To find a Mockingbird

On Sunday, September 4th I planned to go birding with Bob, Chris, and Mike along the Ottawa River. First, however, I stopped for a quick walk at Sarsaparilla Trail to see if any migrants had shown up here yet. This trail in the heart of Stony Swamp is not a migrant trap by any stretch of the imagination, but some interesting birds have turned up there over the years and it’s always worth a quick check. This proved to be the case when, at the boardwalk overlooking the marsh, a Great Blue Heron flew up out of the reeds at the end of the platform. A second bird, much smaller, quickly followed, and with its long bill, long neck, and beautiful warm golden-brown colours I immediately recognized it as a Least Bittern! It flew only a couple of feet into the reeds but quickly disappeared from view. This was a fantastic but completely unexpected moment, for I have never seen a Least Bittern before and wasn’t expecting to find one here of all places!


With that thrilling encounter still fresh in my mind I joined Bob, Chris and Mike at Shirley’s Bay to look for shorebirds. We saw two Brown Thrashers and three House Wrens in the parking lot, as well as a single Wilson’s Warbler in the woods. There were dozens of shorebirds feeding on the mud flats, but only the more common species: Semipalmated Plovers, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers and four Pectoral Sandpipers. We followed the shoreline back to the parking lot and found a juvenile Green Heron feeding in the shallow water. He was remarkably unconcerned with the four of us walking right past him, so I stopped to take some pictures and shoot some video. Because of the overcast conditions the lighting was not good.

Green Heron

After that amazing encounter we visited Andrew Haydon Park and Ottawa Beach where the only birds of interest were five Blue-winged Teals, one Great Egret, four Bonaparte’s Gulls flying over one of the ponds and a Solitary Sandpiper.

We found several warblers at Mud Lake: Nashville Warbler, American Redstart, Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Bay-breasted Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler and another Wilson’s Warbler. On the river we counted at least ten Great Black-backed Gulls and one Common Merganser.

Chris mentioned a Carolina Wren had been found in the southwestern part of the conservation area, so we followed the trail along the fence line in search of this uncommon species. Although the Carolina Wren has been slowly expanding its range northward over the past century, it does not tolerate the cold well, and populations often decline after especially frigid winters. We did hear a bird chattering and calling in the woods; as it sounded like no other bird we were familiar with, we were fairly sure it was the wren, but I was not sure enough to add it to my year list.

While searching for the wren we came across a couple of orbweaver spiders sitting in their large, circular webs. Most were Garden Cross Orbweavers, but we also found one Black and Yellow Argiope in an open area. I have seen hardly any orbweavers in Ottawa this year, even in places like the Rideau Trail and Hurdman, so this one was noteworthy.

Black and Yellow Argiope

We called it a day after that, and afterward I set out on a search for another southern bird, a pair of mockingbirds which had been found in the Equestrian Park off Corkstown Road a few days ago. I saw a Monarch butterfly and an Eastern Phoebe, but there were no mockingbirds to be seen. Like the Carolina Wren, mockingbirds are uncommon in Ottawa and show up very infrequently.

Monarch

The next day Bob, Chris, Mike, Bob C. and I went to the Casselman Lagoons where the shorebird habitat was excellent. We tallied 13 species of shorebird including one Short-billed Dowitcher, one Ruddy Turnstone, four Pectoral Sandpipers, two Baird’s Sandpipers, two White-rumped Sandpipers and one American Golden-Plover. These were the first White-rumped Sandpipers I’d seen in Ottawa, my first Golden-Plover of the year, and the first Ruddy Turnstone I’d seen in Ottawa in a long time.

After leaving the group I returned to the Nepean Equestrian Park to look for the mockingbirds. This time I got lucky and found one perching on a snag near the large brush pile. He wasn’t in the mood for having his picture taken, however, and flew off when I tried to get closer.

This Eastern Phoebe was much more accommodating. It is the first flycatcher to return in the spring and the last to leave in the fall. Its cheerful, unmusical “phoebe, phoebe” song in the spring always brightens my day.

Eastern Phoebe

He was actively hunting, moving from perch to perch while hawking for insects. At one point he flew down onto the ground to catch an insect, something I see flycatchers do from time to time which I find delightful.

Eastern Phoebe

Perhaps he was aware of my scrutiny all along, for after gobbling down whatever he had caught, he flew up onto the fence and gave me a backwards glance.

Eastern Phoebe

I saw some neat insects in addition to the mockingbird and phoebe. Lots of thistles were in flower, and they were insect-magnets. I thought this monarch looked really striking against the purple of the thistle.

Monarch

I also got a neat close-up of a pair of mating ambush bugs.

Ambush Bugs

I also noticed this Spotted Cucumber Beetle on a dandelion.

Spotted Cucumber Beetle

It was a fantastic Labour Day weekend….and, having taken Tuesday off work, I still had one more day off!

  • Lifer #271 Least Bittern
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