Thanksgiving Colours

The warm, summer-like weather continued on Thanksgiving Monday. This time I headed west to Constance Bay to look for the Nelson’s Sparrows that had been reported in the grass at the mouth of Constance Creek. First, though, I stopped in at Sarsaparilla Trail to look for Fox Sparrows, a species I usually find here in the fall with flocks of Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows. I only saw one junco and heard one White-throated Sparrow attempting to sing, and at the boardwalk I found two Swamp Sparrows and two Song Sparrows. The Fox Sparrows hadn’t arrived yet.

On the pond a male Northern Shoveler and a male Ring-necked Duck were welcome additions to the usual mallards and Canada Geese that congregate here. I had never seen a shoveler here before, and was happy to add it to my Sarsaparilla Trail list. A flock of Pine Siskins flew by overhead, and two hawks – probably accipiters – flew from tree to tree at the north end of the marsh, too far away to identify.

Morning at Sarsaparilla

I arrived in Constance Bay at 9:00. Even though it was still early, it was warm by the time I got to the beach. I left my scope in the car and trudged to the east end of the beach to where I could see half a dozen birders already gathered in the waist-high grass. It was warm enough for this monarch to fly by and land on the sand:

Monarch Butterfly

I recognized several birders, including Bruce Di Labio, Bev McBride, Tom Hanrahan and Dave Moore. As I walked toward them I heard several chips and tweets coming from the grass, but didn’t see a single bird. When I reached the group, Bruce told me that there were about half a dozen in the area in front of them; however, there were a few Swamp Sparrows and Song Sparrows in with them. From time to time a bird flew up into the air, only to plunge back down into the grass. I didn’t get a good look at any of these birds, even though the other birders identified them as Nelson’s Sparrows. Finally Bruce pointed out one that had perched on a stalk of vegetation about halfway up, and I got my first good look at this pretty, orange-faced sparrow. Unfortunately, it didn’t perch high enough for a photo, as there was too much vegetation in the way to focus on the sparrow. Still, it was a life bird, my second one this weekend!

This sparrow is rare in Ottawa and is only occasionally found during fall migration. It prefers marshes and wet meadows, and is most often found in the grassy areas at Ottawa beach. The area at Constance Bay is usually not accessible due to the high water level of the Ottawa River. It was only because of the unusually low water levels that birders went looking for this rare sparrow at the mouth of Constance Creek.

Pleased with the sighting, I left the area to search for shorebirds along the beach. I didn’t find the Hudsonian Godwits or the Long-billed Dowitchers, but I did find a group of Lesser Yellowlegs and Pectoral Sandpipers.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Pectoral Sandpipers also have bright yellow legs. However, they also have long wings, a densely streaked breast which ends abruptly along the belly, and a black bill which is orange at its base.

Pectoral Sandpipers

Pectoral Sandpiper

While walking along the beach I noticed a large bug buzzing about in the sand. When I stopped to have a look, I realized it was a dragonfly….and a clubtail! It wasn’t able to fly, and when I got a good look at it, I understood why: parts of both of its wings on its left side were missing.

Elusive Clubtail

I was able to pick it up, photograph it, and place it on the leaf of a low-growing plant where I hoped it wouldn’t get stepped on. The blue eyes, black and yellow striped thorax, and pattern of spots along the abdomen are all characteristic of the Elusive Clubtail. I had seen the exuvia of one back in July, but never an adult species. The Elusive Clubtail prefers lakes or large rivers with a sandy bottom. It received its name from its habit of perching inaccessibly in treetops, where it hangs vertically from leaves much like a darner. It also patrols open waters of large rivers.

Elusive Clubtail

This was also a lifer for me, so I took several photos from different angles to make sure I could identify it correctly once I got home. According to Chris Lewis, this is an extraordinarily late date for this species, which continues to make her wonder if climate change may be involved, or if there are simply more people out looking for, learning & communicating about Odonata. I am not sure of the answer, but I suppose only time will tell!

I noticed a flock of shorebirds fly in, so I left the clubtail to have a look. They were all Black-bellied Plovers, a species I haven’t had much luck in photographing, so I edged closer to see if I could a few pictures.

Black-bellied Plover

After that I decided to leave the beach and drive over to the Red-headed Woodpecker area. I haven’t seen them for a couple of years now, and thought it was worth the stop. Jeff had searched for them on his April 30th outing, with no success. I was unsuccessful as well, but a pair of Blue-headed Vireos, several juncos and Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a cooperative Downy Woodpecker made the stop worthwhile. The fall foliage was gorgeous, so I took a few pictures before I left.

My last stop of the morning was the Bill Mason Center. The best birds seen here were a pair of Pileated Woodpeckers and a Hermit Thrush. I also saw a flock of birds in the back meadow which might have been Pine Siskins. They landed in one of the evergreens where they proceeded to eat the seeds from the cones. Although they were streaky like siskins, they didn’t make any vocalizations so I can’t be sure that they were in fact Pine Siskins. I’ve been hearing them frequently in the past week, though I haven’t been able to get a good look at any.

There were tons of Autumn Meadowhawks around too. I was hoping for a few darners but there were none to be seen. I spent the rest of my morning photographing the lovely fall scenery.

Marsh at the Bill Mason Center

The boardwalk

This is the sandy pond where I saw the Lancet Clubtails, Calico Pennants, Azure Bluet, Leonard’s Skipper, Common Buckeye, and giant bullfrogs.

By the time I left it was after noon and a warm 24°C. I couldn’t have asked for a better Thanksgiving….the weather felt more like a weekend in August, the birds were fantastic, and the colours were gorgeous. Just being outside on a weekend like this reminds me that I have so much to be thankful for in my life.

  • Lifer #275 Nelson’s Sparrow
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