I took the day after Thanksgiving off work, and the bright sunshine and clear blue skies enticed me to go out and look for a couple of birds I hadn’t seen yet this fall. The first was the Orange-crowned Warbler, a drab species which rarely shows its orange crown and migrates later than most warblers. They are less common in the east than in the west, and I usually manage to pick up one each year in the fall – never in the spring. This year I haven’t seen any. The second was the Fox Sparrow, also a bird that is typically found in October. I normally find them in the woods of Stony Swamp, foraging on the ground with flocks of White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos. It was a beautiful morning for a walk in the woods, and I headed over to Sarsaparilla Trail first.
The winter listing period began on December 1st, but it sure didn’t feel like winter as temperatures were still mild with highs above or around 0°C, and Ottawa hadn’t yet received any significant snowfall. I spent my lunch hour at Hurdman, hoping to pick up a few birds for my list, but finding only the most common species – Mallards, Common Goldeneyes, Herring and Ring-billed Gulls, chickadees, starlings, a cardinal and a goldfinch. The rivers haven’t begun to freeze, which means I have a good chance of picking up a lot of waterfowl species early in the listing period.
Saturday started out chilly, but the temperatures rose to 2°C by the time I was done birding. I took a quick drive around the agricultural fields between Kanata and Richmond while waiting for it to warm up, and encountered about 200 Snow Buntings on Rushmore Road, 200 Snow Geese and a Pileated Woodpecker flying over Moodie Drive, a couple thousand Canada Geese, 3 Ring-necked Ducks and 5 Common Mergansers at the Moodie Drive quarry, and a Red-tailed Hawk and a few Great Black-backed Gulls near the dump along Trail Road. Continue reading
This morning I went for a walk at Sarsaparilla Trail even though it was quite windy and huge dark clouds were blowing across the sky. It was only 12°C when I left, and I took my winter jacket because I intended to visit Andrew Haydon Park when I finished my walk at Sarsaparilla and knew that the wind can be quite cold blowing off the river. The sun was shining through gaps in the clouds, however, and it was nice walking through the woods.
I heard a couple of Dark-eyed Juncos and Golden-crowned Kinglets in the parking lot when I got out of the car. A Common Raven flew by, croaking as he went, and a few robins were still eating the Buckthorn berries just inside the entrance. I was hoping to find a Fox Sparrow, but the woods were quiet as I made my way to the boardwalk at the back of the trail. I heard more kinglets and a couple of chickadees, and that was it. Continue reading
On Sunday, September 4th I planned to go birding with Bob, Chris, and Mike along the Ottawa River. First, however, I stopped for a quick walk at Sarsaparilla Trail to see if any migrants had shown up here yet. This trail in the heart of Stony Swamp is not a migrant trap by any stretch of the imagination, but some interesting birds have turned up there over the years and it’s always worth a quick check. This proved to be the case when, at the boardwalk overlooking the marsh, a Great Blue Heron flew up out of the reeds at the end of the platform. A second bird, much smaller, quickly followed, and with its long bill, long neck, and beautiful warm golden-brown colours I immediately recognized it as a Least Bittern! It flew only a couple of feet into the reeds but quickly disappeared from view. This was a fantastic but completely unexpected moment, for I have never seen a Least Bittern before and wasn’t expecting to find one here of all places!
I spent the following weekend at Shirley’s Bay and Mud Lake. On Saturday, Melanie and I went birding together and started off our morning with a trip to the Shirley’s Bay dyke to look for shorebirds. We were not disappointed – we tallied 13 species, and 41 species total! Although it was only the first week of August, shorebird migration was in full swing! Our first shorebird species was an American Woodcock in the woods about halfway to the dyke. There were a few puddles on the path, and I was busy watching these instead of the vegetation next to the path. I was taken completely by surprise when a bird flew up from my feet and disappeared into the woods! I got enough of a glimpse of it to see the really long bill, the shape (it was definitely a snipe or a woodcock) and rusty red colours on the underside. Given its location (i.e. the middle of the woods rather than open marsh or fields) and the rusty colouration, it was certainly an American Woodcock…my first lifer of the day!
Monday was our last day on the Bruce Peninsula. We said good-bye to Port Elgin and drove north toward Southampton and Sauble Beach. In Southampton we stopped at Fairy Lake, which had been advertised as a “nature lover’s oasis”. I was expecting another Mud Lake, or at least a network of trails surrounding the water. Instead, we were disappointed to find that there was only about 20 feet of wooded habitat surrounding the lake with a single gravel path traveling through it; we could easily see the buildings next to the park. The only birds we found were a couple of chickadees and Song Sparrows in the narrow band of trees and a tame Mute Swan and a couple of ducks (one mallard and one domestic-mallard mix) on the lake itself.
My mother and I left MacGregor Point Provincial Park around noon on Sunday and drove north to Southampton for our boat journey to Chantry Island. This island has been designated as a Federal Migratory Bird Sanctuary, and during the breeding season there are as many as 50,000 birds (including chicks) on the island, the majority of which consist of the Great Blue Herons, Great Egrets, Black-crowned Night-Herons, Herring Gulls, Ring-billed Gulls and Double-crested Cormorants that nest here in large colonies. Because of its status, the number of people allowed on the island on any given day is strictly limited and tours must be booked through the Chantry Island Tour Base. My mother and I booked our tour shortly before the trip, and after getting some lunch in town, we arrived at the dock a little after 1:00.
It is difficult for me to be cooped up indoors during the month of May, so I’ve been spending as many lunch hours at Hurdman as possible this month so as not to miss out on spring migration. It was gray and gloomy on Friday, May 6th, when I saw a couple of Warbling Vireos, Yellow Warblers and Gray Catbirds for the first time at Hurdman this season. All of these birds breed here, so I’ll be seeing a lot of them over the summer! At least one Eastern Kingbird had also arrived, and there were still a large number of Yellow-rumped Warblers moving through.
After a long, cold week of subzero temperatures, the weather has finally warmed up and returned to seasonal. Although the night temperatures still fall below the freezing mark, we’ve had a string of lovely days where the temperature has risen to 8 or 10°C by mid-afternoon. With spring now bursting upon us so joyfully, I decided to make the most of the bright sunshine and warm weather by visiting my favourite conservation areas this weekend. I hoped to find a few migrants and perhaps some mammals or insects or reptiles emerging from hibernation.
I thought the warm weather might have opened up some of the ponds, but on Saturday when I visited the Moodie Drive quarry pond it was still frozen. The only birds I saw roosting on the ice were gulls and Canada Geese, but the stop proved to be worthwhile when two Killdeer – my first of the year – flew over, calling as they passed.
I checked the western pond first but found only a handful of mallards and geese. There appeared to be more birds and more activity in the eastern pond, but I decided to walk down to the river first to see if anything interesting was around in the small bay. This proved to be a great decision.