The Last Dragonfly

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

The last dragonfly on the wing in Ottawa is the Autumn Meadowhawk. Although individuals start flying in mid-June with the other meadowhawk species, this species’ flight season can last into late October or even early November. They are hardy enough to survive a few light frosts as long as daytime temperatures remain warm and sunny, but once we start receiving a few heavy frosts the remaining population dies off. As the daytime temperature starts to fall, they are often found perching on the ground, sometimes using the surfaces of fallen leaves to warm themselves.

I saw a few Autumn Meadowhawks this week when I visited Hurdman at lunch. I went mostly to look for birds, and on Thursday I counted 11 species on my walk. Highlights included a single Yellow-rumped Warbler and a Northern Flicker, both seen along the feeder path. Large flocks of robins and starlings were feeding on the wild grapes in the same area, and I found three American Tree Sparrows in the vegetation. I also noticed a couple of Autumn Meadowhawks perching on the ground; a pair in tandem flew off toward the river together.

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Birding River and Wood

Hermit Thrush

Hermit Thrush

It rained all day on Saturday, so when the sun came out on Sunday I was eager to get out and go birding. My goal was to hit a few spots along the Ottawa River to check out the waterfowl; with the passage of the system that had brought in the wet weather and the drop in temperature the day before, I was hoping to find some scoters, grebes, loons, diving ducks, and perhaps even my first Brant of the year.

On a whim, I decided to stop in at Sarsaparilla Trail first. While I wasn’t expecting another Golden-winged Warbler, I was hoping to find a Fox Sparrow.
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The OFO Convention

Hundreds of Canada Geese stage in Ottawa during fall migration,

Hundreds of Canada Geese stage in Ottawa during fall migration, giving birders an opportunity to sort through them for different species and odd forms.

Between September 26 and 28, 2014, the Ontario Field Ornithologists hosted their annual convention in Ottawa. While the evening programs included banquets and social events such as the OFO Annual General Meeting, “Birds and Beers”, “Birding Jeopardy” with Sarah Rupert, presentations from Bruce Di Labio and keynote speaker Chris Earley (whose books I own!), and the presentation of the Distinguished Ornithologist Award, the majority of the daylight hours were spent birding Ottawa’s hot spots with leaders provided from the OFNC, the Club des ornithologues de l’Outaouais, Bird Studies Canada, the Pembroke Area Field Naturalists, the Innis Point Bird Observatory, and the Wild Bird Care Center. I was co-leader with various other OFNC members for trips on each of the three days, with full day trips to the East End on Friday and Sunday and an afternoon walk along the Ottawa River on Saturday.

The weather was fantastic all three days, and although most birders would agree that a cold north wind would have helped to bring in the migrants, I don’t think too many people complained about the hot, sunny 27°C afternoons.

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Backyard Hover Flies

Sweat Bee

Sweat Bee

One flower that does really well in my garden in the late summer is the aster. I purchased a plant from a local nursery a few years ago, and although I don’t remember which type it is, every year it comes back and produces a bounty of small, purple flowers. It has spread over the years, turning my back garden into an untidy mess of green and purple each September; and this year I even noticed a few plants growing in my lawn!

Asters provide a wonderful source of pollen and nectar in the early autumn when few plants are flowering. In fact, the nectar provided by late-blooming flowers helps to ensure that bee colonies are strong enough to endure the winter. Other insects that benefit from the asters are beetles, butterflies, moths, wasps, hover flies, and sweat bees, such as the one shown to the right. I usually spend some time checking out the various visitors on the flowers each autumn, but for some reason this year I never made the time. Then one day just after the September equinox I happened to notice a large number of insects buzzing around the flowers when I came home from work. I went out with my camera to have a look and was surprised by the bugs that I found!

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Wandering Glider

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

Migration is well under way, and although Hurdman Park was an excellent spot for seeing migrants last spring, it hasn’t been as active this fall. I have only been able to get out a few times so far this month, however, so I’m not sure whether there really are fewer birds around, or if the days that I go just happen to be quiet ones (sort of like my recent trips to Point Pelee!). Migration patterns ebb and flow throughout the season, with cold fronts providing the best conditions for seeing birds. September has been warm so far, which means there haven’t been any of the spectacular fall-outs that occur immediately after a cold front passes through. Yet the birds keep trickling in, so I’ve managed to see something interesting each time I visit! Usually I encounter only one flock of migrants each visit, rather than numerous birds spread throughout the park. The trick is to find that flock with only a 40-minute lunch break!

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The Warbler Long Weekend: Ottawa’s Best-Known Migrant Trap

Black-throated Green Warbler

Black-throated Green Warbler

On August 31st I left Sarsaparilla Trail at about 9:30 am and drove over to Mud Lake, perhaps Ottawa’s best-known migrant trap. Situated on a constriction of the Ottawa River, it is bounded by the river to the north and east and by houses and shopping plazas to the west and south. Birds flying south from Gatineau Park likely end up at Mud Lake, which has hosted about 250 bird species, or approximately 75% of all species recorded in the OFNC study area (a 50-kilometer radius centered on the Peace Tower). It has had more than its fair share of rarities over the years, including Razorbill, Eurasian Wigeon, Harlequin Duck, Little Blue Heron, Forster’s Tern, Little Gull, Gray Kingbird, Connecticut Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, and Yellow-breasted Chat.

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The Warbler Long Weekend: Edge Habitats

Black-throated Blue Warbler

Black-throated Blue Warbler

The September long weekend is my favourite birding weekend. Large numbers of songbirds suddenly pour into Ottawa, including hummingbirds, flycatchers, tanagers, grosbeaks and, of course, those perennial favourites, the warblers. This early in the season, only a small percentage are likely to be Yellow-rumps, meaning that a good variety of species can be found with some persistence. Migrant traps like Mud Lake can be fabulous, but any place with a good edge habitat can be productive. Edge habitat typically means the boundary between two different ecosystems such as forest and field, lake and land, or any combination of these. The best edge habitats have a good diversity of plants of varying height and structure in the transition zone between the two habitats. These provide cover and food sources for not just the birds of the two dominant habitats, but also migrants and other creatures including butterflies, odonates, and mammals.

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