Deb and I went to Mud Lake on May 1st with high hopes of seeing some warblers and other migrants. After finding 5 species on Jeff Skevington’s Constance Bay outing (Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Palm, Pine and Black-and-white) I was hopeful that we might find some others in Ottawa’s most beloved birding hotspot. We were off to a promising start as soon as we got out of the car, for we heard a Warbling Vireo singing away in the tree tops. We managed to catch a glimpse of him foraging among the burgeoning leaves, and he became our first year bird of the day. These drab vireos breed here in Ottawa, and we’ll be hearing their song for weeks to come.
We walked up to the Ridge where the first bird we heard singing was a Yellow Warbler. These bright, cheerful warblers also breed here in Ottawa, and can be found at Mud Lake in good numbers throughout the breeding season. We heard, then saw, a Gray Catbird singing in the bushes where this species likes to lurk and, shortly after that, a pair of Brown Thrashers! Both of these birds belong to the Mimid family. This name is Latin for “mimic” and refers to these birds’ amazing vocalizations which incorporate a wide variety of other birds’ songs into their own.
There were quite a few Yellow-rumped Warblers on the Ridge and we saw one Spotted Sandpiper on the island across the channel. The island is still almost completely submerged because of the high water levels. On our walk around the lake we saw one Tree Swallow gleaning insects from the underside of a thick tree branch hanging out over the water, a Palm Warbler in the woods, and had a Pine Warbler fly in to check us out when I began playing a recording of its call.
On the south side of the lake we found a single Great Blue Heron, at least two Black-crowned Night herons, and several turtles basking on the logs near Turtle Bridge. We also heard a Ruby-crowned Kinglet singing from the depths of the thickets but couldn’t locate him.
The trail on the west side of Mud Lake was better for wildflowers than for birds, and we found a profusion of flowers in bloom. The majority of them were the dainty-looking blue Scilla flowers, which are abundant throughout the western half of the conservation area. This flower is not native to Canada.
We also found a couple of native wildflowers, including a few Bloodroot blossoms. I had only seen this wildflower once before last spring while searching for trilliums. This was the first time I’d noticed it growing at Mud Lake, and it was growing right next to the well-used main trail. They shed their beautiful white petals within a day or two of pollination by small bees and flies, so the flower display is short-lived…if you don’t watch out for them in early May, you may have to wait until next year to see them!
Bloodroot grows in moist or dry woods and thickets, often near shores or streams. This wildflower is not usually found growing in clearings and meadows, and is rarely found in disturbed sites. It is one of many plants whose seeds are spread by ants. Attached to the seeds are nutrient-rich appendages called elaiosomes. The ants carry the seeds with the attached elaiosomes to their nest, where they eat the external elaiosomes and discard the seeds.
Deb pointed the delicate yellow bells of a group of Trout Lilies. Although I’ve been seeing their distinctive spotted leaves growing in the woods for a while now, these were the first ones I’d seen with flowers. Only the older plants produce flowers; these have two leaves, while young plants are flowerless and have only one leaf.
Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)
We finished our walk without encountering any new birds, but back on the Ridge, we discovered an Eastern Kingbird flycatching for insects. We also had great views of a tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet flitting about the bushes at eye-level, his bright red crown clearly visible. He wouldn’t sit still for a photo, so I contented myself with photographing a grackle crossing the path in front of me.
Next we stopped in at Dick Bell Park to see the Purple Martins. I heard them before I saw them, their musical twittering filling the skies over the martin houses. We approached the purple martin houses in order to take a few pictures.
Purple Martin (male)
Our last stop of the day was Shirley’s Bay. We saw the black chipmunk at the Hilda Road feeders – this was Deb’s first time seeing it – but not much else. Only a couple of White-throated Sparrows, chickadees, Blue Jays and three blackbird species were present.
At the boat launch, however, we saw a large raft of scaup, a couple of Buffleheads, a couple of Common Goldeneyes, and a single Horned Grebe out on the river. While walking along the trails we also found a pair of Eastern Phoebes, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, two porcupines in neighbouring trees, a Snowshoe Hare, two garter snakes, and single Spring Azure butterfly. It was fantastic to see so many different species of wildlife, and an amazing start to my favourite month of the year!