On Sunday Jon Ruddy and I met at the Moodie Drive quarry pond late in the afternoon to scope out the birds on the pond. I usually don’t do much birding late in the day, but I have been thinking of upgrading my Nikon Fieldscope ED50 to something more powerful, and Jon generously agreed to meet me so I could try out his new Vortex Viper. The quarry pond was a great spot to meet, since it is fairly close to where both of us live, and has great potential for interesting gulls, geese and other waterfowl. Unfortunately large flocks of Canada Geese were all flying out of the quarry pond when we arrived, leaving us with a few Redheads, Ruddy Ducks, Hooded Mergansers and Common Mergansers interspersed with a raft of at least 100 Ring-necked Ducks. A single Double-crested Cormorant and a Red-tailed Hawk were the only other species we found.
On Sunday morning I spent just over an hour at Andrew Haydon Park, enduring the sub-zero temperatures and frigid Arctic wind to hang out with the water birds there. The usual Canada Geese and mallards were present, but the first bird that caught my attention was the adult Brant feeding on the grass near the western pond, likely the same one that was here the day before. The second bird I noticed was the juvenile Great Blue Heron standing on the island in the western pond, looking cold. It was standing on one leg and had its neck all hunched up and feathers puffed out to protect it from the wind. Normally I find Great Blue Herons to be very regal-looking; this one was as un-majestic as any I had ever seen.
Thanksgiving weekend in Ottawa is usually nice – sunny and warm, with the temperature in the high teens or low twenties. The fall colours are bright, and the trails are packed with people enjoying the last of the nice weather. Early October is my favourite time of the fall because the trees are at their peak colour and you can still go outside without needing a hat, gloves, or heavy jacket to enjoy the gorgeous fall colours and the migrating birds.
And then it happens – the weather changes. Yesterday was a nice, seasonable 10°C; this morning was a cold, gray, drizzly 3°C with a wind blowing straight from the north pole. I was determined to go out – not only did I want to find a few year birds to add to my list, I also anticipated tripping over fewer people on the trails.
On September 27th, a rare Western Kingbird was found at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden. Although it was found on a Sunday, I didn’t feel like making the drive out there (it’s a good half hour away from me through the city) and joining a mob of people surrounding the bird. The Fletcher Wildlife Garden, although beautiful, is also one of my least favourite places to go birding in Ottawa as it’s usually full of off-leash dogs. However, as the week wore on, the kingbird continued to be reported every day. It was still there on Friday, so I began planning an early morning visit to the FWG the following day. I left just after it had gotten light enough to see, and arrived at the FWG at about 8:15 am. There was a cold, blustery wind blowing, and this change in the weather made my heart sink as I realized that the kingbird might have blown out with the winds.
The end of September is a good time to see a variety of hover flies (also known as flower flies, syrphid flies, or syrphids). It is also the end of dragonfly season. Most odonates are already done for the season – only a handful of species will continue flying into October, with the last species, Autumn Meadowhawk, flying into November if the weather cooperates.
As the last week of September was still quite warm, I was able to find and photograph a few different species of both insects – even in my own backyard! I finally added Autumn Meadowhawk to my official yard list on September 19th. I’ve seen a few meadowhawks in my yard over the years, but have only identified White-faced Meadowhawk and Band-winged Meadowhawk so far. I found it on the asters at the back of the yard, although it flew up onto the fence when I tried to get closer for a photo. Given how abundant and widespread it is, the Autumn Meadowhawk was the most likely species to be added to my yard list. Now that it has shown up in my yard, I’m not sure what the next likeliest species is – Common Green Darner? Twelve-spotted Skimmer?
One particular Eastern Gray Squirrel has been visiting my yard for about two years now – perhaps more. I recognize her by the way her damaged front left paw is curled up against her wrist, immobile, and because of this I call her (with great affection) Little Miss Broken Paw. It looks as though her wrist got broken at some point and healed permanently in this position. While such an injury would be devastating to a human, it has not affected her in any way that I can see; I have long admired how she is able to climb the fence and scamper along the top of it without so much as a limp.
I was too busy enjoying warbler migration this past month to take many photos. Most of my birding outings involved craning my neck while searching for tiny, flitting birds high up in the green back-lit canopy, desperately trying to focus on a single distinguishing field mark before the bird disappeared into the foliage. These kinds of outings are not conducive for photography. Still, I managed to get a few birds in focus this past month – both in the binoculars and the camera’s viewfinder – and a few of them were even warblers.
As usual, Hurdman was a great place to spend my lunch hours, looking for migrants in the woods along the Rideau River. At the beginning of September, I knew migration had begun when I found a few Black-and-white Warblers with the resident American Redstarts and Common Yellowthroats. Two days later I discovered a Northern Parula, two Black-throated Green Warblers, and a Wilson’s Warbler as well.