A Good Walk at the Bill Mason Center

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 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.

I drove the short distance to the parking lot, and as I approached the entrance to the marsh I realized I could hear a number of birds singing:  American Goldfinch, several robins and Song Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, a flock of grackles flying over, a Wilson’s Snipe winnowing overhead, and a few Swamp Sparrows.  The marsh was a lot livelier than the last time I visited it with Deb in February!

A distant meadowlark
I didn’t hear or see any rails in the marsh, but I observed at least three additional Wilson’s Snipe.  Two were calling from different parts of the marsh and I flushed a third sitting in a clump of vegetation right next to the boardwalk.  I observed my first Swamp Sparrow of the year and came across a tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet flitting about the shrubs, his bright red crown plainly visible.

At the end of the boardwalk I found a Fox Sparrow singing in a tree at the edge of the marsh and a pair of Eastern Phoebes hunting near the gazebo.  A pair of Blue Jays, a couple of robins (one of which was gathering nesting material) and a handful of chickadees were also going about their routine as well.

I turned onto the side trail at the first intersection to check the vernal pools along that part of the path.  Last year I discovered a number of Wood Frogs in these ponds and was hoping to repeat the experience.  This time, however, the frogs were quiet…I heard a couple of tentative peeps and croaks from the marsh, but none from the wooded ponds along the side trail.  The only evidence of amphibian activity was a large mass of eggs floating on the water.  I am not sure which species laid these eggs, or even whether they belong to a frog or salamander, but the sight of all the eggs was an encouraging sign of a new generation of amphibians to come.

Egg mass

I continued my walk along the woods and found a group of Dark-eyed Juncos foraging next to the path, a Brown Creeper hitching its way up a tree and heard at least three Ruffed Grouse drumming in different locations.  One sounded quite close, but was completely invisible in the tangle of undergrowth. A couple of American Tree Sparrows foraging in the cattails on the marsh side of the trail brought the total number of sparrow species up to five, along with Song Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Fox Sparrow, Dark-eyed Junco.

The only woodpecker I didn’t see on my walk was the large Pileated Woodpecker. I saw one Downy and one Hairy Woodpecker in the woods and at least three vocal Northern Flickers at the edges of the forest.  I heard Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers throughout my walk – they have a distinctive, nasal call and a distinctive rhythmic tapping which seems to stutter to a stop – but only managed to see one, a female which landed in a tree right above my head.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Because of the cold temperature I didn’t see any butterflies, reptiles or amphibians, and the only mammal I saw was a muskrat swimming in the marsh.  I heard a couple of red squirrels in the woods but didn’t see any, nor did I see any Snowshoe Hares which are sometimes found along the trails.  Still, it was a great (Good?) outing, with two year birds (the meadowlarks and the Ruby-crowned Kinglet) and lots of other wonderful birds which really brought the conservation area to life.

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