Changing Seasons

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

The last few weeks have brought yet another change in migration. The only fall migrants that seem to be around these days are water birds; the late-season land birds, such as Ruby-crowned Kinglets, White-throated Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows have all gone, while winter birds such as American Tree Sparrows and Snow Buntings have arrived. There are still many robins, juncos, and Golden-crowned Kinglets around, though these may stay the winter if they can find enough food.

I spend a lot of time birding along the Ottawa River in late October and November. A good variety of water birds can be found on Lac Deschenes this time of year, and birding anywhere between Bate Island and Shirley’s Bay can produce good numbers of loons, grebes, geese, scoters, and diving ducks. Many dabbling ducks can still be found in the smaller ponds, and it is worth stopping in at Sarsaparilla Trail, the ponds at Andrew Haydon Park, or the Richmond Lagoons to see what’s around.

All three mergansers are still present in the Ottawa area. A small number of Hooded Mergansers have been present on the pond at Sarsaparilla Trail since October 19th and were still there on Saturday. I’ve also seen a few on the Eagleson stormwater management ponds near my place the last two weekends, along with some Common Mergansers. Last weekend I saw one, while on Saturday I saw eight, all males.

Red-breasted Mergansers prefer the swifter waters of the Ottawa River. One day I spent my lunch hour walking along the river near Dominion Station, which is where the Transitway joins the Ottawa River Parkway (now called the Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway). There I found a few Bufflehead, a large flock of Common Goldeneyes (another bird that spends the winter here) and four Red-breasted Mergansers close to the shore. One was actually swimming toward the shore, so I tried to get closer without it seeing me by shielding myself behind a thick tree as I approached. I didn’t see the other three mergansers right at the water’s edge, which is about five or six feet below the river bank, until I was almost on top of them. I grabbed this picture before they swam out into the river to join the Common Goldeneyes.

Red-breasted Merganser

Red-breasted Merganser

I’ve managed to find four goose species so far this fall. The numbers of Canada Geese have increased these past few weeks, and among them I’ve found the occasional Snow Goose, Cackling Goose, and Brant. Since seeing my first Cackling Goose at Dow’s Lake a few weeks ago, I’ve found two more: one flying over Sarsparilla Trail with a small group of Canada Geese, its small size immediately apparent, and one at the Eagleson stormwater ponds. I found a third candidate at the Deschenes Rapids lookout standing in the water with two giant Canada Geese; despite its apparent small size, the bill does not look stubby enough for a Cackling Goose.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

Dick Bell Park has been a good spot to find Brant this fall. Deb and I found one on the lawn feeding with a flock of Canada Geese in the exact same spot where I had found one two weeks earlier. I thought it might be the same one, but this one was clearly a juvenile, while the one I had seen previously was an adult.

Brant

Adult Brant (October 14, 2013)

Juveniles have white edges on their wing feathers, giving them a barred appearance, and lack the white necklace of the adults.

Brant

Juvenile Brant (October 27, 2013)

Deb and I intended to spend some time photographing him, however, about 10 minutes after we arrived the Canada Geese behind me suddenly took to the air amidst much honking and flapping of wings. I turned in time to see an accipiter fly by me right at shoulder height, scaring the remaining geese into flight. I am not sure whether or not the hawk intended to take a goose, for it kept flying and landed in a distant tree where it became the focus of an unhappy group of crows. In the meantime, all of the remaining geese – including the Brant – had flown over to Andrew Haydon Park and were now swimming safely in the bay at the western edge of the park.

Brant

Juvenile Brant (October 27, 2013)

Deb and I also saw a couple flocks of Brant in flight that day: two flocks of nine flying west along the river, not very far above the water’s surface, and a large flock of 50 flying south very high up. Brant flocks fly in a loose formation consisting of wavy lines, rather than the typical V pattern adopted by most other ducks and geese.

Brant in Flight

Brant in Flight

The white Snow Goose that I first saw at the Richmond Sewage Lagoons was still there as of November 2nd, when it was joined by a blue-morph Snow Goose, ten Northern Pintails, and at least two Green-winged Teal. I also found a second blue-morph goose at the Eagleson ponds that day amongst the thousands of Canadas. Two Double-crested Cormorants and a Great Blue Heron were also still present.

Snow Goose (Blue Morph)

Snow Goose (Blue Morph)

Sarsaparilla Trail has hosted a few interesting birds this fall. On November 2nd I was surprised to hear the familiar “dit-dit!” call of a Winter Wren in the open, brushy area near the picnic shelter. Although I looked, I couldn’t see him in any of the tangles of fallen branches. Also that day I spotted two female ducks swimming on the pond together, a Northern Pintail and an American Wigeon. This was the first time I’d seen a Northern Pintail on the pond before. A couple of American Tree Sparrows were new arrivals on November 2nd; they hadn’t been there the day before.

I’ve seen a few raptors around lately, too. A sub-adult Bald Eagle at Shirley’s Bay was nice to see, as was a Peregrine Falcon flying along the field across from the Moodie Drive quarry pond. The following week I spotted one sitting on top of the utility poles along Rushmore Road….perhaps the same bird.

The feeder at home has been quiet. Every now and then a couple of juncos show up, and some days I see up to three Blue Jays looking for peanuts. The chipmunk was busy sitting on my feeder on Sunday afternoon, hoovering up the sunflower seeds. I probably won’t see him around for much longer.

Blue Jay

Blue Jay

Even though most of the songbirds have left for the sunny south, the birding in Ottawa will remain interesting until the rivers and ponds freeze up. It’s not expected to be a good year for winter finches, and whether any northern woodpeckers or owls will show up is anyone’s guess. Rough-legged Hawks are moving south in good numbers; although I haven’t seen any yet, maybe it will be a good winter for overwintering raptors. The days are getting colder, the nights are getting longer, and it won’t be long until fall migration comes to an end, leaving all but the hardiest birds behind.

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