The year 2020 has arrived, and it’s a new decade as well as a new year. Usually it’s only the excitement of starting a brand new list from scratch that gets me going out in January, so on the first day of 2020 I got out early to see how many bird species I could find. As usual, I planned to check a couple of different habitats to maximize the number of potential species; my strategy consists of birding in open farmland, forests, along open water, with a stop at the local landfill. In the past couple of years I’ve only averaged about 17 or 18 species, which is not a particularly high number. My best New Year’s Day was back in 2017 where I counted 26 species – that year I visited Shirley’s Bay, Mud Lake, Jack Pine Trail, the Trail Road landfill, and the Eagleson ponds. The best birds of that day included Bald Eagle and White-throated Sparrow at Mud Lake, Horned Lark on Rushmore, and Gray Partridge on Eagleson. I also tallied 26 species back in 2012, where an unexpected Northern Flicker at Mud Lake, a Red-winged Blackbird at the Hilda Road feeders, and Glaucous and Great Black-backed Gulls at the landfill were the best birds of the day.
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One of the birds that makes our long, cold Ottawa winters tolerable is the Snow Bunting. These songbirds typically begin arriving in late October or early November and stay till the end of March, making them a true “snow bird”. In the early part of the season they are most likely to be found foraging along the shore of the Ottawa River, particularly in somewhat rocky areas like Shirley’s Bay. While I usually see a few small flocks at Shirley’s Bay in November, most of my sightings occur during December, January, and February, after the river has frozen and the Snow Buntings move into agricultural areas where they feed on weeds, grass seeds and corn. They also come to gravel roads to ingest grit, which assists their gizzards in grinding the small seeds they typically eat.
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