Spotluck Birding

Written by Doug Hoy.

Squeezing into a few cars, our gang of ornithological delinquents headed for the Arnprior Marina. The river was ice-free and flowing smartly, with a smattering of waterfowl: Mallards, Hooded and Common Mergansers, Canada Geese, and the ubiquitous Ring-billed Gulls. Courtship calls and behaviours were in the air. Spotting scopes and binoculars swiveled to watch each avian performance.

On the terrace behind us an orchestra of birdsong announced tree nesters claiming springtime realty. From the din we picked out European Starlings, American Robins, a Northern Cardinal, a Song Sparrow, a Downy Woodpecker and a White-breasted Nuthatch. Bluejays and American Crows were the loudest, but the confident cooing of the Rock Pigeons assured everybody they had the best nesting site in the church belfry tower.


Next stop was the Gillies’ Grove. Even before we entered the forest, a lone Pine Siskin wanted to know the nature of our business. Since our business was nature, we continued on the hard-packed trails among the giant White Pines. A Pileated Woodpecker worried at a soft spot underneath a large fungus high up in a Beech tree as the group passed below. Typically, it seemed unconcerned by the crowd of naturalists below and the rapid fire of camera shutters.

shapeimage_2-3Once Ryan pointed them out, Red-shouldered Hawk nests became obvious higher up in the Beech trees. There looked to be an over-supply of hawk housing but it was explained that the males build several nests, the females choose one, and the rest remain as dummy nests. A particular arrangement of branches gives the most secure anchorage and such sites are preferred. Wending our way back through the cathedral-like grove, we heard the familiar spring calls of Black-capped Chickadees, Red-breasted Nuthatches and another Northern Cardinal. Chasing flashes of wings among the branches with binoculars revealed a Common Redpoll, a House Finch, and an American Goldfinch.

So, waterside, deep forest …what next? Meadow, of course – old field habitat along the Madawaska River by the train bridge. Red-winged Blackbirds “cheeed” their joy at finding the perfect bit of cat-tailed ditch. Even a shelf fungus proudly proclaimed its ownership of a dead Elm stump, its horizontality matched by Gord Vogg as he peered at its underside and declared it an Artist’s Conk (Ganoderma applanatum).

shapeimage_3-1We had expected more bird life and did see tattered Yellow Warbler and Baltimore Oriole nests hanging from bare branches, but aside from a Song Sparrow and a few Common Grackles, not much else. Thinking that the open fields must create thermals for hawks, we scanned the sky. And waited. A dark shape gliding behind treetops was just a Common Raven. Not until noon, as we headed back to the cars, did the lazy circles of a Red-tailed and Cooper’s hawks grace the brilliantly blue sky.

So, three habitats, 30 species, warm March sun, good company. Not bad for “spot luck.”