Hurdman Park along the shore of the Rideau River is a great spot for birding, but is not one of my top destinations for ode-hunting. This is because species diversity is generally low, and most dragons and damsels found here can readily be found in other spots. The two species that make it worthwhile visiting after spring migration has ended are the Rainbow Bluet and the Cherry-faced Meadowhawk, both of which have colonies here that I discovered here several years ago and have seen every year since. It used to be a great spot for Springtime Darners early in the summer, though it has now been a few years since my last a confirmed sighting. This is the one species I truly miss, as Hurdman is the only spot I’ve ever seen these early-flying darners. The one other notable species that makes Hurdman visiting later in the summer, while the Cherry-faced Meadowhawks are still flying, is the Wandering Glider. I have seen these migratory dragonflies flying in small swarms with Common Green Darners in open areas in at least three different years, and hope to see them later this year when they become more common.
On June 7th I headed west to Dunrobin, still hoping to find some more birds for my year list. My plan was to stop in at Pinhey’s Point first, a historical site along the Ottawa River that I’d never visited before. I’d heard there were Cliff Swallows nesting there, and as I haven’t seen one of these birds in Ottawa in years, I was hoping it would be an easy tick. I was also still hoping to find the Golden-winged Warblers and Eastern Towhees that breed along the Thomas Dolan Parkway, plus whatever interesting butterflies and dragonflies that were flying – I’ve had both Baltimore Checkerspots and Horned Clubtails at the Stonecrest Trail, and was eager to see both again.
On June 6, 2015, I visited the Bruce Pit and a couple of the Stony Swamp trails before heading off to the Richmond Lagoons to look for a few common birds that I was missing from my year list. At Sarsaparilla Trail I saw a Snowshoe Hare near the entrance to the woods and heard a Northern Waterthrush singing somewhere across the pond, a new bird for my year list, though one I wasn’t expecting. Also of note were a Marsh Wren singing in the reeds right next to the boardwalk and a male Scarlet Tanager in the woods. I found him singing his hoarse, robin-like song right at the end of the branch overhead, his bright red underparts glowing in the foliage.
At the Bruce Pit I added Common Gallinule to my year list when I spotted an adult walking with a young bird at the edge of the cattails. I also saw a Virginia Rail and a beaver in the creek, a Belted Kingfisher hovering over the pond, pairs of Killdeer and Spotted Sandpiper feeding along the water’s edge, and a couple of Chestnut-sided Warblers at the back of the trail. I heard an American Redstart and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing but wasn’t able to spot either of them. It was too early for any dragonflies to be flying yet.
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!