I haven’t been blogging as much this winter for a simple reason: I haven’t been going out as much. It’s been a strange winter since January ended, with warm rainy spells interspersed with snowstorms and bitterly cold temperatures. The weather on the weekends hasn’t been conducive for getting out; this is the second weekend in a row that morning temperatures have started in the double negative digits with a windchill bringing the temperature below -20°C. I am so sick and tired of the winter that I just can’t do the cold any more. And if it isn’t the cold, it’s the snow, or else I haven’t been feeling well.
On Friday I felt like checking the river for ducks and gulls, so I went to Strathcona Park at lunch. I wasn’t surprised to see all the Ring-billed Gulls there – they are back in droves, and I counted over 70 of them in the water and standing on the ice at the margins of the river. I was hoping to see some other species, though, particularly the much larger Great Black-backed and Glaucous Gulls that sometimes can be found loafing along the Rideau River; however, the only other species I saw was a Herring Gull examining a dead fish on the ice in the middle of the river.
We are now nearly three weeks into the new year and already I’m detecting a rather concerning weather trend: the sun comes out during the week, when I’m working, and then when the weekend arrives the clouds and the precipitation (both rain and snow so far this month) arrive with it. I prefer to do my birdwatching and photography on days with some sun, as the sunlight brightens up the dreary gray-and-white landscape and makes the colours on the birds pop. It’s often difficult to see the field marks on a dark bird silhouetted against a white sky, especially from a distance; and in the woods, it’s often too dark beneath the trees to get any decent photographs. Still, I hate being cooped up indoors for any length of time, so even when it’s been rainy or snowy I’ve been trying to get out to find some birds to add to my year list. The list has been growing slowly but steadily, with 12 new birds added since I went back to work on January 4th.
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!
It’s been a long time since my last blog post. I haven’t been going out birding much this winter; the cold has been intolerable, with most mornings starting off well below -20°C. Even the daytime highs have been well below seasonal this year – I can think of only a few occasions where they have risen above -10C. In fact, this winter has been so cold that on February 25th, the Rideau Canal broke the record for the number of consecutive days it has remained open: 47, the most since it first opened 45 years ago. Normally heavy snowstorms and a rainy mid-winter thaw result in the canal’s closure for at least a couple of days each season. Not this year.
We haven’t received many heavy snowstorms since the new year, but the few that have occurred on the weekend have started early in the day. Twice I went out birding first thing in the morning and only managed to spend an hour outdoors before a curtain of snow descended. Ottawa actually hasn’t received a lot of snow this winter, but since we haven’t had any significant thaws either, the snow cover is fairly deep.
I’ve been waiting for a sunny day to go back to Strathcona Park to get some better photographs of the Harlequin Duck, and on Friday that day finally came. It was cold, though; only about -5°C, and the wind made it feel worse. I didn’t intend on staying out too long, but as I was at the mercy of the bus schedule, I ended up staying out longer than I had planned.
When I arrived I was amazed by all the Canada Geese feeding on the lawn – the flock contained over 100 birds. I scanned them for Cackling and Greater White-fronted Geese, to no avail.
November arrived cold and blustery. I wore my winter coat for the first time and was glad to have it as the wind was pretty chilly, even though it was still a couple of degrees above zero. We were supposed to get a mix of rain and snow on Saturday, November 1st, but as the precipitation didn’t materialize I was able to get in a good morning of birding. I started my weekend with a stop at the storm water management ponds by my place. The Great Blue Heron was still there, as were four Hooded Mergansers and a female-type Common Merganser. I wasn’t able to pick out any Cackling or Snow Geese amongst the 500 or so Canada Geese, but five Green-winged Teals at the very back of the pond were a nice surprise; this is only the second time I’ve seen this species here.