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21 February 2012 @ 02:43 pm
The Family Day Long Weekend  
The sun came out for the Family Day long weekend, and as luck would have it, I was sick. The scratchy throat that plagued me on Friday turned into a full-blown sinus cold by Sunday, but that didn't prevent me from going out birding for a few hours each day. There are only two weekends left in February, and with my winter list standing at 66 species - my highest total ever - I decided to follow up on a few reports to see if I could reach 70.

My first target was the Northern Pintail spending the winter on the Rideau River in Manotick. On the way I stopped by Rushmore Road, where I encountered two Horned Larks - one of which was singing - and about two dozen Snow Buntings. There were no birds at the Moodie Drive quarry, and only the usual suspects along Trail Road. I checked the informal feeder area at the dump to see what was around, but the tree beneath which people used to scatter seed had been chopped down. A single Blue Jay was the only bird around.

In Manotick I had no luck at the bridge. I saw a couple of Common Mergansers and about a hundred mallards but there was no sign of the pintail. I walked up Rideau Valley Drive to another opening onto the river and discovered the Northern Pintail there. The male Northern Pintail is one of the most beautiful ducks in North America, and this photo does not do it justice. Three male Common Mergansers were also in the same area.

Northern Pintail (male)

My next stop was the Fletcher Wildlife Garden where a White-throated Sparrow had been spending the winter. I normally see this species at Hurdman, but with no feeders this year it is unsurprising that there aren't any around this winter. I started my search in the Backyard Garden where a couple of cardinals, some juncos, and several chickadees were taking turns at the feeder. I didn't see the sparrow, but not long after I arrived I heard its high-pitched chip-note coming from the ravine. I got up to investigate, and found the sparrow standing on top of a brush pile.

The only other bird of interest that I found was this Red-tailed Hawk sitting in a tree in the Arboretum.

Red-tailed Hawk

After finding both of my target birds on Saturday, I had high hopes when I went out Sunday to look for the mockingbird on Grandview Avenue, the Gray Partridges near the Kanata Centrum, and the Bohemian Waxwings on Rifle Road. I needed none of these birds for my winter list, but was hoping to get some pictures now that the sun was shining. The mockingbird proved to the most cooperative of the birds I was looking for, sitting on the telephone wire once again.

Northern Mockingbird

The Gray Partridges at the Kanata Centrum were nowhere to be found. These birds have long been a nemesis of mine. I have tried over two dozen times to see them in various places in Kanata over the past couple of years, and only managed to catch up with them twice: once on Maple Grove Road half an hour after they were reported to Ontbirds, and once unexpectedly along Eagleson Road that same spring. I've already seen them once this year, out near Ste. Rose, but would have liked to add them to my Ottawa list.

The Bohemian Waxwings on Rifle Road were almost as uncooperative. I didn't see or hear them until after I had checked the road twice, but only caught a glimpse of about a dozen birds flying away. They crossed Carling Avenue and vanished. A little discouraged, I didn't stop anywhere else but went home to nurse my cold.

Deb and I met up on Family Day for some west-end birding. My cold had gotten worse, but I was determined to find something interesting. A Northern Shrike perched in a tree on Carling Avenue made for a good start, and between Moodie Drive and Shirley's Bay we counted at least ten White-tailed Deer. This was the only notable mammal I saw all weekend.

White-tailed Deer

On Rifle Road, the Bohemian Waxwings I had sought in vain on Sunday were back eating buckthorn berries....and this time there were at least 300 of them! Large groups perched shoulder-to-shoulder at the tops of four or five different trees, while several others were feeding on what berries remained on the buckthorn bushes or pecking at fallen berries in the snow. Their soft trills filled the air, and as we watched they would descend lower in the shrubs, coming quite close to where we were standing. By waiting quietly, we were able to get a few photos of the birds; and then a car or a truck would come along and the waxwings would all fly back up to the top of the trees. This process repeated itself the entire half-hour we were there.

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwings are one of my favourite winter birds. They are gentle and beautiful, and I find their calls soothing to listen to. It is amazing to watch large flocks feed; they are not territorial, so there are no squabbles over food supplies. Twice I saw one bird pass a berry to the bird beside it; this is common among both waxwing species and helps to cement the bonds between birds.

Bohemian Waxwings

A trip to the Hilda Road feeders was unproductive. There were already four cars there, but the only birds that we saw were two chickadees. We didn't stop but instead kept going.

Our last stop of the day was the area behind the Kanata Centrum where nine Gray Partridges have been seen on multiple occasions. Almost as soon as we arrived we saw a couple of birds crossing the road; we inched our way up beside them so we could take a few pictures. There was no need to get out of the car and disturb them.

Gray Partridge (male)

All nine birds were present, feeding on the dry, weedy vegetation revealed by the snow melt. These birds are well-camouflaged and almost completely disappeared amongst the vegetation when they stopped to eat. Although an introduced species in Ontario, the Gray Partridge - like many grassland species - is declining.

Gray Partridges - 4 of 9

There were more males than females, which can be identified by the large rusty U-shaped patch on the belly. Females lack the rusty patch and also have less orange on their face.

Gray Partridge (male)

Gray Partridge (female)

The birds kept a wary eye on our car but seemed in no hurry to leave. They were quite unlike their cousin the Ruffed Grouse in this regard; grouse usually fly off noisily before you even see them. Instead, the Gray Partridges plodded along, nibbling on the vegetation before climbing a snow bank and disappearing.

Gray Partridge

Deb and I were thrilled that we managed to find these birds and get such terrific, close-up views. Neither of us had ever been so close to this species before; this is another case of being lucky enough to be in the right place a the right time!

Xray Is As Xray Doesxraytheenforcer on February 21st, 2012 07:53 pm (UTC)
Those partridges are adorable!
Gilliangillianm on February 22nd, 2012 02:45 am (UTC)
I think so too! They were vocalizing the whole time we watched them, softly, but noticeably. I am so thrilled to have finally caught up with them!
Soul Diasporasoul_diaspora on February 22nd, 2012 01:12 am (UTC)
I also found the partridge at Kanata Centrum recently--exciting for me, as they were a lifer! Centrum is about five minutes drive from where I live so I'd been stopping there to look for them daily.
Gilliangillianm on February 22nd, 2012 02:46 am (UTC)
Good for you! This was only the second time I checked that location, though I've been to Maple Grove Road, Barnsdale Road, Rushmore Road, etc. lots of times. Hopefully they survive there!