OLD-FASHIONED WINTER KEEPS FEEDERS BUSY
Be sure to keep an adequate supply of food handy for feathered visitors
February is usually the quietest time for birds and birding in our area. Most wintering species including rarities have been discovered and not much change takes place unless you’re heading south to warmer climates. Mid-winter is a good time to start reviewing our field guides and listen to bird songs on our iPods with anticipation of the spring migrants that will arrive in March. This has been an old-fashioned winter, like those in the 1970s. No January thaw this winter.
Despite it all, though, the birding continues to be full of surprises. On Feb. 8, Jacques Bouvier had two surprise visitors at his feeders in the St. Isidore area. The first was a male Oregon Junco which was present long enough to photograph. This western junco is a subspecies of the Dark-eyed Junco and is a very rare visitor. The second surprise was a Clay-coloured Sparrow.
Luckily the sparrow was photographed, too. The Clay-coloured Sparrow is a local summer resident in suitable habitat in Eastern Ontario but there are only a few December and January records. I’m not aware of any February sightings until now. Both birds appear to be just passing through. Remember to always carefully check what’s at your feeder. Anything is possible and with the continuing cold weather birds are searching for food.
On Feb. 9 I observed about 750 Bohemian Waxwings in the Shirley’s Bay area. These birds were feeding on the remaining Buckthorn berries. This northwestern species is an erratic winter visitor to our area as they wander during the winter months in search of berry crops and some flocks continue east to the Maritimes.
Feeder watcher reports continue to be dominated by Common Redpoll and American Goldfinch, along with a couple of Purple Finches actively feeding at sunflower and nyjer feeders. If you already have House Finches visiting your feeder, carefully check through them looking for a plumper finch. The male Purple Finch lacks the streaking on the flanks of the male House Finch and the female is a darker brown with a prominent white eye line. Also watch out for Pine Siskins and Evening Grosbeaks. Both species have been extremely scarce this winter but can show up at any time. I have received a few more recent reports of small flocks of Evening Grosbeaks at feeders in the Larose Forest and Hammond area.
Another surprise feeder bird were two Boreal Chickadees east of Ottawa. This northern chickadee is on its southern breeding range in Algonquin Park but occasionally comes even further south during the fall and early winter when seed crops are poor.
The splendour of the Snowy Owl continues to delight new and seasoned birders alike. Though the numbers aren’t as high and widespread as last winter’s invasion, there are still a number of Snowy Owls in our area. Please remember to follow the birding code of ethics and to respect these birds and do not flush or harass as you attempt to get a better photo.
A number of overwintering land birds are also doing well. This includes a number of Redbellied Woodpeckers, Hermit Thrush, numerous Carolina Wrens and White-throated Sparrows. A Savannah Sparrow was reported from Kinburn on Feb. 5 as it fed along the roadside in a flock of Dark-eyed Juncos. This sparrow should be able to survive the remaining weeks of winter.
Overwintering waterfowl are bearing up too despite the cold and ice. The male Northern Shoveler continues to feed along the Carp River in Kanata along with a male Northern Pintail. The female Wood Duck remains present along the Rideau River at Strathcona Park and the female Greater Scaup continues to be reported at Deschênes Rapids.
Wild Turkeys were reported in Eastern Ontario, with flocks up to 40 birds in Carleton Place and Smiths Falls. Numerous feeder watchers saw small groups feeding below the feeders.