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28 February 2010 @ 08:47 pm
The last day of winter  

Today is the last day of winter...at least in the birding world as the serious listers try to find those last few species to add to their winter lists. Although the spring equinox is still three weeks away, March 1st is the traditional beginning of the spring birding season, when eager species begin to return to their breeding grounds. As the past four days have reached above 0°C, resulting in some serious snow melt, it has certainly felt more like spring than winter!

And so it is time to put away the winter list for another year. I finished with 57 species, the lowest number in the three years I have been keeping a winter list (I finished with 60 species in 2008 and 61 species in 2009). Although I managed to add some unusual species at the beginning of the winter listing period due to the extremely mild weather, the lack of winter finches really took a toll on my list. Our region received no unusual winter visitors, either, such as the Tufted Titmouse, the Townsend's Solitaire, the Hermit Thrush, and the Harlequin Duck two years ago, nor did we receive any northern woodpeckers such as the American Three-toed Woodpecker three years ago. Surprisingly, I was not able to add any accipiters or falcons to my winter list, either; not because I didn't see any, but because I wasn't able to identify them.

Red-tailed Hawk

My 2009-2010 Winter List

1. Canada Goose 20. Common Loon 39. Red-breasted Nuthatch
2. American Crow 21. White-winged Scoter 40. Dark-eyed Junco
3. Ring-billed Gull 22. Common Goldeneye 41. Ring-necked Duck
4. European Starling 23. Common Merganser 42. American Robin
5. Rock Pigeon 24. Rough-legged Hawk 43. Pileated Woodpecker
6. House Sparrow 25. American Black Duck 44. Bald Eagle
7. Mallard 26. Hooded Merganser 45. Barrow's Goldeneye
8. Bufflehead 27. Ruffed Grouse 46. Snowy Owl
9. Common Raven 28. Brown Creeper 47. Mourning Dove
10. Red-tailed Hawk 29. Green-winged Teal 48. Glaucous Gull
11. Black-capped Chickadee 30. Lesser Scaup 49. Iceland Gull
12. Hairy Woodpecker 31. Great Black-backed Gull 50. Thayer's Gull
13. Blue Jay 32. Herring Gull 51. Great Horned Owl
14. American Tree Sparrow 33. Northern Cardinal 52. Barred Owl
15. American Goldfinch 34. Horned Lark 53. Wild Turkey
16. Downy Woodpecker 35. Snow Bunting 54. Wood Duck
17. Red-winged Blackbird 36. House Finch 55. Cedar Waxwing
18. White-throated Sparrow 37. Bohemian Waxwing 56. Lapland Longspur
19. White-breasted Nuthatch 38. Northern Shrike 57. Gray Jay

What's interesting about this list is that the first 50 species were all found in December; in fact, the first 43 species were found during the first two weeks!

I wasn't really searching for any new species today. I skipped the Maple Grove search for the Gray Partridges and spent the morning at the Old Quarry Trail instead; I saw several well-fed deer and three porcupines, as well as at least two pairs of Red-breasted Nuthatches and one White-breasted Nuthatch. I also saw three cardinals, two males and a female, one of which was singing, and I heard the first Brown Creepers singing today as well! There seemed to be several in the area near the deer feeding station, though darned if I could see a single one of them!

From there I drove around the back roads near Richmond. I saw a flock of about two dozen Snow Buntings on Rushmore Road, though they kept taking off whenever a car passed. I was able to get this photo from my car window:

Snow Buntings

There were a handful of gulls in a field on Barnsdale - though neither of the white-winged species - and three Red-tailed Hawks near the dump. This one was in a tree just inside the barbed wire fence, and stayed put until I drove my car as close to the edge of the road as possible in order to get some better photos. Then he flew off, but not before I got this shot:

Red-tailed Hawk

There were no gulls at the dump, but a small flock of American Tree Sparrows in the shrubs made up for the gulls' absence.

So what will March bring? By the middle of the month we should start seeing flocks of Canada Geese returning and hear the first Red-winged Blackbirds on territory. Robins, too, will become more conspicuous as those which migrated south return to join those that stayed here for the winter. Common Grackles, Brown-headed Cowbirds also return in the last third of the month, and Ring-billed Gulls will become common in the city again. Song Sparrows should be easily found by the end of the month, and if we're lucky we will see Great Blue Herons and Killdeer prior to the beginning of April. March, too, is the time when fields begin to flood and attract migrating waterfowl. Northern Pintails are among the first ducks back, joining the Canada Geese in the flooded fields, though Hooded Mergansers and Wood Ducks sometimes show up in March as well. March is a time of changing seasons, and the beginning of my favourite time of year...spring migration. Two more weeks, and it will all begin!

Soul Diasporasoul_diaspora on March 1st, 2010 02:09 am (UTC)
Hi Gillian,

I have high hopes of an early migration with this weather! I was out at Mud Lake today, the eternal optimist, hoping to maybe see an early Canada Goose (saw my first on March 7th last year) or Ring-Billed Gull, but no such luck. Just the usual species, but more singing than usual this time of year.

BTW, there's been a Red-Tailed Hawk hanging around Hurdman Station lately...sometimes perching right beside the transitway. Very bold--he even flew right in front of my face at one point.

Is your winter list just for the Ottawa area, or does it include places like Algonquin?
Gillian: Pink Toreniagillianm on March 1st, 2010 03:31 am (UTC)
Hi Suzanne,

Thanks for the tip about the Red-tail at Hurdman. I'll have to go check it out this week! My winter list does include places outside of the Ottawa circle. The Gray Jay was seen at Algonquin, and the Snowy Owl was seen near Casselman, just east of the circle. Those are the only two species outside of the circle, though.