A Brand New Year List

Black-backed Woodpecker

Black-backed Woodpecker

When 2015 arrived, I was up and out the door before it fully got light. I was thinking of trying to track down the American Three-toed Woodpecker in Gatineau, but as it was a bit windy, I decided it might not be the best idea. Not only are birds harder to find on windy days, as they tend to seek shelter, it’s also hard to hear a woodpecker tapping softly over the sound of the wind and the creaking of the trees. Instead I stuck to my usual plan, trying to hit as many places as possible which included (1) open water; (2) mixed woodland; (3) open agricultural areas; (4) a landfill; and (5) an area with feeders. I started off the morning at Jack Pine Trail as I had seen a good variety of species there in the past week, and I figured I should easily be able to tally at least a dozen species.

The morning was overcast, and as the sun had barely climbed over the horizon, I didn’t see a single bird outside my house or during the drive. Unfortunately I was so early that there wasn’t a lot of activity on the trail yet, either. My first bird of 2015 was a White-breasted Nuthatch that I heard along the trail; the first bird I saw was an American Crow keeping watch at the top of a tree above the feeders. Even though I walked my usual route, I found only four other bird species: Black-capped Chickadees, a couple of Mourning Doves, a Common Raven flying over, and a single Brown Creeper. The robins were gone, the woodpeckers had all disappeared into the tree cavities again, and the Blue Jays, cardinals and Red-breasted Nuthatches I had fed only a few days earlier either hadn’t awakened yet or didn’t like the steady wind, either. I was disappointed only to count 6 species at my first stop, but planned to go to Old Quarry Trail later and knew I could find more woodland birds there.

My next stop was the Trail Road Landfill. At first all I saw were crows and starlings; then a few gulls started flying over the road, first a group of Great Black-backed Gulls, then a few Herring Gulls, then a few more Great Black-backed Gulls. Eventually they settled into the landfill, though most landed just behind the crest of the large trash heap where I couldn’t see them. One interesting thing about the Trail Road Dump – the workers keep moving the garbage around, creating new mounds and changing the location of the active areas. The current configuration isn’t conducive for gull-watching.

Fortunately the gulls and crows spooked a couple of times, and I spotted a white-winged gull among them as the flock wheeled over the landfill. The overcast lighting made for difficult viewing conditions, so I was unable to positively identify the gull. A Red-tailed Hawk seen briefly in flight brought the day’s list up to 10 species. I looked for American Tree Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos along the fence-line and in the sumac shrubs along the road but didn’t see any.

After that I spent some time looking for Snowy Owls, Horned Larks and Snow Buntings in the open fields. The fields were quiet; I only saw one owl, deep in a farmer’s field. I wouldn’t have known it was there if it hadn’t been flying from three photographers pursuing it.

I returned to my subdivision where some open water had harboured over 150 mallards, American Black Ducks, and a few Canada Geese a few days earlier. Despite the drop in temperature one pond remained open, and all three species were there. I checked a spot where I had seen a few House Finches and House Sparrows earlier in the week but the shrubs were empty.

I debated where to go next and decided to try for more woodland birds at Old Quarry Trail on Eagleson Road. My first year bird there was a Hairy Woodpecker near the boardwalk; I didn’t see any Red-breasted Nuthatches, cardinals, Blue Jays, or the single Song Sparrow last seen on Boxing Day. I knew of another spot where Red-breasted Nuthatches often approached, looking for handouts, and set off deeper into the woods. I hadn’t gotten far when I heard a woodpecker tapping close by, and was thrilled to see this female Black-backed Woodpecker only about three feet above the ground!

Black-backed Woodpecker

Black-backed Woodpecker

Not long after I started taking a few pictures, she flew off to another tree. I slowly followed, and instead of taking more pictures, decided to shoot some video showing her chipping off large flakes of bark.

Here is a close-up of the woodpecker showing what is left of the tree after the Black-backed Woodpecker has stripped off the bark, looking for the larvae of wood-boring beetles.

Black-backed Woodpecker

Black-backed Woodpecker

I roamed a few side trails I had never explored before. There were lots of Red Pines in the area, and I was hoping to find another Black-backed Woodpecker. I didn’t, but eventually I came across a couple of Red-breasted Nuthatches. That was the last new year bird at Old Quarry. I also found a new mammal for 2015: a small porcupine sleeping in a pine!

Porcupine

Porcupine

I was tired, cold and hungry by the time I left Old Quarry Trail and didn’t have enough energy to go anywhere else. I only tallied 17 species (not including the unidentified white-winged gull at Trail Road), which was a bit disappointing, though I think the steady wind had a lot to do with it. My 18th species came later in the day, when two Dark-eyed Juncos showed up beneath my feeders at dusk.

The next day I went to Mud Lake where I hoped to find some diving ducks in the river, the woodpeckers, Blue Jays and cardinals that had been MIA on New Year’s Day, and a couple of White-throated Sparrows that were reported. I had a much better outing, tallying 14 species total and 6 new birds for my year list.

As soon as I got out of the car I spotted a flock of about 10 American Goldfinches up in the trees near the parking lot and heard one of the White-throated Sparrows calling. Despite looking around for several minutes I wasn’t able to see it, so I walked up to the ridge. An Eastern Cottontail had been spending a lot of time up there, as evidenced by all the tracks darting every which way. Eventually I caught up with the rabbit; he didn’t look too happy that I had found him!

Eastern Cottontail

Eastern Cottontail

The ridge was very slippery, as there was a layer of ice beneath the fresh coat of snow. I noticed a few mallards and Common Goldeneyes in the channel and found a few chickadees along the way. I checked the western end of the ridge for robins and waxwings, but there were no birds feeding on any of the berries there. I returned the way I came, then walked back down to the parking lot where I came across a pair of Northern Cardinals and a Downy Woodpecker in the shrubs by the road. The Downy Woodpecker looked at me while I took her picture; wondering if it was one of the “tame” Downies at Mud Lake, I offered her some seed. She took it, and returned to the same shrub to eat it.

Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker

A male Downy Woodpecker was nearby, and also flew in for some seeds. As I was feeding him and the chickadees I heard the White-throated Sparrow call again. I looked down, and saw not one but two of them foraging on the ground among the the shrubs! They made their way east along the ground; eventually they flew off into a shrub. A third followed. When I realized the third one wasn’t going anywhere I stopped feeding the birds and moved a bit closer for a photograph.

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

I left Cassels Street in order to check the sumac field and the woods. I found a couple of House Finches and watched two Common Ravens flying over but didn’t see anything else of interest. I returned to my car and was getting ready to go when I spotted this Pileated Woodpecker working at the base of one of the trees on the lawn. This was my last new species of the day, bringing my total up to 25 birds for 2015.

Pileated Woodpecker

Pileated Woodpecker

The next morning I visited the Hilda Road feeders briefly before returning to the Old Quarry Trail. The only new bird I added to my year list there was American Tree Sparrow:

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

At Old Quarry Trail, I was still hoping to find the Song Sparrow and American Robin I had seen on Boxing Day. Once again the Song Sparrow was absent, making me wonder if it had finally headed south or had perished in the cold. I found a pair of Brown Creepers in the exact same spot I had seen them on New Year’s Day; one was fairly close to the ground so I spent some time trying to photograph it. At one point it froze against the tree trunk, and all the nearby chickadees started twittering. I wondered if a hawk had just passed over, but didn’t take the time to check as the Brown Creeper was sitting still in the perfect spot for photography – something that NEVER happens! Click to enlarge:

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

I thought about trying to track down the female Black-backed Woodpecker again, but decided not to as I knew from experience that I could spend a long time wandering the interior trails! So I rounded the corner, and that’s when I heard tapping. I looked up, and sure enough, the woodpecker was right there!

Black-backed Woodpecker

Black-backed Woodpecker

I didn’t spend a lot of time photographing her as I wanted to look for the robin I had seen feeding on some berries on Boxing Day. Unfortunately I didn’t find the robin either, but I did get a great bird by the time I reached the parking lot – a flock of Common Redpolls flying over! These were the first redpolls I have seen since April 2013, and although I didn’t get great looks at them, their calls were unmistakable. I tried to follow them but they kept flying north instead of landing.

I ended my New Year’s long weekend with a total of 28 species – not a bad start! While I missed some easy birds, including Snow Bunting, Rough-legged Hawk, and American Robin, building a new year list just gives me incentive to keep going out and finding more birds!

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