Jack Pine Trail in Stony Swamp is one of my favourite trails. I got a lifer there the first time I ever visited the trail back in June 2006 – a Virginia Rail – and many more since. Because of its mix of habitats, it is a good spot to view wildlife all year round; the trails cross several marshes, coniferous and deciduous forest, and even an open alvar-like area that hosts Field Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows in the summer. In the winter, the OFNC maintains a large bird feeder along the northern part of the trail, though this doesn’t prevent chickadees from approaching people for handouts. This is one of the best places in Ottawa to feed chickadees and nuthatches right from your hand.
As usual, I parked at the mall and crossed Riverside Drive to get to the park. The deep snow made walking difficult, and a quick scan revealed no mallards or mammals in the open water near the small parking lot. I walked along the river toward Bank Street, seeing one adult Herring Gull and five Great Black-backed Gulls standing on the ice, as well as two Common Mergansers, several Common Goldeneyes, and hundreds of mallards near the bridge.
Last week a first-year male Harlequin Duck was discovered on the Ottawa River in the channel between Bate Island and the Gatineau shore. While this is not the first time a Harlequin Duck has been seen in the Ottawa area, it is only the second one to appear here since I started birding in 2006. I got my “lifer” Harlequin Duck on December 22, 2007 in the exact same location, a female. Others have wintered along the rapids at Strathcona Park in previous years, including a female which over-wintered there for five years straight beginning in 2000. Harlequin Ducks are primarily found in fast-moving water, breeding on fast-flowing mountain streams in British Columbia and Labrador, and wintering along rocky coastlines or turbulent rivers. The rapids near Bate Island and at Strathcona Park do not freeze in the winter, making it an attractive spot for many different ducks, including Harlequins, in the winter.
Last weekend Deb and I spent the morning birding in the east end. It’s been a while since we’ve been to the Frank Kenny area, and as we’ve heard no reports from the east end we thought it would be worth taking a look.
The day started out sunny but cold (-14°C), so we were happy to be in the car driving around. It soon became clear why there have been no reports from the area: there was nothing to see! We drove from Trim Road to Wall Road and the back roads around Frank Kenny and Giroux and didn’t see a single hawk, let alone a Snowy Owl or a shrike. There were no Snow Buntings, Horned Larks, Lapland Longspurs, or American Tree Sparrows to be seen either. All we saw were crows, and, close to the farm buildings, pigeons and starlings.
I visited Hurdman a couple of times last week on my lunch break. Both Monday and Friday were sunny, while Tuesday was mild but cloudy. The temperature has been pleasant during the past week, and the House Finches have been singing up a storm, both at Hurdman and in my neighbourhood. In fact, with the exception of the snowstorm on Wednesday – the largest snowstorm we’ve had so far this season, dumping a whopping 15 cm of snow on the city – the weather has been much nicer lately for going out birding.
Despite the relatively milder temperatures, however, the amount of open water on the Rideau River has continued to decrease; there are now only two pond-sized areas open south of the footbridge and another small open area beneath the 417 bridge. The mallards and black ducks still congregate beneath the highway, while the Common Goldeneyes and the male Barrow’s Goldeneye continue to dive for food in the two “ponds” in the middle of the river.