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03 November 2009 @ 07:57 am
Sparrow Juxtaposition  
Sunday promised to be beautiful, so Deb and I made plans to go birding. Fortunately the weatherman's prediction proved to be accurate, and when we met up early on Sunday morning the sun was shining in a mostly blue sky. Our plan was to bird along the river in the west end, so we started with a stop at the Britannia Pier. We saw one male Common Goldeneye in the swimming area, one Red-winged Blackbird (a male) calling from the top of a small leafless tree, and a small flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets flitting in the shrubs right beside the parking lot! There were no Purple Sandpipers on the rocks of the pier or waterfowl on the river that we could see.

From there we drove over to Ottawa Beach. We found one juvenile Herring Gull on the sandbar with a large group of Ring-billed Gulls, while overhead two crows attempted to drive off a raven which had the effrontery to fly through their territory. The aerial chase was quite amazing to behold, as ravens are extremely skilled (and often acrobatic) flyers that seem to delight in their own skills. I am not sure how long the chase lasted; eventually the three birds disappeared over Carling Avenue. It was certainly an interesting start to the day!

Our next stop was Andrew Haydon Park. Once again, the western pond proved to be a waterfowl magnet. The three female Northern Pintails, the five Green-winged Teals and the female Lesser Scaup were all still there....and this time the scaup had brought along about half a dozen friends, all females. The scaup were clustered together in the center of the pond, occasionally diving, occasionally preening, and at one point tucking their heads in for a nap. Unfortunately, they didn't venture as close to the shore as the single scaup did last weekend.

Two Green-winged Teals, however, including the male, swam right up to the shore where we were standing! Unfortunately, they did not come right up onto the shore but instead turned around and swam the other way.

Green-winged Teal

Two pintails were cooperative and spent some time preening at the water's edge with two mallard drakes. They must be getting used to all the attention now that they've been here for over a week, for they did not seem perturbed in the least when Deb and I started taking pictures from only a few feet away.

Northern Pintail

We ran into Chris Bruce again, and the three of us went up to the river to spend some time scanning the river with our scopes. Two male Long-tailed Ducks were fairly close to the shore...that is, they were between the shore and the lighthouse at Dick Bell Park! Further out we saw some large rafts of scaup, goldeneyes, and even a few White-winged Scoters! We saw not only a couple of female scoters, distinguished by the white markings on their heads, but also at least one all-dark male. This was the first male scoter that I had seen and it was a new bird for my year list.

When the cold wind blowing off the river proved to be too much, Deb and I said good-bye to Chris and left the park. We didn't make it to the parking lot before we stopped again, this time to watch the Brant feeding on the lawn among the larger Canada Geese. Deb spotted it first among the crowd of Canadas, but I still hadn't spotted the Brant when two dog-walkers came along the path, startling all of the geese which then flew into the pond. The Brant was one of them...a good sign, for this proves that it can fly after all! After the dogs had left, the Brant and the Canada Geese walked up onto the lawn and resumed their feeding.


Our next stop was Shirley's Bay, and even before we arrived we saw a Wild Turkey walking along the side of Rifle Road! She went down into the ditch, then walked a few feet before finding a gap in the fence where she could pass through to the other side. This was the second time Deb and I had seen these large birds in the Rifle Road area. Then, not much further down the road, a buck stepped out onto the road and crossed it in front of us! He must have been quite young, for his antlers had not developed any branches yet.

We decided to visit the feeders first, hoping that the buck would show up there and provide a better photo opportunity. He didn't, but his absence was more than made up for by the birds that we saw at the feeders. We saw four species of sparrow, including our first American Tree Sparrows of the year!

American Tree Sparrow

We also saw up to four White-throated Sparrows scratching on the ground, as well as a large, rusty-coloured Fox Sparrow! One had been reported at the feeders about a week ago, and Deb and I hadn't expected it to still be there. We were delighted, then, when we realized that it was still hanging around.

Fox Sparrow

There were also several juncos present, which spent most of their time feeding on the ground. A couple of times they would come up to the large rocks separating the road from the feeder area to feed on the seed there.

Dark-eyed Junco (female)

Dark-eyed Junco (male)

We sat in the car, enjoying the sight of all the birds coming to the feeders. Chickadees and Blue Jays were present, of course, and two White-breasted Nuthatches trundled along the tree branches in between snatching some seeds from the feeders. A few goldfinches, the only species of finch present, fed at the niger feeders. Surprisingly, there were no cardinals, woodpeckers or mourning doves, but we did hear a robin singing in a tree above the field! There were also up to nine Red-winged Blackbirds visiting the feeders, and one was even singing its characteristic spring-time song ("Oka-reeeeeee!") from the shrubs. Hearing both the robin and the blackbirds singing was a welcome distraction from the knowledge that soon migration will be over and winter will be upon us.

Red-winged Blackbird

However, it was the sparrows that I enjoyed watching the most. What was interesting about the four species that we saw is that each sparrow belonged to a different genus, and that each species spends a different part of the year here in Ottawa. While the White-throated Sparrows are summer residents, the American Tree Sparrows are only here in the winter. Fox Sparrows only pass through briefly in April and October on their way to and from their breeding grounds further north. And while juncos pass through Ottawa in large numbers every fall and spring, a few can be found overwintering at places like the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, while others may spend their summer here. I have only seen one junco in the summer, a juvenile on Regimbald Road in the east end while on a birding excurion with Tony Beck in July 2007. The juxtaposition of these four species was quite fascinating, and I think it is unlikely that I will see the same four species in one place again.

American Tree Sparrow (Genus Spizella)

White-throated Sparrow (Genus Zonotrichia)

Fox Sparrow (Genus Passerella)

After leaving the feeders, Deb and I drove over to the boat launch area to scan the river. We ran into a group of birders already there with their spotting scopes, including Chris and Bob, Bob Cermak and Bernie Ladouceur. They pointed out a number of interesting birds on the water, including two Red-necked Grebes, a Red-breasted Mergaser, a Horned Grebe, and a large flock (estimates ranged up to 200!) of Long-tailed Ducks - all males. The Horned Grebe was a year bird for me (the second of the day!) and it was great seeing the Red-necked Grebes again. None of the birds were very close; in fact, the Long-tailed Ducks were so far away that I couldn't see any distinguishing feature except for the white head!

It was a great beginning to the month of November, and I hope that the waterfowl and sparrows stick around for a little while longer. I'll certainly miss them when they're gone.