While it is true that fall migration proceeds at a much more leisurely pace than migration in the spring, each species moves according to its own internal calendar. In late August and early September you might find warblers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, flycatchers, vireos, orioles, Cedar Waxwings, and Scarlet Tanagers foraging together in a single patch of woods. A month later the same patch of forest might hold sparrows, kinglets, Winter Wrens, Rusty Blackbirds, nuthatches, Hermit Thrushes, and boreal finches, while waterfowl on rivers and ponds increase in numbers and diversity. I usually notice the switch around the fall equinox, when the sparrows start to outnumber the warblers and I realize that it’s been a while since I last saw a flock of Cedar Waxwings. Now is the time to look for American Pipits in open scrubby areas or along rocky shorelines, scoters and grebes along the river, hawks and Turkey Vultures soaring toward southern climes, and any lingering warblers in the hope it is something other than a Yellow-rumped.
Doran and I flew to Las Vegas on Saturday, February 1st for a week in the desert. This was our second time there, but our flights did not go smoothly. Our 7:00 am flight was supposed to land in Toronto at 8:15, then our second flight was supposed to leave Toronto at 9:30. However our plane in Ottawa had been sitting at the gate all night, and we needed to some time to de-ice it. This took about 20 minutes. Then, when we arrived in Toronto we needed to wait a another 20 minutes on the tarmac as another plane had taken our gate because of a medical emergency. We worried about not having time to clear customs before our second flight boarded, but as it turns out this plane was late, too, due to a “mechanical issue.” Then that plane, too, needed de-icing, so it wasn’t until after 12:00 that we got airborne. The strangest part was, after we showed our passports and boarding passes to the flight attendants at the gate, we were quizzed by US security people before entering the jet bridge – where were we going? Did we know the limits on how much cash we could bring into the country? How much were we bringing? When did we book our flights? We hadn’t encountered anything like this before; even my boss who had recently traveled to the U.S. thought it was weird. In any event, this is the third Air Canada trip in a row where we’ve had annoying delays, so I don’t think I will book with them again anytime soon.
On September 18th I flew to Edmonton to visit my sister for a few days. Alberta is not a new province for me; my family had lived on an acreage outside of Ardrossan, which is east of Edmonton and Sherwood Park, for seven years from 1989 to 1996. As I was just teenager at the time, enduring all the drama and angst of high school, I had had no interest in nature back then – which is really too bad, as we’d lived on a small lot with a forest behind our house and a slough (a vegetated pond) across the road. When my parents and I moved back in 1996 – they to southern Ontario, via Tweed, and me and my fiancé to Ottawa – my sister remained behind, although it wasn’t until 2012 when I returned to attend her wedding.
So on November 16th I finally went out and bought a new camera. There was nothing wrong with the old one except for a deficiency in zoom; while a 30x zoom seemed more than sufficient when I bought it, super-zoom cameras now have up to 83x zoom, and I’ve been thinking for a while that I could really benefit from that extra reach. As I still haven’t spent last year’s Christmas bonus, I decided it was time to go to Henry’s to take a look at their super-zoom cameras. In the end, I decided to go with the Nikon Coolpix P610 because its 60x zoom gives me double the zoom of my Sony Cybershot HX200V, and its image quality seemed much better than the Sony Cybershot’s 50x zoom camera. The price was also good since Nikon had just released the Coolpix P900, its 83x zoom camera; this meant I could stretch my bonus further and get a new scope, too (choosing the Vortex Razor HD 20-60×85 spotting scope for its excellent quality). Although switching brands meant I would have to spend some time learning the Nikon’s controls, in the end the only thing I regretted was not getting this camera sooner in order to practice taking macro photos of dragonflies!
Groundhog Day has come and gone, and we are still more than a month away from the spring equinox. This is the time of year when birding reaches its lowest ebb; the birds aren’t moving around very much, and migration is still weeks away. In Ottawa, February is the quietest month for birding, but there have been enough interesting reports to send me out each weekend looking for new year birds. I have added only five new birds to my year list so far this month, including a Common Merganser in the channel behind the Ridge at Mud Lake, and the over-wintering Hermit Thrush behind the Parliament buildings. After realizing just how short a walk Parliament Hill is from the building where I work, and how much potential there is for finding migrants there in season, I’ve made it a goal to spend more lunch hours there this spring.
Deb and I went to Algonquin Park on Saturday, and we couldn’t have picked a better day to go. We drove west under a bright blue sky, and while it was only -4°C when we left, the warm sunshine quickly heated the day to a balmy 8°C. We started the day with a drive up Opeongo Road which was an adventure in itself – the road was badly plowed with deep ruts, and the rising temperature made the surface slippery. We didn’t see or hear anything until we got to the gate, where we found piles of sunflower seeds left on various snow banks. Several Black-capped Chickadees, American Red Squirrels and Blue Jays were eating their fill; a single Gray Jay was also looking for handouts, and spent most of its time approaching the people coming and going rather than sampling the seeds left in the snow. Three Common Redpolls also flew in, while a single Pine Grosbeak seemed content to pick up grit from the parking lot. Then I heard a Boreal Chickadee calling from the edge of the parking area. His song is a slower, raspier version of the Black-capped Chickadee’s chick-a-dee-dee-dee. Deb managed to find it bouncing among the branches of a spruce tree, a beautiful little bird dressed in rufous and brown.
I never tire of visiting Sarsaparilla Trail. It is a short trail, which means I can spend as little as half an hour there and still have a good look around; however, I usually spend at least an hour there, more if there are a lot of birds on the pond or chickadees to feed.
It is a peaceful place. Because it’s such a small trail, I usually don’t encounter many people there, especially very early in the morning at this time of year when the temperature is hovers around 0°C and there is still frost on the grass. The chickadees eagerly seek me out, often followed by the nuthatches, Blue Jays and squirrels, and I can talk to them without worrying about what anybody thinks.
After spending an hour shopping at West Edmonton Mall, my fiancé Doran and I drove west to Jasper National Park. It’s about a 4-hour drive but seemed shorter than that. We saw an Osprey on a nesting platform by a lake, a couple of unidentified raptors, and several deer near Hinton. The deer were too far from the road to tell whether they were White-tailed Deer or Mule Deer. Once we reached Hinton we could see the mountains looming in the distance. It didn’t take long before we reached the first one, and as soon as we drove around it we saw other mountains ahead of us. We were in the Rocky Mountains!
We reached the park gate and paid the entrance fee. The skies were clouding up, so we didn’t stop to take any pictures on our way in. We didn’t see any mammals on our drive, either, though I was happy to see a pair of adult Bald Eagles were perching in a tree near Jasper Lake.
On Friday I awoke to a world that had turned entirely white overnight: white clouds roofed the sky, about an inch of white snow carpeted the ground, and white snowflakes filled the air in between. It was the last day of work before the Christmas holiday, and it had been nearly two weeks since I had last gone out birding. Because I was suffering from nature-withdrawal, because the clouds were supposed to clear by lunch-time, and because the fresh snow looked so terribly inviting, I decided I would go for a walk at Hurdman at lunch.