Connecting people with nature in Ontario's Mississippi Valley

A Lanark Big Year – Nov 15th – Fall

A Lanark Big Year – Nov 15th – Fall

Well it is Nov 15th.   It seems forever ago I started a big year and, at the same time, like yesterday.  There is only 6 weeks to go and many miles before I am done.  The great thing about fall is that the spring migration happens in reverse so there are opportunities to see species one missed in the spring.

The Almonte lagoons continue to be an excellent location.  I visited the lagoons almost once a week since September.   In early October there were 15 Pectoral Sandpipers close to the viewing stand.  The breast has a clear demarcation where the streaks end, as well the bird has a white eyebrow.  The Pectorals stayed there over several weeks in varying numbers.  Oct 4th turned up one Greater white-fronted Goose amid the 1 to 2 thousand Canada Geese   Ten minutes after spotting the goose when another birder arrived to see the Greater white-fronted, I could no longer find it amongst the Canadas.  I have experienced this many times before and never did find it again.

Throughout the fall there has been Cackling Geese present with more than 10 at some times.  It was an excellent opportunity to see the clear differences.  By Oct 10th the Ruddy Ducks arrived and continue to be present even now although in reduced numbers.  A lone Bonaparte’s Gull floated around the lagoon for over a week accompanied by a few Ring-billed Gulls.

The return of the ducks on the way south included flocks of Green-winged Teal, Ring-necked Duck, Lesser Scaup and Redheads.    The year has provided the chance to really observe the cyclical nature of bird life.  In the early spring you see Red Necked Grebes going north and on Oct 19th the Grebes appeared again on the Mississippi and Rideau Rivers going south.

The wooded area along the trail into the lagoons had small flocks of warblers on and off especially if the weather was bad.  Mostly Yellow-rumps and a few Cape-Mays silently feeding in the tree tops.   It was also an excellent spot for seeing dozens of White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows.

Through October and into November the Rough-legged Hawks arrived in the eastern fields of the county in good numbers.   These dark raptors can be seen hovering over fields along 12th Concession Ramsay north of Panmure as well as Ramsey 7th north of Wolf Grove.

I was treated to a flight of Trumpeter Swans at McGowan Lake at Hwy 7.  There were 5 swans.  I passed this spot almost every weekend this fall and saw up to ten Trumpeters on the lake.  On one of these trips at dusk a flock of smaller birds disappeared into a field of dry soybean plants near Gardiner Road and Hwy 7.  I couldn’t find a single bird until I crossed the fence and walked the field until I got close enough to flush roughly 20 Pipits.

Late in October the Hooded Mergansers appeared in flocks from 10 to 20 in size along the Mississippi and Rideau Rivers.  It is a treat whenever one of the males fans out the head feathers showing the large white headgear.

November started the arrival of the winter species I desperately need to reach my goal.  Pine Siskins stopped at our pine trees for 10 minutes one day.  I visited Ken Allison’s to see 2 male and 1 female Grosbeak.  But the highlight of November so far was on Thursday, November 13th.   My friend Howard had arranged to visit a hunting camp in the Highlands where Whiskey Jacks come for the winter.  We travelled west from Clayton and up Darling towards the California Road.  We turned into a side trail with a simple tree trunk pole for a gate.  The road, no more than a track, wound through the woods.  It was one vehicle wide with large rocks and gullies in the middle and the occasional trees that had fallen partially over the route.  We stopped at a couple of ponds to see some Mergansers and Geese.  Eventually we arrived at a small hunting camp complete with 3 freshly killed deer, gutted and handing from an old pine, a one story rustic cabin and several hunters in their bright orange outfits.  Seems the Gray Jays travel south in winter to the camp and feed at the bellies of the deer as well as any bread the hunters throw out.    We waited for nearly two hours with no luck and finally decided to leave.  Luckily my final look around the tree tops turned up one Gray Jay flying overhead.  My first in Lanark.  It is commonly thought that these Jays only come as far south as Algonquin Park, but I can attest they are here in Lanark and maybe in larger numbers than we know.

Gray Jays by Howard Robinson

This photo of a pair of Gray Jays was taken last year by Howard Robinson at the same place I saw the Gray Jay this year.

From there I had to meet an old canoeing friend, Karl on White Lake, as I wanted to look for Scoters, Grebes and Long-tailed Ducks.  There were only Loons and Mergansers on the lake, so I decided to go home via the Madawaska Dam at Arnprior which has a spit of land on the north side which is still in Lanark County.  While searching the several thousand geese near the shore for a possible Brant, Karl, a non-birder, spotted a White-winged Scoter.  Another first for the county for me.  It was a juvenile which can be confused with the juvenile Surf Scoter except this bird fanned out one wing to show the white wing patch.

So I am at 197 with 6 weeks to go.  Reaching 200 seems very possible but every new species requires a significant investment in time.  I am hoping the Christmas Bird Count ensures 200+.  My target birds now are owls (SE, LE, GG and Boreal), Crossbills, Redpolls and Bohemian Waxwings.

Please share sightings of these birds at 

Cheers from the guy with the crazy idea till next report.

Iain