Along the Ottawa River

With so many fantastic water birds being seen right now, where else should Deb and I go on Sunday but up to the Ottawa River? We started off the morning at the Deschenes Lookout where we ran into a number of birders – including Bob Bracken, Chris Lewis, Mike Tate, Bob Cermak and Paul Mirsky – watching the still-present Razorbill. Someone had suggested that this eastern seabird was injured, accounting for its long stay, but we watched it fly rapidly all the way from the ruins on the Quebec side to Bate Island and back without any difficulty whatsoever. In flight the Razorbill looks rather football-shaped, with no neck and a short tail and long, triangular-shaped wings that beat rapidly like a duck’s.

About 15 scaup flew right by us, heading west, followed by a small flock of Common Goldeneye. A lone Brant was bobbing on the water, and smoothly swam in to the shore where people like to feed the ducks. The light was much better today for taking pictures, even though the sun was still very low in the sky.


The Brant began feeding with the mallards and a Canada Goose, so I decided to shoot some video. You can tell it is a juvenile by the white edging on the feathers of its back and the extremely thin white “necklace” around its neck. The Brant appears to be the same size as the ducks!

After a while the Brant swam away again, this time to the gravel point on the other side of the small bay. There were no other ducks or geese there; perhaps he just wanted to feed in peace.


We headed east after that, stopping at Mud Lake to look for the Carolina Wren which was still present in the woods on the west side. Deb had never seen one before, and asked what it sounded like. I told her I couldn’t explain it; just listen for something you haven’t heard before! Sure enough, when I started pishing we heard something calling in the woods. The sound was hard to describe, other than to say it sounded like nothing else I am familiar with! When we moved deeper into the woods, the bird stopped calling. I tried playing the scolding call of the wren on my iPhone, but that failed to elicit a response or confirm that we were indeed hearing the Carolina Wren. Next I tried the “tea-kettle, tea-kettle” song on my birding app, not expecting anything since the breeding season was clearly over. Nevertheless, the bird popped into view, and flew back and forth over our heads while making agitated noises. I stopped the playback and the bird finally landed on a not-too-distant perch. It was definitely the Carolina Wren – bird no. 201 for my year list!

Satisfied with our glimpse of the wren, we drove over to Britannia Point next where we found several birders looking for a rare Western Grebe. We weren’t able to confirm that a distant, shimmery grebe near the Quebec shore was the bird, but we did hear that a couple of Canvasbacks were seen at Andrew Haydon Park, so Deb and I set off in search of them. We found a pair of Horned Grebes, a pair of Red-necked Grebes and one female Long-tailed Duck but no Canvasbacks, so we headed east to see if we could spot them elsewhere. Other stops along the Ottawa River were equally unproductive, but on the lawn near the Britannia Pier we found a Cackling Goose.

Cackling Goose

It wasn’t the small size so much as the extremely short neck that caught our attention. The shape of the head is also quite different from that of the Canada Goose.

Cackling Goose

The Cackling Goose was fairly approachable, and only moved away when a dog-walker came along. Then it settled down on the grass and tried to doze.

Cackling Goose

We returned to Andrew Haydon Park to look for the Canvasbacks again, with no success. I had really been hoping to find these birds as I’ve only ever seen one once before, on an OFNC trip to Presqu’ile in April 2008. We found a dead Great Black-backed Gull in the wooded area along the creek, which appeared to have been dragged there from the beach, a live cottontail rabbit, and a few Lesser Scaup and Green-winged Teals in the pond.

Eastern Cottontail

The Horned Grebes and Red-necked Grebes had moved closer to the lighthouse at Dick Bell Park. Deb and I headed there next to see if we could get some photos; unfortunately, the sun was behind the birds when we reached the park. Still, this was the closest I’d ever been to a Red-necked Grebe and took some pictures anyway.

Red-necked Grebes

We had hoped to make it out to the east end to look for the annual Sandhill Cranes, but as we were having such a great time birding along the Ottawa River we didn’t have time to make the trip. The best birds of the day for me were the Razorbill and the Carolina Wren, followed by the Brant and the Cackling Goose; with these two geese today I’ve now seen 4 species of geese this weekend!


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