November is a great month for finding rare birds in Ottawa. The shortening days, dropping temperatures, and unexpected weather systems can all result in birds moving around, and this time of year it’s not uncommon for younger birds to wander or be blown off course. The past few weeks have been exciting, with a Razorbill on the Ottawa River from October 30-31st, a flyby Northern Gannet going up the river on November 12th, and an Anna’s Hummingbird in Carleton Place all being reported. On November 2nd – the day that the temperature jumped from 6°C to 13°C as just such a weather system dropped almost 30mm of rain on the city – an unlikely songbird found itself in Ottawa. A young Black-throated Gray Warbler was discovered at the Britannia Conservation Area, aka Mud Lake, Ottawa’s mega hotspot for rarities, by Bruce Di Labio. This tiny warbler normally lives west of the Rocky Mountains and spends the winters in central Mexico and is not supposed to be anywhere near Ottawa.
On the last day of July I spent some time at Old Quarry Trail, a place I hadn’t visited since March. I always like to visit this trail at least a couple of times each season; it’s great for robins, waxwings, Black-backed Woodpeckers, and porcupines in winter, warblers in migration, and a variety of breeding birds and odes in summer. It has a nice mix of habitats, with mixed coniferous-deciduous forest, a large, cattail-filled marsh, vernal ponds, and an open field which are all home to a variety of species. Summer, however, is my favourite time for visiting, as I’ve found a number of interesting odes there during the height of dragonfly season, including a Williamson’s Emerald patrolling the boardwalk a few years back.
On August 7th I met up with Chris Lewis at Shirley’s Bay for a morning of birding and dragon-hunting. The morning got off to a great start when I saw a group of Wild Turkeys along Rifle Road even before I met Chris at the parking lot; there were two adults and a couple of baby turkeys! As soon as I stopped the car the adult turkeys began herding their offspring away from the road. Although they weren’t that close to begin with, it was cute to watch the babies stop and peck at the weeds while Mom and Dad steadily walked toward the back of the meadow. I’ve seen Wild Turkeys in that field before, but this was the first time I’d seen them with any young, and it was a thrilling experience.
Spring migration is progressing, and although several new species have arrived recently, none are back in any big numbers – except maybe the Bohemian Waxwings that moved through last week and the juncos that are starting to move through now. I spent a few mornings at Hurdman Park before work last week, hoping to take advantage of the early hour to find some new birds. On Monday the 13th I had a good outing, spotting two Green-winged Teal huddled against the shore (a first for me at this location), two Common Goldeneye, two Hooded Mergansers, a couple of Golden-crowned Kinglets, about 20 Bohemian Waxwings, a single American Tree Sparrow, and two Rusty Blackbirds. I heard their squeaky song and thought it sounded different from a grackle’s rusty gate-hinge song, and just got my binoculars on the birds when a Red-winged Blackbird chased them off. I also heard an Eastern Phoebe singing and heard the rattle of Belted Kingfisher, though I saw neither bird.
On Wednesday, February 25th I headed out to Hurdman at lunch. It had warmed up to -10°C but a strong, icy wind made it feel much colder. I was still looking for Bohemian Waxwings, and was hoping the plentiful Buckthorn berries at Hurdman had attracted some of these winter wanderers – in winters where they are present, Hurdman is a good spot to find them. Perhaps it was the cold, but there were very few birds around. I counted only 4 species, all of which were right along the feeder path. The extremely cold winter has caused this section of the Rideau River to freeze over completely, so I didn’t see any ducks. This is the first time I haven’t seen any open water on either side of the 417 bridge, so it isn’t a surprise that the usual ducks and Common Goldeneyes have had to go elsewhere.
On Sunday I didn’t go out birding as the weather was awful – first we got about six inches of snow, then freezing rain for most of the afternoon, and then back to snow. The rest of the week was cold, hovering below -20°C during the day, so I didn’t get out until it “warmed up” on Friday to the point where the air no longer felt like a mask of ice against my face. Even better, the sun was shining! I’d been itching to get out to the Rideau River where late-lingering waterfowl such as Northern Pintail, Wood Duck and Pied-billed Grebe were all being seen between Strathcona Park and the Hurdman Bridge. I chose to spend my lunch hour at Hurdman Park, as I was also hoping also to see some robins or waxwings feeding on the berries there in addition to the ducks in the river.
Sometimes the best outings occur when you go looking for one particular species but find something entirely different instead. With many of my coworkers still on holidays, things were quiet enough at work that I had enough time to go to Hurdman on my lunch break on Thursday and Billings Bridge on on Friday. With a year list of only 17 species after the first day, I was still missing several ducks, finches, and other common birds. I hoped to rectify this by spending some time along the Rideau River, even though it was still bitterly cold…Ottawa was stuck in a deep freeze that lasted three days, with the daytime temperatures reaching no higher than -23°C. Fortunately there was very little wind, which made the cold tolerable so long as I bundled up in numerous layers before heading out.