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.
From there I headed to Jack Pine Trail. A single Turkey Vulture soaring over the fields west of Moodie Drive caught my attention, as did a few geese swimming in the ditch full of water near the Lime Kiln Trail parking lot. I was hoping to find another Killdeer or two stalking the lawns along that section of Moodie but had no luck.
At Jack Pine Trail, the parking lot was nearly full. Fortunately I didn’t run into too many people while on the trails, giving me a chance to see some wildlife before the kids running around scared them off. There wasn’t a lot of activity at the OFNC feeder, but I did see a Red-breasted Nuthatch and hear about five Red-winged Blackbirds calling from the trees. A little further along I came across this chipmunk gathering seeds strewn about the path.
Near the same area, a pair of mallards were swimming in a large puddle next to the trail. Mallards are funny that way, especially this time of year when large puddles form all over the place from all the snow melt; they will happily take one over regardless of the location. I’ve seen swimming in large puddles in the woods, in the lawn of Confederation Park downtown, at the edge of the bike path at Hurdman, and even in the middle of an unused dirt road by the Bayview transit station!
When I came to the first pond I was happy to see that all the ice on the pond had completely melted. A pair of mallards were swimming among the cattails, and a grackle was sitting on the boardwalk rail.
In the woods, I saw one robin searching the leaf litter for insects. Red squirrels were everywhere, and this one came right up to me when I pulled out my bag of sunflower seeds. He grabbed a seed, then retreated to a safe distance to eat it.
I found a single Song Sparrow singing in the field of cattails at the back of the trail, some Canada Geese in the ponds, and a few more Red-winged Blackbirds, but other than that no new migrants had arrived. I did, however, see my first bees of the year, a single fuzzy bumble bee in the meadow and several honey bees gleaning nutrients from a large wet spot in the middle of the trail in the woods. Since the day was so warm I thought I might see my first butterfly, but that pleasure will have to wait.
On Sunday Deb and I spent the morning exploring Mud Lake. As soon as we got out of the car a male cardinal landed in the trees across the street and sat there in the sunlight for about five minutes. I grabbed my camera and started taking pictures; then, to my dismay, my camera battery died. I was pleased to have gotten this one photo:
We started our walk in the woods where we found an accipiter sitting in a tree above the lake with his back to us. We only saw one chipmunk during our walk, and no rabbits or porcupines or deer. However, both the Brown Creepers and Dark-eyed Juncos were singing, which, together with the singing cardinals, goldfinches, chickadees and Red-winged Blackbirds, made for a pleasant auditory background for our walk.
The lake was still frozen, but about five or six pairs of Canada Geese had already staked out their territory and were walking about on the ice, honking constantly. I was hoping to see a Wood Duck along the small sections of open water along the south-facing shores but had no luck. We found more bird life in the open scrubby area at the south part of the conservation area, where we came across several robins and Red-winged Blackbirds and heard a couple of Song Sparrows singing. Then Deb made an incredible discovery in the swamp between the scrubby area and the eastern edge of the conservation area: an adult Black-crowned Night-heron! Normally they don’t start appearing in Ottawa until the second half of April or beginning of May, so this individual was early. Still, it was a great sight for our winter-weary eyes and a hint of the season to come. I managed to take two pictures with the dying batteries in my camera.
A little further along, we realized we could hear the high-pitched calls of a flock of Bohemian Waxwings. When we looked up, there they were, about 20 of them sitting in the tree tops! They soon departed for a bush full of buckthorn berries, and although we scanned the flock for Cedar Waxwings, we were unable to come up with any. Nothing topped the waxwings or the night-heron during the remainder of our walk; there were hardly any waterfowl on the river, and the few birds on the Ridge all appeared to be chickadees and Red-winged Blackbirds.
Deb and I went our separate ways after that, and as I had some time before I needed to be home I decided to stop by Sarsaparilla Trail. I was surprised to find no robins or Red-winged Blackbirds here yet, although I did hear a couple of juncos in the woods. The pond was a different story, as the water was almost completely open and there were ducks swimming about! The male Hooded Mergansers with their bright white “hoods” caught my attention immediately, and when I scanned the pond I came up with two Common Mergansers and half a dozen Ring-necked Ducks (another year bird) as well! It was fantastic to see all these diving ducks as the waterfowl migration hasn’t really hit Ottawa yet. It also amazed me to see all the open water here and at Jack Pine Trail when both Mud Lake and the large quarry pond were still completely frozen. Hopefully the mild temperatures predicted for the rest of the week will cause the remaining snow and the ice to melt, and usher in a new wave of migrants!