Before heading to the Bill Mason Center, we made a quick stop along Constance Bay Road near the intersection of Dunrobin Road. The grassy fields here are a good spot to find Eastern Meadowlarks, Upland Sandpipers, Savannah Sparrows, and Bobolinks. The Bobolinks weren’t back yet, but we could hear a couple of meadowlarks singing in the distant fields. We also saw a Northern Harrier gliding over the fields before it dropped to the ground to seize whatever prey it had been hunting. I was especially eager to see an Upland Sandpiper, a species I’ve only seen once before years ago in the east end. We found a shorebird sitting on a post at the very back of the field, and although the heat shimmer made identification tricky, it didn’t have the long neck of an Upland Sandpiper.
Upland Sandpiper habitat
Then Jeff spotted not one but two Upland Sandpipers in the area near the horses. They were poking along the grass, and close enough for a detailed view through our scopes. It was thrilling to see this species again after four years of trying! We also had a nice view of a meadowlark singing on top of a fence post before we left.
Our last stop of the day (at least for me) was the Bill Mason Center, one of my favourite conservation areas in the Ottawa area. Right in the parking lot we heard a Yellow Warbler singing and managed to track him down. This was another year bird for me:
This aptly named warbler is indeed the “yellowest” of all warblers. Males have red streaking below the throat during the breeding season. The Chestnut-sided Warbler is the closest relative of the Yellow Warbler in genetic terms. It is interesting to note that both warblers sing songs which have similar phrasing, and Yellow Warblers regularly sing songs which can be mistaken for those of the Chestnut-sided Warbler.
Out in the marsh, we heard a couple of Swamp Sparrows singing and caught a brief glimpse of one. We also saw a pair of Purple Finches in a tree right above the boardwalk. Jeff played a recording of a Virginia Rail and was surprised when two rails wandered out of the marsh to track down the intruder.
We stopped briefly at the first pond (called the “Vanishing Pond”) where we discovered the unwelcome explanation for the absence of the Wood Frogs I was hoping to see on my last visit to Bill Mason Center: two large bullfrogs. Bullfrogs are voracious predators, and studies going back to 1913 suggest the bullfrog preys on any animal it can overpower and fit in its mouth. Stomach contents have included not only the typical invertebrates which make up most frogs’ diets, but also rodents, fish, tadpoles, snails, small turtles, snakes, frogs (including bullfrogs!), birds, and even a bat! Jeff thought it was probable that the bullfrogs (which weren’t present here last year) had devoured all of the Wood Frogs. He also pointed out a large group of tiny “tadpoles” which turned out to be Blue-spotted Salamander larvae. I’m not optimistic about their chances of survival with those two large bullfrogs in the same pond, but hopefully a few will survive to adulthood.
We stopped by the sandy pond at the back of the trail where we found a single Greater Yellowlegs (my first of the year), a Painted Turtle, several insects, a dead bat (which Jeff took with him) and an adult Red-Spotted Newt swimming in the water close to the shore. I also saw this large beetle land on the ground in front of me and stopped to take some pictures. The Brown Fruit Chafer, also called the Bumble Flower Beetle, is member of the scarab family. It appears early in the spring and can be found in fields and meadows. Adults visit flowers for pollen and/or nectar and may also feed on rotting fruit, corn, sap, other plant juices.
Brown Fruit Chafer
(Thanks to Jeff Skevington and Bruce Gill for their help in identifying this beetle.)
In the woods we found a couple of Spring Azures, a small number of Yellow-rumped Warblers, a couple of Northern Flickers and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, Blue Jays, a Hermit Thrush and a Black-and-white Warbler. The number of downed trees made the trail difficult in a lot of places…we’d had a terrible wind storm on the previous Thursday which took down an unbelievable number of trees here and elsewhere. It was hard going in some places as 20 of us scrambled over and under large tree trunks.
The only wildflowers we saw were a few tiny violets near the sandy pond and these bright yellow flowers just inside the woods. I looked for pollinators on the flowers that I passed by but found none.
Mammals had been scarce on our outing, until we came across this large porcupine in a birch tree. It was quite blond compared to other porcupines I’ve seen, and as we gathered around to get a good look at it, I thought it would climb the tree to escape the attention of 20 avid naturalists. Instead the porcupine scrambled down the tree trunk, fell the last two feet into a small gully, picked itself up and waddled/ran across the ground to safety in a small stand of evergreens. Apparently it ran right over the shoes of one of the group members!
He decided he wasn’t safe there, for he left that group of trees, crossed the path, and ran deep into the woods.
Altogether it was a fabulous day, with a wonderful mix of insects, birds, amphibians and mammals. I ended up with 13 bird species for my year list and one new butterfly, which more than made up for the scarcity of butterflies and lack of dragonflies. Jeff was a marvelous leader, ready to share his wealth of knowledge, and I would definitely attend this outing next spring if he chooses to hold it again.
For a detailed listing of all the species that we saw, please see the OFNC’s web page.