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Eagles and Winter Finches

Red Crossbill (female)

After several days of temperatures rising above the freezing mark, winter returned with a vengeance on Friday when between 15 and 20 cm fell during the afternoon and overnight. The sun came out on Saturday, but a blustery wind prevented me from going out to look for new species to add my winter list. This is the last weekend for winter listing, and I was hoping to chase down the Green-winged Teal on March Valley Road and check out Stony Swamp for Golden-crowned Kinglets before my outing with Deb on Sunday. The weather on Saturday put an end to that idea.

Sunday, however, was much calmer.  It was -13°C when I left to meet Deb, but the sun was shining and the wind wasn’t as bad.  Deb and I decided to drive up to the northwestern section of Gatineau Park to look for eagles and winter finches, both of which have been consistently found along Steele Line and the Eardley-Masham Road this winter.  Never having birded this area before (my butterfly outing last June hardly counts), I wasn’t sure what to expect.

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The Family Day Long Weekend

Gray Partridge

The sun came out for the Family Day long weekend, and as luck would have it, I was sick. The scratchy throat that plagued me on Friday turned into a full-blown sinus cold by Sunday, but that didn’t prevent me from going out birding for a few hours each day. There are only two weekends left in February, and with my winter list standing at 66 species – my highest total ever – I decided to follow up on a few reports to see if I could reach 70.

My first target was the Northern Pintail spending the winter on the Rideau River in Manotick. On the way I stopped by Rushmore Road, where I encountered two Horned Larks – one of which was singing – and about two dozen Snow Buntings. There were no birds at the Moodie Drive quarry, and only the usual suspects along Trail Road. I checked the informal feeder area at the dump to see what was around, but the tree beneath which people used to scatter seed had been chopped down. A single Blue Jay was the only bird around.

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Robins and Waxwings

Cedar Waxwing eating snow

Cedar Waxwing eating snow

This winter has been a good one for seeing robins and, more recently, waxwings. These birds are hardy enough to survive our Canadian winters as long as they have shelter, open water, and food in the form of berries; Mud Lake, Shirley’s Bay, the Fletcher Wildlife Garden/Arboretum, and Hurdman Park have all three in abundance and usually host small flocks of these birds each winter.

I returned to Hurdman last week to see if the Cedar Waxwings were still there and to look for a smaller group of Bohemian Waxwings that had also been reported. I was surprised when I found over a dozen House Finches in the area – these birds have been absent from Hurdman this winter, likely because there are no feeders this year. I also found a couple of robins, European Starlings, and about two dozen Cedar Waxwings.

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Return to Mud Lake

American Robin

The next day I stopped by Jack Pine Trail on my way to Mud Lake where I hoped to relocate the Winter Wren. I wanted to head there first, but as Jack Pine Trail gets quite busy later in the day I figured I should make it my first stop so I would have a chance of seeing some wildlife!

This strategy didn’t pay off. Even though there were few people on the trail, I didn’t see any mammals other than squirrels. There were lots of deer tracks and even some Snowshoe Hare tracks, but no sign of the animals themselves. The diversity of birds was better: one Mourning Dove, a Downy Woodpecker, and two male Cardinals were all in the vicinity of the OFNC feeder; along the trail I encountered about four Blue Jays, both nuthatches, and a pair of juncos.

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In Honour of Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day is here, and what better way to celebrate than to share some of my favourite photos of these wonderful creatures?

Everyone knows the story: that on the second day of February, the groundhog (or woodchuck) awakens from his long winter sleep and comes out of his den. If he sees his shadow, he will return to his den and resume hibernating, and winter will last for six more weeks. If he does not see his shadow, he will leave the den and spring will come early. Not only does this legend have no basis in fact, the groundhog’s predictions are only accurate about 40% of the time! Still, Groundhog Day provides a much-welcome diversion in the middle of winter, and reminds us that the seemingly endless days of cold Arctic winds, six-foot tall snowdrifts, ice, slush, and skin-numbing, lung-crushing, nostril-freezing cold are coming to an end.

Here in Ottawa, most groundhogs do not come out of hibernation until mid-March. I usually see them by the first day of spring most years; this fellow was photographed on March 11, 2007.

Groundhog in snow

First groundhog of spring

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When Luck meets Birding

Snowy Owl

Snowy Owl

A successful birding outing depends on two things: knowing where to go, and luck – the kind of luck that comes from being in the right place at the right time. The last time I went birding with Deb, we went to the right places but missed just about every bird we were looking for. There is nothing more discouraging when birding, particularly in the winter when there aren’t many birds around to begin with and there are no butterflies, dragonflies or reptiles to make the outings more interesting.  Too many outings like these and it becomes tempting to put away the binoculars until spring.

Fortunately, Deb and I had the complete opposite experience on Sunday.  It was bitterly cold when we met at 8:00; it was a good thing I didn’t check the temperature before I left home, otherwise the -19°C temperature might have tempted me to stay at home in bed!

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Winter Cheer

Cedar WaxwingAfter a mild beginning to the winter season, the weather during the past two weeks has been more typical of mid-January. Winter storms dropped about two feet of snow on the city, freezing rain knocked out the power two nights ago and coated everything with ice, and temperatures have been yoyo-ing between near-zero and -20°C. Last weekend was extremely cold, and with the windchill making the temperature feel closer to -30°C, I decided to stay indoors.

As I hadn’t been out in over a week, I was starting to suffer from symptoms of nature deficit. In order to remedy this, I decided to go to Hurdman at lunch yesterday to try again for the Barrow’s Goldeneye. I wasn’t entirely surprised to find that amount of open water west of the 417 bridge had shrunk to a large puddle, but the absence of any diving ducks taking advantage of this puddle was unexpected.

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Hurdman in the New Year

Northern Cardinal

Northern Cardinal

On Tuesday I decided to visit Hurdman Park for the first time in 2012, hoping to find some Common Mergansers and the male Barrow’s Goldeneye that have been spending the winter between Strathcona/Riverrain Parks and the 417 bridge. First, however, I checked out the path through the woods where several feeders used to hang from the trees. There were none left, so I wasn’t surprised when a couple of friendly chickadees landed on a branch next to me while I was checking out a couple of goldfinches in the trees. I put some sunflower seeds on a couple of stumps and watched as a dozen or more chickadees flew in to grab some food.
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Birding in 2012

This year is off to a good start. Not a spectacular or particularly impressive start, but a decent start. Only eight days into the new year, my 2012 birding list is already up to 31 species.

My first species of the year wasn’t even a bird. I woke up at 4:00 in the morning on New Year’s Day and looked out the window to see an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit in my neighbour’s backyard, its dark, distinctive bunny-shape visible against the white snow made bright by a cloudy, light-polluted sky. One has been hanging around our subdivision since late September, although I’ve only seen it once. It was a much better find than the American Crow and European Starling which actually managed to tie for the first bird of 2012. Usually it’s one or the other, but when I rolled up the garage door I heard both vocalizing at the same time. I saw the neighbourhood starlings in the tree across the street first, so I designated that as my first bird of 2012 on my official list.

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