The next morning dawned bright and sunny with a brisk, cool wind blowing from the east. Knowing how cold it can be at the tip first thing in the morning, I put on my winter coat and hat and tossed my spring jacket into the back seat of the car. We were out the door reasonably early – but not early enough to see the Laughing Gull that was found at the tip by the first group of birders arriving in the park. After checking out the sightings board at the Visitor Center to find out where the birds were being seen, we headed outside to wait for the tram. A White-crowned Sparrow hopping along the ground was a year bird for me, and we were entertained by two male Orchard Orioles chasing each other in one of the trees next to the tram stop. The Orchard Oriole was a life bird for Deb; we don’t have them in Ottawa, though I wish we did!
On Saturday, May 4th, my birding partner, Deb, and I set off on our first road trip and my annual spring visit to southern Ontario. My parents both live in Cambridge, and it has become a tradition for me to spend a week there in the spring, with a three- or four-day trip to Point Pelee and Rondeau Park to enjoy the spring migration. It takes five hours to drive there, but we arrived early enough to spend some time birding the area with my mom. First we visited the square near the Main Street bridge. The Red-tailed Hawk was still using the same stick nest on the same church steeple in the square; we didn’t see any fluffy chicks this time, but an adult was sitting in the nest. This is at least the third time the hawk has nested here in the last four years.
The weather has warmed up over the past week and the migrants have been pouring in. Since my last blog post on April 21st I’ve added nine new species to my year list, and seen my first butterflies and amphibians of the year.
I spent two lunch hours at Hurdman last week, and found some amazing birds each time. On Monday, a couple of American Tree Sparrows were feeding in the grass near the entrance to the woods; these are the first ones I’ve seen there this year, and were probably just stopping in on their way north to their breeding grounds. Also new for the year were a pair of Hooded Mergansers sleeping in a quiet bay along the river and at least three Ruby-crowned Kinglets singing energetically. In the woods, several Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows were singing as they foraged in the leaf litter.
It’s April 21st, and the weather still hasn’t returned to seasonal. Although it was about 22°C on Friday, gray clouds, high winds, and the odd shower made it an unpleasant day to be outdoors. Yesterday a cold front moved in, with more gray skies, intermittent snow/rain showers, ice pellets, and a high of only 6°C. I was cooped up indoors both days with an injured foot; walking had become so painful that I took Friday off so I could rest it. After spending two days on the couch with an ice pack and lots of Advil, the pain was only a shadow of itself when I got up this morning, so I decided to go out and do some “lite” birding.
Although the snow has been melting rapidly over the past couple of weeks, the temperature has still been below seasonal and it seems as though we’ve been poised on the threshold of spring for some time now. Winter has been slow to leave, migration has been slow to get under way, and I’ve still needed my winter coat and hat for the mornings when it has only been 0°C.
Despite the winter storm today that has coated everything with a new layer of ice and snow, the past week has given me hope that we have finally turned the corner. American Robins, Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles have been back in large numbers for a couple of weeks now, and I see many of each species on my 1.2 km walk to the bus stop each morning. Since April 4th I’ve managed to add five new species to my year list: Song Sparrow, Great Blue Heron, Wood Duck, Golden-crowned Kinglet and Fox Sparrow.
A few weeks ago Deb and I met at Billings Bridge to look for spring migrants. Even though it was a few days past the spring equinox, the weather was still quite cold; hardly any of the snow had melted, and was still too thick for any groundhogs to have emerged. While a pair of Common Mergansers and a dozen Canada Geese had joined the usual mallards, black ducks, and Common Goldeneyes on the river, we didn’t see any Wood Ducks, Pied-billed Grebes, or Hooded Mergansers. The Ring-billed Gulls had also returned, and one was giving a strange, incessant call that I’ve never heard before. I stopped to make sure that the call was in fact being made by a Ring-billed Gull, and then I heard the raspy call of a displeased crow. I turned around in time to see the crow dive-bombing a large bird perching in a tree next to the river, and I told Deb, “We just walked right by a hawk!” It was a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk, my first of the year. I wondered if the hawk was the reason why the gull was calling continuously from its place on the ice.
Spring officially arrived in the Northern Hemisphere last Wednesday, but winter refuses to relinquish its grip. The temperature has been below seasonal for the last week, and Ottawa received another 20 cm of snow on Wednesday with more snow flurries on Thursday and Friday. This means there is still at least a foot of snow in the woods and the snowbank next to our driveway is still over 4 feet high. The ice on the Ottawa River is beginning to recede but all the ponds are still frozen. The temperature finally rose to 3°C yesterday after hovering at or below the freezing mark all last week.