To my surprise the feeders had been stocked at Hurdman, attracting chickadees and a male Downy Woodpecker to the suet feeder and a black squirrel at the seed feeder. As I started walking down the feeder trail, I caught a glimpse of a large, dark bird comically running down the path away from me before it rounded a bend and disappeared. I suspected it was a Wild Turkey, for it had a long neck and tiny head; this was confirmed when a second one stepped out onto the path followed it. I followed them and found two turkeys foraging in a clearing just off the main bike path. One appeared to be a female, while the other was definitely a male!
Of all the birds I hoped to find at Hurdman, Wild Turkey wasn’t one of them. It’s been several years since I saw my last ones here, so I definitely wasn’t expecting to find a pair!
I left the turkeys and headed up to the bike path to check out the river. There was a small patch of open water on either side of the 417 bridge, and at first I couldn’t see any birds on the river because of the mist rising from the water. Then I spotted three Common Goldeneyes. I checked to make sure there were no other species, then walked beneath the bridge to look for the mergansers and mallards.
I didn’t see any Common Mergansers, but I found the male Barrow’s Goldeneye among the large flock of Common Goldeneyes. At first I didn’t see any mallards; they must have been resting beneath the bridge, for when they saw me standing near a large pile of seed in the snow they all swam out from beneath the bridge then flew toward me, landing at my feet! I checked for American Black Ducks but didn’t see any.
On my way back along the feeder trail I found one other new year bird that I wasn’t expecting: Cedar Waxwing. I noticed a pale brownish bird land on a branch deep in the woods and thought it was a female cardinal at first. Then I saw the yellow belly and identified it as a Cedar Waxwing, a great find for my year list! Two more were sitting in the tangle of branches. There are lots of buckthorn berries and wild grapes in the area, which makes it a good spot to find robins and waxwings in the winter, if they are present.
I added two more birds to the list the following day when I went to Billings Bridge. Both Hooded and Common Mergansers had been seen here the day before, along with several gulls. I added American Black Duck to my list almost as soon as I arrived, but couldn’t find any mergansers in the tiny patch of open water east of the Bank Street bridge. Then I spotted a bird with a dark brown head and pale body; when I saw the white stripe extending up its neck I knew I had something better than any merganser, a male Northern Pintail! I watched it swim in the small patch of water with about 100 mallards and two Common Goldeneyes for about fifteen minutes. Just as I was about to leave, it clambered up onto the ice, then flew toward the bank where I was standing! This is the closest I’ve ever been to a male Northern Pintail in breeding plumage; it was a thrilling encounter! This was also the first time I’d found an overwintering Northern Pintail on my own without chasing an Ontbirds report.
Today I went to Mud Lake to look for a Winter Wren, some robins, juncos, House Finches and Common Mergansers that had been reported there. Once again I missed the mergansers, and the House Finches and Winter Wren were nowhere to be found. However, I heard what I assumed to be two White-throated Sparrows calling from the thickets at the base of the ridge, and found a large flock of at least 15 robins in the buckthorn shrubs at the western end of the ridge.
Some European Starlings and a pair of Downy Woodpeckers were also present, and I scattered some seed on the snow for the ever-present chickadees and cardinals. Only when I turned around did I find a couple of Dark-eyed Juncos feeding on the seed as well, together with a small bird which turned out to be a White-throated Sparrow. These birds overwinter in Ottawa in small numbers, and are usually found in places like the Fletcher Wildlife Garden where seed and shelter is abundant. I wasn’t expecting to find one at Mud Lake, and seeing him helped make up for the lack of House Finches.
I didn’t check out the river at Britannia Point as there was too much mist rising off the water; it was also still very cold (-17°C), so I didn’t check the western fence line for any other birds. Instead, I stopped in at Sarsaparilla Trail where I knew I could easily add Red-breasted Nuthatch to my year list. All I had to do was walk over to the open area by the outhouse, and hold out a handful of seeds. A gazillion chickadees descended on me, together with one White-breasted Nuthatch and two Red-breasted Nuthatches. I managed to snap this photo of a male Red-breasted Nuthatch before he swooped in for some seeds:
The new year is only four days old, and my year list is already up to 29 species. I enjoy starting each new year with a blank page; looking for those first birds of the year gives me a reason to go out, even on the coldest days. Every species is new again, and prevents me from getting bored with the common resident birds.