I wore my winter coat even though the forecast mentioned more showers later in the morning. We stopped at Ottawa Beach first to look for shorebirds, diving ducks and Hudsonian Godwits, but a large flock of songbirds in the trees near the parking lot turned out to be the highlight of our stop. I saw a few juncos moving about the brush, and heard Golden-crowned Kinglets calling in the trees overhead. When I stopped for a closer look I noticed a yellowish bird – some type of warbler – with the group and started examining the flock in detail. I didn’t see that particular warbler again, but I noticed one Nashville Warbler, one Yellow-rumped Warbler, at least two Ruby-crowned Kinglets, and – to my surprise – a Black-and-White Warbler! I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in October before, so seeing one again was like enjoying a little bit of summer.

There were no scoters, Brant, diving ducks, godwits, or shorebirds at Ottawa Beach so Deb and I drove to our next destination, Shirley’s Bay.

We stopped at the Hilda Road feeders before walking out to the dyke. There is only one birdfeeder hanging from the tree, plus a number of small wooden feeding platforms or “tables”. There was lots of seed on the “tables”, and we saw chipmunks, White-throated Sparrows, a White-breasted Nuthatch, chickadees and Blue Jays. I noticed a small bird with a long tail perched atop a tree behind the feeders, and was thrilled to identify my first Northern Shrike of the season! It didn’t stay long, flying off before I could get close enough for any pictures. It seemed strange to see both a Black-and-White Warbler and a Northern Shrike in the same day, given that one lives here in the summer and the other in winter! This theme was to continue for the rest of our walk, with three Field Sparrows and an American Tree Sparrow foraging together in the shrubs near the outhouse at the boat launch.

In the woods we heard tapping, and Deb said that it sounded like a Pileated Woodpecker. She was right – and the woodpecker was tapping on a snag just a few feet beyond the trail. I haven’t seen very many of these woodpeckers lately, so I’ve forgotten just how large and majestic they are when seen up close.

Pileated Woodpecker

A group of birders also pointed out about four Catharus thrushes in the shrubs. Apparently they were drinking from one of the large puddles on the trail before the birders came along and startled them. Deb and I were both able to spot a Hermit Thrush, though there may have been Swainson’s Thrushes as well.

Out on the dyke, a Bald Eagle was sitting in its usual tree across the bay. Apparently there is a nest in one of the large trees nearby, built there earlier this spring, which helped to confirm suspicions that they do indeed breed in the area. We found a couple of shorebirds on the rocks by the first island, but all of them were too far to identify with the exception of a Greater Yellowlegs. There were no Hudsonian Godwits or Black-bellied Plovers on the grassy spit.

Ducks, however, were plentiful. Most of them were on the far side of the bay and were impossible to identify. However, we did observe lots of American Black Ducks and Green-winged Teals near the island, as well as a Northern Pintail, a female Bufflehead, a couple of Wood Ducks, and a couple of American Wigeon a little further out. Beyond those ducks we saw a raft of ducks which might have been scaup, and a group of scoters. Beyond the second island we got another taste of winter when we spotted a male and female Common Goldeneye diving in the river.

By then we were tired of fighting the wind and decided to head back. We were driving down Rifle Road when Deb spotted a hawk sitting in a tree and pulled over. It was another winter visitor – a Rough-legged Hawk!

Rough-legged Hawk

Altogether we saw four “winter” residents, our first of the fall: American Tree Sparrow, Northern Shrike, Common Goldeneye, and Rough-legged Hawk. It was really strange to see summer breeders such as Field Sparrows and the Black-and-white Warbler on the same day, but I guess unsettled and unpredictable weather results in unpredictable birds!

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