Between Seasons

Ring-billed Gull

I haven’t been blogging as much this winter for a simple reason: I haven’t been going out as much. It’s been a strange winter since January ended, with warm rainy spells interspersed with snowstorms and bitterly cold temperatures. The weather on the weekends hasn’t been conducive for getting out; this is the second weekend in a row that morning temperatures have started in the double negative digits with a windchill bringing the temperature below -20°C. I am so sick and tired of the winter that I just can’t do the cold any more. And if it isn’t the cold, it’s the snow, or else I haven’t been feeling well.

At least I got a new bird for my 2017 yard list on January 28th when I noticed this adult Cooper’s Hawk sitting in a tree across the street. It stayed long enough for me to get some photos, and you can see the dark capped appearance that differentiates this from the similar-looking Sharp-shinned Hawk. I wondered if it were related to the immature bird that showed up in my yard last December; apparently they nest in a woodlot nearby.

Cooper’s Hawk

February was looking promising with a Great Gray Owl invasion; I only managed to get out a couple of times to look for these northern birds, and had no success either time. Then a warm spell in late February caused the local birds to vanish. However, the same warm spell brought the first wave of eager spring migrants back into the area. Normally I start looking for Red-winged Blackbirds after March 7th – however, this year I saw my first pair on February 26th when two males showed up out back in the neighbour’s lilac bush! I was hoping that they would come to my feeder, but instead they flew over to my neighbour’s. Later that day I saw my first geese of spring when two flew over my house. I decided to check the storm water ponds on Eagleson and counted 103 of them! The next day I returned to the ponds and saw only 28 of them, but three Hooded Mergansers were a nice surprise.

I managed to get out on February 28th at lunch for a nice outing at Hurdman. The male Barrow’s Goldeneye was still there, but the Harlequin Duck wasn’t. To my surprise the Red-breasted Merganser that had been over-wintering on the Rideau River between Hurdman and Billings Bridge was present – I hadn’t yet seen it so it was a nice addition to the year list. Normally I only see these birds in the fall. Also on February 28th I saw my largest flock of robins in Emerald Meadows ever – there was one flock of at least 25 birds along Bridle Park Drive and another flock of at least 25 birds on Windgate Crescent, most of which were eating crabapples, though a few were perching on the rooftops.

The first weekend in March was quite cold, so I didn’t go out. It rained on March 7th, leaving icy spots on the sidewalks the following morning. Still, I decided to do my 1.5 km walk through the subdivision to get to my bus stop, and was happy to see and hear several signs of spring: multiple flocks of Canada Geese and a single flock of Red-winged Blackbirds flying over, a Mourning Dove cooing from on top of a roof, four Northern Cardinals, a single American Goldfinch, and four robins eating crabapples. I also added two new year birds to my list: two Ring-billed Gulls flying over the park and five Common Grackles. Two were perching in trees and giving their rusty-gate song, while at the bus stop I saw three flying together over the road. I recorded 13 species altogether, the highest total so far this year.

Today at lunch I headed over to Strathcona Park to look for gulls and the first Wood Ducks of spring. It was a warm, sunny day, but the deep snow made walking treacherous – this park doesn’t get plowed in the winter. Several Canada Geese were back, but I had no luck with any Wood Ducks, even stopping to check out a family feeding the birds near the southern end of the park in case a Wood Duck was feeding with the mallards. Of course, Ring-billed Gulls are incapable of refusing a free meal, and swooped in whenever the kids tossed some bread onto the snow. The kids also threw some food down onto the icy shore of the river where most of the gulls were loafing. As they were the first ones I’d been able to photograph this year, I took some photos…I never could resist a handsome Ring-billed Gull in its crisp gray-and-white breeding plumage!

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gulls

Ring-billed Gull

Ring-billed Gull

The only other gull species present was a Herring Gull on the ice on the opposite shore. I’ve seen Great Black-backed and Glaucous Gulls here in the past, but not recently; it’s a much nicer place to photograph them than at the landfill.

By that time my lunch hour was almost up, so I started walking back to catch my bus on Laurier Avenue. As I was walking, a large number of Common Goldeneyes flew in from the north end of the Rideau River and landed in front of me. As such, not only was I able to get a good count of them – 95! – I was also able to see the male Barrow’s Goldeneye and Harlequin Duck land among them! I was surprised to see both of these birds, as I thought they were hanging out much further upriver. They likely won’t be around too much longer.

It’s great to see so many birds returning, though I fear the we haven’t seen the last of winter yet. And the early arrival of the first group of migrants – the ducks and geese and blackbirds – will mean a longer wait for the next wave of migrants, such as the Great Blue Herons, Song Sparrows, and Turkey Vultures. We seem to be stuck in between seasons, with spring trying to come, and winter refusing to go.

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