Thanksgiving Birds

Wood Duck (male)

Wood Duck (male)

On September 27th, a rare Western Kingbird was found at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden. Although it was found on a Sunday, I didn’t feel like making the drive out there (it’s a good half hour away from me through the city) and joining a mob of people surrounding the bird. The Fletcher Wildlife Garden, although beautiful, is also one of my least favourite places to go birding in Ottawa as it’s usually full of off-leash dogs. However, as the week wore on, the kingbird continued to be reported every day. It was still there on Friday, so I began planning an early morning visit to the FWG the following day. I left just after it had gotten light enough to see, and arrived at the FWG at about 8:15 am. There was a cold, blustery wind blowing, and this change in the weather made my heart sink as I realized that the kingbird might have blown out with the winds.

I walked through the garden to the road leading to the locks where it had last been seen. I spent a bit of time scanning the trees in the open field to the south for a single flycatcher perched on an exposed branch. My search proved fruitless, and the biting wind made being out in the open uncomfortable, so I retreated to the sheltered butterfly meadow. There I found all kinds of birds – but no Western Kingbird. Sparrows were everywhere, represented chiefly by Song, Chipping and White-throated Sparrows. I heard a couple of juncos calling and a single White-crowned Sparrow singing in a thicket somewhere but wasn’t able to spot them. A Nashville Warbler surprised me when it popped up out of the vegetation along with a couple of sparrows; this was the only warbler I saw.

I made another circuit of the property, and encountered a few birders also looking for the Western Kingbird. No one had been able to find it. I returned to the butterfly meadow where I heard a Hermit Thrush’s whiny call notes emerging from some dense shrubs. As I was peering into the vegetation to see if I could catch a glimpse of it, I heard a sudden loud rustling behind me. An Eastern Cottontail ran out onto the path and quickly disappeared into the flowers on the other side of the trail, but something else was running in the dense, knee-high vegetation. I was severely annoyed when I saw a small black dog tearing through the garden off-trail with no owner in sight. The Hermit Thrush spooked, and flew up into a deciduous tree next to a robin – both are members of the thrush family, but how unlike they are in appearance!

Hermit Thrush and Robin

Hermit Thrush and Robin (click to enlarge)

After the dog disappeared, I returned to the road to continue my search for the Western Kingbird. I circled the property once more, and encountered the small black dog two more times while I was there, still bursting through the garden with no owner in sight. That incident left a sour taste in my mouth, and even the sight of my first Sharp-shinned Hawk of the year gliding by overhead did nothing to alleviate it, so I left. I later learned that the Western Kingbird was not seen again; the last sighting of it had been the day before (Friday), before the winds came.

My mother and stepfather visited us Thanksgiving weekend, so I was unable to go birding the following Saturday. Mom and I went out on Sunday, though, heading out to Shirley’s Bay where a number of excellent birds had been seen lately. Although it was a cold, windy and overcast day, I picked up four year birds (American Wigeon, Red-necked Grebe, Surf Scoter and White-rumped Sandpiper), and my mother got two lifers (Surf Scoter and White-rumped Sandpiper). None of the birds were particularly close, and it was hard to see them through my small scope. A few Northern Shovelers, a Northern Pintail, five Black-bellied Plovers, a late-lingering Spotted Sandpiper, and five Rusty Blackbirds seen briefly in a tree on the grassy spit also made the visit worthwhile. We had two raptors – an adult Bald Eagle which delighted my mother and a soaring Sharp-shinned Hawk. We didn’t see any warblers.

From there we went to Andrew Haydon Park which was fairly quiet – three Blue-winged Teals feeding in the western creek were the best birds. We headed over to Mud Lake next where I hoped to show my mother the tame Downy Woodpeckers that land on people’s hands for food. We didn’t find the woodpeckers, but we found a large flock of warblers feeding near the lawn east of the ridge. There were about 30 Yellow-rumped Warblers, which are not uncommon in October, along with a Palm Warbler feeding close to the ground and a Tennessee Warbler in the vegetation. I was excited to see the Tennessee Warbler, and tried to take a few pictures – unfortunately my camera kept focusing on the vegetation in front of it. I was really hoping for an Orange-crowned Warbler but had no luck finding one.

Palm Warbler

Palm Warbler

I decided to check the entrance to the woods along Cassels Street in case the tame Downy Woodpeckers were hanging out there, and again had no luck finding them. We did find a couple of Wood Ducks close to the trail; someone had left seed on the ground and a few mallards were eating. I threw some more seed on the ground and while the male Wood Duck swam in close, he declined to join the mallards on the trail.

Wood Duck (male)

Wood Duck (male)

Wood Duck (male)

Wood Duck (male)

A female Wood Duck was not as timid, and flew up onto the trail and started feeding. If my mom was disappointed by the failure of the Downy Woodpeckers to make an appearance, being able to feed a female Wood Duck more than made up for it. She doesn’t get to see very many Wood Ducks where she lives in Kitchener, and certainly not as close as this, so they are rather special to her.

Wood Duck (female)

Wood Duck (female)

We didn’t have time to go birding the following day before she and my stepfather had to drive back to Kitchener, but it was a beautiful day and I went out by myself. I went back to Mud Lake, still hoping to find an Orange-crowned Warbler. I checked the sunny areas near the dock and found a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers foraging with about five Eastern Phoebes – these would be my last phoebes of the year. Two American Wigeon and five Hooded Mergansers were present on the lake, and in the woods I found a single Golden-crowned Kinglet, a single Ruby-crowned Kinglet, and two Hermit Thrushes. A few Dark-eyed Juncos and several White-throated Sparrows were present, and while most of these will pass through, a few may decide to overwinter here. A single Turkey Vulture flew over the lake fairly low, and I was able to capture a decent flight shot of this huge bird:

Turkey Vulture

Turkey Vulture

I never did find any Orange-crowned Warblers at Mud Lake, and headed over to Andrew Haydon Park next to see if any interesting water birds had shown up. I didn’t find any waterfowl of interest on the river, but there were five shorebirds ambling along the mudflats: two Killdeer, a single White-rumped Sandpiper, and two Semipalmated Sandpipers. When I entered the shorebirds into eBird, it marked the Semipalmated Sandpipers as rare; apparently it’s getting late in the season for these tiny long-distance migrants, which are much more common in Ottawa in September. They were unmistakable, as they were smaller than the White-rumped Sandpiper they were foraging with, and had black legs, a whitish face, and a straight, black bill. Unfortunately they were too far out to get a decent photo, but I enjoyed watching them through my scope.

Although I wasn’t able to add any more birds to my year list on Thanksgiving Monday, the weather was nice and it was good to get out. I had a lot of fun birding over the long weekend, and enjoyed spending the time with my mother. We got to see a little bit of everything – warblers and waterfowl, shorebirds and sparrows, raptors and flycatchers – and best of all, we even found two lifers for my mother!

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