Late October Sightings

Black-crowned Night-heron

Although migration continues to progress, I haven’t seen as many late-season migrants as I had hoped. Still, there have been a few highlights during the last week of the month, including the arrival of some of our winter birds.

I headed out to Shirley’s Bay on Sunday, October 23rd, but the wind was so cold and blustery that I didn’t spend much time there. I saw a Merlin perching in a tree along Rifle Road and found my first Snow Buntings of the fall picking their way along the shore. There were only two of them, and they flushed when a couple of photographers got too close – I don’t think they even realized they were there. They may have been trying to get close to a Common Loon swimming fairly close to shore, unremarkable in its gray winter plumage.

It was too windy to head out to the dyke, so instead I walked east along the shore to the point to scan for waterfowl there. I saw my first Northern Shrike of the season at the point, though it was a really odd encounter – when I first saw it, it was trying to fly into the wind across the water toward Quebec, though I didn’t realize it was a shrike at first. All I could tell was that it was a songbird of some sort, perhaps a robin, and that it wasn’t making any progress as it battled against the wind. As I watched it changed direction, flying east over the water instead of straight across, and kept sinking lower and lower until I thought it was going to land on the waves. The bird was east of the point by then, and but managed to swing around so that it was flying west straight toward me. As it got closer I could see the black mask and realized it was a Northern Shrike, of all things! It landed in a tree right above my head, safe from a watery fate. I’d never seen a shrike do anything like this before, and wondered what its intentions were.

The following Saturday I found a Song Sparrow beneath one of the feeders in my yard along with two juncos. Song Sparrows usually don’t hang out in my yard, and this one was probably looking for food before migrating south. The juncos have been here since October 8th, though I don’t know if these are different individuals passing through, or birds that intend to overwinter here. A White-breasted Nuthatch ambling around the tree in my front yard on the same day was the first one I’d seen in my yard since 2014; I heard a second one calling from across the street. White-breasted Nuthatches are rare in my neighbourhood, though I’d been hearing and/or seeing one on my morning walks to the bus since September 22nd.

Later that day I headed over to the storm water ponds and observed two American Tree Sparrows, a Greater Yellowlegs, both Hooded and Common Mergansers, and a flock of about 40 Snow Buntings flying over.

Yesterday I headed over to Andrew Haydon Park to continue my search for waterfowl – I haven’t seen any scoters, Red-throated Loons, Cackling Geese or Long-tailed Ducks so far this year, and was hoping to pick up a few for my year list. Although I saw a Snow Goose and a few Common Goldeneyes on the river, the only noteworthy birds were a large flock of about 40 Green-winged Teal that flushed from the marsh and three Black-crowned Night Herons in the eastern creek. They were all immature birds, and flew up from the creek bed into the trees when I walked by – I hadn’t known they were there. This was the latest I can recall seeing this species; usually my last sightings occur in September, and this was October 30th.

Black-crowned Night-heron

My last stop of the day was the Rideau Trail off Richmond Road. There wasn’t much to see there, though I did find two American Tree Sparrows and a Winter Wren.

The seasons are changing, and with the arrival of the Common Goldeneyes, American Tree Sparrows, Snow Buntings, and Northern Shrike there is definitely a feeling of winter in the air. Although this isn’t my favourite time of year, the last two months of the year are often good for finding rarities, such as the Mountain Bluebird and Bullock’s Oriole last year. It keeps the birding exciting, even when all the birds of summer are gone and the woods and fields and streams are falling into silence.

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