On the Cusp

Canada Goose

Mother Nature has been toying with us. After some great spring-like weather at the end of February, temperatures plummeted to well below seasonal. By March 12th the daily high is supposed to be 0°C; for the last two weeks it’s been much lower, with last weekend’s temperatures below -10°C. I was tired of being cooped up due to the cold weather, so last Sunday I went out to look for Gray Partridges, gulls and hawks south of Kanata despite the frigid temperatures. I struck out completely – it was too cold even for the birds.

It started snowing on March 14th and when we woke up the next day there was over a foot of new snow on the ground. Yesterday we came within spitting distance of 0°C, and the high today is supposed to be 2°C. After running a few errands I headed over to Mud Lake, hoping to see some different birds – perhaps an early Wood Duck, a Song Sparrow, a Common Grackle, or the flocks of Bohemian Waxwings that have finally crossed the Ottawa River into the city. When I arrived, I stopped the car and started my eBird checklist. Before I had even gotten out of the car I could hear a Northern Cardinal and two or three Red-winged Blackbirds singing. I was just gathering my gear together when I saw a small bird land on a tree branch next to the road. It was too brown to be a chickadee, and I was delighted when I identified it as a Song Sparrow – my first of the year! I turned my camera on in order to take a picture, but by the time I was ready to take its picture it was gone.

The Red-winged Blackbirds were much more accommodating. Several were singing in trees on the north side of Cassels Street, which is usually the first place they return to at Mud Lake in the spring. I headed up to the ridge and found four or five of them in the trees where someone had put some food out for them.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

I threw some more food out for them and waited for them to come back. This Northern Cardinal was the first to check out the offerings.

Northern Cardinal

A few Dark-eyed Juncos came out to see what was on offer, too.

Dark-eyed Junco

There was no sign of any other sparrows on the ridge – no American Tree Sparrows, no White-throated Sparrows, and no Song Sparrows. I heard a pair of House Finches and saw a robin, and fed the male Downy Woodpecker a peanut from my hand when three of them landed in my vicinity.

From there I headed down to the water behind the ridge where I found several geese and at least 100 mallards resting on the snow. Most of the geese were in the water along the shore where it was hard to get an accurate count. I saw two American Black Ducks as well, but other than a single Common Goldeneye drifting down the river there were no other waterfowl species present.

Canada Goose

Although the Canada Geese have been back in town for three weeks now, this is the first opportunity I’ve had to photograph them. And while the snow had been melting nicely in the agricultural fields when they first arrived, the lawns and cornfields that make up their chief feeding habitats have all been buried beneath another foot of snow, making it difficult to food. The geese that remained after the temperature dropped and the snow fell are now confined to areas of open water.

Canada Goose

The two black ducks were also resting on the snow with the mallards. This one looks quite sleepy.

American Black Duck

From there I took a walk along the east side of the lake, hoping to find some robins and waxwings among the buckthorn shrubs there. All the berries had been depleted, however, so I found only a single robin in the area. A Brown Creeper was a good find, but other than that the trail was quiet. From there I followed Cassels Street to the west side of the lake, still hoping to spot the Song Sparrow again near the feeders. Again I failed, but when I reached the west end of the road I was delighted to see a number of small birds flying back and forth including a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches and several juncos. A few of them were even singing.

There didn’t seem to be much else around, so I headed back to the car. This Red-winged Blackbird sitting in a tree full of red buds caught my eye:

Red-winged Blackbird

I was happy to hear so many birds in song at Mud Lake, and the birdsong alone made the trip worthwhile – from the cardinals and juncos singing to the Red-winged Blackbirds calling and the Downy Woodpeckers drumming. It feels as though we are finally on the cusp of spring, and after such a long winter I can’t wait for more migrants to return.

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