Mid-May Butterflies

Dreamy Duskywing

Dreamy Duskywing

The first butterflies that emerge in the spring – usually in late March or April – are the ones that hibernated as adults in deciduous woodlots: Mourning Cloaks, Eastern Commas and Compton Tortoiseshells are the first ones I see every year on those warm, sunny days when the temperature starts reaching 13°C. The next wave emerges when it warms up long enough for those that hibernated in the chrysalis stage to emerge as adults: the elfins and azures and whites and swallowtails are included in this group, although I usually see the first Northern Spring Azures and Henry’s Elfins first, in late April and early May, with the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail and Black Swallowtail following in mid-May. Next come the species that overwintered as mature caterpillars, such as the duskywings – the first skippers to appear each year – and the crescents. All of these are typically seen in May in our region, while butterflies that overwinter as younger caterpillars (the browns and fritillaries) and eggs (coppers and hairstreaks) don’t emerge until June and July. This means that while you will never see all of Ottawa’s butterflies on the wing at the same time, the diversity is ever-changing up until the end of July. Even after that the appearance of regular but unpredictable influxes of migrants keeps things exciting throughout August and September: large population booms of Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, American Ladies and Monarchs might mean a wildly successful breeding season here in Ottawa, while smaller numbers of Orange Sulphurs, Common Buckeyes and American Snouts often find their way here from their breeding range further south.

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The May eBird Global Big Day 2021

House Wren

House Wren

After participating in eBird’s October Global Big Day on October 17, 2020, I was looking forward to participating in the May edition on May 8, 2021. Spring warblers and songbirds would be the focus, with many birds sporting their gorgeous breeding finery. Another key difference from October is that many birds would be singing, drumming, or otherwise vocalizing to attract a mate, making it easier to locate them by sound – especially with the tree canopy filling in so quickly this year. Last November I set up my 5-mile (8-kilometre) radius patch centered on my house, and with the Ontario lockdown still in effect I planned to bird within this area only. It includes the Eagleson storm water ponds and Stony Swamp, the agricultural fields along Rushmore Road, Bruce Pit, the Nortel marsh, and the Greenbelt trails south of Rifle Road, but excludes the Ottawa River, Richmond Sewage Lagoons, and choice sections of the large Moodie Drive Quarry and Trail Road Landfill. After scouting several of these areas this past week, I made a list of places I hoped would provide the most species and felt optimistic about tallying a large number of species.

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Henry’s Elfins

Henry's Elfin

Henry’s Elfin

After the early start to spring, migration stalled with the arrival of a long-lasting weather system that funneled the dreaded north winds back down into the Ottawa Valley again. The past week has been filled with gray, overcast days, a bit of rain, a bit of snow, and several days of gusty winds. I’ve added a few new birds to my year list, but they are mostly species that have been present for a while now that I never got around to seeing earlier: Gadwall, Barn Swallow, and Yellow-rumped Warbler at the Richmond Sewage Lagoons, Red-necked Grebe at Shirley’s Bay, American Bittern and White-crowned Sparrow in Stony Swamp, Eastern Meadowlark and Osprey on Rifle Road, and the return of the neighbourhood Chipping Sparrows back on April 15th. The birds that returned early this spring and tripped the eBird filters a few weeks ago are all birds that overwinter close by in the southern US; while they took advantage of the warm southern winds to return to their breeding grounds early, birds that winter in Central and South America are still thousands of kilometers away and will return on their normal schedule.

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An Early Spring

Eastern Chipmunk

Eastern Chipmunk

It’s been a while since we’ve had an early spring in Ottawa. In recent years it seems that the snow hasn’t melted until late April, it hasn’t really warmed up until May, and while the first couple of waves of migrants arrived on time, migration slowed down for a few weeks sometime in April when the north wind started blowing out of the Arctic again. Insect-eating birds were delayed, the butterflies and dragonflies emerged late, and then the Victoria Day long weekend hit and suddenly summer has arrived with temperatures in the mid to high twenties.

This year, however, it warmed up early and stayed warm. Our last subzero day was March 16th, and we regularly started reaching double-digit temperatures on the first day of spring, with nine days at 10°C or higher during the rest of the month. Our total snowfall in March was only 6.8 cm, below the normal range of 11 to 84 cm, and it was the windiest March since 1974. It was the 10th warmest March on record; our highest temperature reached 19.8°C, above the normal range of 8.3 to 19.2°C. I kept waiting with dread for one last cold spell or dump of snow, but so far April has been even nicer, with the first two days reaching only 3°C and the rest (to date) ranging from 10 to 24°C. As the snow disappeared quite quickly last month, plants are emerging from the ground early, buds on trees are starting to leaf out early, and butterflies are emerging early. It’s been great for my mental health to see so many signs of new life and renewal.

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Winter 2021 Update

Carolina Wren

Carolina Wren

Another winter is now over, and spring is finally on its way so I thought it was time to do a brief update on some of my more memorable experiences this past January and February. As the Covid-19 pandemic is still ongoing, my fiancé and I did not travel south this past winter; our last real trip was now more than a year ago, when we went to Las Vegas in the first week of February 2020. As such, all of my birding has been local, and with the amazing winter finch irruption this year the birding has been much better than expected. Milder temperatures helped, too – although Ottawa did not see its usual mid-winter thaw (which was not missed with its alternating rain and cold resulting in sheets of ice covering the ground), we did not have any prolonged deep freezes this year, either. The lowest temperature during this past winter was only -23.4°C. Although this still falls (just barely) within the normal range of between -30.3°C and -23.3°C, it is still 4.5°C above the median of -27.9°C. As I am still working from home, I did not have to go out much, and only noticed the temperatures on the weekend when I wanted to go out birding. There were a few times when I found it too cold (which is about -15°C for me these days) to go out, but I ended up going out birding more often than I thought I would.

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Adopting a Cat in the time of Covid

Lily

The year 2020 was a lousy year. Not only did the Covid pandemic keep us locked down for most of it, my fiancé and I also lost both of our elderly cats due to illness. I could have borne the year in lockdown with my two felines two by my side, but when our second cat Jango died at the end of October, the silence in the house grew too much to bear. As the winter dragged on, and the worst of my grief passed, I began thinking of adopting another cat – in particular, a pair of bonded cats, preferably a year or two old, as we would like a pair of cats that actually get along and have outgrown the energetic kitten stage. Unfortunately, we found out that trying to adopt a pet was just one more frustrating experience during the pandemic.

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In Honour of the Squirrel

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January 21st is squirrel appreciation day. It was founded in 2001 by Christy Hargrove, a wildlife rehabilitator in North Carolina with an affinity for and a dedication to squirrels. Squirrel Appreciation Day can be celebrated in different ways: from watching documentaries about squirrels and researching them online to watching them in your own backyard or putting out a special feeder for them. This winter, if it weren’t for the squirrels, I would only get the occasional cardinal or roving band of chickadees in my yard as all my overwintering sparrows have gone elsewhere. It’s nice to have their company and watch them eat the food I put out for them in these quiet, lifeless, cold winter days.

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January Song Sparrows

Song Sparrow

The Song Sparrow is one of the most common sparrows across much of North America – even if you can’t say for certain whether you’ve ever seen one, you’ve almost certainly heard one at some point, even if you didn’t recognize its song. Song Sparrows are the exact opposite of the “habitat specialist” – they live in a wide variety of open habitats, including marshes, open grasslands, desert scrub, agricultural fields, overgrown pastures, alvars and old fields, lake edges, forest edges, and not-so-quiet suburbs. It is a rare day when I go out birding between late March and mid-November when I don’t at least hear one of these birds singing in the background or chipping at me from a dense thicket next to the walking path.

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The Eagleson Pond Mink

American Mink

The American Mink is a relatively new addition to the list of fauna found at the Eagleson storm water ponds. I had first heard that there was one there in 2019, but had never seen it for myself. Then when Sophie found one killed on the road later that year I figured my chances of seeing one there had vanished. Fortunately Sophie saw another one there in March 2020, very much alive. It took me until May 2nd to see it for the first time, running along the rocks near the footbridge. I managed to get ahead of it, and got one photo for my iNaturalist project when it popped its head up while trying to find a way to get by me (I didn’t mean to block its path; I hadn’t realized it had swum across the channel beneath the bridge to the side where I was standing).

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Boxing Day Frugivores

Cedar Waxwing

Recently I’ve noticed a small flock of waxwings flying outside my house from time to time. Because of the distance I haven’t been able to determine which species of waxwing, and again this morning I noticed a flock while putting the garbage out. I stopped to watch them while they circled the street before flying off. There is a small crabapple tree in the yard across the street from mine, and I’ve been waiting for the last month for either the Bohemian Waxwings or Pine Grosbeaks to discover it. However, the waxwings didn’t land in the tree, so I went back to gathering my green bin and recycling box from the garage. It wasn’t until I made a second trip out to the curb that I realized I could hear a few Cedar Waxwings calling. I looked up, and in the tall deciduous tree next to the crabapple tree I saw about 25 Cedar Waxwings perching.

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