I headed out to Shirley’s Bay on Sunday, October 23rd, but the wind was so cold and blustery that I didn’t spend much time there. I saw a Merlin perching in a tree along Rifle Road and found my first Snow Buntings of the fall picking their way along the shore. There were only two of them, and they flushed when a couple of photographers got too close – I don’t think they even realized they were there. They may have been trying to get close to a Common Loon swimming fairly close to shore, unremarkable in its gray winter plumage.
I started the morning at Shirley’s Bay after dropping my fiance off at work. The trails east of the boat launch and the open fields near the Hilda Road feeders are a good spot to find different insects; I’ve seen Prince Baskettails, Halloween Pennants, Giant Swallowtails, and Banded Hairstreaks in this area, though my favourite six-legged discovery was actually a moth: the stunningly beautiful Scarlet-winged Lichen Moth (Hypoprepia miniata). It was probably too early in the season to see another one of these bright red moths, but I did find some other interesting and beautiful bugs.
On Sunday the temperature dropped again; when I left at 10:00 am it was only -8°C and a gusty wind was blowing. It was too cold to spend much time in the open, so I decided to drive over to Dunrobin and do my birding from the car. Evidently the birds felt the same way about the weather, for most of the songbirds that I found were tucked away in sheltered stands of trees, and few hawks and geese were flying across the open sky. Still, I found a good number of birds on my trip (including 8 year birds!), but due to the conditions I didn’t get a picture of a single one.
Out in Dunrobin, I got my first two year birds on Marchurst Road – a pair of Eastern Bluebirds flitting in a field and a pair of Great Blue Herons flying over. I also saw a displaying male Wild Turkey and two Hooded Mergansers in a small pond. When I turned onto Thomas Dolan Parkway I noticed a flock of about 50 Snow Buntings flying over a field. I would have liked to have checked them out for other species, but they didn’t stay on the ground long enough to get the scope out.
From there I drove north to Constance Creek. The Osprey weren’t back yet, but I noticed a large flock of ducks swimming in the creek on the eastern side of the bridge. Most of the 50 birds were Ring-necked Ducks, but I also noticed about 10 Bufflehead ducks, two Hooded Mergansers and an American Coot swimming in the back! I never see coots during spring migration in Ottawa, so this was a great find for me. While scoping the ducks a hawk flew within my scope view, and I followed it until I confirmed its identity as a Northern Harrier. A second one was coursing over the marsh as well; this was another new bird for the year. I also saw a Wood Duck fly over the marsh, as well as a few distant songbirds, but I didn’t hear a single songbird singing or see one close enough to identify. It seemed weird to enter a complete eBird checklist with no songbirds whatsoever!
Next I drove up to Greenland Road where I found a Killdeer and not much else. This rural area is very beautiful, with great views from Dunrobin Ridge sweeping down toward Constance Creek. I was hoping to find an Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Bluebird, or maybe an American Kestrel, but had no luck with any of these birds.
From there I circled back to Kanata via March Valley Road. I didn’t see much while driving along the road, but at the pond at the corner of Klondike Road I noticed an Osprey sitting along the tree line behind the pond, a Turkey Vulture swooping low over the water, and 11 Hooded Mergansers and two Wood Ducks in the pond.
I was still hoping to see an Eastern Phoebe so I decided to check out the picnic shelter at Shirley’s Bay. A small flock of Bohemian Waxwings flew over Rifle Road as I drove by, and I observed an accipiter flying over the parking lot when I arrived; however, it disappeared by the time I parked the car. There was no sign of the phoebe at the picnic shelter, but I did run into Richard Waters who told me that there were Rusty Blackbirds in a mixed flock of blackbirds near the base of the dyke. We exchanged notes on the birds we had seen that morning, and then I decided to try for the Rusties despite my aversion to the wind. Fortunately it was calmer in the shelter of the trees, and I found a flock of finches near the DND fence line (most of which were Purple Finches) and heard a few Golden-crowned Kinglets. I checked the base of the dyke and found no blackbirds. The woods, however, were completely swamped with water and I startled a pair of Wood Ducks into flight.
As I was leaving I realized I could hear a group of blackbirds to the west; I heard at least three distinct Rusty Blackbirds calling and saw two Red-winged Blackbirds and five Common Grackles fly over. Although I could see blackbirds flying around deep within the woods, there was no way to get closer to them so I had to be satisfied with just listening to their rusty gate-hinge calls.
I found one last new year bird while driving home – an Eastern Phoebe sitting on a fence along Carling Avenue. I was driving the speed limit at the time (80 km/hr) and wasn’t able to stop; however, it was a great bird to end the day with. So although I wasn’t happy I still had to bundle up in my winter gear, I was pleased with all the birds I found on my outing. Hopefully next time I’ll get some photos worth sharing!