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15 January 2011 @ 07:30 pm
A Search for Gulls  
This winter has been quiet for gulls. I am still missing Glaucous and Iceland Gull for my winter list, so I decided to go to Billings Bridge yesterday at lunch to see if I could find them - or any gulls - there. I started my walk in the park across from Billings Bridge mall where I found only a pair of mallards. Although there was a fair amount of open water, there was a distinct lack of birds. I walked along Riverside Drive, and once I passed the end of the island I saw a few Common Mergansers - including one male! - and Common Goldeneyes. There were no gulls loafing on the ice.

When I looked back up the river toward the park, I noticed some unusual patterns in the snow on the island. One looked as though a kid had gone sliding down the bank, but as the ice is quite thin here I doubted anyone had crossed it to get to the island. Both beaver and otter were present in this area last winter, so I checked with Christine who identified it as an otter slide. Christine has a wonderful gallery on animal tracks and signs which is very useful for identifying many of the unseen animals and birds whose presence can only be determined from the tracks and scat they leave behind.

Otter slide

Otter slide - close-up

There were many paw prints in the snow as well, though they were too far away to identify which mammal had made them. It looks like there is plenty of activity on that island!

Animal tracks

I left the area and crossed the bridge to the area where the ducks are fed in the winter. Indeed, I found a large congregation of mallards and blacks in the park and on the Rideau River. A few goldeneyes were diving in the middle of the water. I carefully scanned the area and found two gulls sitting at the edge of the ice. I thought one might be a Ring-billed Gull and the other a Herring Gull but couldn't tell for sure as I was looking into the sun. I wondered how to get a better look at them, then had an idea. I pulled my bag of birdseed out and began tossing it onto the snow for the mallards. About a hundred ducks flew in - and so did the gulls!

Ring-billed Gull

Both of them turned out to be Ring-billed Gulls...not a bad find in January, as they tend to disappear as soon as the Ottawa River freezes up. One of them walked with a limp, which could explain why it decided not to leave. The water at Billings Bridge tends to remain open all winter long except in the very coldest years, and there is no shortage of food from the people who go there to feed the ducks. As I was watching the gulls, a family came along and started tossing them bread crusts.

Ring-billed Gull

Although they weren't the gulls I was looking for, they were still a good find. However, the highlight of my lunch hour was definitely the otter slide at Billings Bridge park. I think I may have to go there early one weekend morning and see if I can find the otter!

Xray Is As Xray Doesxraytheenforcer on January 29th, 2011 07:16 pm (UTC)
that otter slide is so cool. :)
Gillian: Nuthatchgillianm on January 29th, 2011 07:27 pm (UTC)
Yes, I thought so too! I was going to go there this morning at dawn but the snow coming down was quite heavy and the plows hadn't been around yet. Maybe tomorrow if the weather is better. I'd really like to see an otter up close!
Xray Is As Xray Doesxraytheenforcer on January 29th, 2011 08:00 pm (UTC)
I admit that I didn't go out today because there was just too much snow (and much of it kinda dirty and gross) to bother with it. Weather is still supposed to be good tomorrow, so maybe I'll make it to the park to see more glorious winter species.

Doug and I saw a bird the other week that has been thwarting all identification. Sparrow-size, but coloration closer to a northern shrike. The only birds that fit this are some warblers and vireos, neither of which should be anywhere near this area at this time of year.

Have you signed up for eBird?
Gilliangillianm on January 29th, 2011 08:07 pm (UTC)
Did you get any photos of your mystery bird? There are some warblers which stay for the winter, such as Pine, Yellow-rumped and Yellow-throated. We actually have a Yellow-rump and a Pine hanging around the Ottawa area this year!

Yes, I am an avid eBirder! I really got into it again in October and have been uploading my sightings almost every time I go out. I keep meaning to do a blog about it since it's such a cool way to keep track of what birds you've seen at different places.
Xray Is As Xray Doesxraytheenforcer on January 29th, 2011 10:06 pm (UTC)
No pictures, but I'm going to hit the same spot tomorrow and see if it's still there (or in a similar habitat) and try to get a picture, because it's bugging me.

It definitely wasn't a yellow-rumped warbler (no streaking on the breast). It could have been a first-year pine, definitely, although both Doug and I noted a pale supercilium, which pines don't usually have. That said, I wouldn't at all be surprised if it turns out to be a pine warbler -- pretty much all of the marks + bill shape match up. Thanks for the tips, because I was going utterly crazy over that one. :)

I'm also an avid eBirder, although I've been neglecting heavymetalbirder.com because of it (I used to keep a species list on the blog). eBird username = mharbison

Edited at 2011-01-29 10:08 pm (UTC)