I’ve been meaning to get to Billings Bridge for a while now, and finally had the chance last Thursday. It was overcast and cold (only 4°C at lunch time). I still managed to tally 16 species including one Common Goldeneye, 3 Wood Ducks, 8 Hooded Mergansers, 3 Common Mergansers (all males), a couple of Red-winged Blackbirds and a Song Sparrow.
I was hoping to see some groundhogs and Double-crested Cormorants, and wasn’t disappointed. I didn’t find any groundhogs along the river as expected, but finally saw my first one in the wide grassy median between the two lanes of Riverside Drive. At least 15 Double-crested Cormorants were present (a year bird!), most of which were sitting on an island, and three of which were perching in a tree. While I know Double-crested Cormorants nest in trees, it still seems weird to see them just hanging out in one. Many of the ones on the island had visibly raised crests, which is something I don’t see too often – even in the spring.
On Friday night I added Black-crowned Night Heron to my year list when I spotted one at the storm water ponds on Eagleson Road while driving by. These birds are very dapper in their crisp black-and-white breeding plumage; I hope to photograph one this spring with its plumes.
I started Saturday morning with a stop at Sarsaparilla Trail. I finally saw some migrants here, including three Golden-crowned Kinglets foraging close to the ground in the woods. I saw movement in a large tangle of branches near the trio and was surprised when I identified the bird as a Pine Siskin. I’ve been hearing these birds a lot since the fall, and seen a few flying over, but this is the first one I’ve gotten a good look at. Like the redpolls this winter, most of my sightings have been of fly-overs.
The ice on the pond had receded a bit, and there were four Ring-necked Ducks standing on the ice. A male Hooded Merganser was diving in the water behind them. Interestingly, the eponymous ring around the neck is not the best field mark to look for when identifying them; look for the silver outline around the bill instead.
While heading back to the parking lot I was surprised to hear a couple of Bohemian Waxwings calling from behind the outhouse. I scanned all of the trees for them and eventually found two. One was actually low enough to photograph – lately I’ve seen them perching at the tops of tall trees in large flocks rather than feeding on shrubs closer to the ground.
On Saturday I went to Dunrobin to look for open-field birds. I still had no luck with any Eastern Meadowlarks or Northern Harriers, but I did hear an Eastern Phoebe calling on Greenland Road not far from the Hawkwatch site. I also saw a Common Raven feeding on a carcass in the ditch. I stopped to scope a distant falcon (likely the same kestrel I had seen last weekend) when Mike Tate came along and stopped to see what I was up to. He told me the Osprey were back at Berry Side Road, which interested me as I had not seen any Osprey yet this year. We parted ways after that, and just as I was about to leave I spotted a small flock of Snow Buntings flying around the field. These birds seem to disappear with the snow at the end of March, so I wasn’t expecting to see about a dozen flying around a grassy field in early April!
I checked Berry Side Road after that, and saw an Osprey perching in a distant tree. Mike had told me that someone had removed all of the nesting material from the platform; Mike realized they were back when he saw a couple of sticks on the top. It didn’t look as though the Osprey had made much progress, but it was nice to see him back on territory. The only other birds in the area were two crows. I was hoping for more marsh birds but the strong winds probably kept everything hunkered down.
I was in the mood for more raptors so I stopped by Shirley’s Bay. The eagle’s nest is visible from the boat launch with a good scope, and I was hoping to get lucky and see one of the eagles flying to or from the nest. I immediately saw two eagles in the tree, one on the nest and one on a branch further out, and both flew off while I was watching – another year bird!
From there I stopped by the nesting platform along the Jock River to see if the Osprey were back. A Turkey Vulture flew over, and at first I didn’t see any Osprey around, either on the platform or in the trees nearby. I decided to walk to the river to look for ducks and geese, and as soon as I reached the post that supports the platform I heard the whistling call of an Osprey! I turned to look to see one flying right toward me, clearly disturbed by my presence, and hastened to leave the area. I caught this image after clearing the nest area (click to enlarge).
Another Osprey flew in, and landed in the nest. If I had realized they were around I wouldn’t have walked right beneath the platform to get to the river; it’s probably a good idea to avoid the platform area given how unhappy they were with my being there.
After dinner I went to Carp to check out a Ross’s Goose that had been reported on the Carp River. I missed the goose, but added Green-winged Teal to my year list. The sun was quite low in the sky so I decided to drive over to Rifle Road instead of going back home. The fields along Rifle Road are known to harbour American Woodcocks in the spring, and I was hoping to catch a glimpse of one doing its mating display. There was still light in the sky when I heard one “peenting” from a brushy area on the opposite side of the road. I pulled up in my car until I was directly across from it, and scanned the area with my binoculars. I couldn’t see it in the dim light, though it sounded as though it were moving around – I thought for sure that I would have spotted the vegetation moving! Suzanne Britton also stopped in to see the woodcocks, and for a while we both searched for the “peenting” bird while two others called in the distance. We also heard a Wild Turkey gobbling, a Wood Duck flying over, and a few robins singing, but no Wilson’s Snipe. Eventually the woodcock catapulted itself from the ground and began circling higher and higher, the wind passing through the outer primary feathers of its wings creating a musical twittering sound. He spent about a minute in the air, looking like an overgrown bat or hummingbird with a chunky body, long bill, and rapidly fluttering wings, before coming back down to earth, landing in a brushy spot behind the fence. We both saw where he landed, and watched him start “peenting” again before repeating the display. It wasn’t fully dark yet, giving me the best look I have ever had of a woodcock, and it was worth staying out to see.
The next morning I returned to Sarsaparilla Trail before meeting Deb for some east-end birding. The open water had iced over again, and the diving ducks were gone. A Great Blue Heron was perching in a dead tree, however.
Deb and I checked Milton Road where we had some luck. A flock of about 300 Snow Geese was mixed in with a flock of 1,000 Canada Geese in a flooded field near the south end of Milton Road. We also saw several Green-winged Teals and Northern Pintails. Up near Smith Road I counted a flock of 13 Sandhill Cranes. We also heard one calling at Mer Bleue but couldn’t spot it. Our stop there was a bust, with little of interest around. It could have been because it was so busy, with lots of cars in the parking lot and people with strollers and children on the boardwalk even though it was only 10:30. Interestingly, the Eastern Phoebe’s nest I had spotted near the parking lot last year was gone. There were no phoebes around either, though we spotted one further down Ridge Road. I hope they return; it’s always neat to watch the chicks age when I visit later in the season for dragonflies.
The warm weather has made it a pleasure to go birding again, and it is wonderful to see all of these birds back in Ottawa, whether just passing through or here for the breeding season. I can’t wait to see which birds return next!