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from Bob Bracken, Bernie Ladouceur and Chris Lewis
The Labour Day weekend has traditionally been the time for the Seedathon and, to paraphrase Forrest Gump, it's always like a box of chocolates…we never know what we're gonna get! This year, a series of cold fronts with north winds had the effect of a giant broom, sweeping the majority of migrants into, and then out of, our area…..one week too soon. So, what did our team do, with only the crumbs left to scavenge, on a gorgeous sunny day, the kind of day birders call a "Bluebird day"?
We stuck to our tried-and-true plan of the past 7 years, and began before dawn in the Munster area, where we managed to wake up 3 Barred Owls, but not much else. Barely a peep or a twitter from migrant songbirds greeted us in the clear and windless night until the dawn's early light. After a few Veery and Swainson's Thrushes passed over, we heard only the "residents" (birds… as well as dogs, cows and horses), who just seemed to scold us for our rude disturbance. We resorted to silly humour to keep up our spirits, and began what became a running joke about "identifying the Hudsonian race of American Black Duck, an immature female, by its call, in the dark" (desperate times sometimes call for desperate measures). After checking the Munster, Richmond, Carp and Dunrobin areas, we headed to Constance Bay, and some rewards en route included a surprising number of Sharp-shinned and Cooper's Hawks and a family group of American Kestrels. An adult Red-headed Woodpecker interacting with a juvenile near their nest site in Constance Bay was a treat. A few warblers foraging with Black-capped Chickadees were encouraging. And we did manage to find an Eastern Bluebird...our only one on this so-called "Bluebird day".
Our next stop was Shirley's Bay, and what a welcome sight those rich mud flats were, graced by 3 Great Egrets and many foraging shorebirds including Stilt, Baird's and Pectoral Sandpipers. We picked up another passerine or two in Shirley's woods, a Red Knot at Ottawa Beach, and then headed for Britannia… where we were again scolded (this time by a very agitated House Wren) for our rude disturbance. The chickadees at least seemed pleased to see us (as they should be, being some of the principle beneficiaries of the Seedathon). The otherwise silent woods provided another opportunity to joke about the "Hudsonian race of American Black Duck, immature female…"
Then it was High Noon and decision time. Go to the Embrun sewage lagoons, where a good friend told us that the water was high and there was nothing of interest? Or to St. Albert, where the same friend told us that the habitat was marginal but potentially productive? To make a long story short, we visited both lagoons, added 7 bonus species at Embrun (rudely disturbing an American Bittern) but almost nothing new at St. Albert. Moral of the story: Never trust a friend. And keep joking about a mythical race of American Black Duck. After the lagoons, the fields south of the international airport didn't let us down for Clay-coloured, Vesper and Grasshopper Sparrows, and even rewarded us with a "Seedathon first" - a juvenile Black-billed Cuckoo.
We decided to give Britannia one more chance, hoping for some evening activity. The chickadees were happy to see us again. A Common Goldeneye in the river channel, a Great Horned Owl hooting from the woods (in broad daylight!) and a juvenile Black-crowned Night-Heron on Mud Lake were nice 11th-hour finds, but by 7:30 PM we had pretty much given up hope of attaining our "respectability mark" of 120 species (our 8-year avg. is 124), and resigned ourselves to ending with 119. While sitting by the pond as Britannia and all her chickadees settled for the night, we re-tallied our final count….and "discovered" one more species. One that we'd been joking about all day, but had actually forgotten to check off on our list….American Black Duck…the REAL one!!
After 15 hours of birding, and 337 km of driving plus approx. 10 km on foot, we ultimately had a great day and a lot of fun. As always, we keep in mind what this day is all about: our enjoyment of nature, a sense of humour and perspective (that "box of chocolates")……..and YOU, one of our many generous sponsors!
Thanks to YOU, this winter will be another season of well-fed customers at the OFNC feeders for all to enjoy.
It's not too late to support our OFNC feeder program and help overwintering birds. Please send cheques or money orders, payable to the Ottawa Field-Naturalists' Club, to the address below. Please indicate that your contribution is for the SEEDATHON and whether you would like a receipt for income tax purposes.
Ottawa Field-Naturalists' Club
This page was revised on 16 September 2007
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