Suddenly….there was song

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Although it was supposed to rain on Saturday, I decided to go out birding when I saw that the rain hadn’t started yet. The sky was gray and overcast, and a strong, cold wind was gusting across the open fields, but I managed to spend three hours looking for new migrants before the wind drove me back inside. My first stop was Sarsaparilla Trail, where I heard my first Song Sparrow of the year singing from the edge of the woods. I also heard at least six Dark-eyed Juncos singing from various parts of the woods, though I wasn’t able to spot any. Four mallards had found a sliver of open water on the pond, while a single Purple Finch and several Red-winged Blackbirds called from the edges of the marsh. Three Common Grackles flew over as well. I checked the edges for Great Blue Herons tucked along the shore but came up empty.

At the Beaver Trail the first thing I heard was another Song Sparrow singing just beyond the parking lot. A close examination revealed two more feeding on the seed on the trail with the chickadees. I didn’t get any new year birds here, but the Red-winged Blackbirds had returned to the marsh and I found five more Song Sparrows feeding on the seeds left at the boardwalk. I have been listening for the delightful song of these sparrows all week with no success, and suddenly they were everywhere!

Because the wind was so cold I spent some time driving around the area south of Kanata. I found a huge flock of blackbirds feeding on the ground just inside the fence along Trail Road; several starlings and red-wings were feeding amongst a dozen Brown-headed Cowbirds, my second new bird of the year! A Killdeer calling from a mostly barren field along Brownlee Road was my third new bird, while a Rough-legged Hawk sitting in a tree just off of Eagleson ended my outing on a high note. It was a great birding day despite the unpleasant weather!

The weather was clear and sunny on Sunday, though it took some time to warm up. I met up with Deb for our usual Sunday morning outing, and we started the day at Jack Pine Trail where we found five deer and a couple of grackles at the feeder and four chipmunks scurrying around. It looked like someone had started building a survival hut out of some large branches and old logs and but gave up after starting only three sides; the chipmunks were chasing each other in and out of the gaps in the structure.

Eastern Chipmunk

Eastern Chipmunk

I put some seed on a couple of logs, enticing the chipmunks stop chasing each other long enough to eat. Of course the red squirrels wanted their share, and managed to scare all the chipmunks away!

Eastern Chipmunk

Eastern Chipmunk

Although the marsh was still covered in ice, a few Red-winged Blackbirds and Song Sparrows had set up territories and were singing away. A couple of Canada Geese flew over, looking for a spot to land.

Back in the woods, I heard a couple of high-pitched calls and was happy to find two Golden-crowned Kinglets foraging only a few feet above the ground in the same area as a Brown Creeper! Deb and I followed the kinglets for a bit, though they rarely paused long enough to snap a photo. This is the best image of the day:

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

From there we drove along March Valley Road and out to Dunrobin and Carp, hoping to find some Northern Harriers, Osprey, American Kestrels, Eastern Meadowlarks, Killdeer, and large flocks of geese to pick through. We struck out on all of these, but found a Hooded Merganser in a small farm pond just off the Thomas Dolan Parkway. He was swimming with a couple of Canada Geese, and when we pulled over onto the shoulder he didn’t immediately fly off. As these diving ducks can be quite shy, we stayed in the car and took some photos through the open window.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

The Hooded Merganser is the smallest of the three North American mergansers and has the largest, showiest crest of the three. Although their serrated bill is characteristic of the merganser family, they are also closely related to Goldeneyes and Buffleheads, small to medium-sized diving ducks that often overwinter in Ottawa. Hooded Mergansers – like Goldeneyes, Buffleheads, and the other mergansers – nest in tree cavities, particularly on small wooded ponds.

Although I didn’t see any females on the pond – there were only a couple of Canada Geese in the water with him – he tossed his head back as I have often seen our overwintering male Common Goldeneyes do when trying to attract the attention of a nearby female. He only did this once before swimming off to the side of the pond. This was the first time I’d ever seen this behaviour in a Hooded Merganser, and I was happy to have caught it on camera.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Deb and I continued on our way after that, and didn’t see any other noteworthy migrants. We did come across a couple of Horned Larks, however, and what was probably our last Snowy Owl of the season. It was perched in a distant tree, too far away to photograph.

After the temperature had warmed up, I decided to go for a walk around the stormwater ponds near my place later that afternoon. I was hoping to see some more waterfowl and to get a decent photo of a grackle, Red-winged Blackbird, or Song Sparrow for the blog. The blackbirds were quite shy, however, and I managed only to photograph a couple of Song Sparrows. Altogether I counted 14 species in the area, including a large flock of about 200 Canada Geese. There were no other waterfowl species present.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

It was thrilling to come across so many Song Sparrows after listening for them all week in vain, and also to see my first Killdeer and cowbirds of the year. Hopefully the weather will continue to warm up and we will get some nice southerly winds to blow some more migrants in!

Advertisements

4 thoughts on “Suddenly….there was song

  1. Great shot of the kinglet! I think all my decent, non-blurred kinglet photos have been in early spring, when it’s too cold for them to be super-hyperactive.

    I’ve seen that Hoodie display a few times as well. It makes me wonder why they aren’t grouped more closely with goldeneyes, when their behavior is so similar (and, after all, the two are known to hybridize.) I haven’t seen Common Mergansers act that way at all, they just race around a lot in spring.

    • Thanks Suzanne! I haven’t found any good times for photographing Golden-crowned Kinglets – to me it’s just as easy as photographing a dragonfly in flight! Still, every now and then I get lucky, as I did last weekend.

      You’re right about the Common Mergansers. I’ve never seen them act that way, either. I’m guessing that Hoodies aren’t grouped with the goldeneyes because the structural similarities to the mergansers (long, serrated bill and crest) were more noticeable to early taxonomists than the behavioural similarities and eye colour to the goldeneyes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s