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25 January 2010 @ 07:39 pm
A Winter's Day Birding  

On Sunday Deb and I met in the west end to follow up on some of the birds reported in Chris Lewis's weekly Ottawa/Gatineau update. A good number of species had been seen in the region in the past week, perhaps because of the milder temperatures, and we were hoping to find some of these birds.

We started off the day with a trip to Quebec. A large number of gulls had been seen roosting on the ice off of Parc Brébeuf earlier in the week, including Herring, Great Black-backed, and a couple of the less common Iceland and Glaucous Gulls. Given that the dump has been devoid of larids recently, Deb and I decided it was worth checking out the river. We took the Champlain Bridge over, and just as we were halfway across I noticed a large bird with black wings and a white head flying straight at us from the west. I knew from the way it was flying that it wasn't a Great Black-backed Gull, but a Bald Eagle! I pointed it out to Deb, and to our amazement it flew right above us heading east toward Parliament. I hoped it would land in a tree near the water or on the ice close by, but when we pulled over after crossing the bridge to take a look it had vanished.

American Robin

Although the eagle seemed a terrific omen for the start of our day, we found no gulls and very few species of ducks on the Ottawa River at Parc Brébeuf. Common Goldeneyes were the most numerous species, and a few mallards sheltered near the shore. Even on Bate Island we didn't see much other than a few goldeneyes, so we decided to check out the river at Mud Lake next.

Again we saw no gulls at Britannia, but in the channel behind the Ridge we found a male Common Merganser, a male Common Goldeneye, and several mallards and black ducks. We also heard a familiar sound of spring coming from the thickets at the west end of the Ridge and found a robin singing softly to itself in the trees right above the path.

We counted three of them above the path before we saw several more in the buckthorn shrubs further back on the Ridge, feeding on the berries there. There is always something heart-warming about finding a flock of robins in the dead of winter, and hearing them singing and calling sent a flood of joy through me. I could have spent the rest of the morning watching and listening to them.

American Robin

The robins weren't the only birds feeding on the berries. I saw a waxwing in the same group of shrubs behind a tangle of branches, and did a double-take when I saw the bright yellow and white colours of its underparts. It was not a Bohemian Waxwing, which are still being seen sporadically around the region, but a Cedar Waxwing, a species I haven't seen since September! Upon closer examination we realized there were five of them altogether, calling softly to one another. They were a sight for winter-weary eyes, and Deb and I were thrilled to see them.

From there we drove over to Maple Grove Road to see if we could spot the Gray Partridges that have been hanging out at a maintenance yard (although not that day; we missed them again) and then to a stormwater pond on Iber Street which was hosting an overwintering male Wood Duck and a small flock of Canada Geese. When we pulled into the parking lot next to the pond, we could see a small corner of open water, vapour rising into the cold day. Many mallards and the half-dozen Canada Geese were swimming in the water, but the Wood Duck was on the bank next to a bird feeder someone had put up among the shrubs there. We got out of the car, and all at once the mallards began flying to the shore just below us! We tossed them what birdseed we had, attracting the rest of the ducks, the Canada Geese, and even the Wood Duck. He ran down the slope and walked all the way over to us, and when he reached the shore we could see the reason why he hadn't moved on: one of his wings was badly damaged, with three long, thin bones exposed along the leading edge. Still, he seemed strong and healthy enough; after losing interest in the seeds, he ran back across the ice, attempting to fly once or twice.

I wrote to the Wild Bird Care Center later that week, and they wrote back to say that they were aware of the wood duck, which has been at the retention pond for over two years. People have been feeding him during this time, and he has been managing quite well. They didn't recommend that I bring him in, since the type of injury he has is unrepairable and their permits would require them to euthanize him. I was relieved to hear that he had been able to survive for so long on his own, and passed the information on to Chris Lewis for her weekly report in case anyone else was thinking of taking him in.

Deb and I left the small pond and headed south along Shea Road to the Eagleson and Brownlee area. We didn't find any birds of interest there, but at the Moodie Drive quarries we found a good-sized flock of gulls roosting on the ice. Most were Herring and Great Black-backed Gulls, though we did find a couple of adult Glaucous Gulls as well. We did not see any juvenile white-winged gulls, and I couldn't tell if any Iceland Gulls were among the mix.

Finally, we drove past the dump where we found a couple of Red-tailed Hawks and one Rough-legged Hawk. "Roughies" have been scarce lately, with none to be found in the traditional Brownlee/Eagleson area, so it was a pleasure to see this one high on top of a hydro pole. This one was a light morph hawk, with a whitish head and a darker "vest". We also saw our only non-rodent mammal of the day, four or five deer running along the steep bank just inside the dump fence.

With two months to go until spring, the birding scene has become very quiet and very static; there aren't many new species to be found, and even the mammals seem to have disappeared. I realize I haven't been taking as many photos because either there is nothing to photograph, the lighting is bad (as in the case of the Wood Duck, where I was shooting into the sun), or because the most of the birds I do find are too far away (such as the hawks at the dump or the gulls on the ice). I can't wait for winter to be over and life to return to the rivers and woods once again.