Sarsaparilla Trail in the Late Fall
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.
Last weekend was a great one for seeing a variety of northern birds moving through – though, for various reasons, not for photography. Earlier in the week, a Northern Hawk Owl had been discovered near the Ottawa airport. This northern species only appears in southern Ontario during the winter when food becomes scarce in its normal range; I last saw this species in January 2011 when one set up a winter territory near Brennan’s Hill, Quebec. I drove out to Bowesville Road just south of the airport early Saturday morning but had no luck finding the Hawk Owl (apparently it waited until after I left to put in an appearance). I did, however, see a group of Common Redpolls, a Snowy Owl resting in the middle of a green field, and a Rough-legged Hawk in the same area. The Rough-legged Hawk appeared to be keeping an eye on a group of Wild Turkeys feeding right below the tree in which it was sitting; both the hawk and the Snowy Owl were season firsts for me.
After the Fire
The best place in Ottawa to see the greatest variety is the stretch of the Ottawa River known as Lac Deschênes. Located between Deschênes Rapids to the east and Innis Point (Ontario) and Baie Alexandria (Québec) to the west, Lac Deschênes is located wholly within the Ottawa River and reaches about three kilometres at its widest point. Because it is one of the larger bodies of water in the region, and because significant numbers of water birds stop here to rest and refuel during spring and fall migration, Lac Deschênes is recognized as a globally significant Important Bird Area (IBA). It isn’t surprising that the two life birds I got this month are both water birds, and that the most unexpected of the two was found on Lac Deschênes.
A New Yard Bird and an Owl
I had a pretty good birding day on Wednesday. No, I did not take a day off work, and no, I didn’t see anything new or rare. It began when I stepped outside onto my back deck early Wednesday morning to throw some peanuts out for the Blue Jays. I was just about to toss them into the yard when I heard a rapid, high-pitched “see see see” call coming from my neighbour’s yard. The call was familiar and distinctive, but I had never heard it in my neighbourhood before; for a moment I wasn’t sure what I was hearing, other than a few chickadees in my neighbour’s pine tree. I stood still for a moment, listening, and when I heard it again, I knew I had a new bird for my yard list: Golden-crowned Kinglet!
A Bird in the Hand
Birders like to keep lists. Serious birders keep a life list – a list of all the birds they have seen since they started birding – and enjoy adding to that list as they travel to new places and see new species. Many keep yard lists or year lists, tallying each new bird they see in their yard or over the course of a calendar year. The truly dedicated birders keep “big day” lists or “big sit” lists – a list of all the birds seen or heard in a 24-hour period, whether by visiting as many habitats and local birding hotspots as possible, or by sitting in one location for the entire period. Big days and big sits may be personal or competitive, where individuals or teams compete to find the highest number of birds in the same 24-hour period. Big day competitions are often used as fundraisers for bird conservation or to raise awareness of local birding opportunities.
I’ve even heard of birders who keep a list of all the birds they have seen or heard on TV. I personally don’t get this, but every now and then the birds I hear or see onscreen catch my attention, such as during last Sunday’s season premier of “The Walking Dead” when I tallied five species: there was the Great Horned Owl, of course, but I also heard the calls of an American Crow, Blue Jay, Red-winged Blackbird and a Chuck-Will’s-Widow during the show. Not that I’m keeping track or anything!
Sparrows in the West End
I took the day after Thanksgiving off work, and the bright sunshine and clear blue skies enticed me to go out and look for a couple of birds I hadn’t seen yet this fall. The first was the Orange-crowned Warbler, a drab species which rarely shows its orange crown and migrates later than most warblers. They are less common in the east than in the west, and I usually manage to pick up one each year in the fall – never in the spring. This year I haven’t seen any. The second was the Fox Sparrow, also a bird that is typically found in October. I normally find them in the woods of Stony Swamp, foraging on the ground with flocks of White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. It was a beautiful morning for a walk in the woods, and I headed over to Sarsaparilla Trail first.