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16 December 2009 @ 11:47 am
Winter's Arrival  

The first winter storm of the season occurred in the first week of December and brought an abrupt end to the wonderful late Indian Summer we'd been experiencing. Gone were the mild temperatures and the green lawns; first Mother Nature dropped 20 cm of snow on the city, then sent the temperature plummeting well below zero with a cold front fresh from the Arctic. Winter had arrived with a vengeance, and by the second weekend of December most of the small ponds had frozen over. Although my search for new birds to add to my winter list was put on hold, I started bringing my camera to work with me each day in case a hawk or the elusive Elgin Street merlin put in an appearance. I had also seen a meadow vole (of all things!) in a treed area where people put out birdseed for the sparrows, and was hoping to take its photo. I had no luck with either the raptors or the vole, but did manage to find some birds to photograph downtown.

Rock Pigeon

One cold morning on my way to work I spotted this pigeon fluffed up against the cold. He was sitting in the garden beside the public library, another place where people regularly put birdseed and bread crusts out for the birds. The pigeon was not only an unusual and interesting mixture of gray and white, but its pose also seemed to capture the essence of the frigid temperatures perfectly.

Rock Pigeon

I went to Tim Horton's for lunch one day, and was captivated by the small flock of House Sparrows playing hide-and-seek in a small evergreen outside the store. The tree was potted and decorated with lights for the holiday season, and I thought that a male House Sparrow perching in the tree looked just like a Christmas ornament! There are some days when watching even the commonest birds such as these sparrows can lift one's spirits.

House Sparrow

The next weekend I was eager to find some new birds for my winter list. On Rushmore Road, one of the prime agricultural areas just south of Kanata for finding Snow Buntings and Snowy Owls, I came across a large flock of Horned Larks and Snow Buntings picking at some corn on the road. There were about thirty buntings and ten larks altogether, but no Lapland Longspurs. I didn't see any Snowy Owls on my drive, either, but I did run into a photographer who told me that a flock of Bohemian Waxwings was still present on Legget Drive. I thanked him, immediately abandoned my plans to stop at the Moodie Drive quarries and the dump to look for gulls, and drove north to Legget Drive. It took a few minutes of careful searching before I spotted the berry trees and the small groups of birds flying to and fro. I parked the car then scanned the birds feeding on the berries. In addition to the Bohemian Waxwings I saw a couple of House Finches and European Starlings.

European Starling

It was lovely to hear the trilling calls of the waxwings again. I expected these birds to be absent this winter after reading Ron Pittaway's winter finch forecast....like the Pine Grosbeak, the Bohemian Waxwing feeds primarily on mountain-ash berries, which are abundant in much of the boreal forest this year. As a result, little southward movement is expected from either species. However, while Ron Pittaway's report states that there will be no major finch irruptions this winter, reports of Bohemian Waxwings have become more and more frequent in the Ottawa area recently.

Bohemian Waxwing

I watched the birds for a while, then left once the clouds began to darken the sky. The waxwings were new for my winter list, and as I was leaving a small bird flying into the top of the tree across from the driveway caught my attention. It was a Northern Shrike...the second one I've seen this winter and another species I needed for my winter list. With the Horned Larks and Snow Buntings my list was up to 38 species, and I made a quick stop at Sarsaparilla Trail on my way home to see if I could add Red-breasted Nuthatch. Two were present at the entrance to the trail, flying to my hand when I offered them sunflower seeds; this species was number 39 on my list. I left the trail after a quick walk along the inner loop, quite content with the day's outing.