I had more time to go birding the following day, and headed out to the east end to follow up on a reported Canvasback near Petrie Island. This duck – a male in breeding plumage – had been there for a few days now, so I figured my chances of finding him were pretty good. I’ve only seen this species once before, at Presqu’ile Provincial Park on an OFNC trip in April, 2008, and was hoping to get a better view of this uncommon migrant.
Because I arrived in the east end early, I spent some time driving around the Wall Road/Frank Kenny area. The highlights were about 20 Snow Buntings and a single Northern Harrier on Regimbald Road; I saw no Snowy Owls, no Horned Larks, no buteos, no shrikes, and no Sandhill Cranes on Milton Road. I had better luck at Petrie Island; after parking on North Service Road, I walked down to the water where the male Canvasback was swimming in the middle of the bay. I had excellent views through the scope, and could clearly see his bright white back, reddish head, and unique profile created by the bill merging together with its sloping forehead. I also picked up a few more ducks for my winter list: one female Wood Duck, one male Hooded Merganser, and two Gadwall, a male and a female. Several mallards and American Black Ducks were swimming in the water with three Common Goldeneyes and several Common Mergansers; a Great Blue Heron was standing on the shore, while several gulls and a few Canada Geese were standing on the ice in the middle of the bay.
All the birds that I saw were too far away to photograph. This was a disappointment, as I really wanted a good photo of that Canvasback!
Last weekend I decided to revisit Petrie Island to see how the Blue Dasher colony was doing and to look for other odonates. I had meant to go back earlier in the summer but never got around to it; any chance of re-finding the Unicorn Clubtail was long gone, but I still hoped to find some other dragonflies of interest.
As usual, I stopped by the marsh along the causeway first. Red-winged Blackbirds, Belted Kingfishers, a Great Blue Heron, a Green Heron, several Wood Ducks, and several Mallards were all present. There was no sign of any swallows, and I felt a bit sad to realize that they would soon be heading south.
I went back to Petrie Island the following day, July 3, 2011, to look for Blue Dashers and conduct a count. I started at the marshy area along the west side of the causeway where I observed two male Blue Dashers perching on vegetation above the water, occasionally flying out to chase another insect. I also heard a pair of Virginia Rails calling from among the cattails, and managed to coax one out into the open by playing a recording of its song. I wish that all of the rails were so easy to see! A Great Blue Heron and a single Wood Duck were also present, and again I saw a Green Heron flying to the back of the marsh. There was no sign of the Black Tern I had seen the previous day.
After a relatively uneventful outing on Saturday I decided to head out to the east end on Sunday. I hadn’t been to Petrie Island in a few months, and as it’s one of the best spots for dragonflies along the Ottawa River I thought I would check it out see what was around. Petrie Island is also home to the Hackberry Emperor, a beautiful butterfly which depends on Hackberry trees as its larval foodplant. Petrie Island is the only place in the Ottawa area with a mature stand of Hackberry trees, and as such it is the only place in Ottawa where the Hackberry Emperor is found. I wasn’t sure whether this butterfly would be flying yet, but thought it would be worth checking.
The next day the clouds moved in. I drove east to Petrie Island in search of marsh birds and migrants. When I stopped by the marsh along the causeway, however, the water levels were still high. I didn’t hear or see any rails, bitterns or Marsh Wrens; there were a few mallards and Tree Swallows, a single Great Blue Heron and that was about it. A couple of Yellow Warblers were singing in the shrubs and a pair of Red-wings were mating on the ground. Then I noticed a dark bird flying over the water on the other side of the causeway; it was my first confirmed Black Tern in Ottawa! I watched its graceful flight for a while before it vanished over the marsh.