Recent Spring Sightings

Eastern Comma 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.

A few more red-wings and a couple of Blue Jays were feeding at the station set up just outside the Wild Bird Care Center, and as I watched two raccoons made their way across the forest floor and disappeared behind the building.  I wasn’t able to get any photos, but I was happy to see them as I’d only seen one other raccoon so far this year.

At the first boardwalk I heard at least one Song Sparrow and a couple of Swamp Sparrows singing.  The Swamp Sparrow was a year bird, even though I couldn’t see any among the cattails.  I heard the winnowing of a Wilson’s Snipe and spotted two flying overhead.  Two Canada Geese were swimming in the beaver pond, and came up to greet me when I arrived.

Beaver Lodge

While walking along the trail I noticed several small moths fluttering close to the ground, which surprised me as it didn’t seem warm enough for the insects to emerge.   I took this photo of one which landed at my feet:

Unknown Moth

Another surprise for me at the Beaver Trail was a pair of Ring-necked Ducks swimming in the second beaver pond, another species to add to my list of birds seen at this location.  I was hoping to find a Wood Duck or Pied-billed Grebe, but the only other species of waterfowl present was a Canada Goose on top of the beaver lodge.

Finally, I was rather taken aback to find a Turkey Vulture in the outdoor pen at the Wild Bird Care Center.  There is no roof on the pen, so the vulture must be unable to fly.  He looks rather forlorn sitting on the old picnic table there:

Turkey Vulture

From there I drove over to Jack Pine Trail where I observed two Canada Geese sitting on nests and a Pileated Woodpecker excavating a hole in a tree.  I heard tapping overhead, but couldn’t see the woodpecker; only when the Pileated poked his head out of a cavity in the tree did I realize that he had been working inside the tree trunk.  I’ll have to check back later this spring to see if a mating pair is using it as a nest. New arrivals included about six Golden-crowned Kinglets singing away and four Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.  I also saw my first Garter Snake of the year.

I went to Britannia the next day, entering the conservation area from Howe Street. I was happy to see the large patch of Glory-of-the-Snow blooming in the woods just inside the woods.  I had first discovered this patch in mid-April, 2009, but I had thought the cold weather and lack of sun would have delayed its flowering.

Glory-of-the-Snow

These beautiful non-native flowers were growing in a few different areas, including in the back lawn of one of the houses that faces Britannia Road.

Glory-of-the-Snow

Glory-of-the-Snow

I didn’t see many birds in the woods.  The Cooper’s Hawks have apparently taken up residence in the woods again, but if they were around they were quite inconspicuous.  I did, however, find several patches of Scilla in bloom on my way to the Ridge.  This is another non-native plant which blooms early in the spring.

Scilla siberica
At the Ridge, I was delighted to see several swallows swooping and flitting above the small swamp at the edge of Cassels Street.  I could immediately identify several Tree Swallows with their brilliant, iridescent blue backs and snowy white bellies, and Barn Swallows with their long forked tails and orange underparts.  I also saw a couple of brownish swallows flying with the other two species, and when a pair landed in a tree next to the road I was able to identify them as Northern Rough-winged Swallows by their voice and by the smudgy white belly – unlike female Tree Swallows and Bank Swallows, Northern Rough-wings do not have a crisp line dividing the white belly from the brown sides.

A further walk around Mud Lake produced two American Wigeon, a pair of Eastern Phoebes (my first of the year) and a pair of Wood Ducks in the same part of the swamp where Deb and I had seen the Black-crowned Night-heron a few weeks ago.  Considering that there were probably about 100 Wood Ducks living in the pond late last summer, most of which were that year’s young, I was surprised to see only the one pair of adults.

I was also happy to see a large number of turtles basking on the logs near the “Turtle Bridge”.  Although I spent several minutes scanning them, only Painted Turtles appeared to be present.

Painted Turtles

Finally, the weather was nice enough on Tuesday to visit Hurdman Park at lunch.  I observed five different sparrows hanging around the feeders – Song Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, American Tree Sparrows (the first ones I recall seeing along this trail), a White-throated Sparrow, and a Fox Sparrow!  I was hoping to get some photos of the Fox Sparrow but he flew off as soon as I approached.  Another good find was a Northern Flicker calling from atop a telephone pole near the trail entrance.

There weren’t too many ducks around, but I did see three Wood Ducks in the swampy area next to the bike path and a pair of Common Mergansers on the river as well as a muskrat swimming close to the shore.  My best finds of the day, however, were not birds but insects.  Although the temperature was only about 11°C, there was no wind and the sunshine made it feel much warmer.  I saw this beautiful Eastern Comma zoom by in a wooded area and land on the ground close by.  I only managed to get this one photo before it took off again.

Eastern Comma

Back on the bike path, I saw a large dragonfly zip by as well.  It, too, landed on the ground, and I took a couple of pictures before he flew up and began devouring the swarms of tiny flies hovering above the vegetation.  The Common Green Darner is, as its name suggests, common in the Ottawa area and can be easily found throughout the warmer months.  These large dragons migrate north from warmer areas in the spring; the earliest ones seen are almost always adults, while later in the season the next generation of dragonflies begin to emerge (as nymphs) from the ponds in which they hatched.

Common Green Darner

When I told Chris Lewis about the Common Green Darner, she said that not only did my sighting on April 19th beat the earliest Ottawa record (by one day!), but that it was amazing given that the weather has not been conducive for for dragonflies.  While the return of the wildlife has been amazing thus far, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for warmer, sunnier days ahead!

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