Ottawa was blessed with not one, but two rare birds in late May and early June. On May 25th I received word of a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron west of Carp. It was on private property, and while the homeowner didn’t want people wandering around her large property uninvited, she was gracious enough to escort interested birders around if we waited at the end of the driveway for her to come and get us.
I went out on the last day of May to try to see it, killing time along the Thomas Dolan Parkway as I didn’t want to show up too early. It was a miserable day – cold, overcast, and only 8°C. I didn’t feel like spending much time outside, but I did check a few spots for Golden-winged Warblers and Eastern Towhees without any luck. When I arrived at the property on Abbeywood Drive, one car was already there, but the driver appeared to be sleeping. Mary, the homeowner, came out about 10 minutes after I parked my car; by that time the other driver, Paul Lagasi, had awakened, and the three of us went around to her huge backyard together to search for the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. Her property boasts a large pond which is home to three families of Canada Geese and many dragonfly species (though none were flying that day) and a creek at the back which attracts various herons (including nesting Green Herons and the Yellow-crowned Night-heron). We also observed Eastern Bluebirds, a few different warblers, and three different flycatchers (Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Phoebe, and Eastern Wood-pewee), all of which made me jealous of her yard list. Unfortunately Paul and I did not find the heron or the Mourning Warbler that others had heard the day before, so we both went home empty-handed.
On May 30th I met with Chris Traynor for a morning of bug-hunting in the west end. My main goal was to look for River Jewelwings, a damselfly that I see much less frequently than the similar-looking Ebony Jewelwing. Both of these broad-winged damselflies (genus Calopteryx) breed in the flowing waters of medium-sized creeks and streams, particularly in forested areas. While Ebony Jewelwings are most commonly found in shallow, shady streams with much emergent vegetation, River Jewelwings prefer swifter and somewhat rocky streams. There aren’t too many streams I would characterize as “rocky” in Ottawa’s west end (they are more common up in the Gatineau Hills); indeed, I have found only one stream inhabited by these colourful damselflies: Watts Creek near Shirleys Bay, on the south side of Carling Avenue. However, the bank is very steep where I have seen them – it is about a five- or six-foot vertical drop to the water, and the top of the stream bank is too thickly vegetated to walk along in order to find another spot with a shorter drop. This makes photographing them quite difficult, as they like to perch on vegetation close to the water.
On Sunday, May 24th I headed out to the Moodie Drive marsh between Corkstown Road and the former Nortel property to listen (and look) for one of my favourite flycatchers, the Willow Flycatcher. I am not sure what makes it my favourite – perhaps it is because it was the last of Ottawa’s breeding flycatchers that I added to my life list, or perhaps it is because they are harder to find than the others and I need to make a special trip to see them each spring. Whatever the reason, I enjoy visiting the marsh on Moodie Drive in late May to listen for their distinct, sneezy “Fitz-bew!” song.
On Victoria Day I decided to spend some time at Mud Lake as I haven’t been there at all since warbler migration got underway. This has been a deliberate decision on my part, mainly because I had heard it had become very busy in recent weeks. Mud Lake’s popularity as a birding and nature photography site has really increased in the last couple of years, which is really great considering what a treasure trove of species can be found there; however, crowds have never really been my thing, so I’ve found other places to spend my time.
I started the morning off with a stop at Sarsaparilla Trail. Even at 6:30 in the morning there was some activity, although I only heard three warbler species altogether: one Blackpoll Warbler and three Ovenbirds in the woods, and a couple of Common Yellowthroats in the marsh. The pond was quiet and peaceful. I spotted a lone Canada goose on the water, a cormorant and three Green Herons flying over, at least one Tree Swallow and two Eastern Kingbirds among the stand of dead trees, and three Spotted Sandpipers flying over the pond to another log. This was the first outing I can recall where I counted more Green Herons than chickadees and more Spotted Sandpipers than Canada Geese!
When I returned to Ottawa on May 15th I was happy to hear that dragonfly season had begun – fellow OFNC member Chris Traynor had already reported seeing a Hudsonian Whiteface, American Emerald, and a baskettail species (likely a Beaverpond Baskettail) the day before I returned. Last year I didn’t have my first real dragonfly outing until May 31st (chiefly because I was away in Florida the weekend before that), but even so this seemed early.
Eager to see some dragonflies, I checked a few trails in Stony Swamp early on Saturday morning, but found none – though it was warm, the sky was too overcast. I did, however, observe a couple of new birds for my year list, including an Eastern Wood-Pewee, Alder Flycatcher and Clay-colored Sparrow at Jack Pine Trail and a Black-throated Blue Warbler at the Beaver Trail. I was also pleased to hear two Brown Thrashers at Jack Pine Trail, a species I have never observed there before, and a total of nine warbler species including Ovenbird, Black-and-white Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Pine Warbler and Black-throated Green Warbler. In addition to these, a singing Black-throated Blue Warbler and a Yellow-rumped Warbler were at the Beaver Trail.
A cold front moved in the following day, and I hoped it would bring in some good birds. My mother, step-father and I went to Rondeau Park for the day. It was cold and windy, however – cold enough to require my winter gloves – and the “good birds” I was hoping for failed to materialize. We added only four birds to our trip list: a Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Chipping Sparrow at the Visitor Center feeders, and a Prothonotary Warbler and Veery along the Tulip Tree trail. The Spicebush Trail and Pony Barn areas were deathly quiet, and only a few birds along the maintenance loop – including a Red-bellied Woodpecker – made the stop worthwhile. Altogether we saw only three warbler species: Prothonotary, Chestnut-sided, and Yellow Warbler.
We got up early on Monday, May 11th for our day at Point Pelee. While we were paying at the kiosk we were told there were two good birds present: a Prothonotary Warbler and a Kirtland’s Warbler. I had seen the rare bird alert for the Kirtland’s Warbler the day before, and was happy to hear it was still around. I had never seen one before (unlike the Prothonotary Warbler) so it would be a lifer for me if I found it. Fortunately, this was easy to do. We took the tram to the Tip and after we had gotten off the shuttle, I came across a group of people who said it was being seen along the footpath that parallels the western beach. I told my mother and step-father and off we went. After about a 10 minute hike with numerous people coming the other way assuring us “it was still there – just look for the crowd of people”, we found a huge throng of people gathered in a tight group. At the center of all the attention, no more than six feet away from the edge of the path, was the female Kirtland’s Warbler.