Andrew Haydon Park is located in the city’s west end on a wide section of the Ottawa River known as Lac Deschênes. It is accessed via two entrances on Carling Avenue. The western entrance leads to a heavily-used recreational park dominated by manicured lawns, a bandshell for outdoor concerts, a picnic area, and two artificial ponds. A man-made waterfall adds to its charm, and Stillwater Creek flows into a small marsh at its western boundary. The area accessed by the eastern entrance is smaller and more heavily treed. While there are some picnic tables and a playground close to the parking area, this half of the park is more secluded, more sheltered, and is much better for songbirds. An unofficial path leads to the mouth of Graham Creek and the area known to birders as Ottawa Beach.
If you are looking for water birds, Ottawa Beach – and the western half of Andrew Haydon Park, to a lesser extent – is THE place to go.
The western pond at AHP with the Ottawa River beyond
Unlike the trails of Stony Swamp which I’ve written about previously, Andrew Haydon Park is best visited when the water of the Ottawa River is free of ice. Indeed, the parking lots are closed off during the winter with barricades, preventing access to the park. While spring migration can be good for early waterfowl returning, late summer and fall provide the most spectacular birding. Not only do lower water levels attract shorebirds and other species which prefer mudflats and shallow marshes, a large number of waterfowl stage here in the fall, lingering for days or weeks while they fatten up for the journey south. However, once the cold weather arrives sometime in December and the river freezes over, the birds all depart – as do the birders.
This year is off to a good start. Not a spectacular or particularly impressive start, but a decent start. Only eight days into the new year, my 2012 birding list is already up to 31 species.
My first species of the year wasn’t even a bird. I woke up at 4:00 in the morning on New Year’s Day and looked out the window to see an Eastern Cottontail Rabbit in my neighbour’s backyard, its dark, distinctive bunny-shape visible against the white snow made bright by a cloudy, light-polluted sky. One has been hanging around our subdivision since late September, although I’ve only seen it once. It was a much better find than the American Crow and European Starling which actually managed to tie for the first bird of 2012. Usually it’s one or the other, but when I rolled up the garage door I heard both vocalizing at the same time. I saw the neighbourhood starlings in the tree across the street first, so I designated that as my first bird of 2012 on my official list.
The last weekend of February was a beautiful one for going out and looking for those last few species to add to my winter list. Although both Saturday and Sunday morning started out cloudy, the sun came out each day not long after I headed out. The temperature was decent, too, with the highs in the -7°C range.
On Saturday I drove out to the Richmond Nursery to look for seeds to start my spring garden. Since I had some time to kill before the nursery opened, I decided to spend some time at the Richmond Lagoons and driving the back roads around Richmond.