On Sunday I didn’t go out birding as the weather was awful – first we got about six inches of snow, then freezing rain for most of the afternoon, and then back to snow. The rest of the week was cold, hovering below -20°C during the day, so I didn’t get out until it “warmed up” on Friday to the point where the air no longer felt like a mask of ice against my face. Even better, the sun was shining! I’d been itching to get out to the Rideau River where late-lingering waterfowl such as Northern Pintail, Wood Duck and Pied-billed Grebe were all being seen between Strathcona Park and the Hurdman Bridge. I chose to spend my lunch hour at Hurdman Park, as I was also hoping also to see some robins or waxwings feeding on the berries there in addition to the ducks in the river.
The feeder trail was a tunnel of snow. Many branches were encased in ice, and the snow weighing them down gave the trail a “winter wonderland” appearance.
I started walking down the trail, and saw several large, dark shapes near the end. I was happy to see that the Wild Turkeys were still around and counted five of them feeding on some of the vegetation at the edge of the path. When they saw me they scurried ahead and disappeared. This was another new bird for my year list!
The feeders were all empty. I heard some chickadees twittering in the distance and started pishing to entice them closer. I saw a couple near the tree where a couple of empty suet baskets still hung, as well as two male cardinals which flew deeper into the brush when I approached. I threw some seed onto the ground for them and left. I later caught up with one of the cardinals around the corner:
From there I walked over to the river. The open patch of water south of the footbridge had shrunk considerably, and only a couple of Common Goldeneyes were diving there. I crossed the footbridge and walked north along the western bank (as the path under the Queensway on the eastern bank is still closed due to construction) to check out the much larger section of open water there. I found a pair of Common Mergansers and the male Barrow’s Goldeneye among the usual Common Goldeneyes, adding two more birds to my year list. I scanned the dabbling ducks on the far side of the river, but they were just too far – someone was busy feeding them, and most were on the path fighting for handouts. I didn’t see the male Northern Pintail, but that didn’t meant he wasn’t there.
I had walked further than usual, and didn’t have much time to look at the ducks. I turned around and headed back, checking all the grapevines and Buckthorn shrubs for berry-loving birds. They were all empty. Reluctantly I headed back to work, retracing my steps. The day was so gorgeous that I stopped to take a few photos of the dead Tansy flowers encrusted with ice (click to enlarge).
These ice-covered branches also looked pretty reflecting the sunlight:
With the House Sparrow seen downtown earlier in the week, my 2015 year list now stands at 33 species. While that’s not a bad number, I know from experience that it will get harder and harder to add new species as the winter wears on. Here is a new list of the top 20 species I am most likely to see around Ottawa this month, based on past sightings, that are not yet on my year list (Snowy Owl can be discounted, as I have seen one that I have not entered into eBird yet pursuant to the reasons given in this post):
American Robin tops this list at 5.65%, followed by Snow Bunting at 3.70%. Indeed, I would agree that these are the species I am most likely to see this month as they can be numerous, and even widespread, in their preferred habitats. For the rest of the birds on the list, though, it gets harder. Some species are only present in irruption years, so many of them aren’t even around this winter. For the rest, it will take several repeat visits to their preferred habitats and a reed-thin chance of getting lucky: Rough-legged Hawk, Iceland and Glaucous Gulls, Northern Shrike, and Bald Eagle all fall into this category. They can be easy to find, if they are loyal to a specific winter territory, or you have unlimited time to go looking for them. I only have two days a week to go birding, though, so this is where the luck factor comes in: the bird is either there when you are, or it’s not. Sometimes, a bird that I saw in December has moved on by January. That’s the uncertainty of birding, and one of the reasons it is so addictive: the EUREKA! moment of finally seeing a bird after umpteen misses and a lot of swearing :).
There are other birds to be found, though, not just the ones on the list generated by eBird: Red-bellied and American Three-toed Woodpecker are present this winter (though the latter is on the Quebec side, still within the OFNC study area), as are Wood Duck, Northern Pintail, Pied-billed Grebe, and even a Gyrfalcon or two. That’s why sometimes it’s best to put the eBird lists aside and just go birding!