The next day Deb and I visited the east end, mainly to see if the Sandhill Cranes were feeding in their usual fields near Smith and Milton Roads. Although they had been seen on the day of the Ottawa Fall Bird Count, none had been reported since. We weren’t sure if this was because people had been looking for them and not finding them, or if nobody was actually looking. I suspected the latter when we arrived at Milton Road and found a large flock of cranes in the field behind the house right near the corner. We could hear them calling to one another, a sound I find both soothing yet somehow prehistoric, and when I conducted a head count I came up with about 80 birds. Of course, more were grazing with their heads down, so it is possible that were over a hundred!
They started flying to a field further back, so we drove around the corner to see if we could spot them from Smith Road. We could, but they were no closer than they were before and we were looking into the sun so I wasn’t able to take any photos. This seemed unimportant a moment later when I saw a bird fly over our heads and immediately recognized it as a raptor. It landed in a tree beside the road, where we were able to identify it as a Merlin. Unfortunately a group of crows also noticed it, and three immediately flew over and landed in the same tree. The Merlin didn’t appreciate having three crows squawking at it and immediately took to the air. I thought the crows were going to chase it off, as we’ve seen them do with Red-tailed Hawks, and was delighted when I realized the Merlin chasing them instead! Two of the crows made a quick escape over the fields, but the third headed for the thick stand of trees next to one of the houses. Deb and I watched in amazement as the Merlin chased the crow around and around and back and forth through the trees, the crow protesting with an indignant squawk every now and then. We don’t know who won that fight, but we were both delighted to see the Merlin turn the tables on the crow.
Our next stop was the Giroux quarry ponds where we found two Double-crested Cormorants and at least 20 Common Mergansers swimming in the northern pond. There were no shorebirds, and no other waterfowl species other than Canada Geese, so we headed up to Petrie Island next. I was surprised to find a couple of dragonflies in a sheltered area on one of the south-facing trails; although it was sunny and not quite 10°C, we’d had a couple of hard frosts over the past week and I thought they were finished for the season.
Altogether we found about ten Autumn Meadowhawks, all hunting in sunny, sheltered areas of the trail. These are the latest-flying dragonflies in our area; once they are gone, there will be no more until late April or May when the emeralds and whitefaces begin to emerge.
Deb and I heard something rustling in the tall, dead grass, which turned out to be a chipmunk. A second one was sitting at the base of a tree, pretending to be invisible.
We didn’t see many birds on our walk along the Bill Holland trail. We found at least three Brown Creepers, and seven Common Mergansers flew in and landed in one of the bays as we watched. A couple of Wood Ducks were also a good find.
Because there was so little to see, Deb and I returned to the west end to check out the Moodie Drive quarry pond. We were hoping that the Snow Geese were still there, and indeed they were. We found several in the pond, and later they all flew off, heading north to the next pond.
Although we didn’t tally as many species in the east end as we typically do in the west end, I’m glad we went; the Sandhill Crane was a year bird for me, and watching the Merlin chase the crow was priceless!