Pine Siskin numbers have really increased lately. The bonanza started on March 26th when I found at least 30 of them along March Valley Road. Since then I’ve observed them on almost all of my birding outings, including at Mud Lake and Sarsparilla Trail last weekend, and all three Stony Swamp trails I visited yesterday. I was hoping they would show up at my feeder during their migration north, and yesterday they finally did.
At Jack Pine Trail I added both nuthatches, a small flock of Common Redpolls, a couple of American Tree Sparrows and a Northern Cardinal to my brand-new year list, while the Harlequin Duck still present north of Bate Island and the Carolina Wren at Mud Lake provided two easy ticks for birds rarely seen in Ottawa. Two Canada Geese swimming in the channel behind the ridge were a good find, though I have heard that one has an injured wing. By the time I saw the Pine Grosbeaks along March Valley Road I was tired and ready to quit, even though I only tallied 23 species that day.
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 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.
I went to Hurdman on Tuesday for the first time in over a week and was surprised by the number of Common Redpolls that had descended on the area during my absence. I heard them as soon as I entered the small woodland path, and when I reached the feeders I observed at least fifty or sixty of them in the area, either sitting on the two feeders, feeding on the ground, or waiting their turn in the trees. They greatly outnumbered the chickadees and House Finches; I don’t think I saw or heard 20 individual House Finches, when normally there are at least 50 around the feeders at any given time. There were fewer goldfinches around, too, although I’m not sure whether this is due to them spreading out now that spring is imminent, of if they have been pushed out by all the redpolls. In any event, it was fun to watch the small, energetic redpolls flitting about, and they certainly afforded me with plenty of opportunities to capture them with my camera!
I managed to visit Hurdman twice in the past ten days, and both times I found three species of finch. Both House Finches and American Goldfinches were abundant, as usual, but I was surprised to find one Common Redpoll on Friday and two the following Wednesday. Although a number of redpolls were visiting the feeders at Hurdman regularly in mid-January, they had disappeared toward the end of the month and hadn’t been reported since. Seeing them again really made my day.
A flock of Bohemian Waxwings had also been reported recently, and it was these I was looking for. Given the abundance of berries around Hurdman Park I figured they would show up sooner or later, as they had in winters past. I hadn’t seen them at Hurdman all season, however, and I missed them the day after they had been observed by Pat Blake.
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 returned to Hurdman on the following Tuesday. I didn’t see the Barrow’s Goldeneye that has been frequenting this section of the river, but I did see one Common Merganser and several Common Goldeneyes.
In the woods, a flock of about 150 starlings feeding on the buckthorn berries was an unexpected sight. Maybe one of these days the Bohemian Waxwings will find these berries as well! The usual birds were present at the feeders, including lots of House Finches and goldfinches and about half a dozen Common Redpolls. I was happy to find these endearing finches so accessible, and spent most of my lunch hour photographing them. Here are a few images of the redpolls feeding.