Adding to the Winter List

The following day Deb and I spent the morning birding along the Ottawa River. There were only two weeks left until Christmas, and we wanted to make the most of our morning as we weren’t sure whether we’d be able to get out together again before the new year. We agreed to meet at 7:30, not realizing just how short the days had become; the sun had barely risen when I left, and a sun pillar was visible in the sky. The sunrise was gorgeous, but by the time I was able to pull over onto the shoulder in a safe place the sun pillar had become nearly invisible. One of the bonuses of winter birding is that the sun is so low in the sky in the morning, atmospheric phenomena such as sun dogs and other ice crystal halos are often visible.

Morning Sunrise (with sun pillar)

We started the morning at Ottawa Beach to look for gulls and waterfowl, and were successful in the gull department. An adult Glaucous Gull was sitting on the ice in front of the spit with several Herring and Ring-billed Gulls, his bright white wing-tips immediately capturing my attention. A few Great Black-backed Gulls, both adults and juveniles, were also present. Unfortunately the Glaucous Gull was sitting off to the left, and there was too much water on the path and too many reeds in the way to photograph him. I took a few pictures of the three other species instead:

Gulls

At Andrew Haydon Park we found two female scaup sleeping in the Ottawa River near the shore, but none in the ponds. The juvenile Great Blue Heron from last weekend was also gone. On the river, two Common Mergansers and one Red-breasted Merganser, all female, were swimming toward the marina at Dick Bell Park. The only other waterfowl species present were Canada Geese, mallards, Common Goldeneyes, and American Black Ducks. We also saw a single muskrat swimming in the eastern pond.

We stopped in at Dick Bell Park to see if the Snowy Owl reported there earlier in the week was still there; it was, resting on the docks of the marina, looking quite sleepy.

Snowy Owl

Our next stop was Shirley’s Bay. The fields along Rifle Road were particularly productive, as we saw about 15 Wild Turkeys and perhaps 10 White-tailed Deer feeding in the grass. Ottawa still hasn’t received much snow, which means the deer are able to find plenty of food. Deb and I didn’t stop, but continued on our way to the Hilda Road feeders.

Or feeder, rather, as only one feeder was still hanging from the tree. The rest were all gone, either taken down or stolen. The little tables were still there, as were the suet holders on the birch tree, and all of them were completely empty. Although one other car was parked at the feeders, its owner was there solely to photograph the birds rather than to feed them (I’ll have to blog more about this later; the self-serving behaviour displayed by this individual is a prime example of why the Hilda Road feeders are no longer an enjoyable place to visit). Feeling bad for the few chickadees and Blue Jays which seemed to be watching us expectantly, I brought out the bag of bird seed I always carry with me, and divided the contents between the tables and the feeder.

Blue Jay

As soon as I got back in the car, a few more Blue Jays appeared out of nowhere to snatch up the peanuts I had set out, a Downy Woodpecker landed on the feeder, and a couple of American Tree Sparrows appeared. It didn’t take long for a Red-winged Blackbird and a male cardinal to fly in and check things out. The blackbird was an unexpected surprise, and a terrific addition to our winter list; he immediately flew down onto the table feeder and began to eat, ignoring the other birds that came and went.

Red-winged Blackbird

Our last stop of the day was the boat launch at Shirley’s Bay. A Hooded Merganser was the only new species of waterfowl for the day; and even from the boat launch I could see a Bald Eagle sitting in a tree on the shoreline on the other side of the dyke. Of course, it was visible only through the scope, and we were pleasantly surprised to see a second Bald Eagle sitting in the nest. Perhaps we will have some eaglets next spring!

We split up after that, and I returned to Ottawa Beach and Andrew Haydon Park to see if either the Glaucous Gull or the muskrat was still around. The sun had come out by then, and even though the Glaucous Gull had gone, I took more photographs of the gulls that remained.

More Gulls

The muskrat was still present at Andrew Haydon Park, but quickly dove beneath the water’s surface when I approached the pond. I waited for him to emerge; however, he must have had a burrow somewhere close by, for he completely disappeared. The juvenile Great Blue Heron was back in its accustomed spot near the band shell and two female Lesser Scaup had joined the mallards in the pond.

Mallard drake

Lesser Scaup (female)

By the time I was ready to leave and get some lunch, the day had become almost warm; I regretted having to go home and leave the ducks and other animals to their own devices. Altogether I had added six new species to my winter list – Glaucous Gull, Red-breasted Merganser, Snowy Owl, American Robin, Downy Woodpecker and Red-winged Blackbird – bringing my total up to 44 species; not bad for the first 11 days of December! My complete and up-to-date Winter List can be found here.

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