Two weekends ago I spent my Saturday morning at the Old Quarry Trail. A part of the Stony Swamp Conservation Area, it is similar to Jack Pine Trail in habitat and species. I found 11 bird species in my 2 hours there, more species than I have seen in any of my recent walks at Jack Pine Trail. At the “Deer John” feeder area I found a single Mourning Dove, a singing American Robin, a White-breasted Nuthatch and numerous chickadees. Deeper in the woods I saw a Brown Creeper, a Pileated Woodpecker, another singing American Robin, a couple of cardinals, and several Red-breasted Nuthatches. A single American Goldfinch and several crows flew over, while back near the parking lot I heard a single Blue Jay.
Jack Pine Trail in Stony Swamp is one of my favourite trails. I got a lifer there the first time I ever visited the trail back in June 2006 – a Virginia Rail – and many more since. Because of its mix of habitats, it is a good spot to view wildlife all year round; the trails cross several marshes, coniferous and deciduous forest, and even an open alvar-like area that hosts Field Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows in the summer. In the winter, the OFNC maintains a large bird feeder along the northern part of the trail, though this doesn’t prevent chickadees from approaching people for handouts. This is one of the best places in Ottawa to feed chickadees and nuthatches right from your hand.
Groundhog Day has come and gone, and we are still more than a month away from the spring equinox. This is the time of year when birding reaches its lowest ebb; the birds aren’t moving around very much, and migration is still weeks away. In Ottawa, February is the quietest month for birding, but there have been enough interesting reports to send me out each weekend looking for new year birds. I have added only five new birds to my year list so far this month, including a Common Merganser in the channel behind the Ridge at Mud Lake, and the over-wintering Hermit Thrush behind the Parliament buildings. After realizing just how short a walk Parliament Hill is from the building where I work, and how much potential there is for finding migrants there in season, I’ve made it a goal to spend more lunch hours there this spring.
It’s been a tough winter. Fortunately a mid-January thaw (referred to as “wintermission” by The Weather Network and virtually no one else) brought about a temporary rise in temperatures and spirits two weeks ago. I managed to remove the sheet of ice that covered my driveway as a result of the freezing rain we received earlier in the month, and have been able to walk on the sidewalks without fearing I might fall and injure my bones, joints or back. Unfortunately the thaw ended about a week ago, temperatures dropped, and winter returned. We got more snow last weekend, and this week the deep freeze returned.
Because the weekends have been either brutally cold or snowy and messy I have not been able to add many birds to my year list. It took me 15 days into the new year to add American Goldfinch to my list, when I found a group of four of them sitting in the tree next to the bus stop. That brought my year list up to 33, and I didn’t add another bird to it until the following Saturday when I found some Golden-crowned Kinglets at Sarsaparilla Trail.
It’s been said that this winter’s invasion of Snowy Owls is the greatest in 40 years. Large numbers have left the Arctic in search of a safe place to spend the winter; they have been found all across northeastern North America, from Newfoundland to the mid-western US states and even as far south as Florida. Bruce DiLabio, writer of the weekly bird column in the Ottawa Citizen, estimates there are at least 150 Snowy Owls in eastern Ontario alone.
There are two possible reasons for the extremely large movement of Snowy Owls this winter. The first is a scarcity of Arctic lemmings — one of their primary food sources – on their northern breeding grounds. The second is a population boom that has increased the number of birds competing in the same territories for the same food. I suspect it is the latter or a combination of both, for if there was a severe population collapse of lemmings we would probably see large numbers of other birds of prey heading south as well. Continue reading →
Hi all, given the number of petitions I’ve seen lately speaking out against shooting Snowy Owls at La Guardia airport, building wind turbines along critical migratory pathways and the like, I’ve started a Facebook group where I can post the petitions I’ve signed in an effort to share them with like-minded people. If you wish to add your voice to those in support of our wildlife and our planet, please join the group and check out the petitions I have posted! Please also share with any Facebook wildlife groups you belong to. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a ready-made base of 100 or 1,000 supporters for any petition worthy of signing?
January 10, 2014: the Facebook page has been updated to a group.
Sometimes the best outings occur when you go looking for one particular species but find something entirely different instead. With many of my coworkers still on holidays, things were quiet enough at work that I had enough time to go to Hurdman on my lunch break on Thursday and Billings Bridge on on Friday. With a year list of only 17 species after the first day, I was still missing several ducks, finches, and other common birds. I hoped to rectify this by spending some time along the Rideau River, even though it was still bitterly cold…Ottawa was stuck in a deep freeze that lasted three days, with the daytime temperatures reaching no higher than -23°C. Fortunately there was very little wind, which made the cold tolerable so long as I bundled up in numerous layers before heading out.