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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Migration Commences!

After returning from southern Ontario I was eager to go birding and see if songbird migration had started yet. The Magnolia and Canada Warblers had whetted my appetite, so the day after my return I headed out to see what was around. A stop at Sarsaparilla Trail netted 23 species, including a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets, a Gray Catbird calling at the edge of the marsh (it’s not often I observe these birds here), a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and a Black-and-white Warbler right near the parking lot. There wasn’t much around the pond, though a Double-crested Cormorant flying over was a bit of a surprise….I’ve never seen one on the pond before.

From there I went to Mud Lake. I spent 3.5 hours there and doubled the number of species seen at Sarsparilla Trail. I was hoping to find some flycatchers, particularly the Yellow-bellied or Olive-sided Flycatchers, and parked at Rowatt Street so I could check the scrubby field west of the lake. There I found a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and an Empidonax Flycatcher that flew off too fast for me to ID.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

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Presqu’ile Pit Stop

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

I left southern Ontario dark and early on Saturday, August 23rd. By 8:30 am I had made it to Brighton and decided to stretch my legs at Presqu’ile Provincial Park, a great spot to see shorebirds along Lake Ontario in the fall. It was cloudy but humid by the time I arrived at my first stop, Owen Point, and the mosquitoes were pretty nasty. I didn’t see much along the trail until I reached the last lookout, where I spotted an Empidonax flycatcher in the vegetation. It flew off before I could form any sort of impression of ID. A fellow birder kindly pointed out a couple of shorebirds at the tip of Owen Point and allowed me to spray up with his bug spray. I saw the Black-bellied Plover at the tip but couldn’t see the Ruddy Turnstone he had mentioned; at my feet, two Semipalmated Sandpipers and two Semipalmated Plovers were foraging along the water’s edge.

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Birding Southern Ontario

American Rubyspot

American Rubyspot

On Tuesday I left Dad’s trailer at Pinehurst and drove north to Kitchener, where my Mom and Step-Dad had been living since winter. I hadn’t been to their new apartment, and was interested in the birding opportunities nearby. Mom told me that there was a community trail within walking distance of their apartment, though she hadn’t been there before. We visited the trail on Wednesday, and enjoyed the walk alongside a shallow, swift-moving creek through a tangle of trees and shrubs. The riparian zone looked perfect for migrating songbirds, with lots of dense vegetation for them to find cover. There were also a few open places filled with wildflowers such as Spotted Jewelweed, goldenrod and Joe Pye Weed which looked great for butterflies and perhaps hummingbirds.

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Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area

Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk

On August 16th I drove from Ottawa to southern Ontario to spend a week with my family: three days with my Dad in Cambridge and four days with my Mom in Kitchener. Both of my parents are nature lovers, so a lot of my time with them was spent outdoors.

It’s a been a really long time since I have spent any time in southern Ontario in late August, so I was eager to discover what kinds of interesting birds and bugs would be present. I didn’t see any new birds, but I did get one new butterfly and one new damselfly for my life list, and I saw two additional dragonflies that I’ve only seen once before.

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Cherry-faced Meadowhawks

Cherry-faced Meadowhawk

Cherry-faced Meadowhawk

I haven’t spent much time at Hurdman this past summer, but on August 7th I decided it was time to see if I could find the colony of Cherry-faced Meadowhawks that Chris Lewis, Mike Tate and I had observed during the August long weekend last year. I spent most of my lunch hour checking the feeder trail and the nearby field, and didn’t see any meadowhawks whatsoever. My best find of the day was actually a bird, a beautiful Pileated Woodpecker working on one of the tall trees at the beginning of the trail. Though I’ve been coming here regularly for four or five years now, this was the first time I’d seen one here. There were no other notable birds, though at least one Eastern Kingbird, two Gray Catbirds, a Yellow Warbler, and at least two American Redstarts were still present. Breeding season has come to an end; I didn’t hear any of the Warbling Vireos or Red-eyed Vireos that spend the summer here.

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Wildlife Around Home

Eastern Cottontail

Eastern Cottontail

Although I haven’t been spending much time in my backyard this summer, I have spotted some interesting wildlife around. My flower garden this year seems to be a dismal failure at attracting butterflies or hummingbirds; most of the Cabbage Whites I observe keep flying over the yard rather than nectaring on any flowers, and the only other species I’ve seen lately were a Clouded Sulphur and a dark butterfly that might have been a White Admiral (I was looking out into the bright sunshine and couldn’t see it very well). Both of these were fly-overs, and spent no time investigating any of the flowers. I haven’t seen any odonates around since I noticed a female Common Whitetail in my neighbour’s front yard one day about a month ago while we were chatting.

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