Sparrows in the West End

White-crowned Sparrow

I took the day after Thanksgiving off work, and the bright sunshine and clear blue skies enticed me to go out and look for a couple of birds I hadn’t seen yet this fall. The first was the Orange-crowned Warbler, a drab species which rarely shows its orange crown and migrates later than most warblers. They are less common in the east than in the west, and I usually manage to pick up one each year in the fall – never in the spring. This year I haven’t seen any. The second was the Fox Sparrow, also a bird that is typically found in October. I normally find them in the woods of Stony Swamp, foraging on the ground with flocks of White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. It was a beautiful morning for a walk in the woods, and I headed over to Sarsaparilla Trail first.

Although I found a few White-throated Sparrows and a large flock of Dark-eyed Juncos feeding in the woods, I didn’t see any Fox Sparrows among them. A Brown Creeper singing somewhere close by was a surprise, as was the lack of diversity of waterfowl on the pond – two Hooded Mergansers were the only other ducks amongst the numerous mallards and Canada Geese.

I headed over to Jack Pine Trail next, and while I did see five species of sparrow, the Fox Sparrow wasn’t among them. I found a couple of groups of White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos in the woods, and one Swamp and one Song Sparrow along the boardwalks. There were probably more, but I wasn’t able to identify all of the little brown birds that flew off into the cattails upon my approach. One of them landed in a bare tree instead and I was able to identify it as a White-crowned Sparrow.

Swamp Sparrow

On my walk I came across at least five White-breasted Nuthatches and two Red-breasted Nuthatches, all of which came flying up to me for food. I put some seeds on top of the boardwalk railing and photographed one of the Red-breasted Nuthatches, a male as evidenced by the black cap.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

In the woods I saw one Brown Creeper and heard a Blue-headed Vireo singing. I wasn’t able to locate the vireo as he was perched high up in the canopy and fell silent whenever I got too close. The autumn leaves, however, were gorgeous.

Autumn Leaves

There were several ducks at the first boardwalk, including two American Black Ducks. I hate how the pond is filling in with cattails, but at least there is enough water here to attract some birds. There is barely any open water left at the middle boardwalk….I remember seeing muskrats and a Northern Water Snake in previous years, as well as shorebirds and Common Gallinules. In this photo you can see how the cattails have crowded against the small observation platform at the bend.

Middle Boardwalk at Jack Pine Trail

The day had warmed up enough for a few dragonflies to be flying. The only species I saw was the yellow-legged Autumn Meadowhawk, the last dragonfly on the wing in Ottawa with a flight season that sometimes lasts into November.

Autumn Meadowhawk

I left Jack Pine Trail without seeing any Fox Sparrows or Orange-crowned Warblers, so I drove up to the river to look for grebes and waterfowl. I found three Red-necked Grebes in the middle of the river, several Green-winged Teals close to shore, and a couple hundred Canada Geese in between. There were no egrets in the marsh, but one Great Blue Heron was standing on the island in the eastern pond, preening and watching for fish.

Great Blue Heron

A trip to the boat launch at Shirley’s Bay proved even less productive, so I decided a trip to the Hilda Road feeders was in order. I haven’t been there in a while, and I was hoping it would be quiet as it was a weekday. I was also hoping to find a Fox Sparrow here as I had seen one here before a couple of years ago. When I arrived I saw a couple of Red-winged Blackbirds, a couple of chickadees, a White-breasted Nuthatch, and an American Robin in the feeder tree. I also saw several sparrows – and all of them were White-crowned or White-throated Sparrows!

White-crowned Sparrow (Juvenile)

I wasn’t surprised that there were no Fox Sparrows here, but I was a bit surprised to see no Song Sparrows or Dark-eyed Juncos. The White-crowned Sparrows were a treat, and both juveniles and adults were present. Adults have crisp black and white stripes on their head, while juveniles have gray and rusty-brown stripes. They have a gentle look about them which is evident in both plumages.

White-crowned Sparrow (Adult)

The warm weather (it had reached 15°C) had encouraged the sparrows to sing; I heard a couple of White-crowned Sparrows and one White-throated Sparrow singing somewhere near the feeders. Hearing the song of the White-crowned Sparrow thrilled me as I only hear it occasionally during spring migration. This species breeds up in the Arctic tundra and along the treeline adjacent to Hudson’s Bay, where it sings persistently throughout the day and intermittently during the night, so the only time I see this sparrow is on its journey between its breeding ground in the north and wintering grounds in the southern U.S. Interestingly, White-crowned Sparrows will share their territories with Fox Sparrows, but not with Chipping Sparrows or Dark-eyed Juncos; it will chase both of these species away until they leave.

White-throated Sparrow

The song of the White-throated Sparrow was much more familiar, as this species breeds throughout the Canadian shield in Ontario. Both males and females sing, especially those with a white-striped head (shown above); males and females with a tan-striped head sing less than their counterparts, with the tan-striped females singing only rarely. Mated pairs typically consist of one bird of each colour morph.

White-crowned Sparrow

I enjoyed watching the sparrows feeding and chasing each other away; perhaps one or two will even attempt to overwinter here as they have in the past!


6 thoughts on “Sparrows in the West End

  1. Great minds and all…yesterday morning I birded around the west end and came home with a variety of sparrow photos 🙂 I hope the state of things at the Hilda Rd. feeders improves soon as right now all that seems to be getting stocked is the platform feeders. Heck, if it doesn’t, I might buy a feeder and hang it up there myself. We supposedly have a big influx of winter finches coming.

  2. Did you get any Fox Sparrows? I’ll be heading out shortly to try again for those.

    I hope things at Hilda Road improve soon, too, but it wouldn’t surprise me if the people who used to stock the feeders have stopped as a result of the photographers standing too close. (For those of you who don’t know the history of this wonderful spot, check out my blog entry here.) It wouldn’t surprise me if it were photographers putting out seed on the rocks and on the platforms in order to get some photos….there was one there the same time I was, but she was sitting on a chair across the road and had put some seed on the rock there and some branches above it. I presume her goal was to photograph the sparrows on the branch rather than the rock so that her pictures looked “natural”. Even if we get a good influx of finches, I doubt I will visit Hilda Road unless I can get another weekday off.

    It would be nice if we had another spot to watch the finches, but no one seems to be maintaining the Hurdman feeders either.

      • I found one at Shirley’s Bay on the trail to the dyke this morning, and someone reported one at Jack Pine Trail so they’re around! Also had a Field Sparrow on the dyke for a six-sparrow day (all I was missing was the White-crowned Sparrow).

      • Actually, George has stopped stocking the feeders but someone else has taken his place. Turns out he used to do bird banding at Innis Point. Fife or something. He regularly brings sunflower seeds and puts them on the boulders, platforms and the one hanging feeder that’s left there. The more feeders, the more attention it draws to that location.

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