Ottawa: where to find urban water fowl in the winter

In the "Finding Ottawa's Winter Birds in the City" post, I mentioned that you could find a variety of winter water fowl in open water areas.

So where are some good open water spots in Ottawa to go see these dabbling and diving ducks that spend the winters here?
dabbling (ˈda-b(ə-)liŋ): adjective of a duck or other waterbird that moves its bill around in shallow water while feeding (link)
(Dabbing ducks are the ones with their bottom sticking straight up out of the water as they try to reach the tasty green nibblies just below the surface.)  ;  )

You wouldn't think that urban areas provide great bird spotting opportunities, but don't forget that cities harbour 20% of the world's birds!  And with Ottawa being located at the confluence of two rivers and having so much greenspace, there are many prime bird viewing spots around town.  Dabbling ducks will be found in shallower waters seeking their favourite vegetarian staples while diving ducks feed on small fish and crustaceans.

Remic Rapids (Ottawa-Outaouais River)

While Lac Deschaines (west of the Britannia Conservation Area where the Ottawa-Outaouais widens) is known as an IBA (Important Bird Area) you will also find some areas further east that can provide some great bird watching.   The great thing here is that they may be closer to the shore and easier to spot compared to the wider lake area.  I went for a short walk at Remic Rapics (along the SJAM winter trail) last winter and found some diving ducks.  With the deeper open water (compared to spots along the Rideau) it's a great place to look for these types of ducks.  Bring your telephoto or scope if you have one!

- Photo by Viliam Glazduri (Instagram, Flickr, 500 px) Contributing Creative to Wild. Here. -

Strathcona Park (Rideau River)

Closer to downtown, the Rideau River in Sandy Hill offers great opportunities to see birds in all seasons.  Gulls gather on the rocky spots near Adawe bridge in the summer and you'll notice that in the winter there are a fair-share of Mallards

Make sure to do the full loop between Adawe and the Multi-Use Bridge just south of the Queensway as you may see some more unique ducks further south through the clearings that are spaced along the paths on both sides.

Billings Bridge (Rideau River)

I've heard this is a very biodiverse area of the Rideau River offering a mix of small habitats with some marshy and natural shorelines.  A plump of ducks can usually be found on the ice around the Bank Street bridge.  Yes, plump - you heard it here first!  :  )  If you want to get out for a walk around this area, there is a small park and parking lot just west of the bridge off of Riverside Drive - although it may be closed in the winter.

Local Creeks (Hunt Club, Nepean, others)

There are some smaller creeks that offer open water that are good spots for dabbling ducks.  Whether due to overflow or because they have been rerouted underground, warmed up and then daylight again, some parts of urban creeks do not freeze in the winter.

Urban streams that are rerouted underground (to make it easier for development) provide the opportunity for the stream water to be warmed up by the ground's constant temperature (which is above zero even in the winter).  These creeks and streams may travel for km's underground and when the water returns to the surface it is warmer than the air temperature and can be quite a draw for wildlife in the winter.

(A big thanks to John Sankey's Hunt Club creek feature that not only illustrates this so well but also provides highlights on the entire stretch of the Hunt Club creek that is fascinating for this urban nature explorer!)

- Photo by Viliam Glazduri (Instagram, Flickr, 500 px) Contributing Creative to Wild. Here. -

Mud Lake (west end of the city)

Back to the west end for one final location - Mud Lake in the Britannia Conservation area, a favourite of local naturalists and birders.  Full disclosure - I have not done much exploring here in the winter but I have heard and read that other's find it a great spot.  Those that have written about this area include Gillian (Meadowhawk) from The Pathless Woods who mentioned this area as a good spot to look for both somewhat "rare" and common waterfowl.  She's spotted Goldeneyes and American Black Ducks and has a tip for those visiting this spot - remarking that it's worth checking out the area north of Cassels Street towards the river as the water behind the ridge is usually not covered with ice.

So that is my list of the top five places that I like to check out (and/or would suggest) 
to search out some water fowl in the winter in Ottawa!

What are some of yours?

And if you are not from the city 
- do you have any general tips for scouting out great bird watching sites?

As always - happy wilding!

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