The winter listing period began on December 1st, but it sure didn’t feel like winter as temperatures were still mild with highs above or around 0°C, and Ottawa hadn’t yet received any significant snowfall. I spent my lunch hour at Hurdman, hoping to pick up a few birds for my list, but finding only the most common species – Mallards, Common Goldeneyes, Herring and Ring-billed Gulls, chickadees, starlings, a cardinal and a goldfinch. The rivers haven’t begun to freeze, which means I have a good chance of picking up a lot of waterfowl species early in the listing period.
Saturday started out chilly, but the temperatures rose to 2°C by the time I was done birding. I took a quick drive around the agricultural fields between Kanata and Richmond while waiting for it to warm up, and encountered about 200 Snow Buntings on Rushmore Road, 200 Snow Geese and a Pileated Woodpecker flying over Moodie Drive, a couple thousand Canada Geese, 3 Ring-necked Ducks and 5 Common Mergansers at the Moodie Drive quarry, and a Red-tailed Hawk and a few Great Black-backed Gulls near the dump along Trail Road.
A quick stop at Sarsaparilla Trail added a Common Raven and both nuthatches to my winter list. A light dusting of snow covered the trail, and the pond was completely frozen. There were no waterfowl present except for a few Canada Geese flying overhead, and I didn’t see or hear any of the Golden-crowned Kinglets, robins, or Brown Creepers I was hoping to see.
After that it was time to check out the river. I drove over to Shirley’s Bay, but the bay on the western side of the dyke was completely frozen, and an adult Bald Eagle there was the only species of interest. Hoping that there would be a good variety of waterfowl at Andrew Haydon Park, I went there next, and was not disappointed. A tissue paper-thin layer of ice covered about half of each pond, but there were numerous Lesser Scaup and Canada Geese enjoying the open water. Males were beginning to attain their breeding plumage again.
The females still looked like females.
I caught one in the act of flapping her wings, or perhaps conducting an avian orchestra. The other scaup on the pond just ignored her, while the geese responded by honking with gusto.
I made my way over to the river to look for more waterfowl. There weren’t as many species as I’d hoped; I was happy to find 10 Common Goldeneye, 2 Bufflehead, and a single Black Scoter swimming with a group of scaup. Making my way around the ponds, I was surprised but pleased to find a juvenile Great Blue Heron standing at the edge of the pond near the band shell. Although the area he had claimed was iced over, it appeared he could still see the fish through the ice.
This is only the second time I’ve seen a Great Blue Heron in December since I started listing, and I wonder if it’s the same individual I photographed in the same spot back in mid-October.
Great Blue Heron close-up
The heron wasn’t the only one who had to put up with the ice. I was amused when three Canada Geese resting on the shore decided to go for a swim and, instead of sinking into the water as soon as they stepped off solid ground, started skating! They didn’t seem to know what to make of the ice, but hobbled along until the first one gave up, flew a couple of feet, then crashed through the ice when he landed! The second and third birds followed, and they all seemed happy after that.
Going for a skate
There were more scaup on the eastern pond, and I estimated that at least 70 were present in total. The light was great, and the ice in the center of the pond pushed them close enough to the shore to get some great shots, so I spent an enjoyable half-hour photographing them. Three of the males were almost in full breeding plumage, and I concentrated on getting photos of them. These are my favourites.
Emerging from a dive
Just passing by
I was off to a great start on my winter list; it was only the third day of December and already I was up to 29 species! I also returned home with a memory card full of photos, something that seems to happen less and less as the bugs and birds disappear and winter sets in.