White-crowned Sparrows

January 21 2018. Oakes Rd. Stoney Creek, ON. Birding seemed like a good idea, the hard cold of two weeks ago has gone, the snow cover was fading and it wasn’t particularly cold. Barry & I set out to follow up on a number of oddities and rarities reports.

We hadn’t even started the car when we heard the first spring whistle-song of a cardinal coming from an old tree overhead. It’s amazing what a few notes of “Tewww-tewww-tewww’ can do to a mid-winter day. This was a male Northern Cardinal probably made aware by increasing daylight that he had better stake out his territory before someone else seizes it.

Almost every stop turned up some good birds: Twenty Bald Eagles on the frozen harbour, just as it was two weeks ago; A single Harlequin Duck found and much publicized earlier by others but interesting because they are few and far between on the Great Lakes, and one of our local Peregrine Falcons scaring the living daylights out of resident Rock Pigeons hanging around a bridge.

We stopped to see a reported group of King Eiders, there were six of them, one young male and six females, quite a long way offshore and close to large groups of Surf Scoters, a bird I haven’t seen well for many years. Here’s a picture of three King Eiders from four years ago when they wintered in a nearby marina.

King Eiders (1 m & 2 f)

At our next stop, while my companion was searching the distant lake waters for Black Scoters, I was completely smitten by a youngish Snowy Owl sitting on the rooftop of a nearby house.

Leaving the owl and the far-too-distant-for-me scoters, we went in pursuit of a reported Ross’s Goose – a rarity which we didn’t find. Instead we were surprised and delighted by the company of half a dozen White-crowned Sparrows (totally unexpected and always a treat). They are close relatives of the rather common, if seasonal, White-throated Sparrow and, like them, have a sweet, distinctive and drawn-out song. Going a little off road we spotted a Northern Mockingbird and somewhere distant could hear a Great Horned Owl calling.

Finally, we stopped at a spot known for Short-eared Owls, and although we didn’t see any we were happy with two American Kestrels, a Northern Shrike, two Common Ravens, another Peregrine Falcon a brief glimpse at a Rough-legged Hawk (almost certainly the same bird I wrote about on January 1st) and to wrap up the day, a flock of about thirty Turkeys.

When I set down to write this I couldn’t say which of so many good sightings was my Bird of the Day. The Northern Cardinal was top of the list for a long time but became equal-first with that close-at-hand Snowy Owl. But I think the wow moment came with the White-crowned Sparrows, quite unexpected, totally charming and they stopped me in my tracks.

White-crowned Sparrow

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