After the Storm

Bohemian Waxwing

March has arrived, and this year it came in like a lion. On Saturday the same weather system that triggered a number of tornadoes in the United States moved through Ottawa; 70 km/h wind gusts made birding virtually impossible, though the mild, 4°C temperature made it tempting! Birding in such conditions can often be rewarding, as sometimes birds carried on stormy weather systems end up far beyond their normal range. Indeed, one intrepid birder visiting Britannia Point on the Ottawa River discovered Ottawa’s first Heermann’s Gull roosting on the ice with several other gulls. This dark species breeds on the western coast of Mexico and ventures north to the United States after the breeding season; it is very rare in eastern North America. When the alert went out I joined the group of birders watching the gulls hunkered down on the ice. The wind was vicious and rattled my scope, but I did get a few good looks at a dark bird (gray both above and below) with a white head. The bird was too far away and the lighting too bad for me to discern any other features such as the characteristic red bill. The Heermann’s Gull settled in with the other gulls at dusk but has not been seen since.

The next day the winds had subsided, but the temperature had dropped. It was only -10°C when I left Sunday morning to go look for the Heermann’s Gull. I stopped in at Sarsaparilla Trail first where I found two Mourning Doves sitting on the bench together, a large number of chickadees, and both Red- and White-breasted Nuthatches. The doves flew to the ground when I approached and were still there by the time I had finished the loop.

Mourning Doves

I drove up to the river next. At Mud Lake I saw two Canada Geese resting on the ice behind the ridge, my first of the year, and a few gulls loafing on the ice east of the island. They were too far away for me to decide whether they were Ring-billed Gulls, Herring Gulls, or both, but they all had white bellies. A few birders were watching them through their scopes and said that the Heermann’s Gull hadn’t been seen that morning. On my walk I found a Brown Creeper but little else of interest. So far no new songbirds had arrived.

Brown Creeper

I headed west to look for the Northern Mockingbird, but he failed to put in an appearance. At the end of Grandview Avenue, however, I noticed about two dozen Bohemian Waxwings perched in the top of a tree. There were a couple of denuded Buckthorn shrubs nearby, and several robins were picking up berries from off the ground.

American Robin on snow

A pair of cross-country skiers on the path behind the shrubs startled the robins into taking flight, and the Bohemian Waxwings followed. I, too, left the area and drove over to Rifle Road. The large flock of Bohemian Waxwings Deb and I had seen a few weeks ago was now at the end of Rifle Road, so I stopped to photograph them. This time I noticed a single Cedar Waxwing among the flock. The light was good, so I spent several minutes watching and photographing them even though my fingertips were frozen by then. Here are my favourite photos:


2 thoughts on “After the Storm

  1. I love pictures of the waxwings. He’s such a cool looking bird. We get them down here but they’re kind of inconsistent. This was a good year for them, I saw quite a few flocks and got a few decent shots. But none were as nice as these.

    • Thanks, Robb! The Bohemians really are one of my winter favourites. I find it does take a while to get some decent photos of them….I just stood really still and waited for them to fly to the shrub in front of me. They can be quite skittish, though, and tend to flush every couple of minutes.

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