I got my first year bird before I even left my subdivision. As I was driving on Grassy Plains Drive I noticed a small bird perching on top of a light standard. It looked too small for a crow, and as the Merlin usually perches on top of the street lights when it’s around, I slowed down to take a look. Sure enough, it was a Merlin – the first one I’d seen here in just over a year. I drove past the bird, parked, and got out to take some photographs. The 60x zoom on my new camera is really handy for a bird that high up:
It didn’t stick around long – a nearby crow was busy screaming at it, and I snapped this photo just before the crow swooped in and chased it off. Still, I was happy to see that the Merlin is still around, for I think they are very endearing little birds of prey.
At Mud Lake it was great to hear the Song Sparrows singing in the shrubs near the parking lot. Unfortunately by the time I arrived the clouds had rolled in, so it wasn’t quite as nice a morning as I expected. I decided to check the water behind the ridge first, and was stunned to see how high the river was – just to the west of the main path it had flooded all the way to the base of the ridge. While scanning the ducks swimming there, I was startled to see a pair of Wood Ducks – for some reason it hadn’t occurred to me that they would be back yet, as I usually see my first ones of the spring at Billings Bridge (which I haven’t visited in a while).
The male Northern Pintail wasn’t around, but the male and female American Wigeon were. They and the female Wood Duck came out from the large swampy area at the base of the ridge when I started throwing food for the ducks; although the Wood Duck was able to grab some food, the two Wigeon either weren’t hungry enough to join in or were pushed out of the way by the more aggressive mallards.
They made their way to the channel and started preening themselves in a shallow spot right close to the shore. Normally you can walk well past the spot where they were standing; I think it will be a while before the water level goes down far enough to do that.
I was even lucky enough to capture the female doing a wing stretch. Birds often open their wing completely while simultaneously pushing out the leg on the same side to stretch their muscles; this is a common action seen among birds that are actively preening. It’s not always easy to get a photo of a bird with its wing fully open during the stretch, but it’s a great opportunity to see the pattern on the wings. I got really lucky this time.
I left the ridge and continued my walk clockwise around the lake. The shrubs along the river were filled with Dark-eyed Juncos and Song Sparrows; when I saw a small bird fly into a tree I assumed it was a sparrow, until I got my binoculars on it and realized it was a Common Redpoll! I also heard a couple of Pine Siskins flying over but didn’t see any perching.
A few geese were feeding on the lawn, including this unique individual. This hybrid Canada x domestic goose has been summering along the Ottawa River for quite a few years now; I have photos of it from at least as far back as 2011 and 2012, and I’ve heard it may have been summering here for about 10 years.
A little further along I came across a flock of about 15 Cedar Waxwings feeding on some Buckthorn berries. They must be moving back north now; after seeing only one flock all winter (the one at the Summer Tanager site in January), I have now seen small flocks both days this past weekend.
I headed down the eastern path next where I found some robins and heard at least two Purple Finches singing. I also heard a couple of Golden-crowned Kinglets but couldn’t spot them in the vegetation. I followed the trail next to the storm water pond in the hope of seeing the mockingbird; instead I found a large flock of Bohemian Waxwings gorging on the berries. I am guessing they were part of the huge flock of about 70 I had seen flying over upon my arrival; I wasn’t able to count them all, but there were a lot. This was the first time I had been able to spend any prolonged time watching them so far this year, and it was fun watching them flutter through the shrubs, gleaning berries while giving their soft calls.
Bohemian Waxwings are larger and grayer than the Cedar Waxwings. The easiest way to tell the two species apart is by looking at the colour underneath the tail – Bohemian Waxwings are rusty red, whereas Cedar Waxwings are white. The Bohemian Waxwings also have more colour on their wings – while Cedar Waxwings only have red tips on their wing feathers, Bohemian Waxwings have red, white and yellow tips on their wing feathers.
I left the waxwings and decided not to continue around the lake, but to head back the way I had come as I was interested in photographing the American Wigeon now that the sun had come out. After following the path through the swampy area east of the lake toward the filtration plant, I met two photographers who were watching a Black-crowned Night-heron in the bay directly south of the filtration plant lawn. I found it easily in my binoculars and snapped a few distant pictures. Although the pictures aren’t really worth posting, I was surprised when I first saw them and realized a second Black-crowned Night-heron was perching in a different tree close by – it was half hidden behind some branches, which is probably why we didn’t realize a second one was present. This was the only new year bird I found at Mud Lake.
When I returned to the parking lot I heard that the two American Wigeon had left the channel behind the ridge and were now swimming in a narrow patch of open water on the lake. I found them and only managed one decent photo – I love the mallard landing in the water behind them:
I left Mud Lake after that, and headed home. I added a third bird species to my year list when I saw three Ring-necked Ducks swimming in the northern-most pond along Eagleson. There were two males and a female, and they were actively diving for fish.
Although I didn’t find as many new year birds as I had hoped (and still didn’t get a Great Blue Heron or Brown-headed Cowbird) I enjoyed my morning at Mud Lake and seeing my first Black-crowned Night-herons of the year. The Ring-necked Ducks on the pond in Emerald Meadows were also a nice surprise. Spring migration is under way, and I can’t wait to see what turns up next!