During my recent trip to Canada with the PA Society for Ornithology, we spent our first full day around the Ottawa area and managed to see a Great Gray Owl, a Boreal Owl, and a stunning Northern Hawk Owl. As a group, the owls were certainly our main targets for that day since most people along on the trip had never seen any of the three, but there were a few other species that we were all really hoping to see. The chance at finding some Bohemian Waxwings was at the top of my list. I have only ever been somewhere with the possibility of seeing Bohemian Waxwings once before – early April in Idaho. However, by then they are spotty at best so I never did end up seeing any. Now on top of all the other awesome boreal birds around the Ottawa area, combined with the fact that it has been a better-than-average winter for Bohemians, we really had a great shot of running in to a foraging flock of waxwings. Based on eBird reports, the majority of the recent waxwing sightings were clustered around an area to the southwest of Ottawa – a very convenient area to drive through on our way to the hawk owl location.
A little after 3:00pm, we arrived in the general area that Bohemian Waxwing flocks had been seen recently. By driving slowly and having all our attention on scanning for flocks, we spotted a few birds that had potential to be waxwings. We quickly pulled over and jumped out to discover they were a flock of 6 Pine Grosbeaks, working through the treetops in search of buds. Twenty minutes later, we found another group of grosbeaks but no waxwings. Don’t get me wrong, the grosbeaks were beautiful and worth stopping to look at (after all it was only my 2nd and 3rd time seeing that species since I saw my lifer flock on the first day of our trip) but we knew our best chance at getting the Bohemians was while we were in Ottawa. Once we got to Algonquin, there would be more grosbeaks but it was unlikely we would find waxwings there. Needless to say, the pressure was on. We had to find some waxwings but we also had to watch our time since at that point we hadn’t even gone for the Northern Hawk Owl yet.
We searched around for another 10 minutes or so and then decided it was time to move on – we were running out of daylight and needed to go over for the hawk owl. We decided to go back towards the main road which would take us to Old Quarry Trail but as we rounded the next corner, a flock of waxwings was just sitting right in front of us. A solid 40 birds perched in the top of a tree along the road, right in a residential neighborhood, calmly looking around and occasionally flying down to a nearby crab-apple for some berries. This was the third time in one day where we had essentially given up on trying to find a target bird but then ended up finding it at the last second! We parked the cars and walked over to get closer looks. As we were standing and watching and photographing the birds, another 19 waxwings flew in to join them! I had lived for 23 years without seeing a single Bohemian Waxwing at any point in my life and now, all of a sudden, there were 59 perched directly in front of me!