I haven’t been to Hurdman since June, and while the LRT construction has progressed nicely, I was pleased to see that no other paths have been closed. It’s still a good walk to get to the river, and at first I didn’t see or hear any birds. That changed as I neared the Rideau River Pathway when two Red-tailed Hawks flew by fairly low over my head. One landed in a tree near the river, while the second flew over the large hill and disappeared. This is not a bird I see often at Hurdman, and observing two together seemed a good start to my walk.
My main goal was to check out the waterfowl on the river. A female or immature Harlequin Duck had been seen along this stretch recently, along with a Barrow’s Goldeneye, a Pied-billed Grebe, and some gulls. Mammals such as mink, beaver, and muskrat are also possible, though not common – I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t have any luck with these. However, a few Common Goldeneyes were swimming and diving in the water near the footbridge; although I spent some time watching them, I wasn’t able to come up with any other species, so I kept walking. In between the footbridge and the Queensway I spotted another group of diving ducks, and the first bird I spotted was the Harlequin Duck! She was swimming fairly close to the opposite shore, so I started to cross the footbridge to get closer. Unfortunately she didn’t stay long, flying off when a noisy group of students walked by. She flew to the large section of open water on the other side of the footbridge, too far out to photograph. Two Common Mergansers swam from beneath the highway to the far side of the open water.
I turned around and decided to check out the trail through the woods. A couple of feeders were up in the usual spot, but they were empty. A few chickadees were flying in to check them out, however, so I emptied my bag of seeds on the feeder and on the ground. It didn’t take long for the chickadees, a White-breasted Nuthatch, and a couple of cardinals to fly in, but the biggest surprise were a pair of White-throated Sparrows. Even more surprising was that one appeared to be an immature bird – note the streaks on the breast and the lack of a yellow supercilium.
A Pileated Woodpecker, a House Finch (heard only) and a robin (again, heard only) were the only other birds of note.
Christmas Day was sunny but cold, so after spending the morning with family I headed out to spend a couple of hours birding. I drove over to Mud Lake as I hadn’t been there in a while, and wanted to check out the river for ducks. The usual mallards, American Black Ducks and Common Goldeneyes were present; there were no unusual overwintering species. At the entrance to the woods I found a pair of robins feeding on the buckthorn berries. I checked the ridge and the area near the filtration plant but didn’t see any others. An unusually large number of robins were found throughout the region during the Ottawa Christmas Bird Count, so I was a bit disappointed I didn’t see any others. Sometimes other birds join in with flocks of robins, such as waxwings or Hermit Thrushes.
From there I headed over to the Trail Road landfill to check for gulls and Rough-legged Hawks. I didn’t see either, but on Barnsdale I was surprised to see about two dozen robins flying in and out of the deep ditch. The water there hadn’t yet frozen, and was providing a source of water for both bathing and drinking – two American Tree Sparrows were giving themselves a bath along with the robins.
I took a quick look around the farm roads north of Barnsdale to look for Rough-legged Hawks, Gray Partridges, Snow Buntings, Horned Larks and (least importantly) Snowy Owls. I found a large flock of Snow Buntings on Barnsdale and a small traffic jam on Brownlee – although I didn’t see any Snowy Owls or photographers with their tripods set up, cars were parked on both sides of the road. A car that had been slowly driving in front of me, presumably looking for birds, stopped in between the two sets of cars, blocking me briefly. Then it, too, pulled over. Slightly annoyed, I continued on my way and turned onto Akins where two Snow Buntings on the road immediately flew up onto a snowbank. I slowly rolled down my window and managed to get one photo before it flew off:
I didn’t see anything else on my way back home until I drove past the ponds on Eagleson. Only the northern-most pond (visible only from Bridgestone) and a small section of water near the outflow pipe of the second pond have open water, and my jaw dropped when I saw a kingfisher perching on a post near the outflow pipe. I pulled over quickly and snapped a few photos (I really missed my Nikon with the 60x zoom, which was in for repairs) before continuing on my way home. I haven’t ever seen a kingfisher this late in the season before, and have never found one in winter on my own, so I was really happy with the sighting. The single blue band across the chest indicates it is a male, possibly one of the family group I saw frequently over the summer. I wondered why he was still here when the others had all left, but as I watched he successfully caught a fish and ate it, so I presume his chances of survival are pretty good.
I didn’t get out again until yesterday after work, heading over to Billings Bridge this time to look at the ducks there – at least one Wood Duck and an American Wigeon were hanging out with the large flock of mallards there. A large number of crows were walking around on the ice, and the water and northern shore of the Rideau River were filled with mallards. There were probably around 400 mallards, 15 American Black Ducks, and three notable hybrids – two were mallard/black duck hybrids, and I don’t know what the third was. It was all dark, except for a small white bib. A single Canada Goose was hanging out on the ice, and – perhaps due to the cold – there were no gulls. There were no diving ducks on the water, either, though usually Common Goldeneyes are common here, along with Common Mergansers.
It didn’t take long to find a pair of Wood Ducks resting at the edge of the water together. Clearly they are a pair:
A little further along I spotted the American Wigeon, too – I couldn’t believe it was that easy! I tried walking further down the path to get closer, and that’s when he and several mallards all flew off together. I spotted a group of people with some food, and headed their way to see if the American Wigeon had come in to feed with the other ducks. Sure enough, he was right near the front of the pack.
We were lucky enough to have a pair of wigeon overwintering at Mud Lake last year. It was great to see another one this winter; it is a male, as evidenced by the green and white markings on his head.
He didn’t push his way to the front to get the food. Indeed, a couple of female mallards snapped at him when he tried to get close. I brought out my own bag of seed and threw some food out toward him. Perhaps he realized I was looking out for him, because he wandered closer to me, even sitting down right in front of me.
The wigeon is a handsome duck, and I felt a bit sad that he didn’t have a mate with him to spend the winter with, like the Wood Ducks. Still, it was great to see a couple of different duck species here, and to know that people are looking out for them.
I only managed to get for a little bit this morning as Ottawa received another 10+ centimetres of snow today. I checked the roads between Fallowfield and Barnsdale at first light and only came up with a handful of distant Snow Buntings. A quick stop at the Beaver Trail just as it started snowing was relatively unproductive – a Common Raven flying over, two Hairy Woodpeckers, three Downy Woodpeckers, and a couple of American Tree Sparrows were the only birds of note.
My yard was very quiet with the snow. A couple of squirrels visited my feeder in the early afternoon, but none of the usual House Sparrows or juncos paid a visit. Finally, at 4:45, I noticed a female cardinal feeding just as it was getting dark. She is my last bird of 2016.
Tomorrow brings a brand new year and a brand new year list. I finished 2016 with 283 species, with 208 in Canada and 101 in Mexico (yes, there was some overlap). I visited four Canadian provinces (Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia) and one Mexican province (Quintana Roo). It was a good year, with many new lifers thanks to the trip to Cozumel, the Little Gull at Hillman Marsh, and the Golden Eagle at Sarsaparilla Trail. My life list currently stands at 390 species. Hopefully a trip south this winter will put me over 400; it’s so darned hard to get lifers here in Ottawa now!