The Westport Area Christmas Bird Count participants totaled 16 counters, divided into smaller groups to cover specific locations. Our team of 3 counters, including Rebecca, the conservation area supervisor, and Sandra, a contributor to both editions of The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario, and myself met at Silversides Outdoor Learning Center at Foley Mountain Conservation Area. Our plan was to start the count at Foley Mountain, head into the village of Westport, poke along the shores, return to Foley Mountain for lunch, then travel the country roads and finish along the trails of Foley Mountain.
The morning of the count was overcast with a high of 8°C. The afternoon was forecast to have sunny and cloudy periods with a peak of 12°C. Mild weather for a Christmas Bird Count!
I witnessed beautiful panoramic views of the Upper Rideau and Sand Lakes from the Spy Rock lookout on top of Foley Mountain.
At Sand Lake we saw more than 180 goldeneye ducks feeding on the open lake. The goldeneyes were likely eating the zebra mussels that inundate many of these waterways. Rebecca and Sandra told me that ponds and lakes are often frozen at this time of year, but because of recent warm temperatures, ice had not yet formed.
As we headed through the park, Sandra’s keen eye saw a barred owl flying through the forest.
We saw Canada geese at Westport Harbour and mallards and bufflehead ducks on Upper Rideau Lake.
We then went to check out trees nearby the gas station, where a flock of waxwings was seen last year. We saw a large mixed flock of cedar and bohemian waxwings feeding on tree buds and berries, as well as a tree sparrow and a junco nearby.
We then headed back to the conservation area to explore the trails near Spy Rock and along Beaver Pond before lunch. We passed by highbush cranberry, which apparently taste great but smell like dirty socks when cooked, and winterberry shrubs. Foley Mountain Conservation Area is a great place to visit. The Spy Rock and Beaver Pond trails lead visitors through forests populated by white pine, red cedar, white oaks, red oaks, sugar maples and red maples. The Rideau Trail also passes through the conservation area and salamanders as well as wood ducks can be found in its many pools.
In the afternoon, we headed to the back roads and looked for birds in the woods. We saw three ruffed grouse, many chickadees, several nuthatches, a hairy woodpecker, numerous blue jays, at least dozen geese, eight mallards and a raven. We even saw an unexpected mosquito in the truck. Seeing all of those birds was very exciting, as was the camaraderie that had developed between Sandra, Rebecca and me.
The count finished at 3:45 p.m. at the conservation area. Those who were able continued on to the potluck supper that the count coordinators and other community members had prepared.
Before I left for home, I checked the feeder at Foley Mountain one more time. Along with black-capped chickadees and white-breasted nuthatches, I counted two red-breasted nuthatches. This brought our bird count to more than 500 individuals and 22 species!
In total, we recorded:
63 Canada geese
20 mallard ducks
4 hooded mergansers
180 common goldeneyes
8 ring-billed gulls
4 mourning doves
1 barred owl
2 hairy woodpeckers
1 pileated woodpecker
39 blue jays
62 black-capped chickadees
16 white-breasted nuthatches
2 red-breasted nuthatches
80 cedar waxwings
10 bohemian waxwings
1 tree sparrow
14 dark-eyed juncos
4 American goldfinches
4 ruffed grouse
I strongly encourage everyone to join a Christmas Bird Count this year. The experience can’t be beat!
Noah Cole is Ontario Nature’s communications technician and a regular contributor to Ontario Nature's blog and ON Nature magazine. Noah is an accomplished naturalist with a passion for protecting the great outdoors and a nature photographer. Noah is the author of Ontario Wildlife Photography (canadianimages.net).