“A Lanark Big Year – January 23 – Winter Birding”
Well it is near the end of January and it has been a tough month for birding. Between the snowsqualls, cold, and wind, many birds are hunkered down, requiring a lot of effort for each sighting. I spent time birding on 19 days so far in January, mostly by car and I have seen 35 species. I think this is a good time to introduce the concept of a nemesis bird. During a lifetime of birding there is always, at least for me, been a species that alludes you for months or maybe years before you see it. These nemesis species are often not even particularly uncommon but for some reason you just keep missing them, while your friends seem to have no problem locating them. Well this year is no different! So far, no matter how many trails I walk and how many trees I scan the trunks of, I have still failed to see a Brown Creeper or Golden-crowned Kinglet. Oh well that is birding; so let us get started with some highlights and pictures of the first 20 days of 2014.
Rarest bird by far is the Varied Thrush which has been at a feeder north of the Mill of Kintail since December. After standing 20 feet from the feeder for 30 minutes, freezing my hands and feet as it was -27C that morning, the thrush flew into the cedar next to the feeder but would not show itself. Despite this I could pick out the bold supercilium and the orange and black colours. After a small victory dance, I moved into a back roads drive west using roads north of Hwy 7, and discovered the village of Harper and the Campbell Cemetery on Drummond Concession 7. It sits on high ground across open farmer’s fields mixed into a set of trees. There is also a small Baptist church north of the village dated 1886. A little Googling turns up some interesting families and history in this part of Lanark. After that I called Ken Allison to see if the Great Horned Owls were active. I arrived at his place around 4:30 PM and hiked down to the pond. It was bitterly cold and there were no hoots. As my fingers began to go numb I pulled out my cell and played the call, which soon resulted in two Great Horned Owls calling back. It was magical to listen to them through the cold still air while looking across the pond at the last light in the western sky.
January 8th, Zaza and I headed for the western edge of the county. Taking Hwy 7, then Ferguson Falls road where we came across 50 Snow Buntings at a feeder. This was one of two large groups we found, the other at a house on the edge of the village of Lanark. Further along the road we found 30 Cedar Waxwings in front of a house. From Lanark we drove to Fallbrook and then onto Bennett Lake Road and headed toward the end of the county. We saw numerous Blue Jays which seem to have taken over every feeder in sight. Near the end of the road Zaza spotted a Red-tailed Hawk by a small marsh, first of the year. Going north on the Elphin Maberly Road there were half a dozen Turkeys eating in the Sumac. After passing the end of Dalhousie Lake where the Mississippi winds beside the road we spotted two River Otters. They were in and out of the water regularly arriving back on the ice with food. They are more active during the daytime in winter than in the summer. Across the road was another Red-tail which immediately leaned forward and defecated when it noticed us. I have seen this behavior many times and I have heard the explanation that they want to be as light as possible if flight is necessary. Not sure we know what is in the mind of a Red-tail! A quick drive into Purdon CA turned up 10 Purple Finches. Then we stopped along the side of Watson Corner Road and ate lunch to the sounds of logging trucks passing by. In the distance, bird #25, an adult Bald Eagle, soared in the sky probably over the Heron Mills area. We decided to head home at this point and just north of Carleton Place at Ramsay 7 and Rae Road there were 200 Snow Buntings in the corn stubble. During the day we saw deer many times, but only 1 or 2 at a time.
During an afternoon walk along the Mississippi River trail from the Carleton Place arena to the McNeely bridge I saw a flock of 20 Common Goldeneye plus one Bald Eagle cruising the river at maybe 100 feet off the deck going east.
A Coopers Hawk has taken up residence in Carleton Place starting late last year and is still worrying the feeders across town. Arnie Simpson spotted it in the area close to the hospital and Mike Jaques saw it near his home in the south section of town. It reappeared around our place on Jan 12th and has been seen on and off since then.
Thanks to Mike, I got the Rough-legged Hawk on Glen Isle that has been in that area at least since the Christmas Bird Count.
I decided to visit Pakenham, which has some great feeders, especially up the hill just off Waba Road. I found a flock of over 20 House Sparrows merrily calling while bouncing around a backyard feeder. The males always look cocky to me. Large groups of Jays, Goldfinches, Starlings and a few Downys accompanied them. From Pakenham I crossed the five span bridge where two Goldeneye were diving. Up the hill and south onto County Road 17 where there is a house that must be the best bird diner around. I stood at the roadside and watched Jays from all around fly in, while a dozen or so Tree Sparrows shared the feeders with the Jays, Mourning Doves and Hairy Woodpeckers. In the distance on a tree top sat a Northern Shrike likely eyeing up his candidate lunch. Down the east county line there are many open fields with exposed water in the low areas. A possible Horned Lark flew up in front of the car but eluded my binoculars. By rambling around this area I discovered Mountainview Road between Panmure Road and Needham Side Road. This must be a great drive in the summer because even in the winter your view west is of fields going down to the Mississippi which, combined with the twisty turning, up and down road, is charming. The roadsides are dotted with apple trees still hanging with fruit, dried, frozen and a deep burnt ombre colour. Zaza and I have seen these trees all over the eastern half of the county and here they just seem to fit. Halfway along there is a grove of very tall pines, filled with Woodpecker holes. I shall return here when the weather is better.
Zaza and I did another day trip on the January 18th and the route involved a drive to Pakenham, west on Waba Road to Campbell Road and then along to Bellamy Road. White Lake was alive with the buzz of planes going in and out, presumably to deliver fisherman to the many ice fishing huts. Bellamy road produced my first Red-breasted Nuthatch of the year, sitting atop a pine, bobbing its tail, otherwise there were few birds out. The next day I visited the Mill of Kintail and walked the outside blue trail in the hope of rustling up a nemesis bird without luck. It was still a very pleasant walk with a cold front passing through so the wind was up and the snow was flying. A beautiful Pileated flew over in the hardwoods calling loudly. One tree, roughly half-way around the trail, had a significant hole around 15 feet up, which definitely had an occupant. I was unable to climb high enough on nearby trees to make a positive identification. It looked like the top half of the head of a Screech Owl, but that may just be wishful thinking, so I can’t really count it.
I have included my list so far Lanark Birds 2014-1 Tracking and I want to thank everyone who has provided assistance so far. Keep those emails and texts a coming.