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.
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.
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.
Our last two full days in Jasper were busy with family. My sister’s wedding was on Saturday, and most of the guests were arriving Friday. I awoke at 5:30 a.m. on Friday to the sound of something walking on the roof and several crows and a magpie squawking loudly. The footsteps sounded heavier than the Red Squirrels I’d seen sitting up there, so I decided to get up and investigate. It was already growing light, but when I went outside to check I didn’t see anything. A moment later I heard the crows rush off and land in a nearby tree. I followed, and was startled to see a young Great Horned Owl sitting in a tree right about eye level!
After spending an hour shopping at West Edmonton Mall, my fiancé Doran and I drove west to Jasper National Park. It’s about a 4-hour drive but seemed shorter than that. We saw an Osprey on a nesting platform by a lake, a couple of unidentified raptors, and several deer near Hinton. The deer were too far from the road to tell whether they were White-tailed Deer or Mule Deer. Once we reached Hinton we could see the mountains looming in the distance. It didn’t take long before we reached the first one, and as soon as we drove around it we saw other mountains ahead of us. We were in the Rocky Mountains!
We reached the park gate and paid the entrance fee. The skies were clouding up, so we didn’t stop to take any pictures on our way in. We didn’t see any mammals on our drive, either, though I was happy to see a pair of adult Bald Eagles were perching in a tree near Jasper Lake.
This is one of my favourite times of the year, when newly-fledged birds and baby mammals begin to appear in conservation areas and green spaces around the city. In trying to make my backyard wildlife-friendly, it is no surprise that baby birds and animals show up here, too! Starlings have nested in the eaves of the house behind us, and their first brood fledged and dispersed several weeks ago. Not long afterward, I saw an adult carrying strands of dead grass from my backyard up to the eaves to “spruce up” the nest and perhaps begin a second brood!
On Sunday Deb and I went birding together. It had been a while since she’s been able to get out, so she was missing out on a lot of new spring arrivals; I suggested we head out to the Dunrobin area which has been very productive so far this spring. We got lucky on some of the back roads where we spotted a Red-tailed Hawk perching on a telephone pole right next to the road and a pair of bluebirds checking out a bluebird house in the same area. Savannah Sparrows were singing on fence posts, an Eastern Meadowlark was singing on a telephone wire right above the road, and Turkey Vultures were soaring overhead.
Saturday started off cloudy but cold as I headed to the Beaver Trail for an early-morning walk; I had to put gloves on to keep my hands warm until the sun came out. Juncos were singing in the woods, and I witnessed a couple of Hairy Woodpeckers chasing each other around a dead stump. I had just passed the Wild Bird Care Centre and was walking toward the marsh when I heard the distinct, wheezy song of an Eastern Phoebe. It kept singing long enough for me to catch up with the bird in the parking lot by the WBCC; this is not the first time I’d seen one here, as I’d come across one in the spring of 2007. They used to nest on the side of the building, although I don’t know whether they still do. The phoebe was sitting in a tree high above my head, flicking its tail as it sang. It seemed too cold for any insects to be flying yet, and I didn’t see the phoebe attempt any flycatching. The sun was supposed to come out later, however, and I’m sure both the phoebe and I would appreciate the warmth once it did!