2011 Ottawa-Gatineau Christmas Bird Count, Gatineau, Quebec
The sun is now up and I am out on a Christmas Bird Count with my birder friends, Ralph and Gerhard. Our designated starting point is Bate Island (Location) in the middle of the Ottawa River and from there we work along the shore towards the former Aylmer. Similar to the starting sector that we have done in past years. Different groups and clubs coordinate the survey on both sides of the Ottawa River and then, at the end of the day, get together for a pot luck supper and tally the results. I think that I heard that this is the 92nd year that the survey has been done. Ralph and Gerhard and I all live on the Ottawa side of the river but we were doing a Gatineau section because Gerhard had started participating in these surveys through an affiliation with the Club des Ornithologues de l’Outaouais years ago when he lived on the Quebec side of the river. Others affiliated with the Ottawa Field Naturalists Club will be doing the count on the Ontario side of the river.
As usual, the rapids around Bate Island provide the usual rafts of Goldeneye (50), a half dozen crows and a few Chickadees. The mammal world was represented by a half dozen black squirrels fighting with the crows over a bunch of peanuts left on a picnic table. Away from the peanut activity, a lone grey squirrel scampers along the river bank. The grey coloration is actually the true colour while the black coloration is a melanistic form of the grey squirrel. A few Canada Geese lift off from sheltered area of the river and a gull (not identified) drifts by on the wind overhead. With the temperature at a cool -12C and a steady breeze blowing across the water, Bate Island is not the warmest place to have as our starting point.
Our stop #2 is the Champlain Parking Lot (Aire de stationnement Champlain) on the north side of the river. Many years, heavy snow cover makes it difficult to survey this area, but this year is the exception as there is almost no snow on the ground. At this stop, there were a number of Chickadees, a few crows, a few Canada Geese and a couple of Mallards.
For our next stop, we chose a small pull-off by the side of the lower Aylmer Road. We had to share the spot with a local police constable who was using his radar gun to slow down a few motorists who must have been late for church. 🙂 From this location, we could check out the birds along one of the golf course fairways, as well as take another look along the river bank.
We had enough snowflakes overnight to turn the greens to white but not enough to hide the slightly taller grass on the fairways.
For comparison, my backyard four years earlier looked like this on December 19th, 2007!
When I am out with Ralph and Gerhard, they usually focus on the birds, while I tend to photograph a wide variety of things. In this instance, I caught sight of a polypore mushroom looking a bit shriveled in the cold. Then, when Ralph spied a golf ball impaled on a fence, we immediately hoped that we might get a rare glimpse of a Northern Shrike sneaking in a round of golf.
Not too much to see at first, but then there were three Starlings in the top branches of a spruce tree. After that sighting, a couple of White-breasted Nuthatches flew into the bare branches of a Maple. This same tree also had a Hairy Woodpecker which gave it’s location away with rhythmic thuds as it hammered away looking for insects. Further along the river bank, another female Hairy Woodpecker was doing the same thing.
On the river, a couple of Goldeneye were drifting by and, further along, about eighty Canada Geese were resting by an island. Chickadees and a crow rounded out the sightings at this location.
We somewhat hoped that we might see a bird or two pecking at the many cones on the Spruce trees but saw none.
Our next stop, at Rivermead, yielded a Robin and a male Cardinal by a small creek that was flowing down to the Ottawa River. A few Mallards, Canada Geese, Common Crows and Chickadees rounded out the sightings for this stop.
Our next stop was the Quebec side of the Deschenes Rapids. I had never ventured to this particular spot on the Ottawa River so that made the spot a bit more intriguing.
A small flock of Mallards swam around in the calmer water above the rapids and a couple of dozen Mallards swam around at the base of the rapids. The stones under the water at the edge of the rapids looked pretty slippery, so I tread cautiously along the edge of the river. I definitely did not want to go swimming!
Sometimes a bit tough to get all of your ducks in a row but today the suggestion to go two by two seemed to work :-).
The pathway that passed by the Deschenes Rapids was part of the Aylmer network of walking paths and was well used. Signs along the way warned of the dangers of Poison Ivy along the path but, at -10C, I wasn’t too concerned about Poison Ivy. I took a picture of the sign anyway so that I could add it to my tutorial on the Identification of Poison Ivy.
I could have walked along this pathway for a long distance but knew that Ralph and Gerhard were thinking about lunch so after saying hello to a thirteen year old dog named “Flavour”, I decided to stop, turn around, and head back to the parking lot.
As I traveled a parallel pathway back to the car, I passed a clump of Staghorn Sumac where Chickadees were dining and then passed a nearby home feeder where a dozen House Sparrows were visiting along with a couple of large grey squirrels.
The temperature is still -12 C but the bright sun and blue skies overhead makes it feel quite pleasant.
A short lunch stop at Tim Horton’s and bowl of chili hit the spot and before long, we were on our way again. As I walked back to my car, I looked up at the bare tree branches above me. I saw that the branches were not bare. What looked like dark bunches of leaves were actually a large flock of 20 or more Starlings.
Our next assigned location was a mature residential area of Aylmer with plenty of tall maples, spruce, pine and Cedars. We stopped at a small pond along Aylmer Road and located a Great Blue Heron standing near a bit of open water while a bit further from shore a flock of Mallards was paddling in the open water or sitting on the edge of the ice.
We then turned our attention to walking along a treed crescent in the residential area. Our first birds of interest were a pair of Northern Cardinals. We would see three more Cardinals before returning to our car but our next bird of interest was the American Goldfinch. A number of groups of Goldfinch were in the area eating the seeds of the Cedars. During this walkabout we also saw a couple of Hairy Woodpeckers, some Mourning Doves and some Dark-eyed Juncos. A half dozen Common Crows flew overhead as we walked along the roadway and then the same number of Canada Geese passed overhead heading in the direction of the open water of the Ottawa River. We also had a few anxious moments deciding whether a neighborhood dog would take exception to our being in the neighborhood. All was well though as we soon learned that an invisible fence was in action.
In this residential area the lots were large and there was plenty of bushland with natural food in relative abundance.
Ornamental plume grasses might be pretty but how much nourishment they might provide is probably rather limited.
It was beginning to get too dark for photography but that was when we started to spot woodpeckers so I cranked up the ISO and kept shooting.
Eventually even high ISO and vibration reduction mechanisms were not enough and I just had to stop trying to take pictures :-). My stomach was beginning to grumble too!
After the day of being out in the cool weather, it was nice to gather together afterwards for the pot luck supper and the day’s count tally with the Club des Ornithologues de l’Outaouais acting as hosts for the event. (Group shot courtesy of Danielle Lépine)