A Blast of Winter

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Winter came early this year. Even before November was over we received our first major snowfall and had days that were only -10°C. I went out two Sundays ago, but the cold Arctic wind gusting down from the north made for some difficult birding. I wanted to go out and look for some gulls, but didn’t realize just how brutal the wind was until I arrived at Andrew Haydon Park. I found several Canada Geese and Ring-billed Gulls resting on the ice of the half frozen ponds; there were no other gull species present, and all the ducks seemed to have left. The sub-zero temperatures made me wonder why the geese hadn’t gone with them. Because the wind blowing off the Ottawa River was so strong, I only stayed for 15 minutes before giving up and driving over to Sarsaparilla Trail, figuring a quick walk through the woods might be warmer….and more productive.

It wasn’t. The woods were unusually quiet, though a porcupine sleeping in a tree was an unexpected find. The pond was frozen over, so there were no water birds around; and in the woods I found only a couple of chickadees and a White-breasted Nuthatch. These were the only birds I saw along the trail, other than a couple of crows flying over. When I returned to the parking lot I found some more chickadees, so I put some seed on one of the fence posts and watched them come in. A pair of Red-breasted Nuthatches, male and female, joined them.

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Red-breasted Nuthatch

Still in the mood to see some gulls, I went to the Trail Road landfill, but there were none resting out in the open. However, a steady stream of gulls was flying from the landfill toward the quarry ponds on the other side of the road, and I watched from inside the car until I spotted a juvenile Glaucous Gull with pure white wings. Even though my eyes were watering so badly I could barely see, I still managed to get one photo of the bird in focus before it disappeared. You can see the pink, black-tipped bill that differentiates this bird from the other white-winged gull that often shows up in Ottawa this time of year, the Iceland Gull.

Glaucous Gull

Glaucous Gull

On my way home I stopped by the ponds on Eagleson. The southern ponds had all frozen, while a bit of water remained in the middle and northern ponds. There were five Common Mergansers swimming among the many mallards, American Black Ducks, and Canada Geese, including three bright white males. Because the pond is so small and there was so little water, they were close enough that I was able to get some decent photos.

Common Merganser

Common Merganser

I don’t have very many good photos of males in breeding plumage, so I spent about 20 minutes photographing them even though I was thoroughly frozen. In the end I left because my fingers were becoming numb, as the wind was blowing right through the material of my gloves.

Common Merganser

Common Merganser

With colder temperatures on the way, I suspected these birds would be gone the following weekend; indeed, they were. Although only the northern-most pond still had a bit of open water on December 1st, only the Canada Geese, mallards, black ducks, and a single Ring-billed Gull remained.

Common Merganser

Common Merganser

If this is a taste of things to come, it’s going to be a long, miserable winter. With no Boreal finches to look forward to, I just might be tempted to spend it indoors.

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5 thoughts on “A Blast of Winter

    • Thanks Jason. It’s actually much more comfortable birding when it’s -20 if there’s no wind than in -10 temperatures with a strong wind. It’s all about knowing how to dress, but the wind was so bad that day that nothing could have prepared me for how cold it was. First time I’d ever felt the wind blow right through my gloves.

  1. Nice shot! It has been a rough winter so far, but there have been some exciting birds out there, nonetheless. Have you seen the Black-Throated Grey Warbler? (I haven’t, but am still holding out hope.)

    • Thanks Suzanne. No, I haven’t gone to see the warbler. I could have on Friday when I was off work birding with a friend, but there hadn’t been any reports so we just stayed on the Ontario side (I’m writing up that blog post now). Of course, later we did find out that it was around. With the cold weather, though, I’m worried it might not last very long. I hope it flies south though it would be a pity for those of us who haven’t seen it.

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