November Waterfowl

Harlequin Duck

Harlequin Duck

November arrived cold and blustery. I wore my winter coat for the first time and was glad to have it as the wind was pretty chilly, even though it was still a couple of degrees above zero. We were supposed to get a mix of rain and snow on Saturday, November 1st, but as the precipitation didn’t materialize I was able to get in a good morning of birding. I started my weekend with a stop at the storm water management ponds by my place. The Great Blue Heron was still there, as were four Hooded Mergansers and a female-type Common Merganser. I wasn’t able to pick out any Cackling or Snow Geese amongst the 500 or so Canada Geese, but five Green-winged Teals at the very back of the pond were a nice surprise; this is only the second time I’ve seen this species here.

The water levels were still a bit low, resulting in some shore habitat where the teals were feeding; usually the water is much higher, making it a good spot for diving birds such as cormorants and mergansers. The mucky edges also provided a little bit of shorebird habitat – I saw three Killdeer foraging on one of the islands. This is the first time I have seen Killdeer in November that I can recall, and as they are quite hardy (usually arriving in March when there is still snow and ice on the ground) I didn’t think to report it anywhere. Nevertheless, Bob Cermak included them in the weekly report, so I guess any Killdeer sightings this late are unusual!

From there I went to Sarsaparilla Trail, which was very quiet. Only 15 Hooded Mergansers made the stop worthwhile; there no other migrants, and no songbirds of interest – not even any juncos or American Tree Sparrows! A brief stop at Jack Pine Trail likewise proved unproductive. I didn’t see the Black-backed Woodpecker, and a single Golden-crowned Kinglet and a couple of Red-breasted Nuthatches were the only songbirds of interest. I didn’t stay very long, deciding to try my luck at the landfill and the Moodie Drive Quarry. There were hundreds of gulls at the landfill, but I only saw the usual Great Black-backed, Herring, and Ring-billed Gulls. The large quarry pond contained hundreds of birds, with four Snow Geese tucked in amongst the Canada Geese at the back, and at least 150 Ring-necked Ducks, the largest number I can ever recall seeing! My last stop of the day was the Richmond Lagoons. There were lots of dabbling ducks along the far edge, mostly Green-winged Teals and American Black Ducks, but also three Northern Pintails as well. This brought the total number of waterfowl species to 10 for the first day of November.

I still needed two scoter species for my year list and drove up to the river the following day. At Andrew Haydon Park I found the juvenile Brant still hanging out on the lawn with the gulls and geese.

Brant

Brant

Brant

Brant

I checked the river but found only a couple of mallards on the water – they and the six Great Black-backed Gulls floating in the western bay kept the river from being totally devoid of birds. The only other species of interest was a Hooded Merganser fishing close to the shore of the eastern pond.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

The river was similarly quiet at Shirley’s Bay. However, a couple of Snow Buntings foraging along the river’s edge made the stop worthwhile. They are new arrivals; I also heard a couple flying over my subdivision later in the week while walking to the bus stop!

Late on Tuesday, November 4th a rare Harlequin Duck was reported on the Rideau River at Strathcona Park. These western ducks prefer feeding in fast rivers, and the rapids along this section of the Rideau River are open year-round. Single Harlequins used to be reported from this location each winter until about the time I started birding; until now, the only ones I have seen were way out in the middle of the Ottawa River! The Rideau River is quite narrow here, so on Wednesday I decided to stop on the park after leaving work early, hoping to get a better look at this bird than the ones I’ve seen previously.

There were lots of Canada Geese on the lawn and gulls in the river, but I didn’t see any diving ducks until I reached the far southern end of the park past the construction site. Four Hooded Mergansers were sleeping on the calm surface of the water, and the Harlequin Duck was with them! It was relatively close to the shore, and I took a couple pictures of it sleeping. Eventually it woke up and started diving as the current carried it downstream.

Harlequin Duck

Harlequin Duck

I also photographed one of the male Hoodies sleeping:

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

I returned the following day at lunch to see if I could get some better photos of it while it was awake. Unfortunately the clouds had rolled in, making photography difficult. This time I found it with a couple of female Common Goldeneyes, diving in the rapids north of the construction site. One other photographer was there, and the Harlequin Duck seemed to know we were watching it as it kept looking right at us.

Harlequin Duck

Harlequin Duck

It started moving further away from the shore, so I turned my attention to the gulls before leaving. A couple of juveniles had landed on the concrete wall right next to me, and I thought they made a nice contrast with the adult a little further down.

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull (juvenile)

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull (adult, non-breeding plumage)

I was about to leave when I noticed the Harlequin Duck swimming back toward the western bank. I realized it was heading toward one of the rocks sticking out of the water, and when it climbed up onto it I got my camera back out and took a couple of pictures. I’m glad I did as this one turned out to be my favourite photo of the day!

Harlequin Duck

Harlequin Duck

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2 thoughts on “November Waterfowl

  1. Hi Gillian:

    I love the Harlequin Duck photos. Just like you said, the only times I’ve ever seen them in Ottawa has been on the much wider Ottawa River. I had heard that historically harlequins would show up around Strathcona, but never while I was living there. Hopefully it will stay the winter (at least until freeze-up) – maybe even attract a nice adult male, too!

    • Hi Pat! I hope it sticks around too. Apparently no one is sure whether it’s a male or a female; it would be nice if it were a male and it sticks around long enough to attain breeding plumage. If not, I like the idea of it attracting an adult male – I have never seen one.

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