Birding River and Wood

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

It rained all day on Saturday, so when the sun came out on Sunday I was eager to get out and go birding. My goal was to hit a few spots along the Ottawa River to check out the waterfowl; with the passage of the system that had brought in the wet weather and the drop in temperature the day before, I was hoping to find some scoters, grebes, loons, diving ducks, and perhaps even my first Brant of the year.

On a whim, I decided to stop in at Sarsaparilla Trail first. While I wasn’t expecting another Golden-winged Warbler, I was hoping to find a Fox Sparrow.

When I arrived I heard a couple of Golden-crowned Kinglets in the evergreens at the entrance to the parking lot and saw several White-throated Sparrows foraging in the shrubs on the other side of the wooden barrier. I proceeded to the picnic shelter where I could hear a number of birds twittering in the foliage and attempted to pish them out. I heard robins, juncos, chickadees, White-throated Sparrows, and a single Blue-headed Vireo singing, but the only birds to respond were the chickadees, so I put some sunflower seeds on the picnic table for them. Then I heard a strange chatter and went to investigate it. It sounded like an old car trying to start up, an unmusical, accelerating JIT-jit-jit-jit-jit-jit. I wandered down the trail trying to find it, encountering a couple of Ruby-crowned Kinglets and more Golden-crowned Kinglets along the way. It wasn’t until I encountered the same chatter again further along the trail and then heard the Blue-headed Vireo singing that I realized that it was the vireo making this noise – I had never heard one make that chattering sound before.

I left the area and saw some juncos and White-throated Sparrows feeding on the seeds I had left out for the chickadees. I put out some more and headed toward the boardwalk. In the thick tangles between the trail and the picnic shelter I heard a repeated “churt” call that I didn’t recognize. A Pileated Woodpecker was feeding on some berries and giving his own distinctive calls, so I was unsure as to what was making the noise. I started pishing and this small thrush popped out into the open.

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

At first I wasn’t sure it was a Hermit Thrush as I couldn’t see the rusty tail. Then it made its characteristic whiny, metallic up-slurred “wheee” calls and I was able to confirm it as a Hermit Thrush.

Then, to my surprise, an Orange-crowned Warbler also emerged from the foliage to investigate my pishing. This is the 113th species I’ve seen at this small trail since I started keeping track in 2006.

When I reached the boardwalk there were only a few mallards on the water and that was it – there weren’t any herons or kingfishers or raptors that I could see. This should have prepared me for my trip to Andrew Haydon Park where a Great Egret in the western bay and two female or immature Ring-necked Ducks were the only water birds of note. A Northern Flicker calling from a leafless tree may be the last one I see this year. As there weren’t many geese or ducks on the ponds or in the bay I decided to leave after about twenty minutes.

I thought Shirley’s Bay might prove to be more productive; even if there weren’t any waterfowl on the river, the nearby woods might at least contain a few songbirds. I heard a Gray Catbird in the area between the road and the parking lot and found a few kinglets on the way in. Yellow-rumped Warblers and a pair of thrushes – perhaps more Hermit Thrushes – were the only songbirds I saw on the dyke itself.

There were several American Black Ducks in the bay and that was it. There were no Green-winged Teals, Northern Pintails, Northern Shovelers, mergansers, scaup, grebes, or even any mallards in the bay close to the dyke. There were, however, lots of ducks against the distant shore, and the only reason I knew they were there was because a juvenile Bald Eagle flew along the water’s edge a few times, stirring them up! I saw the distinct pale shoulder patches of a Blue-winged Teal in flight and that was all that I could identify from that distance.

The Bald Eagle was fun to watch, though eventually he landed on a tree branch and sat still, becoming invisible against the treeline. I left and headed back into the woods where I encountered more Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets and perhaps the same Yellow-rumps from the dyke. Then I saw something small and brown dart along a pile of branches on the ground; the habitat and cocked-up tail were all I needed to see to identify it as a Winter Wren. I watched it investigate the nooks and crannies of the brush pile before it finally disappeared into one.

Close by, a small group of mushrooms stood out among the leaf litter.



I didn’t come across anything else of interest in the woods, but I was pleased with the Bald Eagle and Winter Wren which saved the trip to Shirley’s Bay from being completely boring. Even in migration it pays to spend time birding different habitats; although I didn’t see many river birds, the woodland birds completely made up their absence.


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