Last week saw the arrival of a whole slew of migrants; I added 13 new birds to my year list between Thursday and Sunday, NOT including the two swallow species seen at Billings Bridge on Friday. Even better, the temperature finally warmed up enough for the first butterflies and amphibians to emerge on Saturday!
I’d been seeing large flocks of geese flying over my house for a while now, and I wanted to check out the flooded fields along Eagleson before they dried up. I thought I’d have a good chance of finding large flocks (i.e. hundreds or more) of geese in the wet corn fields and, after finishing an early dinner on Thursday night, headed south along Eagleson Road. It wasn’t so much the Canada Geese that interested me as it was the possibility of finding other species – Snow Geese, Ross’s Geese, Cackling Geese, and the ever-elusive Greater White-fronted Geese – lurking among the huge numbers of Canadas that stage here before flying north.
I don’t usually write about personal issues, but since I do like to document the unusual things that happen to me (and since Facebook isn’t really good for that sort of thing in the long term), I thought I would make an exception and write a post documenting the stupidest, most ridiculous injury I’ve had in my thirty-odd years. Those of you who came only for the nature stories and photos may want to skip this post; however, I hope it will help others who find themselves suffering from the same stupid injury.
A lot of snow fell this past winter, and the sudden rise in temperatures this past week is causing it to melt very fast. The Rideau Valley Conservation Authority issued a flood watch last Monday, which it upgraded to a warning on Tuesday, stating that some parts of the Rideau River were expected to rise to the flooding levels “within the next 24 hours”. When I went to Hurdman at lunch on Thursday, I found that a significant amount of snow had melted, not only flooding the bike path in its usual spot near the transit station, but also the feeder path along the woods. I started walking through what looked like snow, only to sink into a large lake of water about a foot deep hidden underneath. As I couldn’t take either of my usual routes, I had to take a longer loop around to reach the river.
Although it was supposed to rain on Saturday, I decided to go out birding when I saw that the rain hadn’t started yet. The sky was gray and overcast, and a strong, cold wind was gusting across the open fields, but I managed to spend three hours looking for new migrants before the wind drove me back inside. My first stop was Sarsaparilla Trail, where I heard my first Song Sparrow of the year singing from the edge of the woods. I also heard at least six Dark-eyed Juncos singing from various parts of the woods, though I wasn’t able to spot any. Four mallards had found a sliver of open water on the pond, while a single Purple Finch and several Red-winged Blackbirds called from the edges of the marsh. Three Common Grackles flew over as well. I checked the edges for Great Blue Herons tucked along the shore but came up empty.
Last Saturday I came across my second sign of spring….as well as my third, fourth and fifth! The day got off to a promising start when I spotted my first Common Grackle of the year in the tree across the street, puffing himself out and emitting a song that sounded like a squeaky hinge. He didn’t linger long, but flew off when the tree filled up with starlings. An even more interesting sight was that of an American Crow in the tree in my own yard, breaking off sticks to use as nesting material. The week before while waiting at the bus stop I had seen a crow fly into a nearby spruce with nesting material, so I wondered if it was the same one.
I was really hoping to be blogging about spring by now: about open rivers and flooded fields, about groundhogs emerging from hibernation, about waterfowl and blackbirds and Killdeer and phoebes and warm sunny days. Although we are now over a week past the spring equinox, few signs of spring have appeared in the Ottawa region so far.
Winter has been slow to relinquish its grip this year. Normally we get a few days in mid-March where the temperatures rise to +8 or 10°C, bringing Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, Turkey Vultures, Song Sparrows and other early migrants. Sometimes we even see a few overwintering butterflies emerge. That didn’t happen this year. Instead it has remained very cold, with morning temperatures around -15°C or colder, and daytime highs rarely climbing above the freezing mark. We also haven’t had very many days with southerly winds to bring migrating birds north. Although a few migrants have begun to trickle in, only the Ring-billed Gulls seem to be back in good numbers. While I finally saw my first Canada Geese (4) in the half-frozen ponds on Eagleson Road on Monday, I still haven’t seen my first Red-winged Blackbird. Fortunately, the daytime temperatures are finally supposed to rise above 0°C now, so hopefully migration will begin in earnest soon.
The weather does not look promising for an early spring. The forecast is calling for a cooler-than-average spring, and so far the month of March has reflected that. Usually by the second week of March Ottawa’s daytime temperatures consistently reach the freezing mark, with temperatures frequently soaring above 0°C. While the temperature did reach a balmy, sunny 0°C on Saturday, it didn’t climb above -3°C on Sunday and is about to plunge back down to -10°C by Thursday.