A “Birds of Prey” Kind of Day

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

Last Sunday Deb and I met up and did some west-end birding. Despite waking up to a dense fog, our plan was to visit the river and the Trail Road landfill for gulls and waterfowl. We did both of those, although we also spent some time driving along the back roads south and west of Ottawa, too. At our first stop, Andrew Haydon Park, we found a number of gulls standing on the watery ice that covered the ponds. For the first time this season I spotted a few Herring Gulls among the more numerous Ring-billed Gulls. There was one large, brownish juvenile on the western pond and at least half a dozen adults on the eastern pond. Two adult Great Black-backed Gulls bobbed on the river’s surface beyond the ponds, although shortly after we found them they took to the air and flew directly toward us, then disappeared over Carling Avenue.

Herring Gull (juvenile)

Herring Gull (juvenile)

On the river we found the usual Canada Geese and mallards, all three mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, and about 20 scaup. The fog was fairly thick in the middle of the river, making it hard to see if anything was out there. A Red-winged Blackbird was vocalizing in the marsh at the western end of the park – this is likely the last time I will hear one until spring.

From there we drove west to Shirley’s Bay. We found a Red-breasted Merganser swimming close to the boat launch and five more Hooded Mergansers swimming in the bay. A Common Loon was diving further out, just at the edge of visibility. Deb and I decided to walk out to the dyke to look for waterfowl in the inner bay. Unfortunately, we only found one lone duck a long ways off, but two adult Bald Eagles sitting in a tree on the spit more than made up for it! We got some great looks at them both through the scope until one flew toward Haycock Island. Shortly after that, the other eagle flew toward the nest with a stick clutched in its talons – no doubt for some off-season nest maintenance!

After leaving Shirley’s Bay we drove through some agricultural areas looking for open-field birds. We didn’t see any Horned Larks or Snow Buntings, but we did get three birds of prey! The first was a Red-tailed Hawk perched next to the side of a busy road. The second was a Northern Shrike in a scrubby area. We stopped to take a look, but it didn’t like the look of us and flew off. The third was a Snowy Owl! We stayed in the car while we took a few photos, as we didn’t want to spook the owl.

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Bald Eagle and a Snowy Owl on the same day, so I was quite thrilled. For that matter, I am pretty sure I haven’t seen a Northern Shrike, a Bald Eagle and a Snowy Owl all in the same day either! We kept our eyes open for Rough-legged Hawks, a bird I haven’t seen yet this fall, but we didn’t come across any.

Our last stop of the day was the Trail Road landfill where we found Bob Cermak and Bernie Ladouceur scoping the gulls. They said they had seen six species: Ring-billed, Herring, Great Black-backed, Lesser Black-backed, Glaucous, and Iceland. I still needed Lesser Black-backed and Iceland Gulls for my year list and was happy to hear that they were both around. We were there only about a minute when Deb asked what the large black bird walking on the ground was. I watched it through my scope, and when it raised its distinctive red head I couldn’t believe I was looking at a Turkey Vulture – in November! I pointed it out to Bob and Bernie, both of whom had missed it; with so many crows around, they said they had pretty much ignored any black bird!

Shortly after that Bernie mentioned he had a Glaucous Gull walking on top of one of the ridges. I found it, and showed it to Deb. It was a young bird, a dirty cream colour with pale wingtips. Not long after that I noticed another juvenile Glaucous Gull walking on the ground near the Turkey Vulture, this one a much paler, cleaner white colour. Then I spotted a near-adult gull which had a mantle that was darker than the Herring Gulls, but slightly lighter than the Great Black-backed Gulls. It appeared to be the same size as the Herring Gulls. I got Bernie on it, and he confirmed it was a Lesser Black-backed Gull. It was a year bird for me, a beautiful third-winter adult – it made me wish I could see one of these birds up close! This was the fourth species of gull we found at the dump, and the fifth of the day: Herring, Glaucous, Great and Lesser Black-backed Gulls, along with a couple of Ring-billed Gulls earlier at Andrew Haydon.

A quick stop at the Moodie Drive Quarry produced one Ring-necked Duck and two Green-winged Teals (a male and female) among the usual species.

It was a great day, even though we didn’t see any Rough-legged Hawks; I was pretty happy with all the birds of prey we did see! I can’t say I’ve ever seen a Bald Eagle, a Red-tailed Hawk, a Northern Shrike, a Snowy Owl AND a Turkey Vulture all in the same day; and I don’t think I ever will again!

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