Late October Birding

Brant

Brant

Late October – it’s not my favourite time of year for birding. The mornings are often cold, requiring a hat and gloves, and the shrubby edge habitats I wrote about previously are deathly quiet. Gone are the numerous warblers and vireos and flycatchers of yestermonth; pishing may bring out a couple of chickadees, kinglets, sparrows, or if I’m really lucky, a late Yellow-rumped Warbler. American Tree Sparrows and Snow Buntings, winter residents both, have just begun to arrive. I haven’t seen any Snow Buntings yet, but when I visited Hurdman Park on Thursday I saw three American Tree Sparrows as well as several starlings and robins feeding on the wild grapes. I also saw a Northern Flicker and Yellow-rumped Warbler. It’s getting late in the season, so every sighting of these birds could be my last.

Much of late October is spent scanning the river and large ponds for waterfowl. The river is usually windy and cold, but there are enough good birds around to make a stop at Andrew Haydon Park or Dick Bell Park worthwhile. The Moodie Drive quarry and Richmond Lagoons are also good spots to look for water birds.

Lately, however, I’ve been starting my walks at the storm water management ponds near my house. A few paved paths wind their way around the ponds, and I’ve had some good birds here during migration. The water level has decreased slightly over the summer, leaving muddy edges to attract a few shorebirds. On Saturday I saw six Killdeer and one Greater Yellowlegs, which surprised me. I keep hoping I’ll get lucky and find a Dunlin here someday!

As usual, there were lots of Canada Geese on the ponds, perhaps four or five hundred. The fun part is trying to pick out other waterfowl amongst all those geese, and I got lucky and found a male Hooded Merganser and a couple of mallards. Then I noticed three smaller, paler geese hanging out together at the back of the pond. I studied them for a while and determined they were, in fact Cackling Geese! I found two more swimming right near the bridge and took some photos; the Cackling Goose in the foreground has a smaller bill and is paler than the two Canada Geese behind it.

Cackling Goose

Cackling Goose

It was swimming with a Cackling Goose that had a white “necklace”. When the Canada Goose stretches its neck you can really see the size difference.

Cackling Goose

Cackling Goose

The white cheek patch looks noticeably different compared to those of the Canada Geese; larger, perhaps, because of the smaller proportions of the Cackling Goose. Even though the Canada Goose in front has its neck drawn back, its head appears normal-sized. The Cackling Goose’s head seems quite small compared to the size of its body.

Cackling Goose

Cackling Goose

I saw a few Red-winged Blackbirds fly over the ponds and heard a Golden-crowned Kinglet in the shrubbery. I saw a male Northern Cardinal right beside the path and heard a robin calling from one of the houses that backs onto the park. Three Great Blue Herons were also fishing in the ponds.

From there I headed to Old Quarry Trail, a place I haven’t visited in ages. A few Cedar Waxwings were feeding on some berries with a flock of robins, and in the woods I found half a dozen Fox Sparrows foraging on the ground together. I heard a few Golden-crowned Kinglets and found three Ruby-crowned Kinglets foraging in a small shrub together. I also heard four Brown Creepers.

The next day I met up with Deb for some west-end birding. A female Black-backed Woodpecker had been found at Jack Pine Trail earlier in the week so we decided to go look for it. Fortunately we found it about halfway down the trail to the bird feeders (which weren’t up yet), chipping away at a tree right next to the path.

Black-backed Woodpecker

Black-backed Woodpecker

A little further down the path we saw a group of at least 6 Fox Sparrows foraging on the trail and heard an American Pipit fly over. Other than that it was pretty quiet.

We headed up to Andrew Haydon Park from there, and almost right away Deb spotted a lone Brant amongst the Canada Geese on the lawn.

Brant

Brant

It was a juvenile, as evidenced by the scalloped white edges of its wings and the lack of a white collar on its neck. Almost every year a lone Brant shows up on the lawns of Andrew Haydon or Dick Bell Parks; usually it’s a juvenile.

Brant

Brant

We studied the gulls for a while but they were all Ring-billed Gulls. I caught this one doing a wing-stretch:

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

We checked the river, but except for a Great Black-backed Gull on the dock at the marina and a single scaup further out all we saw were Canada Geese and mallards. As a cold wind was blowing we didn’t spend much time at the water’s edge and decided to leave after that. On our way out we saw the Brant walking with a Canada Goose; although the sun was behind the birds, I stopped to take a picture to show the size difference:

Brant with Canada Goose

Brant with Canada Goose

Although Ottawa can be quiet this time of year compared to places in southern Ontario, the birding can be quite good. After all, where else in Ontario can see you see a Cackling Goose, a Brant and a Black-backed Woodpecker all in the same weekend?

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4 thoughts on “Late October Birding

  1. Great shots of the Cackling Goose. They really show the differences between them and the Canada Goose. I would love to see a Black-backed Woodpecker, but unfortunately I am too far south. One thing I really enjoy about late October birding in my area is the return of Dark-eyed Juncos and several sparrow species.

    • Thanks Paul! I love finding Cackling Geese amongst the Canadas – they are so small and cute. We used to see them on the lawns of parks along the river, but the geese don’t stop there in large numbers anymore since they started allowing dogwalkers in the park (to deter the geese).

      The Black-backed Woodpecker is my favourite woodpecker along with the Pileated. I didn’t see her last weekend; hopefully she sticks around for the winter.

      Our sparrows are pretty much gone except for juncos and Tree Sparrows; I didn’t get very many photos of them at all, and none of the juncos or Fox Sparrows. I just read your post and can’t believe that you have so many over-wintering species! Other than the above-noted species, we also occasionally get White-throated Sparrows. Song Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows either don’t last the winter or migrate south when we get our first big freeze-up in January.

    • Hi Eric,

      Yes, I saw it from the west side two days in row. The first time it was south of the construction site in the calm part of the river, and the second time it was north of the construction side in the rapids.

      Good luck!

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