Farewell to February

American Robin

American Robin

February 28th fell on a Saturday this year. This is traditionally the last day of the winter birding season for birders, and the last day to record any birds for one’s winter list. I stopped keeping a winter list when I realized I no longer enjoyed driving well out of my way in miserably cold and/or snowy weather to see birds other people had found, especially unusual wintering birds that are otherwise quite common later in the year. Why make a special effort to chase after a Song Sparrow or a Hooded Merganser reported somewhere across the city when I knew I would see these birds much closer to home in the spring? Of course, if a REALLY good bird shows up – like the Gyrfalcon at the Lafleche Dump – I’m happy to go and add it to my life list or my year list, but otherwise I’m just as happy to stick close to home and go to the places I enjoy most.

That is what I did on Saturday. I realized I haven’t spent much time in Stony Swamp over the past few weeks, so I headed over to Old Quarry Trail to see if I could find the female Black-backed Woodpecker again. Although it was supposed to warm up to -5°C, it was still pretty cold (about -17°C) when I headed out early to beat the crowd of snow-shoers and skiers that I knew would follow later. I saw only one person on the trail while I was there, which was quieter than even I expected.

As I got to the first open area I heard the soft song of a robin coming from somewhere nearby. I couldn’t locate the singer, but it was wonderful to hear this song again, especially on such a cold morning. I walked a little further along the trail and heard a woodpecker tapping somewhere close by. I managed to track it down and was surprised to find the female Black-backed Woodpecker so easily.

Black-backed Woodpecker

Black-backed Woodpecker

She was high up on a pine tree and showed no signs of moving, so after attempting to take some photos I moved on.

The bridge was fairly quiet. Usually there are lots of different birds in the area looking for handouts, but on that day only a few chickadees and one Red-breasted Nuthatch came when I put some food out. A Downy and a Hairy Woodpecker were working on two tall trees in the vicinity; and although I heard a cardinal singing in the distance, none of these birds ventured any closer.

I saw quite a few woodpeckers on my walk, though the one I really wanted – the large, dapper Pileated – refused to show itself after calling somewhere deep in the woods. Another bird I heard but wasn’t able to see was the Brown Creeper. I had stopped to feed some chickadees and was thrilled to hear one singing! There is nothing quite like the melodic up-and-down song of a creeper in the early spring, though I don’t usually hear it until closer to April.

On my way back to the parking lot I decided to take a side trail that would lead me back to the area where I had seen the Black-backed Woodpecker. I wasn’t too far from where I had seen the woodpecker earlier when I heard some tapping, so I stopped to investigate. I found a Hairy Woodpecker working away on an ash tree…and then I noticed a Black-backed Woodpecker working on the same tree! I had to wade through knee-deep snow in order to verify that it was a female, and managed to get this photo before the Hairy Woodpecker chased her further off-trail:

Black-backed Woodpecker

Black-backed Woodpecker

She wasn’t all that far from where I had seen the first Black-backed Woodpecker, as the bird flies, so I quickly followed the trail back to where I had seen the first woodpecker. Sure enough, she was still there, working on the very same tree where I had first seen her about an hour earlier. Just to be sure, I went back to check on the second, and waded through the deep snow to see if she was still there. She was indeed, which confirmed it: there were at least TWO female Black-backed Woodpeckers at Old Quarry Trail! This didn’t surprise me given the extensive pine plantation within the conservation area and the number of ash trees infected by Emerald Ash Borer larvae closer to Eagleson Road. I was still hoping to see a male, but was happy enough to see two Black-backed Woodpeckers in one day.

On my way back to the parking lot I came across this healthy-looking fellow meandering along. I watched him climb down one tree, then walk about 30 feet before climbing another. Although porcupine evidence is everywhere, it was the only porcupine that I saw.

Porcupine

Porcupine

The next day I went birdwatching with Deb. Again it was supposed to be warmer than usual, though it was still quite chilly in the morning. We started off the morning at Mud Lake where the frost on the vegetation and the mist rising from the Ottawa River made for a lovely sight.

Ottawa River in the Mist

Ottawa River in the Mist (Click to enlarge)

We saw numerous mallards flying over the ridge and three Common Goldeneyes in the channel behind the ridge. The goldeneyes are in this photo, though they aren’t the focus of the image.

Common Goldeneyes on the River

Common Goldeneyes on the River (Click to enlarge)

If the Greater Scaup was still present, we didn’t see it. However, it could have been just out of view on the water beyond the island, hidden in the thick fog. Anything could have been present there – in fact, I heard later that a couple of birders had found a pair of Bald Eagles on the ice later that afternoon!

We walked around the lake, but there wasn’t much to see. We only tallied 12 species, which is still more than I usually tally in a single outing these days, all of them common local winter species except for two. The best birds of the day were the two White-throated Sparrows hanging out in the shrubs next to the feeders on Cassels Street and the American Robins. They were feeding on the berries along the northeastern side of the conservation area, a bit further south than where I had seen them a few weeks ago.

American Robin

American Robin

A few were singing softly, which was thrilling to hear after the long, dark quiet of winter.

American Robin

American Robin

They were moving among the shrubs too quickly to count, but I checked each bird in case it was the Hermit Thrush. All of them turned out to be robins (plus one starling), so if the Hermit Thrush is still present, it was keeping itself well hidden.

We drove to Jack Pine Trail next to see if the Barred Owl was around. I haven’t seen it yet, but then I haven’t spent a lot of time at this trail lately because it’s always so busy. By the time we arrived, the parking lot was pretty full. There was an OFNC outing that day led by Dave and Bev, which accounted for some of the cars, but a lot of them belonged to people with kids. Noisy kids. We didn’t spend much time at the feeder when we arrived as a couple of families were trying to encourage their kids to hand-feed the chickadees. The kids weren’t having any of it – they were whooping and running around in the snow. Deb and I paused to listen to an American Tree Sparrow singing (something I would have liked to have recorded on video, had we been alone) then quickly hurried off. We didn’t see much along the middle loop – a porcupine and a Pileated Woodpecker at the top of a dead tree were our best finds – but when we returned to the feeder we found it much quieter.

There still wasn’t much bird activity, though. A few Mourning Doves flew in, one landing on top of the feeder.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

A couple of woodpeckers took turns on the suet and at least three Northern Cardinals were lurking in the thickets. The most interesting bird was a Brown Creeper walking on the ground, gleaning food (seeds?) from the top of the snow. This is the second time I’ve ever seen a Brown Creeper do this, and that was at Jack Pine Trail as well.

We ended the outing after that. It was a good start to the month of March – nothing has changed in the birdscape so far, but we should start seeing some new arrivals in the next couple of weeks.

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2 thoughts on “Farewell to February

  1. Thanks Sue! Do you not have porcupines in your area? Or do they like to hide up in the trees where you aren’t looking for them? They are pretty common here. I don’t see them on every walk, but I do know they are around from the large bare patches on trees where they’ve eaten the bark and the scat they leave behind.

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