After lunch I went back out to look for butterflies. It was still warm and sunny, and I started my trek with a quick stop at the Richmond Lagoons to look for waterfowl. There wasn’t much around; I saw very few ducks and perhaps three Tree Swallows gliding through the air, searching for bugs. Although I did manage to photograph one of the swallows perching in the tree near the Purple Martin house, the only really noteworthy sighting was that of a muskrat swimming in the middle cell.
Instead of stopping by the Moodie Drive quarry ponds, I decided to check up on the Osprey nest along the Jock River. There I found the female sitting in the nest atop the tall platform overlooking the water. The male, who spends most of his time hunting for fish rather than incubating the eggs, was sitting in a tall tree on the opposite side of the river in a perfect spot to take some photographs. While watching the Osprey, I noticed another muskrat swimming along the river and my second mink of the day running along the opposite bank!
On Easter Sunday I started the day at Sarsaparilla Trail to look for the Pied-billed Grebes that had been reported there. There wasn’t much activity in the woods – no chickadees came to greet me at the trail entrance, and I didn’t hear or see a single nuthatch – but I could hear plenty of juncos and the occasional Golden-crowned Kinglet singing in the woods beyond the trail.
The large pond at the back of the trail was a different story. A half-dozen Tree Swallows were hunting over the water, Song Sparrows, Swamp Sparrows and Red-winged Blackbirds were singing in the reeds at the water’s edge, and there were plenty of waterfowl scattered across the pond. I counted about a dozen Canada Geese, a pair of Hooded Mergansers, a few mallards, one Pied-billed Grebe, and almost 20 Ring-necked Ducks. Although not an uncommon species at Sarsaparilla Trail, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many. A male Wood Duck also flew over while I was counting the ducks.
On Good Friday I visited the Bill Mason Center in Dunrobin west of Ottawa. It was a cool, sunny morning – still cool enough for my winter coat – and I was hoping to see some rails in the marsh as I had read they were back on territory. Before I even got to the parking lot, however, I heard the song of an Eastern Meadowlark drifting down from a tree bordering the large field next to the school grounds. I pulled over in time to see the singer fly away to the middle of the field where it landed and began singing again. A second meadowlark was foraging in the grass near a line of small shrubs. These beautiful members of the blackbird family are not as approachable as the more abundant Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles, and the only photos I took were from a great distance. A few starlings, Canada Geese, robins and mallards were foraging in the field as well, and I heard a Killdeer flying over as I was walking back to the car.
Although the temperature has cooled off and it feels more like November than late April, new birds are arriving in Ottawa every day, and more mammals, insects and reptiles have begun to emerge from hibernation. I took some personal time off last week and managed to get out and enjoy the outdoors a couple of times before traveling to Cambridge to visit my family. I spent some time at the Beaver and Jack Pine Trails in Stony Swamp and Mud Lake along the river, and found signs of spring at each stop.
When I arrived at the Beaver Trail early in the morning, the first bird I noticed was a mallard drake in the large puddle that forms in the grass in the middle of the parking lot every year. There was a lot of activity at the trail entrance, with several Red-winged Blackbirds, American Tree Sparrows, and Dark-eyed Juncos feeding on seeds left on the ground. Two surprises awaited me there: a male House Sparrow perching on the large sign and a male Brown-headed Cowbird picking at the seeds on the ground with the juncos. This was the first time I had seen either species here before.
On February 9, 2011, I wrote to Premier Dalton McGuinty voicing my opposition to the coyote-killing contests being held in Eastern Ontario. I finally received a response on April 14, 2011.
The response is a typical form letter, and doesn’t really address my concerns about the contests being held to encourage the wide-scale destruction of these animals. The email does say that the government is “not considering a cull” and that “enforcement officers will continue to carefully monitor coyote hunting in the province to ensure that hunters are following the law”. It is clear the Premier doesn’t understand why this issue is so upsetting to animal and nature lovers and people who value biodiversity and ecological balance more than appeasing hunters, farmers and land owners.
Many of those who make birding a hobby eventually stumble upon an active nest during the breeding season. I have been lucky enough to come across Canada Geese, robins, an Eastern Wood-pewee and a Mourning Dove sitting on their nests over the past couple of years. I have also seen Yellow-bellied Sapsucker nestlings poking their heads outside of the tree cavity in which they were born and a male Baltimore Oriole bringing insects to his young in the nest (the nest was too high in the tree to actually see the baby orioles). Then, of course, there are the man-made nest boxes and platforms where Eastern Bluebirds, Purple Martins, Tree Swallows and Ospreys nest which anyone can view, if they know where to look. While observing these birds raise their young is fascinating, I think that coming across a bird nesting in the “wild” is much more rewarding.
After a long, cold week of subzero temperatures, the weather has finally warmed up and returned to seasonal. Although the night temperatures still fall below the freezing mark, we’ve had a string of lovely days where the temperature has risen to 8 or 10°C by mid-afternoon. With spring now bursting upon us so joyfully, I decided to make the most of the bright sunshine and warm weather by visiting my favourite conservation areas this weekend. I hoped to find a few migrants and perhaps some mammals or insects or reptiles emerging from hibernation.
I thought the warm weather might have opened up some of the ponds, but on Saturday when I visited the Moodie Drive quarry pond it was still frozen. The only birds I saw roosting on the ice were gulls and Canada Geese, but the stop proved to be worthwhile when two Killdeer – my first of the year – flew over, calling as they passed.
After a cool first few days of spring, the weather got even colder. A high-pressure system has been stalled over western Ontario, funneling Arctic air southward and causing temperatures to fall well below seasonal. When Deb and I went birding on Sunday, the temperature only reached -6°C…almost fifteen degrees below the average temperature for this time of year. At first it didn’t seem that bad, but once we started birding in the open, the wind was terrible, seemingly blowing straight off the polar ice cap.