Lanark Big Year
Last month it was all snow, this month it is all water, brown fields and budding trees. The spring migration happens in waves and April included several. As the ice left the rivers and then the lakes opened up, the ducks and geese appeared. Trumpeter swans continued to arrive and small groups could be found on the Mississippi and Rideau rivers for a day or two at a time. Next flocks of ducks arrived. Large numbers of Ring-necked Ducks are on the Mississippi in Carleton Place and they could also be found on rivers and ponds as the icy fingers of winter receded. Mixed with these flocks were Hooded Mergansers, Bufflehead and Lesser Scaup. Walks along the river in Carleton Place soon turned up a beautiful pair of Wood Ducks. The male to me rivals the Mandarin Duck of Asia for spectacular head markings. In amongst the flocks a lone Pintail appeared in Carleton Place. A trip to the Rideau River in early April revealed a river completed frozen over except in a few isolated places as well as a good open strip in the east end of Smith Falls. A single Herring Gull stood on the ice surrounded by large flocks of Hoodeds. In the corn fields to the east on Hwy 43 thousands of Canada Geese had arrived including my first Snow Geese of the year. I was lucky to sight three flying in a low circle apparently trying to find their place in the field.
Along with the waterfowl, came the other early arrivals; Male Red-winged Blackbirds arrive even before the snow goes and can often be seen clinging to a bull rush while fresh snow flies sideways across the land. The males arrive a month early just to get the best breeding location and sure enough by the end of April I saw my first female. Song Sparrows started to appear in the first week of April waking us in the morning with their classic song. Amazingly Tree Swallows could be found flying low over icy fields by second week of April and Northern Harriers were flying low over the fields with their characteristic dihedral wings. Finally, the bird I always look for in spring, the Eastern Bluebird, which I saw both on Old Perth Road and Rae Side Road.
As the fields changed from snow to puddles and ponds, additional ducks arrived, with Green-winged Teal in the flooded fields of Ramsay 7 north of Carleton Place, Gadwall on the Mississippi, American Widgeon in the flooded field on Ramsay 7B north of Clayton Road and a pair of Blue-winged Teal in the flooded ditch on Drummond Side Road. Of course these flooded fields and more open marshes resulted in many sightings of Greater than Lesser Yellowlegs throughout the eastern half of the county. The bill length relative to head size and slight upturn of the Greater’s bill helps distinguish the two. As well the marshes are now noisy with the calls of the Wilson’s Snipe and the whirl sound of their wings in flight.
The next wave of migration was that of the sparrows. Eight species arrived in April; Songs are everywhere, Vesper along Panmore Road, White-throated in my backyard, Swamp sparrows are trilling at most of the marshes, Ken and I found a Fox Sparrow singing beside Ramsay 4B just south of Wolf Grove Road, Tree Sparrows, while in the area during winter, started singing, Field Sparrows along Hwy 15 near Maclachlan Road, Savannahs calling in most open fields and Chipping Sparrow at the Olde Kirk. Along with the ecstatic call of the Winter Wren, the fields and forests are full of calls and songs.
Finally, the warblers started to arrive with one twist. Normally Yellow-rumped Warblers are seen first and then the Pines. This year Pine Warblers were calling in Carleton Place, as well as along Wolf Grove and at the Mill of Kintail days before any Yellow-rumps appeared. Of course it wasn’t long before they also appeared at the Mill and at the Indian River Bridge on Ramsay 7B
So April has made a huge difference to my numbers. I now stand at 105 species! My goal is still 200, but a more realistic number is 175. I have been getting incredible support from Arnie, Ken, Howard and Cliff as well as people I just happen to meet along the sides of a road or along a trail who are curious enough to ask what I am seeing. So as I always say keep those cards and letters (emails, text and calls) coming as they make all the difference at
So next are the Warblers, Flycatchers and Vireos
Cheers from the guy with the crazy idea till next report.
“A Lanark Big Year – March 25th – Harbingers of Spring!”
While the weather this year here in Lanark County has not been appreciated by many, and some would say abysmal, for the birds spring is in the air. Over the last month I have seen several signs of spring, some birds in our area are already calling to secure their territory and the first migrants have arrived. Early in March I started to notice Hairy Woodpeckers in groups of 2 or 3 chasing each other around the trees and chattering noisily. The Common Goldeneye on the rivers are flinging their heads backwards and calling, and the Cardinals are everywhere in our neighborhood, perched on high points, fluffed up with crest showing and saying what sounds exactly like “Pretty, Pretty, Pretty”. I guess if you’re a male then declaring your beauty works. The Goldfinches are starting to turn yellow again and the Purple Finches are singing.
Waterfowl is now arriving, treating us to Red-Necked and Pied-billed Grebes at Appleton for over a week and my first Canada Geese appearing along the river, including two at Jebbs creek just west of Smith Falls where it crosses County road 1. A pair stood on the creek bank on a small batch of brown grass within a field of deep snow looking for a place to start a nest. It is believed that the main driver for migration is food and the main trigger is the longer days even if the destination hasn’t quite escaped winter. Being first to secure a nesting site combined with the long summer days are significant contributors to maximizing the success of the next generation.
One of the treats for me as a birder this year was the arrival of the Trumpeter Swans. This a species I have never seen in Lanark County even though they commonly pass through every year and some nest locally. By mid-March there were reports of swans on the Tay River around DeWitts Corners, then 2 swam by houses at the east end of Lake Ave in Carleton Place. Close together two were at Clayton dam and 6 arrived on March 15th by the Carleton Place High School, which Arnie Simpson took pictures of and emailed me, one of which I have included. I had been trying to see Trumpeters for a couple of weeks by then, but when the email arrived I was just west of Arnprior birding with a buddy. We raced back to CP but by then they were gone. As a result I started checking 6 places on the Mississippi twice a day plus an extensive tour of the Tay with no luck. Then on Saturday March 22, another email from Arnie, a pair at the O-Kee-Lee park here in CP and luckily I was having coffee at home. Zaza can attest to the blur that left the house. The pair were still there and I got an excellent view of them, with their long straight bills, lack of yellow lores a la Tundras and they are considerably larger than a Tundra Swan. During these forays to see the swans I did regularly see the Adult Bald Eagle up and down the river as well as my first of the year Ring-billed Gulls (4) huddled on the ice near the boat launch.
March has not added many species to my list but some of them are special. Early in March I drove to the K&P Trail at Flower Station. It was a very clear and cold day. I walked west and spent two hours on the trail, dodging the occasional train of snowmobilers who must be enjoying this season. Eventually I heard the slow and irregular tapping of a woodpecker. By slogging through the thigh high snow I came across a female Black-backed Woodpecker working along a leaning dead tree. Unfortunately my photographer Zaza didn’t join me for a cold walk at 7 AM or I would have had an excellent picture. On a quick trip around the fields east of Appleton I came across a Merlin sitting on the side of an old manure pile which is located at the corner of Hamilton Side Rd and Ramsay 12. I always check this pile as it is a good spot for birds including large flocks of starlings using it for food and warmth. This was a female bird with the warm brown back, faint mustache and heavy breast streaks.
Finally I decided to test my owl calling abilities. I selected a calm slightly overcast evening when the temperature was close to zero. I drove up to Ramsay 7B just south of Sugar Bush Road where the roadsides are lined with cedars. I had been to this spot years ago when Michael Runtz had given a talk on owls at the Mill of Kintail and then went owling at this location and up the road for Barred owls. I used my cells’ bird call recordings to try and call in a Saw-whet Owl but with no luck. I thought maybe volume was the issue so I switched to doing the call myself. It took only about 10 minutes and I heard one owl calling faintly in the distance. It wasn’t long before it came much closer and second Saw-whet started up. At that point, I stopped and just listened to them calling to each other; one of those Zen moments!
First Turkey Vulture over our house on March 19th and first Great Blue Heron at Glen Isle on March 20th!
Okay so let’s wrap up my first three months with the numbers. I had identified 61 target birds for the first 90 days and after 81 days I have 54 species. If I had seen any of the normal winter Grosbeaks, Siskins, Redpolls and Crossbills I would have been at or above my target. So I will just have to get those species next winter. I have now created my next 3 month target list and it is comprised of 155 species. This number is large and reflects the nature of migration in Ontario; a punctuated event! My birding pals on the west coast who used to live in Ontario have all noted how dragged out is the coastal migration and that there is generally a lot less individuals at any one time.
So the next 3 months will be even busier than the first 3 and please share with me any unusual sightings at
Spring has sprung, the grass is ris, I wonder where the birdies is’?
February! What can one say about this month of cold and snow? Well for one thing, it has been a season of seeing one bird at a time! Lots of local day trips coupled with outings to the NW and SW corners of the county resulting in a maximum of one new species on any given day. As well I have noticed that Lanark has an incredible mixture of tree species, from the Pines, Spruces, Oaks, Maples, Hackberrys, Hickorys and many more. Last year I guided a couple, who are birding buddies of mine from Ferintosh, Alberta (south of Edmonton), around eastern Ontario and they loved the variety of tree species as much as the eastern birds. He worked as a forester for the Alberta government so he know his trees, and he was amazed at the variety. As well one notices how young many of the trees are, a result of the centuries of logging, both for settlement of the land and to supply the Royal Navy’s ship building yards.
This is also a year that the Great Lakes are more frozen then they have been in decades with the result that there may be more and different duck species on any open water there is left. In Almonte, I saw the 5 Redheads just east of the bridge, a first for my Lanark life list.
I have walked and driven the Mississippi River several times in the last month and regularly see Common Goldeneyes and Mallards at Appleton, and Carleton Place. I also spotted one sleeping male Red-breasted Merganser in the rapids by the Pakenham Five Span Bridge. He seemed unconcerned about the chunks of ice bopping around him as he dozed. In the last few days 7 Lesser Scaup turned up on the river across from the Carleton Place High School.
In early February, Zaza and I did a tour of the southwest corner of the county. It was another cold but at least sunny day and we worked our way west on County Rd 6 from Perth to Althorpe and then onto to County Rd 36. South on 36 takes you out of the county as we crossed the Tay River which still had an open stretch. We turned left onto Parish Rd to head back toward the county and came across the site of the first Roman Catholic Church in that area established in 1840. It was established by Irish priests from Armagh and all that was visible was a marker. Parish Rd got us back to County Rd 10 (Westport Road) and travelling east we came to the Lanark County sign. So far all we had seen were Crows, Ravens and Blue Jays. Is it just me or are there many more Blue Jays this year? We see them throughout the county as well mobbing feeders. From there we travelled all the way to Merrickville, where just on the edge of town a Sharpie dashed across the road and behind a house. I suspect lunch was ready at the feeder. We ended the day by coming up the eastern edge of the county surveying all the fields for Larks but no luck.
Our second day trip was to Blueberry Mountain. The drive turned up a beautiful Adult Bald Eagle soaring near Hopetown, Purple Finches on Flower Station Road and of course Blue Jays everywhere. We reached the Blueberry Mountain parking lot but there was way too much snow to do any hiking without snowshoes. I now know the area better and plan on hiking the K&P Trail in the spring.
I decided it required a more concerted effort to find Larks so I started driving all of the eastern county roads with large open fields between Pakenham and Merrickville. Persistence paid off. We found a small flock of Snow Buntings on the edge of McArton Rd near the Appleton Road end and stopped. Again Zaza was the first to notice the two Horned Larks just into the open field and separated from the Buntings.
Okay now for the numbers. Remember I had identified 61 target birds for the first three months of 2014, well I have only seen 34 so far; not a single Siskin, Redpoll, Crossbill or Grosbeak in sight. In addition I have seen 8 species I didn’t target for this season, such as the Varied Thrush, Robin and some of the Ducks, for a total of 42. It is a slow start for a target of 200.
So remember to let me know of interesting birds you see, such as Owls, Raptors in general, Longspurs and any of the normal winter finches I am missing. Email me at
Cheers and may March be better!
“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.
“A Lanark Big Year – January 1st – Land of the Snowy Owls”
New Year ’s Day and we didn’t get up until after 9 AM. A very quiet evening and a long sleep before day 1 of my Lanark big year. The sun is up, it is very cold (-21) and very clear. It is at least 30 minutes before any birds arrive at our feeders. A lone Pigeon claims the honour of Bird #1 followed by Starlings, Goldfinch and Blue Jay. Zaza and I are planning a couple of hours searching the fields on the east end of the county for Snowy Owls. Of course being an engineer I just had to reduce the year to numbers. So I created a spreadsheet checklist for Lanark. There are 279 species possible but the total could be more depending on how many super rarities you wish to include. Next I divided them into three groups; Common = 157, Occasional (usually a few are seen each year) = 47, and rarities =75. This means a target of 200 is a tall order but I believe in tall orders so here we go. After that I created a 3 month target list for January through March which has 61 birds which I intend to concentrate on. Of course the real enjoyment is to forget the numbers and wander the county enjoying whatever presents itself.
Zaza and I packed up tea and Christmas goodies and headed out for a 3 hour foray. We wandered through the side streets of Carleton Place looking for the Coopers Hawk in town to no avail so we headed down Cavanagh to Appleton Side Road. A small flock of 10 Snow Buntings were on the road near the intersection which seems to be a locale where I often see them. We headed north to farm fields on the east side of Appleton Side Road north of Hamilton Side Road. This is the western edge of the Ottawa Valley and after this the large open fields drop off dramatically. I had one Snowy here both on Dec 30 and 31st but today nothing. We circled the area 3 times with no luck. So onto to Almonte, where we enjoyed a Raven gliding effortlessly with its large wedge tail. We headed for the open water near the Barley Mow where we found one Common Merganser. A local stopped to ask if it was a duck and said “Now – Will it be alright out there!” I assured her it would.
From there we headed west along Wolf Grove Road hoping to spot any Grosbeaks or Crossbills with no luck. Turning north onto Union Hall Road we picked up a couple of Robins and an ambitious Black Squirrel dragging a corn cob across the road to his lair. It is a well treed area with the occasional majestic eastern White Pine looking like it could be in a “Group of Seven” painting.
Hoping against hope we headed back to the Appleton Side Road fields for one last ditch attempt at finding a Snowy but with no luck. Discouraged we pulled into the old feed store lot at Hwy 7 and Ashton Side Road, parked and settled down for tea and biscotti. A flurry of emails from Arnie Simpson alerted us to Snowy Owls on the south side of Hwy 7 less than a kilometer away. After three tries up and down Hwy 7, I started pulling away from the shoulder to go home when Zaza spotted one flying and it landing atop a light standard close by. A beautiful first year female by colouration. Arnie saw three Snowy in all. Zaza and I returned home to end a successful first day.
I next expect to post around the third week of January before we go south for a week.
Iain and Zaza