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Montreal Biodome (3/4)

If you've ever been to the Biodome, you've probably seen a Grey-Winged Trumpeter, an extremely tame species found in the tropical ecosystem. They frequently come out on the path and run around underfoot.

I'm not sure what these Hyacinth Macaws were up to, but it looked rather amorous!

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Montreal Biodome (4/4)

The last of the (good) Biodome photos, all taken in the tropical ecosystem:

Roseate Spoonbill. This species' range actually extends up into the gulf region of the United States.

The Sunbittern seems a plain and unassuming fellow...

...until he spreads his wings, that is! The flamboyant "eyespots" are used in courtship and to startle potential predators. We got to see that second use in action when a caiman (alligator-like reptile) got a little too close for the sunbittern's liking.

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A Local Celebrity

Three different super-rare birds have been spotted at Andrew Haydon Park of late. I went there yesterday morning hoping to run into at least one of them, and was not disappointed. Lifer #292!

The petite, graceful Sabine's Gull breeds in the arctic and winters in the tropics, off the pacific coast of South America and the southwest coast of Africa. It is typically quite pelagic (ocean-loving) outside of the breeding season. Ottawa is, to say the least, not on its usual migration route. Perhaps this juvenile got a little disoriented?

Size comparison with Ring-Billed Gull (behind):

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Highlights At Andrew Haydon Park

Most sandpipers breed on the tundra and winter on the coast. But in autumn, about 20 species worth move through Ottawa in migration, showing up on muddy river shores and shallow ponds. Andrew Haydon Park is one of the classic places to find them. I went sandpiper-watching there on Saturday morning, and found many other points of interest besides.

Greater Yellowlegs

Greater Yellowlegs

Great Blue Heron executing a perfect landing.

Red Squirrel in the morning light (available as wallpaper)

White-Rumped Sandpiper--life bird #294! (Yes, I'm celebrating when I hit 300 :-)

White-Rumped Sandpiper betraying its identity

Great Egret (wider-angle than my usual, but I liked the perspective of the Sailing Club behind it.) This graceful species was historically rare in our area, but in recent years, has become a regular sight along the Ottawa River in fall.

Eastern Chipmunk (with snack)

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White Admiral

One from the backlog.

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"Local celebrity" would be an understatement this time

Ottawa has just seen its first Razorbill in recorded history. Razorbill is a seabird--an auk, to be specific--that, under all normal circumstances, breeds, winters and migrates in salt water habitat. Only extreme weather during its migration can cause this bird to be blown off course and end up inland. Which is presumably what happened, with the storm of a few days ago. (An interesting blog post here explores the possibilities.)

I've seen these birds in their usual locale off the Gaspé peninsula, and photographed one who swam close to the dock. No such luck today: the Razorbill on the Ottawa River was staying far out from shore, viewable only with spotting scope. He was preening and fishing and seemed to be doing quite well for himself, unaccustomed freshwater habitat notwithstanding.

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Green-Winged Teal

Duck migration is in full swing. I went down to Andrew Haydon Park recently to enjoy the sight of teal, scaup, and other (relatively) exotic waterfowl, joining the ubiquitous mallards and canada geese in the western pond.

Every year, it seems, more and more Green-Winged Teal show up in Ottawa in migration. I never tire of their beauty.

Teal are dabbling as opposed to diving ducks. They obtain their food primarily by swimming in very shallow water and picking at the surface, or even while walking on mud flats. So I was surprised to find a group of three actively diving! I'd seen mallards diversify that way before, and it was less of a surprise, since mallards are generalists in a lot of ways. I didn't expect it from teal.

It was quite a different sight from, say, a diving scaup, which slips gracefully underwater with scarcely a ripple. These guys went in with tails spread, wings akimbo, and a loud *sploosh*.

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More Autumn Waterfowl

In the past few autumns, a whole flock of migrant Lesser Scaup have taken to staging in one of the small, manmade ponds at Andrew Haydon Park. It's fun to get to see these very wild ducks up close. Over time they become tame, perhaps taking their cue from the surrounding Mallards, who evince no alarm at passing humans (but do react to passing dogs.) Last time I was there, a couple of them even came up on shore, the first time I'd ever seen scaup on land.

(female Mallard behind)

Alas, Lesser Scaup drakes wear their eclipse plumage late in the year, and by the time they're fully back in their handsome breeding plumage, they'll be gone to their wintering grounds. The photos above are both of drakes, though, being in eclipse, they resemble females. You can just see a few vague whitish patches on the back and flanks where the breeding plumage is coming back in.

Two Brant have been feeding on the park lawn for the last couple weeks. This small (duck-sized) tundra goose is a close relative to our familiar Canada Goose. It's not usually seen on manicured parkland (preferring to eat aquatic plants like eelgrass), but, like the scaup, these two seem to be taking cues from their more domesticated relatives.

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Whole flocks of this species sometimes put down to rest on the Ottawa River during their fall migration.

(Canada Geese behind)

This looks like a female Common Merganser--a common breeder in our area--at first glance. But its bright red eyes give it away as something more interesting: a Red-Breasted Merganser. See here for a look at the drake's unique, spiky-haired breeding plumage.

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Field Birds

Yesterday I went out with my birding group and found two long-awaited lifers!

The first was Snow Bunting, an arctic songbird. They breed on open tundra, and winter in rural areas and on shorelines. I'm a little embarrassed that it took me so long to list Snow Bunting. It's common here, late fall through early spring. I can only blame it on my dearth of experience with rural birding, plus a dash of bad luck.

Yesterday made up for it in spades. I fell in love with Snow Buntings. Big flocks of them swirling over the fields, twinkling salt-and-pepper swarms of birds. In flight, they're obvious. But when, all as one, they settle down in a snowy plowed field...they utterly disappear. Their brown and white winter plumage is a perfect match to the brown and white landscape. Your only hope is to see movement. When they skitter around en masse in a field, it looks like the earth itself is moving.

Lifer #2 was Sandhill Crane. Did you know we have cranes in Ottawa? I didn't, before I took up this hobby. I thought of cranes as exotic, Asian birds. There are two species native to North America, the highly-endangered Whooping Crane, and the more numerous Sandhill Crane, a large, stately grey bird with a red forehead. Not to be confused with herons, which are easily seen in just about any stream, river or pond around Ottawa, our population of Sandhill Cranes is very small and reclusive, breeding in only one known location: Mer Bleue bog.

Autumn is the time to see them. That's when they leave the bog and gather in adjacent farmer's fields to feed on waste grain. The sight is a magnet to migrating Sandhill Cranes, who then touch down and swell the flock. At Milton and Smith roads, we found 95 of them in one field. Too far away for decent photographs, but with a spotting scope, we were able to have a good, close-up look.

Lifelist now stands at 299. The next one is the big one!

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Blue Jay

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It's been a great year for winterlisting so far, with our mild weather encouraging many fall migrants to linger into December. I scooped up 29 species on the first plus six more last week, the most surprising being some lingering American Wigeons at Mud Lake, and several Red-Winged Blackbirds at the Hilda Road feeders.

I'm also enjoying the sunflower feeder I hung from our second-floor balcony--one of the pleasures of having a house instead of an 11th-floor apartment! So far the mainstay is chickadees and House Finches, but I've also seen a few cardinals and, on one occasion, goldfinches. It will be interesting to see how much business it gets after winter really sets in.

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