Many species of waterfowl only migrate short distances in the fall and winter – they settle in on lakes and large rivers where the water is still open, and when those start icing over, only fly far enough south until they find the next patch of open water. In Ottawa, parts of the Ottawa and Rideau Rivers remain open year-round, attracting mallards, black ducks, Common Goldeneyes, and a handful of Canada Geese and Common Mergansers. A couple of Barrow’s Goldeneyes show up annually on the Rideau River, and Harlequin Ducks spend their winters on the rapids of the Ottawa River every two or three years. Most other ducks move further south below the snow line, spending the winter on the St. Lawrence River or Lake Ontario. Some, like the Wood Duck, spend their winters in the southern states, while other species, like the Blue-winged Teal, overwinter as far south as the northern coast of South America.
A large number of mallards stay in Ottawa even after their natural food on the shore becomes buried beneath snow and ice because they receive handouts from people – if you go to Mud Lake, you will often see large piles of seed or corn spread out for the birds to feed on. This also happens at Strathcona Park and Billings Bridge. Even storm water ponds that remain partially open due to warmer water temperatures host mallards and American Black Ducks in the winter – the pond on Iber Road in Stittsville is one such place, and the ducks there are also fed by humans. In the winter, the natural food of dabbling ducks includes aquatic insects, seeds and vegetation in shallow water, although I don’t imagine that these food sources are abundant enough in storm water ponds to support the large number of ducks that overwinter there. Diving ducks on the rivers are not dependent on humans, feeding on fish, crustaceans, mollusks, and insect larvae such as dragonfly or mayfly nymphs.
The end of December dragged for me, with a few remaining species needed for my year list that I just couldn’t catch up with (Barred Owl, Northern Shrike, American Three-toed Woodpecker) and a few I didn’t make the effort to see (Barrow’s Goldeneye, Tufted Titmouse). I ended the year with 185 species recorded in Ottawa (plus two others in Nova Scotia), which is lower than the previous two years – one good thing about the Covid 19 pandemic is being able to work from home and go birding in the morning rather than commuting! This number was higher than the 177 species seen in 2019, which makes it similar to pre-pandemic life (also known as “the before times”).
So when January 1st finally rolled around I was ready to get out and start my brand new year list off with a bang. Last year at this time I was still undergoing active medical treatment – including surgery late in the month – and was not feeling well enough to do much birding. I managed to do only one full birding outing in all of January 2022, a quick trip to the Eagleson Ponds on New Year’s Day. I ended my day with 9 species and the month with 17 – the rest of my January 2022 birds were seen from my window at home or on trips to the hospital. My goal for the first day of 2023 was to see more species than I had seen during the entire month of January 2022, and I succeeded.
It was a mild day. We had just received 15 cm of snow a few days earlier on top of the 25 cm of snow received in the Christmas Eve storm, but most of it had been washed away by a heavy rainfall on December 31st. I headed to Jack Pine Trail first for two reasons: there was still a great variety of species there despite the OFNC feeder being removed after the May 2022 derecho (the downed trees had destroyed the clearing in which it hung), and I was still searching for the American Three-toed Woodpecker that had been discovered there on December 12, 2022.