A Visit to Stony Swamp

On Saturday I decided to forego my usual visits to Mud Lake, Andrew Haydon Park and Shirley’s Bay in order to spend some more time in the woods of Stony Swamp. I hadn’t been to Jack Pine Trail in over a month, and the Rideau Trail has been wonderfully productive this fall for warblers. My goal on this outing was to find four specific species I hadn’t seen yet this fall: Swainson’s Thrush, Ruby-crowned Kinglet, Winter Wren and Blue-headed Vireo. Three of these birds prefer heavily wooded areas, while the Ruby-crowned Kinglet is most commonly found along woodland edges and clearings. I’ve seen all of them in Stony Swamp before, especially in the boardwalk area of the Rideau Trail and Sarsaparilla Trail. I headed to these two trails first.

At the Rideau Trail I decided to check the length of the boardwalk first. The boardwalk doesn’t pass over any water, except in spring when standing pools of water form from the snowmelt. After these dry up in the summer they are replaced with wildflowers, especially in the open area near the end. This is where I usually find the most migrants, and on Saturday I heard them before I saw them. I saw a couple of White-throated Sparrows, several robins, a Red-eyed Vireo, a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a Black-throated Green Warbler. The robins feast on all the berries that grow here, sometimes accompanied by one or two Swainson’s Thrushes. This year, however, there seemed to be fewer berries and the robins didn’t stay very long. After the flock moved on I followed a deer track through the bush to the large open area beneath the hydro towers. Here I found over a dozen sparrows foraging in the grass, mostly White-throated Sparrows with a few Song Sparrows with them. I also found a flock of chickadees foraging with another Yellow-rumped Warbler, a Nashville Warbler, a Chestnut-sided Warbler, and a beautiful male Black-throated Blue Warbler. I started “pishing” to draw him out into the open, and that’s when this Ruby-crowned Kinglet popped into view!

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

He didn’t sit still for very long, and soon both he and the Black-throated Blue Warbler moved on. I decided to move on, too, and headed over to Sarsaparilla Trail where I found a good variety of waterfowl. There were lots of mallards on the pond, accompanied by a lone Canada Goose, two Blue-winged Teals, and a dozen Green-winged Teals. One kingfisher and two Black-crowned Night-herons were sitting in a couple of dead trees, waiting for lunch to swim by; this was the first time I’d ever seen the night-herons here. A Great Blue Heron was waiting in the reeds along the shore.

I added a second bird to my list of birds that I wanted to see when I heard the distinctive “dit-dit” call of a Winter Wren near the parking lot and followed the deer path to a fallen tree. These secretive little wrens prefer areas where there are fallen logs and other dead wood, and I managed to get a glimpse of him among the tangle of branches.

Next I drove over to Jack Pine Trail. The cattails have almost completely overgrown the two ponds with the boardwalks, so there wasn’t any real shorebird habitat; however, in the pond at the back I found three Lesser Yellowlegs, three Solitary Sandpipers, and a small flock of Green-winged Teals in amongst the mallards. I also saw a large flock of Red-winged Blackbirds fly by overhead, and estimated there were at least 200 birds in the flock.

At one of the boardwalks a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches, several chickadees, one Blue Jay, and one red squirrel feasted on the seeds I left on the boardwalk railing for them. Close by I saw a Magnolia Warbler and a Black-throated Green Warbler foraging in the trees.

I came upon a second flock of migrants at the back of the trail, and counted among them one male Black-throated Blue Warbler, both species of kinglet, several robins, and a spotted thrush which responded to my pishing. While I didn’t get a good enough look to identify him, I noticed that he did not have a noticeable eye-ring and lacked the rufous tail of a Hermit Thrush. The spots weren’t dark enough or bold enough for a Wood Thrush, nor pale enough for a Veery. I wasn’t able to note the colour of the face, but the rest of him seemed a cold brownish colour.

The other highlight of my walk was the four species of sparrow I found – two Swamp Sparrows still singing, a Song Sparrow at the boardwalk, and two Field Sparrows and two White-throated Sparrows in the alvar-like area. Normally these summer breeders have stopped singing by now, and their secretive habits make them difficult to find.

Although I was only out for three hours, I identified 36 species and saw one unknown species of thrush. I counted six warbler species but only managed to find two of the birds I was hoping to see. At least this gives me a reason to go out and look for the Blue-headed Vireo and Swainson’s Thrush another time!

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