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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!

More Autumn WaterfowlBlue Jay


November 24th, 2011 at 7:34 pm
OMG, 300!? Which one do you think it's going to be?

November 24th, 2011 at 10:02 pm
Well, I'm going down to Dick Bell Park soon to investigate a report of a Purple it could be that! It's rare, but this is just the right time of year to be seeing one, and the rock jetty at Dick Bell Park is just the place.

Otherwise, I really don't know. I think the likeliest locale for my next lifer is either Point Pelee (I'm planning to go on a trip there in May) or Virginia/Carolina (in June). I'm going to visit a park in Virginia with my mom that has breeding Hooded Warblers (beautifully bright yellow bird with a black cowl) and Kentucky Warblers. Maybe one of those?

November 24th, 2011 at 9:23 pm
Congrats on your lifers!! Are there any relatively "common" birds that visit Ottawa that you need? If so, let me know and I'll keep my ears open for you.

November 24th, 2011 at 9:57 pm
our question got me curious, so I went over to the official checklist to find out. Turns out, as of Snow Bunting, I've run the category of common birds in Ottawa in winter. In fact, I've very nearly run the category of common birds in Ottawa in any season! (Although I haven't actually seen all of them *in* Ottawa.) Only American Pipit is left. I don't know that I have a chance to see pipits this late in November. (Technically, I probably saw them at Andrew Haydon Park when you called out "pipits!" and I saw birds fly overhead, but I don't like to lifelist a species unless I can identify it for myself.)

There's still a few "U" winter birds left for me, though: Gray Partridge, Black-Backed Woodpecker, Lapland Longspur and Red Crossbill.

November 24th, 2011 at 10:09 pm
Yes, that's a tough list. I still need Red Crossbill myself. I think you are most likely to get Lapland Longspur this winter if you are willing to travel to the Casselman area - last winter there were several good-sized flocks in the area. Otherwise, they do show up infrequently with the Snow Buntings and Horned Larks along the agricultural fields just south of Kanata (I had one once on Brownlee Road and another on Rushmore Road). Gray Partridge is your next likeliest lifer as it is here in Ottawa year-round; it's just tough to see! Maple Grove Road is a repeat spot for them, though last year there were very few reports. A few have also been hanging around Rushmore, Eagleson and Barnsdale Roads all summer though I never saw them. I had Black-backed Woodpecker only once, at Sarsaparilla Trail, though it's been seen at Jack Pine and Rideau Trails as well.

Good luck!

November 25th, 2011 at 1:23 am
Thanks for the info!

November 24th, 2011 at 10:42 pm
Woot! I assume the celebratory meal for the next one is to be steak or seafood, not, say, duck.

Also, I hope to see these guys myself sometime... a flock I saw a week or so ago may have been Snow Buntings, but I couldn't be sure.