A Lanark Big Year – Full Circle – January 2015
The year has come full circle and I sit here in my family room thinking about how fast it went. First things first. As of my last report (Nov 15th) I was at 197 species. By that point every new bird required a lot of effort, usually in the form of multiple trips to locations which presented the best chance of a target species. The water in the Almonte lagoons had frozen over so I concentrated on ducks at open water spots like the Madawaska Dam, and along the Mississippi and Rideau Rivers. As well I started frequenting the Perth Dump as they are ideal places for gulls late in the year. I even established a relationship with the guy at the entrance hut as well as discussing raptors with the backhoe operator at the top of the garbage mountain. Eventually these cold and smelly trips paid off in late November when 4 Great Black-backed Gulls, #198, turned up. They were amongst a large number of Herring Gulls whereas most of the Ring-billeds had already left. I was still hoping to find Iceland and Glaucous Gulls but further trips to the dump produced fewer and fewer gulls and nothing new.
While further trips to the Madawaska Dam didn’t turn up any new species there was one spectacular sighting there; as I was slowly scanning 3 or 4 thousand geese one day, all of a sudden they all took off simultaneously. The sound of their wings and the honking filled the air as well as my head, so I stood there just enjoying it. A car stopped beside me and the driver pointed out the Bald Eagle that had just landed 100 meters behind me. Now I understood what had spooked the geese.
In early December I got a message from Mike Jaques that a single Common Redpoll had turned up at a feeder in town, so I quickly drove over and located #199 feeding on the ground below a very active feeder. Redpolls continued in low numbers all the way to the end of the year.
I decided one day to return from my daughter’s place in Ottawa via Merrickville as there is open water on and off between there and Smith Falls. It was a propitious decision as just west of Merrickville and viewable from Hwy 43 I found a group of gulls standing on the ice by the open water. The 2 gulls I had almost given up on were there, Glaucous and Iceland. These gulls are often referred to as white-winged Gulls because they have little or no black at the wing tips and they lack the clear colour distinction between the wing tops and the rest of the body which most gulls have. As well the Glaucous looks like it has dipped just the end of its bill in ink while the juvenile Iceland’s bill is all dark. These were birds #200 and #201. I had reached my goal of 200 so a bottle of bubbles was shared that night. Of course this only meant I now wanted to see how far past 200 I could go.
Over the next weeks there were many trips along Bellamy Road looking for any finches, follow-ups to Madawaska Dam as well as slow drives along many of the eastern roads of the county where there are open fields looking for Longspurs. Perseverance paid off as I came across 8 Bohemian Waxwings on Bellamy road, bird #202 on a cold and sunny day. During the Carleton Place Christmas Bird Count on the 27th I got an email from Ken Allison that there was one Hoary Redpoll amongst 10 Commons at their feeder. I was there in minutes and spent over an hour watching the feeders until the Hoary turned up again; bird #203. This left 4 days in the 2014 so I concentrated on one more species, the White-winged Crossbill. In past year’s I have seen them in the Lanark Highlands and even in our backyard This year there were very few reported but Ken Allison had several flyovers at his place during December. I combined driving the roads of the Highlands, stopping at stands of conifers, especially Spruce and Tamarack, their favourite, listening for their calls, with stops at Ken’s to stand in the cold beside the pond hoping to hear one. I was there so often that their dog became my friend. My last attempt was New Year’s Eve. I arrived around 2 PM and stood by the pond listening carefully for nearly 2 hours. The only sound was the wind through the trees, a Pileated banging on trees, the yank yank of Nuthatches and the cracking of the ice. I eventually realized it was done, there was to be no Crossbill, let alone any more days on the road for the Lanark big year. So I surrendered to just enjoy the moment as the sun, low on the horizon, peeked in and out of the heavy overcast. I returned home to enjoy tapas, bubbles and time with my family, happy with the year’s result.
A quick wrap of the numbers is always in order. At least if you are an A type like me. In one year I identified 203 species! It is interesting to note that my lifetime species count for Lanark County is 215. On top of that there are a number of birds I know were seen in Lanark in 2014 that I missed including; Northern Mockingbird, Whimbrel, Black-crowned Night Heron, Great Egret, Peregrine Falcon, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Screech, Long-eared and Short-eared Owls, Red-headed Woodpecker, Carolina Wren, Prairie Warbler, Lincoln’s Sparrow, and that elusive White-winged Crossbill.
Highlights of the year included finally seeing Trumpeters Swans in Carleton Place and then seeing them several more times in the county, finding the Long-billed Dowitcher in the fields besides Ramsay 7, listening to Woodcocks while drinking wine, getting Gray Jays at a hunting camp in the north of the county, listening to Chuck-will’s-widow at High Lonesome, calling in two Saw-whet Owls on a calm March evening and the buzz of Golden-winged Warblers at Murphy’s Point. I discovered that birds such as Yellow-throated Vireo, Scarlet Tanager and Whip-poor-Will are common in the county. As well I experienced the cycles of migration and movement birds engage in every year.
I want to thank everyone who called, texted, and emailed me with sightings. Without your help I never would have reached 200. I also want to thank Martha and Arnie Simpson, Ruth and Ken Allison, Joyce and Mike Jaques and my Ottawa buddies Paul and Rick. I thank all of you for the constant help and patience with my endless emails. Finally I have to recognize my partner Zaza’s contribution. She joined me to take pictures, packed up snacks and hot drinks for my many forays, accepted that at any moment I might jump off the couch, exclaiming that a “so and so” bird was just reported as I raced to the door and left with a brief “see you later”, and for always asking what I had seen when I returned! I am sure I never got home when I said I would. Love you
NOTE: All photos by Susan Wilkes except as indicated