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.
On Wednesday, August 29th a Buff-breasted Sandpiper was found along the Ottawa River close to Ottawa Beach. It was still there the following day, so I stopped by the river after work to see if I could find it. There were a number of people on the beach that evening, walking dogs or parasailing (it was still warm with temperatures about 27°C), but I didn’t see any birders or photographers. I checked both Ottawa Beach and the mudflats off Scrivens Street but saw no shorebirds, either. Although this was the second Buff-breasted Sandpiper seen in Ottawa within a week (the first was at Shirley’s Bay but didn’t stick around until the weekend), these shorebirds are very uncommon in Ottawa; I haven’t seen one since my trip to Nova Scotia in 2008 and was eager to see this species again.
A large influx of Painted Ladies over the past couple of days has made for some exciting butterflying. Until now, I had only seen three of these gorgeous butterflies, one several years ago at a sewage lagoon, and two earlier this year on Canada Day. American Ladies are usually the more common of the two migratory ladies, and were present during the massive Red Admiral migration last spring. However, when reports of large numbers of Painted Ladies across Ottawa began flooding in this month, it was clear we were witnessing another large wave of butterflies… though just where they had come from and where they were going remained a bit of a mystery.
After arriving in Hinton I dropped Doran off at his friend’s house and then drove over to the Beaver Boardwalk on Maxwell Lake. I had learned about this spot through the internet, and it sounded intriguing. Built by volunteers, the Beaver Boardwalk is a unique, 3.0 kilometer trail that winds its way through wetlands and an active beaver pond in the town of Hinton, Alberta. The Boardwalk features seating areas, an outdoor classroom, interpretive signs and two observation towers, and provides a wonderful opportunity for people to experience nature up close. Indeed, the signage along the trail shows that Hinton has a much different attitude toward beavers than the city of Ottawa does, as the town seems quite happy to have a family of them (sometimes up to nine individuals) in the wetland. One of the signs reminds us that wildlife has the right of way at all times – we are guests in their home. I also read online that aspen branches are brought to Maxwell Lake by truck each September for the beavers to add to their winter food cache. It appears that in Hinton, the beavers are seen as part of the community rather than a pest to be destroyed.
On my first full day in Alberta I met my best friend April for brunch, and then the two of us went to Elk Island National Park for some birding. She isn’t an avid birder like I am, but loves the outdoors and is always happy to try something new…especially if it means getting away from the kids!
We decided to stop by my old house in the country first since it was on the way. We parked on the road in front of the driveway, but the house didn’t resonate with me at all. I noticed in a detached way that someone had put some shutters up outside the second floor windows and painted them green, but felt no emotion at seeing it again after 16 years, nor any curiosity about the people who lived there now.
On Saturday morning I headed out west to Dunrobin again, stopping in at Sarsaparilla Trail first, as usual. I tallied 18 species on my walk, more than I’ve seen there on a single visit so far this year; highlights include Ring-necked Ducks, a pair of Bufflehead, three female Hooded Mergansers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, one Common Grackle, four Purple Finches, four Tree Swallows, and one Eastern Phoebe. Both the Tree Swallows and the phoebe were new for Sarsparilla this year, and both were flycatching over the large pond. I first noticed the phoebe when it landed in the dead tree closest to the observation dock, although it quickly flew off to a more distant snag. Surprisingly, I didn’t see or hear a single sparrow at Sarsaparilla. The juncos seemed to have disappeared and the Swamp Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows haven’t arrived yet.
On Friday I got a call at work from Bob Cermak who told me that he was looking at a Purple Sandpiper at Andrew Haydon Park. He knew I needed this bird for my life list, and it was with intense disappointment that I told him that I couldn’t escape from work to go see it. I just had to hope that it would still be there the following day.
When I arrived at the park early the next morning, I found one birder with his scope pointed at the Purple Sandpiper. I was thrilled that it was still there, although when I first looked through the scope it was so well-camouflaged that I couldn’t see it! Then he moved, and I saw the orange bill. Continue reading →
The warm, summer-like weather continued on Thanksgiving Monday. This time I headed west to Constance Bay to look for the Nelson’s Sparrows that had been reported in the grass at the mouth of Constance Creek. First, though, I stopped in at Sarsaparilla Trail to look for Fox Sparrows, a species I usually find here in the fall with flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows. I only saw one junco and heard one White-throated Sparrow attempting to sing, and at the boardwalk I found two Swamp Sparrows and two Song Sparrows. The Fox Sparrows hadn’t arrived yet.
On the pond a male Northern Shoveler and a male Ring-necked Duck were welcome additions to the usual mallards and Canada Geese that congregate here. I had never seen a shoveler here before, and was happy to add it to my Sarsaparilla Trail list. A flock of Pine Siskins flew by overhead, and two hawks – probably accipiters – flew from tree to tree at the north end of the marsh, too far away to identify. Continue reading →
After hearing that the Hudsonian Godwits were dividing their time equally between Ottawa Beach and Shirley’s Bay, I headed out on Sunday morning to Andrew Haydon Park and Ottawa Beach to look for these and other fall migrants. I walked out to the mudflats on the Ottawa Beach side first, and almost immediately noticed a group of five godwits huddled together in the water only a dozen or so meters beyond the shore. They were much closer than the ones at Shirley’s Bay, but still a bit too far for the camera, so I set off down the beach to see if I could find any others. Continue reading →
Even though songbird migration is mostly over by now, October is still a dynamic time of year for birding. The Ottawa River becomes the focus of attention as large numbers of waterfowl begin moving through. October is also a good month for finding rarities, such as Northern Gannet, Pomarine Jaeger, Black-legged Kittiwake and Nelson’s Sharp-tailed Sparrow.
Although not a true rarity, the star of the week was clearly the Hudsonian Godwit. This species passes through the Ottawa River Valley in small numbers, but rarely stops over here. Most sightings occur as fly-overs at places like Shirley’s Bay, Ottawa Beach or one of the local sewage lagoons. So when two were reported on Monday, October 3rd on the mudflats at Shirley’s Bay, I knew the chances of these birds sticking around until the weekend were pretty slim. Continue reading →