Back to Ottawa for a Goose


When I was at Fifty Point November 6th, waiting for Cave Swallows to fly by, I was talking with some birders about my most likely new additions for the year. The first thing I said was Northern Gannet, then an hour later I see a gannet at Fifty! After the gannet, I explained that things are getting considerably harder because Pink-footed Goose is my most likely bird. That afternoon, of course, a Pink-footed Goose was found near Voyageur Provincial Park in Prescott and Russell by Jacques Bouvier. The goose had actually been around the area for a week, although it had only been seen on the Quebec side until then. 

Because I was busy the next day chasing the gallinule, I decided to wait to go until that Wednesday, with the plan being to spend several days searching for the goose if need be. Since the spot was an hour east of Ottawa, doing it in a single day felt a bit risky and not that enjoyable! 

On the morning of November 9th, Alessandra and I were picked up at 4:00am in Guelph by Isabel Apkarian, who had dipped on Pink-footed Goose 4 times in the past and was out for revenge. We stopped a few minutes later to pick up the last member of our goose hunting party, fellow big year birder William Konze. The Subaru Crosstrek looks quite spacious from the outside, an illusion that quickly fades however when 4 people, several scopes and a mound of supplies are piled in. It did have adaptive cruise control though, which may be worth the trade for space... even if the annoying lane assist sensor wouldn't shut up for the entire trip.

After several hours of driving, I received a message that Jacob Stasso had just seen an Atlantic Puffin at Dick Bell Park in Ottawa. It was only a flyby and chances of refinding it were slim, but we were only an hour away from the spot so we changed course and headed into the nation's capital for a quick alcid detour. It was a bit of a shock to the system getting out of the car to a chilly wind beside the Ottawa River, after the 25 degree Cave Swallow weather only a few days before.... That's Ontario for you. After talking to Jake and spending an hour looking along the river, it became obvious that the Ottawa River is indeed very long, and a puffin is a small bird to find in such a large space. Since there were a number of local birders out looking who all knew the area better, we left the puffin search to them and drove the remaining hour & a half to the goose spot.

The best location to view from was a small dirt road beside a large dam, that spanned the river and was closed off for construction. It seemed a bit iffy about people being allowed in the area, but if you look like you belong workers tend not to bother you, so we walked up the edge of the road and began scanning. Vince Fyson joined us shortly after that and helped scour the area for the rest of the afternoon. Numerous Cackling Geese and a single Snow Goose were mixed in with the thousands of Canadas present, but not our hoped for pink-footed variant. We gave it our best until light made scanning impossible, then drove back to Ottawa. where the Skevington's had graciously offered to let us stay. As is the case every time I have visited here, we were treated to wonderful food (thanks Angela) and entertaining stories... Always a nice part of visiting Ottawa.

The next day we were up at 4:00am again because we wanted to make it to the dam for sunrise, when a lot of geese take off to spend the morning foraging in nearby fields. William seemed to be slightly more awake than the rest of us, so he drove while everyone else passed out. Upon arriving at said dam, it was quickly visible that there were hardly any geese there. It seemed that they had roosted somewhere else for the night, so we turned around and drove down the river a bit further to find a vantage point to scan. I was just starting to wake up when we pulled over beside the road a few kilometers away, where we spotted several large rafts of geese sitting out on the river. Just as we were setting the scopes up they started taking off, so I began rapidly scanning through the flying flocks. My scope passed over a slightly smaller goose, with silvery wings, a white tail and a dark head. It was the Pink-footed Goose!! I proceeded to lose it a few moments later when it disappeared behind a treeline. The rest of the group hadn't seen it, and were rightfully quite frantic. 
We piled back into the car and William gunned it inland while we tried to keep the lines of flying geese in sight. After 10 minutes of skillful James Bond level driving, we arrived at a cornfield where large numbers of geese were descending. Suspense... had we followed the right flock? had the pink-foot peeled off? Isabel got on the bird as it was landing with canadas. Success! An Ontario lifer all around, we enjoyed amazing views of it in the scope for half an hour as it contently fed with the other geese. After putting in 3 long days looking for this species in the spring, seeing it felt pretty satisfying : ) This was 356 for my yearlist, and 350 for William (big congrats on breaking the 350 barrier sir!).

- Pink-footed Goose with Canadas

- #356

- Alessandra in goose watching stance

We spent the remainder of the day searching for Barnacle Goose (which William needs) and scouring the river for alcids, but came up short on both. That evening we enjoyed another great meal at Jeffs and had Eric Baldo over to play Wingspan (a birding board game). The following morning we returned back to Guelph, satisfied we wouldn't have to return to Ottawa for another goose in the near future. Unless...

Since then I have been busy leading a few bird hikes in Grey/Bruce and birding around Guelph and Hamilton. No new birds, but a few highlights including;

- My first self found King Eider of the year (flyby at Van Wagner's Beach)

- Self found female Barrow's Goldeneye with Alfred Raab on a birding hike around Owen Sound

- First of fall Northern Shrikes and Common Redpolls, also great views of a Golden Eagle

In rarity news, there is a Limpkin in Lewiston NY... just across the river and actually visible from Ontario... so close but so far........ arrrr. A plee to US birders, please flush this bird across the river. Use firecrackers, whatever in necessary.. Just make it happen ; )

Kidding of course...

Ontario yearlist @ November 17th - 356

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