On Saturday I went out by myself to follow up on a few sightings in the west end. I started off with a tour of the back roads near Richmond, hoping to find some Horned Larks to add to my Ottawa year list; however, these birds, as well as the Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs they often associate with, were absent. On Rushmore Road I noticed a canine standing at the back of a snow-covered field, so I pulled over to check it out. It wasn’t a domestic dog as I had first thought but a coyote! He just stood there looking at me, and I just stood there looking at him, and neither of us made any move. Then he lay down in the snow, still watching me, so I got out my scope for a better look. I was surprised he didn’t turn his tail and run away!
This is only the third coyote I’ve seen in the Ottawa area since I started birding in 2006, and it was treat to be able to watch him for a few moments. I also heard a couple of Snow Buntings flying over but wasn’t able to locate them.
From there I drove to the Trail Road landfill to search for a White-crowned Sparrow which had been seen near an impromptu feeder near one of the gates. Someone has been putting corn out for the birds beneath a tree just inside the fence, so I stopped by the gate and watched for about 15 minutes. Although there were plenty of chickadees, juncos, tree sparrows, Mourning Doves and Blue Jays in the area I didn’t see the White-crowned Sparrow. I didn’t see any hawks or gulls in the area, either.
Next I drove to Manotick. Another Northern Pintail was spending the winter in the open water below the dam; I didn’t see him, though I found four male Common Mergansers and three females right below the bridge. A muskrat was also on the ice, occasionally diving to the bottom of the river for food and then hauling himself up onto the ice so he could eat.
A quick drive down Earl Armstrong Road produced one Red-tailed Hawk and nothing else. I went home, got some lunch, and decided to go back out a little later. I hadn’t been to Mud Lake since New Year’s Day, so I thought I would spend the afternoon there. I didn’t have the overwintering Carolina Wren on either my year or my winter list, and I intended to go for a walk in the woods to look for it.
First, however, I decided to check out the ridge to look for waterfowl, raptors, and mammals (Eastern Cottontails can usually be found here, though so far I’ve only seen their tracks). There wasn’t much to see on the ridge itself, but when I went down the water’s edge things changed. A large number of ducks, mostly mallards, were resting on the snow, and when they saw me they began to waddle over. I couldn’t resist giving them the rest of my birdseed, and while I was enjoying watching them squabble over the food I heard a familiar “dit-dit” coming from somewhere behind me. My first thought was that it was a Winter Wren, although these birds aren’t known to overwinter here. I turned to look, and sure enough I spotted a small brown bird flying out from the base of a tree trunk near the water’s edge. It landed on a snowbank long enough to scold me, then flew back toward the ridge.
This is the first time I’ve ever seen a Winter Wren during the winter. I was so amazed by the sight of the wren that when I first heard the rattling call of a kingfisher nearby I almost attached no significance to it. A moment later it dawned on me that this was also the first kingfisher I’d observed in the winter and I paid more attention to its call. I saw a bird flying off behind a tree overhanging the water, but whether this was the kingfisher or one of the Common Goldeneyes flying upriver I couldn’t be certain. Even though there were a number of trees between me and the kingfisher, I could still hear it calling, a sound that is unmistakable. I added it to my year and winter list even though I didn’t have any sight confirmation.
While looking for the kingfisher I spotted a beaver ambling out of the vegetation. It crossed the ice and dropped into the water. A minute later it emerged, pulled itself back up onto the ice, and walked back into the vegetation. This time I watched as cut some branches and carried them to the water.
I assume the beaver was stocking up an underwater cache of food for I watched him repeat the process four or five times. I didn’t see a lodge anywhere which made me wonder if he knew that the fast-flowing water here remains open all year.
Although it was snowing by then, I thought why not try for the Carolina Wren as well and make it a two-wren day? Although I didn’t see much on my walk through the woods, I found the wren relatively easily in one of the yards that backs onto the conservation area.
I was happy with the find, as not only did this make it a rare two-wren day in the middle of winter, but I was also able to add both species to my year and winter lists. My winter list stands at 65 species, which is the highest number of species I’ve seen since I started keeping track in 2006-07.
This was one of the best outings I’ve had in the west end in a while; the two wrens and the Belted Kingfisher were all excellent winter birds, and being able to watch the coyote, the muskrat and the beaver for several minutes each was also a rare treat, reminding me how much does go on all around us during the winter even on those outings when we don’t see anything.