Thanksgiving Goose Chase

Brant

Brant

The Thanksgiving long weekend is one of my favourite holidays. The fall colours are at their peak here in Ottawa, and the days are usually still warm enough to wear T-shirts. Migration brings an interesting assortment of birds, while a few butterflies and dragonflies are still flying. If the afternoons are warm and sunny, you may even see some frogs or snakes enjoying the last of the nice weather.

On Friday I visited Hurdman at lunch and was happy to hear the loud, ringing song of a Carolina Wren. This is likely the same bird I saw back on September 13th; the habitat is good in this section of the park, with lots of dense thickets and thick, deciduous woods, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he stayed a while longer.

I also found a pair of Double-crested Cormorants sitting on one of the rocks close to the shore, perhaps the same pair I saw sitting on the same rock when I visited the park earlier in the week!

Double-crested Cormorants

Double-crested Cormorants

On Saturday I attended Richard Waters’ OFNC outing “Wild goose chase in the west end”. His goal was to repeat the October 12, 2009 feat when someone found all six of Ottawa’s regularly-occurring species of geese on the same day. This is a rare but regular phenomenon in Ottawa and virtually unheard of elsewhere in Ontario. I was still missing Brant, Ross’s Goose, Cackling Goose and Greater White-fronted Goose for my Ottawa year list and thought it would be fun to attempt to find all of them in one day.

We started our morning at Britannia Pier and worked our way west to Andrew Haydon Park. Unfortunately we found very few Canada Geese on the river; the majority of them had already left to spend the day feeding in the fields further south. We had no luck with any other geese, but did see two Red-necked Grebes and one Horned Grebe on the river. A Bonaparte’s Gull that landed briefly on the water in front of us was a nice find. At Andrew Haydon Park at least two Blue-winged Teals were still present in the marsh and a female Common Goldeneye (my first of the fall) was swimming with a flock of Lesser Scaup on the river.

From there we stopped in at the Nortel Woods to see if the Rusty Blackbirds Richard had seen the day before were still there. We found two perching high up in a tree at the edge of the marsh. Richard said that the day before a couple dozen of them had been feeding in the leaf litter in the woods.

A Spotted Spreadwing caught my attention when he flew by and landed on this leaf.

Spotted Spreadwing

Spotted Spreadwing

From there we drove to the Moodie Drive Quarry where we spent about 40 minutes scanning the large flock of geese on the water. Of course they were all at the back of the quarry pond, but we did find three Snow Geese, four Northern Pintails, two Ruddy Ducks, and what might have been three Ring-necked Ducks among them. We also observed one Turkey Vulture, at least two Red-tailed Hawks, and one American Pipit flying over. At least two River Otters were swimming (and feeding) in the middle of the quarry pond, providing entertainment while Richard patiently sifted through all the Canada Geese. At the end of the outing, we ended up with only two species of geese, proving that searching for six different geese can indeed turn out to be a wild goose chase!

On Sunday morning I drove over to the Richmond Lagoons. One Northern Pintail, two Wood Ducks, and several Green-winged Teals were swimming with the usual mallards and Canada Geese on the water. The Snow Goose was still there as well.

Snow Goose

Snow Goose

It was great to hear the Red-winged Blackbirds and Song Sparrows still singing and to see a couple of Swamp Sparrows still hanging out in the marsh. While I was watching the sparrows, an accipiter, likely a Cooper’s Hawk based on the size, flew into a tree in the first cell and spent a few moments checking out the place. Because he was directly between me and the sun I wasn’t able to get any clear photos of him. He flew off when a dog-walker came along, much to the relief of the sparrows hiding in the reeds!

From there I went to Mud Lake where I planned to check out the western woods and the southern part of the conservation area. I usually don’t spend a lot of time in these areas as I tend to favour the ridge and the area between the point and the northern shore of the lake during migration; however, I was hoping to find a Hermit Thrush, Fox Sparrow, Orange-crowned Warbler or a photographable Carolina Wren. I got lucky and found two Hermit Thrushes chasing each other along the western fence almost as soon as I arrived. I had no luck with the other species, but the scenery was gorgeous.

Mud Lake

Mud Lake

I checked out several openings looking onto the water on the southern shore and noticed a large flock of Ring-necked Ducks sleeping in the middle of the lake; these are annual here in the fall. At one opening I spotted four robins foraging and bathing in the muck at the water’s edge while a Ruby-crowned Kinglet bounced around in the shrubs above them; at another opening I found about half a dozen Wood Ducks.

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

There were more Wood Ducks at the turtle bridge (no turtles were out basking that day), all of which seemed accustomed to people. One even flew up onto the boardwalk railing while I was standing nearby.

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

The males look gorgeous in their breeding finery. Few male ducks can match the beauty and colour of a male Wood Duck in breeding plumage, though several (including the Northern Pintail and Hooded Merganser) have an elegance that the Wood Duck lacks. Because these ducks are so common at Mud Lake during the breeding season, I tend to forget just how pretty they are until the fall when they regain their jewel-like colours after being in eclipse plumage for several weeks.

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

While I was photographing the Wood Ducks I heard the call of a Rusty Blackbird. I located the bird in a bare tree above the water just as he flew off. I got a poor glimpse of him through the binoculars, but recognized the two-toned look of a male with a rusty head and black body. Two or three other dark birds flew off with them, but I didn’t get a decent look at any of them.

A few minutes later, I was surprised to hear a Northern Flicker, and watched as he flew in to a nearby tree; I usually don’t see them after the end of September. The only other time I’ve seen one in October was on October 10, 2010, also at Mud Lake (I love eBird for being able to pull that kind of data)! Interestingly, I saw a second Northern Flicker in the field at the Rowatt Street entrance on my way out.

I continued my way around the lake, finding two American Wigeon on the water and an American Pipit flying over. A few meadowhawks were starting to fly now that the temperature had warmed up. Autumn Meadowhawks are the most abundant meadowhawk this time of year, and may even be the most abundant type of dragonfly in Ottawa in the fall. They will keep flying as long the days remain sunny and the temperature doesn’t fall too low at night. They are able to survive light frosts at night, as well as the occasional hard frost. As the days get colder, they are less seen perching on vegetation than on the ground, sometimes using the surfaces of fallen leaves to warm themselves.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

On Thanksgiving Monday I decided to check the river again for waterfowl. I was still hoping to find some scoters, Brant, or Cackling Geese, but the river seemed largely empty. At Andrew Haydon Park I spotted a Horned Grebe swimming fairly close to the shore in the western end of the park along with six Blue-winged Teal, one male Wood Duck, and one female Northern Pintail which was closely associating with two mallards on the river. Two female Green-winged Teal flew in and landed on the western pond as I was leaving.

I decided to drive to Shirley’s Bay next, but the large number of geese on the lawns of Dick Bell Park caught my attention, so I stopped there first in case a Cackling Goose was also present. There were at least 100 geese throughout the area, and by the time I got to the last group I did indeed find a different goose: not the hoped-for Cackling Goose, but the long-awaited Brant!

Brant

Brant

I was expecting to find this species on the river, as they tend to land there in large flocks in the fall. However, almost every year it seems a lone Brant will find the lawn of Andrew Haydon Park or Dick Bell Park to its liking and spend several days there with the Canada Geese. This year the lawns of AHP have been mostly devoid of geese, possibly because of all the people, cyclists and dog-walkers passing by; perhaps once it gets colder and fewer people venture to the park the geese will come back.

Brant

Brant

The geese at Dick Bell Park are clearly used to people, barely even moving out the way when I passed by. Perhaps taking its cue from the larger Canadas, the Brant continued to feed while I approached within shooting distance. It looked over at me from time to time, but as long as I sat still on a large rock he did not seem to see me as a threat.

Brant

Brant

I enjoyed watching the Brant. It’s such a cute little goose, and so approachable….at least, when it’s feeding on grass instead of way out in the middle of the Ottawa River! I wish that all six of our geese were as approachable, especially the Ross’s Goose which I’ve only seen on three separate occasions, and the Greater White-fronted Goose, which I’ve only seen once. And even though the Thanksgiving weekend goose chase only yielded three species, I was happy with the views I got of the three.

Brant with Canada Goose

Brant with Canada Goose

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6 thoughts on “Thanksgiving Goose Chase

  1. Nice as usual, Gillian!….the “6-goose day” on Oct. 12, 2009 was actually shared by many incl. Bob Bracken, Bernie Ladouceur, Tom Hanrahan, Richard Waters and myself. Took us from Navan to Andrew Haydon to Moodie Dr. to et ’em all, but it was a fun “wild goose chase”!…”someone” else also found the same 6 spp. (in different locations).

    • Hi Chris,

      I remember the Ross’s Goose in Navan. My mother spent the week following Thanksgiving with us that year, and we got the Ross’s Goose there and the Brant at AHP, both of which were lifers for her. I checked my old blog and noted that even though I tried to find a Snow Goose and a Cackling Goose for her, I was unsuccessful. It was like finding a needle in a haystack; my mom couldn’t believe how many Canada Geese we had here that week! (They don’t get the numbers in Cambridge that we do.)

  2. Lovely write-up. Many thanks. We finished with 50 species – not too shabby for a quiet day! I wish we knew about the Brant earlier. It makes sense with the dogs AHP now.

    • Thanks for leading a fun outing, Richard! I just re-read my blog from October 2009 and one thing I noted was that it was cold (below zero in the mornings) with blustery winds, so perhaps the weather was too nice last weekend to bring in the birds.

      50 species is pretty awesome! The Red-necked Grebe was a year bird for me, but my favourites were the Rusty Blackbirds and the Snow Geese. The otters were fun, too!

    • Hahaha, yes we have Thanksgiving too. Ours is to celebrate bringing in the harvest, while yours has something to do with shopping, pilgrims and Indians (based on the TV commercials I see in November! ;)). At least we have turkey dinners in common!

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