November Summary

Snow x Canada Goose hybrid

As expected, November turned out to be a dark, cold and dismal month. Temperatures fell to zero or below every single night, we had our first snowstorm on Remembrance Day (November 11th), and temperatures dropped to a frigid -10°C for a week in the middle of the month. Weather records indicate that this was the coldest November since 1995 with an average temperature of -1.87°C; the normal range usually falls between between -1.08°C and 4.20°C. Only six days were above average, with four days below the minimum temperature ever recorded. Fortunately warmer temperatures caused all the snow to melt in the last week of the month, but as a result of these below-seasonal temperatures, I saw no butterflies or dragonflies this month, and my backyard chipmunks disappeared early for their winter hibernation.

Birding in November means watching the feeders, the landfill (the Trail Road Landfill can be thought of as a giant feeder for gulls, crows and blackbirds) and the river. Driving through farmland and open fields can also be productive as the first returning winter residents, such as Rough-legged Hawks, Snow Buntings, Northern Shrikes, and Snowy Owls, look for suitable habitats to spend the winter. Ponds can be productive early in the month, but once the water freezes any lingering waterfowl or shorebirds will disappear.

On Saturday, November 2nd I spent some time at the Eagleson ponds, which were still ice-free at the time. Three Greater Yellowlegs, two Double-crested Cormorants, and one Great Blue Heron were still present, and I saw an adult male Northern Harrier fly over the ponds heading south. Two American Pipits circled the pond twice then flew off without landing, and I found a Golden-crowned Kinglet in the pines in the southeast corner near the bridge. There were a couple thousand Canada Geese also present, and although I scanned them carefully for Greater White-fronted Geese and Cackling Geese, the most interesting bird I found was this goose which looked a lot like a blue morph Snow Goose. However, the grin patch was smaller, the back end (called the “vent”) was heavily speckled, and it lacked the white fringing on along the edges of its flight feathers. I showed the photo to Mark Gawn, one of our local eBird reviewers, who advised that the plumage looks good for a hybrid Snow x Canada Goose; however, he’d never seen one with a Speckled vent before.

Snow x Canada Goose hybrid

From there I went to Old Quarry Trail, hoping to get lucky with a lingering Hermit Thrush, a Saw-whet Owl, a Black-backed Woodpecker, or even a winter finch or two, even though it’s not going to be a good year for seeing them in our area. I didn’t see any of those birds, but I did get lucky all the same. As I was crossing the boardwalk at the back (the one without railings where the marsh runs up against the houses) I heard a mob of crows cawing at something. I scanned the trees at the back, but could see nothing – I wondered if they were squawking at a fox or a cat rather than a hawk or owl, as I couldn’t see the ground from where I was standing. A raven flew into investigate, and I was surprised to see flashes of white on its head and wings as it flew around!

Common Raven

It didn’t stay long, so whatever was agitating the crows barely registered as anything worth noticing to the raven.

After I crossed the bridge I started feeding some chickadees and heard a group of Purple Finches fly over. I also saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler foraging in the trees overhead – another surprise for me, as I had expected all the warblers to be gone. A little further along I heard the call notes of a few sparrows in the thickets by the smaller boardwalk, but couldn’t locate any. However, when I heard another group calling deeper in the woods I started pishing and enticed this Fox Sparrow to appear!

Fox Sparrow

Two Red-winged Blackbirds, two Golden-crowned Kinglets, and one Ruby-crowned Kinglet were also still present. I also saw a huge flock of American Goldfinches feeding in a couple of birch trees; at least 30 were present, and I heard more flying over on my walk.

The following weekend I returned to the Eagleson storm water ponds. A Gadwall had been reported (which I re-found, though my pictures were not great) as had several Green-winged Teal – I only saw one, a male. One Greater Yellowlegs, two Great Blue Herons, 14 Hooded Mergansers and two Common Mergansers (both molting males) were still present. So was the hybrid Snow x Canada Goose showing off its beautiful chocolate colours in the sunshine.

Snow x Canada Goose hybrid

From there I drove up to Andrew Haydon Park to see if I could find some migrating waterfowl, but only a few Bufflehead ducks had joined the thousands of Canada Geese and around 40 mallards. I was surprised to see a Greater Yellowlegs here as well, hanging out in the western pond near the footbridge.

Greater Yellowlegs

There was so little around that I didn’t stay long, and as it was starting to snow I decided to go back home. At the last minute I decided to drive down Rushmore Road south of Fallowfield to look for Snowy Owls or Snow Buntings, and found not one, but two Rough-legged Hawks instead! The first one caught my attention as it was perched in a relatively small tree. I set up my scope and identified it as a light morph Rough-legged Hawk. Movement to the right caught my attention, and I spotted a second one hovering over the field! This was great to see as Rough-legged Hawks have not been easy to find in Ottawa in recent years, probably due to the difficulty hunting through the thick, icy snow pack.

I saw another raptor sitting in a tree on Eagleson on my way home, and the neighbourhood Merlin was perching on a street lamp on Emerald Meadows Drive – one of the best days for raptors I’ve had in a long time!

I returned to the Eagleson ponds first thing the next morning, November 10th, where I was easily able to pick out the white head of the hybrid Snow x Canada Goose with the speckled vent among all the geese in the southern pond. There were easily four or five thousand Canada Geese present, and as I was scanning them I finally found a different goose species – a Cackling Goose! Although they are quite similar in appearance, the pair in the central pond immediately caught my attention as they appeared paler and grayer in colour, with a smaller head, tiny bill, and blocky forehead.

Cackling Goose

I visited the southern-most pond along Hope Side Road next, and found at least five more Cackling Geese swimming together in a pack! They were on the far side of the pond from where I was standing, and there were so many geese present swimming about that it was difficult to keep track of them all. This is the highest number of Cackling Geese I’ve had at this site since I started birding here regularly.

There were other waterfowl present as well, including 12 Hooded Mergansers, six Common Mergansers (all molting males), and one American Black Duck tucked in with all the mallards. The two Great Blue Herons were still hunting the ponds, and I was surprised to see not one, but two muskrats swimming near the footbridge.


I was also surprised to see the lone Greater Yellowlegs in the central pond, and wondered what had happened to the others – hopefully they have flown south, rather than become food for a falcon or hawk. Just as I was watching the Greater Yellowlegs, thinking that that would be the last shorebird of the season for me, I heard the distinctive call of a Killdeer and watched as it flew in and landed on the spit right in front of me. I’ve never had one this late before – my previous “late” date is November 1 (2014) also at the Eagleson storm water ponds.


Three robins were still present, and I found a single American Tree Sparrow as well. I walked all the way up to the northern-most pond to look at the ducks there, and found two Song Sparrows lurking in the vegetation. One flew out and landed in a spruce tree in someone’s yard, while the other chipped at me from the scrubby border along the path. This is not a late date for me (I’ve had them in December here in Ottawa both in 2016 and 2018) but it was still marked as “rare” by eBird.

It was a great visit, and a follow-up visit to Andrew Haydon Park was not as productive. The Greater Yellowlegs was still there too, but almost all the geese were gone. The only real notable birds there were Great Black-backed Gull, Common Loon, Red-breasted Merganser, and Black Scoter, the latter two of which were new for my year list.

The month of November was punctuated by a quick mid-month trip to Nova Scotia to see Doran’s family and check out some real estate. Because Doran goes back home so often, and because we are thinking of retiring there someday, we are hoping to buy some land and maybe put a trailer or small cottage on it instead of renting cottages and AirBNBs when we go back. We looked at a couple of places (and I fell in love with one 19-acre property going for $70,000) but didn’t end up loving the price of any places enough to purchase. On our drive up from the Halifax airport to Greenwood we stopped in at Grand Pre. Unfortunately the tide was in so there were no lingering shorebirds present – I was hoping for a late Dunlin or White-rumped Sandpiper, or an early Purple Sandpiper. Unfortunately all I saw were a couple of Herring Gulls, and the strong winds made it unpleasant to stay outside for too long. On the way back to the highway we stopped and counted six Bald Eagles standing in the fields – all adults except for one juvenile. I’ve never seen them do this on any of my previous trips.

Bald Eagle

The property we stayed at in Greenwood was quite nice, an old farmhouse called Crow’s Landing on about 20 acres with its own nature trails. There weren’t any birdfeeders up (Nova Scotia has been having a bad time with House Finches infected with conjunctivitis, and is warning people to put their feeders away to prevent the spread of the disease) but we had a couple of juncos searching the leaf litter in the garden outside the front window one morning, as well as the property’s eponymous crows. The nature trails were quite nice, and on one morning I tallied 12 species, including Pileated Woodpecker, at least two Golden-crowned Kinglets, a couple of Brown Creepers, both nuthatches, and a Purple Finch.

We checked the Bay of Fundy at Margaretsville several times and found nothing too extraordinary, although an American Pipit on the ground near the fish traps was a new bird for my Nova Scotia list. I also saw, at various times, Red-throated and Common Loons, Common Eiders, a juvenile Bald Eagle flying over, and a flock of four Red-breasted Mergansers. There were no scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, Harlequin Ducks, goldeneyes, Northern Gannets, Iceland Gulls, or Glaucous Gulls, and the only seabird I saw was a round-bodied, round-winged black duck with white wing patches which to me looked like a breeding-plumage Black Guillemot, except they should be in non-breeding plumage this time of year. It flew around the corner behind the lighthouse never to be seen again.

The first two days were sunny but very windy and cold; then the rain and clouds moved in. Still, it was warmer than Ottawa which already had a cover of snow and its first day below -10°C. We spent another day checking various vantage points along the Bay of Fundy from Margaretsville to Porte Lorne, seeing various gulls (Herring, Great Black-backed and Ring-billed), Common Eiders, Song Sparrows and even a group of Turkey Vultures! These birds were long gone from Ottawa so I was surprised to see them, but for some reason Nova Scotia ends up with longer-lingering birds than we find in Ontario (there were both a Dickcissel and a Yellow-breasted Chat hanging around the Halifax area that I would have loved to have seen if we had been in the area).

Bay of Fundy

After returning to Ontario I got out for a bit during the final weekend, where I found two of the lingering Winter Wrens at Mud Lake and not much else. Winter birds had arrived, including my regular flock of Dark-eyed Juncos, and I still have Blue Jays also visiting me regularly – in past years they would disappear once the snow falls, but this year the ones visiting my feeder have stuck around. I know it’s probably the same family coming by as one of the jays often imitates a Red-shouldered Hawk, and recently I heard one imitate a Red-tailed Hawk! The Blue Jays that have visited me in previous years never made these sounds.

A Harlequin Duck spent some time on the Rideau River near Strathcona Park, but I missed it the day I went (November 26th); as it turns out, it was not reported again after November 24th. I saw my first Snowy Owl in the fields south of Kanata on November 25th; with the snow gone, it was pretty noticeable on the ground among the short-cropped golden corn stalks. I did not see any Snow Buntings, Horned Larks or Northern Shrikes.

So the gloomiest month of the year has come and gone, bringing an early winter with it. This does not bode well for the next four months, but maybe Mother Nature will surprise us and send some milder weather to make the winter tolerable.

3 thoughts on “November Summary

  1. Ravens are often mobbed by crows…they react to them much like they do to other birds of prey. Probably for good reason. This happens a lot at Clyde Woods where I hear a ruckus and hope to find the crows on an owl…only to have it be a Raven sitting innocently in the trees wondering what all the fuss is about.

    • Yeah, I wondered if it was the raven at the center of the ruckus, but the crows kept going on after the raven left. I couldn’t see any hawks or owls perched in the trees near the houses, which made me wonder if it was a ground predator. I once saw them chase a fox out of the ridge area at Mud Lake one winter! Once time Chris L. and I heard a bunch of chickadees and songbirds squawking behind Bruce Pit and there was a domestic cat in a tree!

  2. Pingback: Birding in the Time of the Coronavirus | The Pathless Wood

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