Last year, I spent New Year’s Eve trying to calculate the most likely birds I would see. I ended up with 18 species out of the 30 most frequently recorded species. Despite getting out the door at 7:40 am yesterday, I was only out for 2.5 hours when the scattered flurries in the forecast turned into a heavy snowfall that sent me home. Again I ended up with only 18 species, having decided to forego my trip to Mud Lake because I wasn’t sure how quickly the road conditions would deteriorate.
After tallying a Dark-eyed Junco in my backyard as the first bird of 2016, I started off my day at the storm water pond at the corner of Bridgestone and Eagleson. The northern-most pond is the only one that still has open water; I thought I might find some ducks and Canada Geese here. Although the pond was completely ice-free, I only added two species to my year list – mallard and crow. There weren’t even any American Black Ducks to keep the 11 mallards company.
My next stop was Jack Pine Trail where I was hoping to find the White-throated Sparrows again, as well as the usual host of woodland birds. About ten minutes after I arrived I heard the crows calling out in agitation, and managed to spot a large predator flying off through the trees with about five crows in pursuit. The brief glimpse I got suggested Red-tailed Hawk, but if you asked me what specific field marks I saw which led to that ID, I couldn’t tell you. It was my first “miss” of the year.
At the feeders I counted five species, all new for my year list: Black-capped Chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatch, Mourning Dove, and Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers.
Even though I was the only person on the trail, I didn’t see any mammals other than the two squirrel species. There were no juncos or American Tree Sparrows in the shrubby area beyond the feeders, and no Northern Cardinals picking up seed off the ground. I threw some onto the snow to see if the food would lure any birds out; all it did was attract about four Blue Jays who gobbled up the peanuts then waited for me to give them more.
I went to the back of the trail where I had found the White-throated Sparrow a few days ago, but didn’t see any sparrows. I added Red-breasted Nuthatch to my list and then turned around and headed back. A male Northern Cardinal was feeding on the seed I had left on the ground, which ended up being my last new species at Jack Pine Trail. I returned to the OFNC feeder to see if any finches had arrived, but just found the usual woodpeckers, nuthatches and chickadees. By the time I left my year list was up to 11 species.
I crossed the road and went to the Beaver Trail next, hoping to see the weasel and the American Tree Sparrows at the boardwalk again, and perhaps a Purple Finch, Pileated Woodpecker or Brown Creeper. As soon as I arrived at the parking lot I heard two Common Ravens calling, and located them on one of the huge hydro towers there. The woods were quiet – again, most of the activity was at the boardwalk at the back, where a bit of open water remained. I put some seed out for the birds and waited. Eventually one American Tree Sparrow came out to feed, but the White-breasted Nuthatches (there were four of them in that area!) prevented the sparrow from approaching the food, and it disappeared into the foliage.
I didn’t get any of the woodland birds I was hoping for, but I did get two other species I wasn’t expecting – an American Robin landed on the top of an evergreen and called a few times before disappearing, and four Wild Turkeys were feeding near the Wild Bird Care Center.
It hadn’t started snowing yet, so I thought I would check the areas around Trail Road and the Moodie Drive quarry for gulls and hawks. I had just arrived at the dump when the snow started coming down – lightly at first, nothing to worry about. I saw a few gulls flying over and added Great Black-backed Gull and Herring Gull to my list. I didn’t see gulls standing out in the open, so I was unable to check for Ring-billed or white-winged gulls. The only other bird species I saw on Trail Road were large numbers of crows and starlings, and one American Tree Sparrow. Although the snow was coming down harder, I decided to drive the loop and head over to the quarry pond. By the time I reached the pond, however, the snow was coming down in a torrent, and I began to worry about the roads. I briefly scanned the pond without getting out of the car, and started heading home. The snow put an end to the day’s birding, as by the time it cleared up after lunch I was too tired from my lack of sleep to go out again.
Altogether, I got 14 of the top 20 birds most frequently observed in January. The ones that I missed include American Goldfinch (really?), Rock Pigeon (there are very few in our neighbourhood this time of year, and I wasn’t anywhere where I would likely see them), Common Goldeneye (never got to Mud Lake), Common Redpoll (none around so far this winter), House Finch (most likely to be seen at Mud Lake) and House Sparrow (the ones that come to my feeder are very erratic). The birds that I did see that aren’t in the top 20 include American Robin (#24), Great Black-backed Gull (#26), Herring Gull (#29) and Wild Turkey (#30).
Today I added 7 more birds to my year list. I got off to a late start because my fiancé needed the car for an appointment, but while I was home I added House Sparrow and American Goldfinch to my year list. I took a drive down Eagleson, hoping to find some Snow Buntings, Horned Larks, Snowy Owls, Red-tailed Hawks, and Rough-legged Hawks to my list. As soon as I crossed Fallowfield I spied a large flock of tiny songbirds wheeling over a farm field and pulled over. They landed on the shoulder so I slowly drove forward until I was close enough to identify them as Snow Buntings. Every time a car passed by they flushed and circled back into the field; eventually they all flew back to the shoulder, picking away at the gravel until the next time a car drove by. This happened several times while I was there, and a few times I noticed a dark brown bird among them – a Lapland Longspur! This is the 60th most likely bird to be seen in January and one I was not expecting so soon. According to eBird I have a better chance of seeing a Hoary Redpoll, a Gray Partridge, or a Northern Hawk Owl! I tried to take some photos when the flock got close, but only managed one decent photo because the traffic kept scaring them off.
After that I headed over to Old Quarry Trail, still hoping to find some woodland birds, and maybe an owl or a Northern Goshawk. It had clouded over by then, and later it started snowing lightly – just heavy enough to warrant putting the camera in my bag, but not heavy enough to call it a day. I spent 2.5 hours in trail system hoping to find something interesting; yet I only saw 10 species, including two new ones: Brown Creeper (32nd on the most-likely list) and Purple Finch (58th on the list). I was happy that I both heard and saw both species, as Brown Creepers can be difficult to spot on overcast days when they reach the upper parts of the tree they are working on. I saw the Purple Finch at the boardwalk, where someone had left a pile of seed on the railing. A couple of Tree Sparrows were feeding, but flushed when I stepped out into the open. I put some more seed on the railing, then walked out to the middle of the boardwalk to see which birds would come feed. The Tree Sparrows never returned, but a handsome male Purple Finch flew in – it’s the first male I can recall seeing in a while.
Although I didn’t see any Ruffed Grouse, owls, accipiters, woodpeckers (really?), deer or Snowshoe Hares, I saw a couple of porcupines and plenty of tracks belonging to both Snowshoe Hare and deer. By the time I was done my back was too sore to head over to Mud Lake, so I called it a day and went home. I did stop in again at the storm water pond on Eagleson, and wouldn’t you know it, five or six American Black Ducks had shown up to keep the mallards company. There were still no Canada Geese, however.
As of today, my year list is up to 25 species. Tomorrow is my last day of vacation and I’ll be heading up to Mud Lake to look for river birds and House Finches and whatever else wants to be found. While I hope to find some new species for my year list, I don’t plan on chasing anything in particular, as I don’t altogether enjoy chasing specific species just for the sake of adding them to a list – particularly if I have to drive more than 15 or 20 minutes to see it. In fact, I haven’t even subscribed to any “year needs” lists on eBird this year. I would much rather just visit a few of my favourite spots and see what’s around, and then add my sightings to eBird – even if all I see are common species. While I do enjoy keeping various lists of birds I’ve seen, the experience of going out and finding my own birds and spending time with them is worth more than the list itself. Keeping a year list is what motivates me to get out in January, but it’s spending time watching these dynamic balls of feathers that keeps me going back for more, and to photograph them and blog about them when I see something that sparks my interest.