A cool breeze gently cascades from the hills. Clean northern air brings a frosty bite below pastel blue skies. Hundreds of migrating American Robins pour from the sky, into the berry-rich scrub, as if the heavens opened releasing buckets of birds, all of them chattering, a few singing a muffled version of their spring song. Fall colours paint the Canadian Shield forest. Gold, ruby, emerald and bronze foliage begin to reveal the emerging gray tree bark where the leaves have already fallen. It’s an early October dawn as five birders gather in a Gatineau Park parking lot – Nina Stavlund, Lene Kollgard, Roger & Ruth Cobbledick and myself. The hike begins.
Below the Gatineau Escarpment at the southern edge of the park, we start along a short loop through buckthorn, crabapple and grassy field. Many of the trees ornamented with migrating birds, mostly robins, accompanied by several White-throated Sparrows, a few Black-capped Chickadees, Hermit Thrushes, and Blue-headed Vireos. It’s the second wave of fall’s migrating birds – typically hardy creatures feasting on berries and seeds. We don’t expect the insect-eaters any more. They’ve already passed through in August and September. Gone are all the swallows, flycatchers and warblers. Only a sprinkling of hardy Myrtle Warblers remain. The prize along the trail was two encounters with Red Fox Sparrows – a beautiful rusty -red sparrow, large and uncommon in these parts.
With late morning visitors streaming into the park, we decided to venture west, away from the city, into more remote areas along the escarpment. Our next stop – Luskville Falls, a trail network in the hills, adjacent to open agricultural land. Less productive than the dawn, we still encountered an Eastern Phoebe, a Winter Wren, small numbers of Golden-crowned Kinglets and Dark-eyed Juncos, all among the beautiful trail colours. Upon returning to the parking lot, we watched dozens of Turkey Vultures passing overhead – an obvious migratory movement. Before reaching the highway, we found two American Pipits resting on a utility wire, and an American Kestrel hunting over a farm field.
After a short, yet refreshing, stop in the village of Eardley we headed back into the park, this time north, up the Eardley-Masham Road. Our ascension up the escarpment was stopped when we noticed several birds soaring overhead – Turkey Vultures, Red-tailed Hawks and Northern Ravens. Further on a young Bald Eagle joined the mix. Here we found the highlight of the day – a Black-backed Woodpecker!
We returned to the lowlands, where we were treated to a small flock of Eastern Bluebirds. Shortly after, a Ruffed Grouse strutted across the road, a fitting end to an awesome day of fall birding.