OFNC Outing to Constance Bay – Part I

Rose-breasted Grosbeak Jeff Skevington led a full-day nature outing in the Constance Bay area on Saturday, April 30.  We began the day at his house at 8:00 a.m. where we spent an enjoyable 15 minutes in his backyard watching the birds.  He still has a good number of Common Redpolls visiting his feeders, and other yard birds included a pair of Eastern Phoebes, Dark-eyed Juncos, American Goldfinches and Chipping Sparrows.  Merlins nest in a tree close to his house (oh to have a yard like his!), but were absent while I was there.

Across the road we could hear Pine Warblers singing high up in the trees.  Jeff played a recording of their fast, musical trill, and immediately one Pine Warbler flew out of the trees toward us to investigate.  Jeff explained that the first warblers back are the older males staking out breeding sites, and they will readily respond if they hear another male singing within their territory.  The Pine Warbler landed in the tree closest to us, hopped down a couple of branches until he was directly overhead, then flew off once Jeff stopped playing the recording.

Wilson’s Snipe seen on Dunrobin Road while driving to Constance Bay:

Wilson's Snipe

After calling in another Pine Warbler from a different spot along the road, we headed back to Jeff’s yard to organize the car-pooling and look for the Merlins.  They were still silent, but Jeff had a surprise visitor at his feeder….a beautiful male Rose-breasted Grosbeak! This is the earliest I’d ever seen one, but Jeff says they are right on time.  He usually has a few visiting his feeders during the spring.  After the grosbeak flew off we heard his melodious robin-like song pouring forth from the trees.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

We started the tour with a stop at the eastern end of the Constance Bay where Constance Creek flows into the Ottawa River.  The  little bay here is a good spot to find waterfowl and Red-shouldered Hawks, an uncommon species which is most reliably found in Constance Bay where it breeds.  We saw neither, but encountered Purple Finches, Northern Flickers, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and Brown Creepers in the small wooded area between the water and the road.  We also found a Leopard Frog calling in the water right in front of us, a species I’d heard before this spring but had yet to see.  This frog sounds more like a person snoring than an amphibian, and has one of the most distinctive voices in the wetland this time of year.

Leopard Frog

From there we checked out the river along Bayshore Drive.  There are a number of public access points along the beach here, and we scanned the river from a few different spots.  We saw a number of Bufflehead, Greater and Lesser Scaup, and Common Mergansers on the water and a Great Blue Heron flying overhead; at our final stop we added a couple of Osprey and Turkey Vultures flying overhead and four Horned Grebes and a Common Loon diving out in the middle of the river.

The Ottawa River seen from Constance Bay

View from the Point

From there we went to the old burn site to look for the Redheaded Woodpeckers.  This declining species is a rare breeder in Ottawa, and Constance Bay is the only reliable site that I know of in the Ottawa circle.  The Redheaded Woodpeckers weren’t back yet, and we had no luck with the overwintering Red-bellied Woodpecker either.  A couple of Pileated Woodpeckers and four Palm Warblers helped to make up for their absence.

Palm Warbler

The day was growing warm, and small insects were beginning to emerge.  I was hoping to see a butterfly or two on our walk back to the cars, but we found none.  I did see this small Wolf Spider walking along the dirt road, and stopped to take its picture.  All of the other insects were uncooperative.

Probable Wolf Spider

Wolf spiders do not sit in webs but actively hunt prey in leaf litter, gardens and grassy areas.  They are voracious predators and are not only a very important part of the ecosystems in which they occur, but are also beneficial in gardens. While they may bite if handled, they are not considered dangerous to humans.  One interesting fact that I learned about Wolf Spiders is that they have a layer of reflective cells in the back of the eyes which reflect light at night.  When a light is shone upon them – such as a flashlight – the reflected light creates a glow known as eyeshine, which is most commonly seen in cats and raccoons.  This makes it easy for someone to find them at night, as Wolf Spiders are nocturnal and hunt for food at night.

We returned to our cars without seeing anything else of interest, and headed to Bishop Davis drive where Jeff planned to have lunch and look for insects.  So far it was turning out to be a great outing, and I couldn’t wait to see what we would find next!

Next: OFNC Outing to Constance Bay – Part II

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