Ringing in the New Year

Red-bellied Woodpecker

On January 1st I woke up early to go birding. The morning was cold, but I was eager to start my new year list. I decided to head to Shirley’s Bay first as I was hoping to see the Bald Eagles around the nest; although I didn’t get the eagles, I found about 30 Snow Buntings foraging along the shore. The only other birds I noted there were American Crow, Common Raven, American Robin, and a goldfinch. I didn’t get photos of any them, either; one thing I hope to do this year is to take a good enough photo of each species I see and add them to my eBird checklists. The new eBird profiles allow you to see how many species you have photographed and uploaded to the eBird library. I have been adding photos to my checklists since this feature first became available last year, but am missing quite a few species on my life list; I figure this is a fun way to try to get good photos of even the common species.

From there I drove over to Mud Lake, knowing I should be able to add a good number of common species and get photos of most of them. A walk on the ridge and the eastern part of the conservation area produced 16 species, 12 of them new for my year list. The ridge was particularly productive; someone had placed some rocks in the forks of a couple shrubs, then put seeds on the rocks to attract the birds. Several juncos and cardinals were coming in to feed, so I spent some time photographing them.

Northern Cardinal

Juncos are normally very shy, and fly off if you take a step in their direction. These ones were clearly used to people, and didn’t seem to notice me standing a few feet away.

Dark-eyed Junco

Dark-eyed Junco

Cardinals are also shy birds, but the ones on the ridge were even more comfortable with humans than the juncos; there is one male that approaches people when they are feeding the chickadees. He doesn’t come too close, but he definitely lets you know that he is interested. I am not sure if this individual is the same one, but he flew in to check out the food I put out as soon as I backed away to a comfortable distance.

Northern Cardinal

Dark-eyed Junco

Northern Cardinal

An American Tree Sparrow and a White-throated Sparrow also flew in to check out the seed I had left them, and two Downy Woodpeckers – a male and female – came right to my hand to take some peanuts. I saw a single Common Goldeneye in the channel behind the ridge, as well as a Canada Goose resting on the icy shore, but there were no mallards present, to my surprise. The lack of mallards may have been explained a moment later when I heard a strange noise and turned to look down the channel. At that moment an adult Bald Eagle flew up from the base of the ridge and soared over my head, as though it were about to land in a tree right next to me. At the last minute it banked and landed in a tree on the yacht club property. I was awe-struck to have this bird fly so close to me; it made me realize just how large a bird it is. I probably surprised it as much as it surprised me, and it probably would have landed nearby if I hadn’t been standing right in the open.

After that I took a walk into the woods on the east side of the lake, and found a Hairy Woodpecker, a few more White-breasted Nuthatches, and a Brown Creeper.

From there I drove to Jack Pine Trail, where I added a Blue Jay and a Red-breasted Nuthatch to my day’s list, and the Trail Road landfill, where I saw a pair of Red-tailed Hawks and had a single Snow Bunting fly over. I drove up Twin Elm back to Old Richmond Road where I saw several Mourning Doves perching in a tree next to a farmhouse. I needed this bird for my year list, and was surprised to count 33 of them altogether!

The last area I visited was the agricultural area near Kanata south, where I saw 7 Horned Larks and 13 Snow Buntings on Rushmore Road, and 13 Gray Partridges along Eagleson! I saw several cars parked on the shoulder and stopped to see what everyone was looking at. Langis Sirois was there, and told me there was a male Gray Partridge between the rows of cornstalks with its head sticking out of the snow. I managed to find it, but apparently the partridge wasn’t comfortable with the attention, for a minute later he and 12 others burst out of the snow and began flying north! I was happy with this sighting as I don’t see Gray Partridges every year – they are difficult to find even in the right habitat.

My last stop of the day was the northern-most pond on Eagleson where I managed to add a few mallards and American Black Ducks to my year list. I finished the outing with 26 species altogether, the best of which were definitely the Bald Eagle and Gray Partridges.

The next day I headed out to the small village of Fallowfield just south of my subdivision, hoping to find the Red-bellied Woodpecker seen sporadically at a suet feeder on Steeple Hill Crescent. As I headed south on Old Richmond Road, I saw a hawk land in a tree and pulled over to check it out – the Cooper’s Hawk was no. 27.

I parked in front of the house with the feeder and got out to walk around. I didn’t see or hear the woodpecker, so I walked down Piety Hill Way, encountering Mourning Doves, Blue Jays, House Finches, juncos, Northern Cardinals, chickadees, House Finches, goldfinches and White-breasted Nuthatches along the way. When I returned to Steeple Hill I heard an unfamiliar call and managed to track down the Red-bellied Woodpecker! It flew from tree to tree until I caught up with it on Fallview Court where I managed to get one photo of it.

Red-bellied Woodpecker

This is the first Red-bellied Woodpecker I’ve seen in Ottawa, bringing my county list up to 259 species. I was thrilled that not only was it five minutes from home, but also that I didn’t have to wait too long to see it!

I checked the farm fields along Rushmore Road again for Snowy Owls but didn’t see any during my first pass; however, the sky was gorgeous, so I took a picture of the sunrise.

Sunrise on Rushmore

I checked the Trail Road landfill again but didn’t see anything of interest. A flock of about 30 Horned Larks on Cambrian Road is probably the largest flock of these birds I’ve seen to date.

On my second drive down Rushmore Road I encountered a flock of Snow Buntings feeding on the shoulder. A couple of photographers had put out food for them so they could photograph them up close; I took a few photos but didn’t stay long as other cars started pulling up shortly after.

Snow Buntings

The day was gorgeous, and I took a few photos as the clouds began moving in from the west.

Rushmore Road (click to enlarge)

Rushmore Road (click to enlarge)

My last stop of the morning was the Iber Road pond in Stittsville. A Northern Pintail had been overwintering there, and I decided to take the opportunity to see it. I found a path that led right up to the pond so I could view the birds with the sun behind me. The pintail was easy to spot, a beautiful male with a chocolate-brown head and gray body, though it immediately swam to the back of the pond with the other ducks.

Northern Pintail

About 300 other ducks were present, mostly mallards with a few black ducks and one hybrid mixed in.

American Black Duck

The only other notable birds I found there include a Common Raven croaking somewhere nearby, an American Tree Sparrow, and two crows eating a duck carcass on the ice.

I didn’t stay out long, but it was nice to add a few more birds to my year list, especially since species such as the Red-bellied Woodpecker and Gray Partridge are difficult to find in Ottawa. My year list is off to a good start with 30 species, though I know from experience that adding to it over the next two months will be a slow and difficult process; still, it will give me something to work on until spring when all the migrants and summer residents return.

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