A Blustery Morning

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

It was sunny and cold when I left this morning – only 5°C – with a wind blowing straight out of the north. This was quite a change from my walk at the ponds along Eagleson yesterday morning when it was 16°C and raining lightly. Despite the rain I found some good birds there, including a Belted Kingfisher, two Great Egrets, a Golden-crowned Kinglet and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet along with the usual pond denizens. Even more surprising was the monarch I saw flitting about 12 feet off the ground in the southwest part of the park. I wasn’t sure if it was migrating or trying to find a spot to take shelter; it flew over the trees and looked like it intended to keep going.


All of those birds were gone today, perhaps borne off on the wind or taking shelter in an area I didn’t check. When I arrived (with a scarf and gloves on) I checked the small weedy field off of Fernbrook and found the usual Song Sparrows. Although I had heard quite a few Song Sparrows singing yesterday, there were fewer in song today. As a result I only counted about 10 Song Sparrows.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

I also saw a couple of White-crowned Sparrows, all juveniles, and heard some in full song. It seemed more of these sparrows were singing than the Song Sparrows; it is hard to know how many were present. I entered 5 into my eBird list, but suspect there were more.

I checked the floodplain and found two Greater Yellowlegs and 15 Killdeer hunkering down along the muddy shore. A third Greater Yellowlegs was in the small bay to the left. Several gulls, including one Herring Gull, were also resting in their usual spot on the far shore. When I checked the gulls later, both the number of Ring-billed and Herring Gulls had doubled.

There wasn’t much to see on the little peninsula, but I saw a flock of pipits flying over and watched them land on the far shore. I also heard two ravens and saw a Double-crested Cormorant sitting on a rock. The only other waterfowl I saw were mallards and Canada Geese, and most of the geese were leaving.

Some Crown Vetch was still blooming; these flowers looked lovely in the dew.

Crown Vetch

Crown Vetch

I continued my walk along the path toward the bridge when a Merlin zoomed by overhead, chasing a small songbird. It failed to catch it, circled back and landed on the tip of an evergreen. I tried to get close enough for a photo, but it flew off before I could take more than a couple of steps. Its back was a steel gray colour, indicating that it was a male.

The pipits were alarmed by the small falcon; I counted eight of them as they circled overhead. At one point it looked as though they were going to land right in front of me. They dropped low as if they were going to land, switched direction and flew over the pond, circled back, and dropped into the vegetation near the shore. I managed to photograph two before they flew off again.

American Pipit

American Pipit

I headed to the southern pond to see if any herons were there. Neither the Great Blue Heron nor the egrets were present; I later found the Great Blue Heron in the pond north of Emerald Meadows Drive. Three more shorebirds were working their way along the shore, a Spotted Sandpiper and two Greater Yellowlegs. One of the Greater Yellowlegs passed in front of me, showing off its long, two-toned bill.

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

I watched as it hunted for food by plunging its whole head into the water. They feed on aquatic invertebrates, small fish, and frogs. While I haven’t seen very many frogs since the construction work was completed, I am sure there are plenty of small fish and aquatic bugs for them to eat!

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

From there I decided to check for the pipits in the rocks near the large outflow pipe. I didn’t find any at the end of the path, so I walked through the field of Rudbeckia flowers to check the construction area where the new houses are being built. Most of the flowers had yellow petals, but I saw one that entirely red and a few that were half red and half yellow. A few clumps of asters are also sprinkled among the rudbeckia plants; it will be an amazing spot for butterflies and insects next year!

Rudbeckia sp.

I scared up a Clouded Sulphur as I walked among the flowers; this was only one of two butterflies I saw on my walk (the other was a Cabbage White). The sulphur flew a short distance away and immediately found a new spot to shelter out of the wind. I am looking forward to finding more Orange Sulphurs here in the future – hopefully the one I saw a few weeks ago isn’t the only one to stop by!

Clouded Sulphur

Clouded Sulphur

I found the pipits along the western shore, and although they flushed several times, I eventually found some along the rocks that allowed me to get close enough to take some photos.

American Pipit

American Pipit

There was some smartweed growing along the shore; the pinkish blobs at the bottom of this photo are out-of-focus flowers.

American Pipit

American Pipit

I find the American Pipit to be a rather cute bird despite its plain and decidedly unspectacular brown and buff colouring. It bobs its tail up and down when it walks, rather like a Palm Warbler, although it looks more like a cross between a first-winter Yellow-rumped Warbler and a sparrow. It also has white outer tail feathers which are normally hidden.

American Pipit

American Pipit

The American Pipit (Anthus rubescens) has also gone by the names of Buff-bellied Pipit and Water Pipit, although it was split from Water Pipit (Anthus spinoletta), a chiefly European species, some time ago. The American Pipit’s range extends from coast to coast across North America, as well as eastern Asia. It is one of three pipit species in North America: the Red-throated Pipit, which breeds in western Alaska and can sometimes be found along the Californian coast in the fall, and Sprague’s Pipit, which breeds in the Canadian prairies and winters as far north as Texas, are the two others. In eastern North America it is not likely to be confused with any other species given its preference for feeding on the ground in open fields and muddy shorelines.

American Pipit

American Pipit

I was happy to be able to spend more time with these enchanting little birds, as they only pass through here during migration, and seldom stop over in the spring. I’ve been hearing them around the ponds since September 18th, making me wonder if different flocks are passing through each weekend, or if the same individual birds have been hanging around here for four weeks now.

I started heading back to my car, but I was unable to resist stopping in at the “sparrow field” one last time. I saw three different White-crowned Sparrows (two juveniles in the same group of asters and one adult) and just missed getting a nice photo of the two youngsters. At least the adult spent some time out in the open.

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

I walked to the end of the path to check out the floodplain one last time, and scared up two Mourning Doves. They walked away from me quickly, but paused when they reached an open spot. I don’t often see Mourning Doves in such a picturesque setting – normally I see them perching on telephone wires or on my back fence.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

Mourning Doves feed almost entirely on seeds and spend a lot of time on the ground. One of the few species to have benefited from the clear-cutting of the forests, the Mourning Dove can be found in almost any kind of open or semi-open habitat, including farms, towns, forest clearings, roadsides, suburbs, deserts, prairies and grasslands. They tend to be most common in edge habitats having both trees and open ground.

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

After leaving the ponds I stopped in at Sarsaparilla Trail next, which was filled with people with young children. The only birds of interest were a Hermit Thrush at the edge of the woods near the picnic shelter, a Nashville Warbler foraging a couple of inches above the ground near the entrance to the boardwalk, and a handful of Dark-eyed Juncos. I was hoping to find another Fox Sparrow or some migrant waterfowl but had no luck with either – a Great Blue Heron at the pond’s edge was the only unusual water bird.

My last stop of the day was Andrew Haydon Park for some river birding. I found a Red-breasted Merganser, six Green-winged Teals, and at least seven Wood Ducks in the western bay along with two black ducks and a Great Egret. The usual 1,000+ Canada Geese were present, and to my delight a single Snow Goose was swimming with a large group of Canada Geese out on the river! I hunkered down on the rocks, facing into the wind as I waited for them to swim closer. Eventually they made their way to the western bay, where I snapped a couple of photos:

Snow Goose

Snow Goose

Snow Goose

Snow Goose

The only shorebirds present were four Killdeer on the mudflats. I walked through the park looking for other migrants; a couple of Golden-crowned Kinglets and a Swainson’s Thrush in a wooded area near Ottawa Beach were the only other species of interest. There were no loons, grebes, or diving ducks on the river yet, but with the winds now blowing consistently from the north it won’t be long until they arrive!

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One thought on “A Blustery Morning

  1. The flowers look a bit like Blanket Flower, Gaillardia. I’ve seen wild ones out west and they are popular garden flowers.

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