Mid-Fall Birding

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

October is here, and that means migration has shifted from swallows, flycatchers, tanagers, and orioles to kinglets, sparrows, finches, and waterfowl. I had an incredible birding weekend, and saw many mid-season migrants that were either year birds or my first of the fall.

Saturday was not only beautiful in terms of weather (sunny, with temperatures rising to at least 17°C), but also because of the fall colours. There were birds everywhere, represented by a number of different species, and I don’t think I’ve ever had such an incredible day this time of year.

I started the morning off at Sarsaparilla Trail where I tallied 20 species. Highlights included two female Northern Shovelers swimming with a group of mallards right near the boardwalk; a couple of Red-winged Blackbirds and Swamp Sparrows singing in the marsh; my first Dark-eyed Juncos of the season; my first Fox Sparrow of the season; and a Nashville Warbler near the picnic shelter. A few Red-breasted Nuthatches, a Brown Creeper, and both kinglets (including a singing Ruby-crowned Kinglet) were foraging in the trees right next to the parking lot, while some White-throated Sparrows were scurrying among the thick tangles near the picnic shelter.

Sarsaparilla Trail

Sarsaparilla Trail

From there I headed over to Andrew Haydon Park to see if I could find the Brant or the scoters Bruce Di Labio had reported the day before. I didn’t have any luck, but I did see two Wood Ducks and five Blue-winged Teals swimming in the marshy area at the west end of the park. It seems rather late in the season for the Blue-winged Teals, to me….normally they are the first waterfowl to migrate south in the fall, before many Arctic species show up.

In contrast, the birding at Shirley’s Bay was fantastic. At the boat launch I spotted a raft of scaup out on the river and a winter-plumaged Horned Grebe (a year bird for me) swimming near the base of the dyke. I decided to walk along the river to the dyke and found several White-throated Sparrows, Golden-crowned Kinglets, Ruby-crowned Kinglets and a Blue-headed Vireo along the way. One Ruby-crowned Kinglet was extremely responsive when I started pishing, and I managed to capture a couple of decent shots. Again, notice the orange feet:

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

There wasn’t much visible from the dyke, but a Great Egret on the far side of the bay caught my attention. I walked back through the woods, where I found a huge flock of birds, most of which were White-throated Sparrows, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, but I did see two Winter Wrens, a Hermit Thrush, a Black-throated Blue Warbler (female), a Nashville Warbler, something that might have been a Black-throated Green Warbler, something that might have been a Blackpoll Warbler, a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers, a couple of Blue-headed Vireos, a couple of Brown Creepers, and a Hairy Woodpecker. This vireo actually sat on a branch for a couple of moments before flying across the trail and disappearing into the foliage on the other side.

Blue-headed Vireo

Blue-headed Vireo

I followed the path to the chain-link fence at the edge of the DND property and found two more Winter Wrens ambling along fallen logs. As I was watching the wrens, I was amazed to hear a Ruffed Grouse drumming! I would have liked to have seen the grouse, as it’s been a while since I’ve gotten a good look at one.

Shirley's Bay Woods

Shirley’s Bay Woods

The open area by the chain-link fence can be a great spot for migrants – especially warblers, flycatchers, and Gray Catbirds in early to mid-September – but I didn’t see or hear anything other than a couple of chickadees. Darners sometimes can be seen here, too, but on Saturday they were absent despite the fine weather. I did run into a fellow birder, Nick, who told me he had seen flocks of Brant and White-winged Scoters from the east end of Grandview Avenue. I told him what I had seen, and then we parted ways.

Shirley's Bay Woods

Shirley’s Bay Woods

The walk along Shirley Boulevard proved unproductive, though the asters blooming along the roadside were beautiful.

Fall Asters

Fall Asters

Driving along Rifle Road, I kept noticing small creatures moving in the middle of the road. They were all moving from the west side to the east side, so being curious, I stopped to take a look. They were Woolly Bear caterpillars! I moved one off to the side of the road, and carefully tried to avoid running over any others.

Woolly Bear Caterpillar

Woolly Bear Caterpillar

I drove over to Grandview Road and turned east onto Nesbitt Street, which has an access onto the river at the end. Right away I spotted six White-winged Scoters swimming fairly close to shore, all of which were males in breeding plumage. It’s not that often that I see male scoters in breeding plumage, so it was a treat to see them with their yellow bills and the white comma below the eye. Much further out I saw a huge flock of birds in flight, likely disturbed by a passing boat. I wasn’t able to focus on any of them before they flew out of view. Although I was disappointed I didn’t see any Black Scoters, Surf Scoters or Brant (all of which I need for my year list), I was happy to get the White-winged Scoter for my Ottawa year list.

On Sunday I revisited the river just before the rain started. It was a cool, windy, gray day and all of the waterfowl appeared to have cleared out. I didn’t see any scoters, Brant, or grebes from either Andrew Haydon Park or Dick Bell Park. A stop at the Richmond Lagoons was more productive with a single Snow Goose swimming in the middle cell with a bunch of Canada Geese, mallards, Green-winged Teals and a pair of Northern Pintails. The Snow Goose was another year bird for me. I was still hoping for an Orange-crowned Warbler but didn’t see any songbirds other than a few sparrows.

Snow Goose

Snow Goose

From there I went to Jack Pine Trail. Even with the imminent rain there were a fair number of people on the trails; I was hoping it would be quieter.

Jack Pine Trail

Jack Pine Trail

There were lots of White-throated Sparrows in the woods, along with a few juncos, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, a few Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a few Golden-crowned Kinglets, and one yellowish warbler that might have been a Blackpoll or a Bay-breasted Warbler. It had a lot of yellow on the head and throat, and it moved too quickly to see the colour of the feet. I saw one Red-winged Blackbird perched in a tree at the edge of the marsh and two pairs of White-crowned Sparrows, each pair consisting of an adult and a juvenile.

This chipmunk froze when I spotted him beneath a hand-made feeder; it and the squirrels were the only mammals of interest.

Eastern Chipmunk

Eastern Chipmunk

It was an incredible weekend of birding, and I was thrilled to see so many fantastic species, from the Snow Goose and Horned Grebe to the Fox Sparrow and Black-throated Blue Warbler. I think that of them all, my favourite was the Winter Wren….they are such feisty, energetic creatures that never fail to voice their disapproval with a sharp “dit-dit!” whenever they catch a glimpse of me. Because of their habit of foraging in tangles of fallen branches they are difficult to photograph, and even seeing one out in the open for more than a moment is an experience to be treasured.

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