Birding in 2012

This year is off to a good start. Not a spectacular or particularly impressive start, but a decent start. Only eight days into the new year, my 2012 birding list is already up to 31 species.

My first species of the year wasn’t even a bird. I woke up at 4:00 in the morning on New Year’s Day and looked out the window to see an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit in my neighbour’s backyard, its dark, distinctive bunny-shape visible against the white snow made bright by a cloudy, light-polluted sky. One has been hanging around our subdivision since late September, although I’ve only seen it once. It was a much better find than the American Crow and European Starling which actually managed to tie for the first bird of 2012. Usually it’s one or the other, but when I rolled up the garage door I heard both vocalizing at the same time. I saw the neighbourhood starlings in the tree across the street first, so I designated that as my first bird of 2012 on my official list.

Deb and I spent the morning of New Year’s Day birding together. At Mud Lake we failed to find the Carolina Wren (the one bird I really wanted) but saw the overwintering Northern Flicker, several robins and a Sharp-shinned Hawk. I also heard a single Snow Bunting fly over.

Our next stop was Sarsaparilla Trail where we hoped to find the Barred Owl. We didn’t find it, but we heard some birds which might have been Golden-crowned Kinglets. This trail is a good spot to look for them in the winter. Our last stop was Jack Pine Trail. A porcupine up in a tree was a notable find, but the American Tree Sparrows, Juncos and Purple Finch I saw on Boxing Day were nowhere to be found.

We parted ways after that, but I was determined to find a few more birds for my brand new year list. On my way to the Hilda Road feeders I added a Red-tailed Hawk; at the feeders themselves I saw two of the overwintering Red-winged Blackbirds. From there I drove to the Moodie Drive quarry pond where I found about 50 gulls roosting on the ice. They were closer to the gate than usual, and I added Great Black-backed Gull, Herring Gull, and a single juvenile Glaucous Gull to my year list. On Barnsdale Road I found the American Tree Sparrows and Juncos that we missed at Jack Pine Trail.

On January 4th (which was bitterly cold) I took the bus to Billings Bridge at lunch to see if the American Coot was still there. I found him swimming in the water right below the bridge and spent about five minutes watching him dive. I did not see any beavers or Common Mergansers.

Deb and I went birding again today, but saw far fewer species. We spent most of the morning at the Old Quarry Trail and walked almost 3 kilometres without seeing much of anything. A Pileated Woodpecker at the beginning of our walk was probably the best find, although three tame deer at the Deer John feeder were a close second.

One of them was smaller than the others, and seemed much more skittish. It didn’t seem quite sure what to make of us humans, for whenever it came too close to one of us, it went bounding off away. Based on the size, we guessed it was one of last year’s fawns.

We saw a couple of White-breasted Nuthatches and several chickadees on our walk. There were no Red-breasted Nuthatches, no sparrows, no Blue Jays and no finches. In fact I didn’t even recall hearing a crow! The only other birds we observed were one woodpecker, a Brown Creeper, and a raven calling in the distance.

Deep in the woods we noticed two deer laying down in the snow. They were well away from the trail, and seemed comfortable where they were. They were the only other deer we saw that morning.

At the bridge over the swamp we encountered more chickadees and an irate Red Squirrel. He climbed to the top of this snag in the marsh and began vocalizing.

Red Squirrel

We re-entered the woods, and Deb pointed out some scat on the trail that belonged to a porcupine. Like most rodents, the porcupine’s scat consists of round pellets; however, they can be distinguished by their elongated shape.

Porcupine Scat

A little further down the trail I noticed a porcupine in a tree. He was hanging right above the trail but there were too many branches in the way to photograph him. Porcupines are quite common along this trail, for much further along we came to a spot where a porcupine had voided the contents of its bladder and digestive system. We looked up, and sure enough the porcupine was still there, curled up in a ball on a branch hanging over the trail.

Porcupine waste. If you see this on a snowy trail in the winter time, look up…then avoid
walking directly beneath the porcupine at all costs!

The rest of our outing was even more unproductive. We stopped by the Hilda Road feeders to look for other winter birds and found three Red-winged Blackbirds, a few chickadees and woodpeckers, about 15-20 Blue Jays, and a dozen Mourning Doves. There were no American Tree Sparrows, no finches (the nyger seed feeder is no longer up), no cardinals and no nuthatches. There were no other people there, either, which was a nice change.

We stopped in at Grandview Avenue to look for the mockingbird not once, but twice. No mockingbird. We visited Gourlay Lane to look for a Red-bellied Woodpecker seen there recently. No woodpecker. We stopped by the public works compound on Maple Grove Road to look for the Gray Partridges seen there on Thursday. No partridges. We stopped by the Moodie Drive quarry pond to look for the gulls. The ice was completely and uncharacteristically empty!

Outings like this make me seriously consider putting my binoculars away until mid-March. Fortunately, the thought never lasts long. Especially since the sunshine was gorgeous and it really was a good day for a long walk in the woods.

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