The Victoria Birding Weekend Part I

Male Wood Duck

My mother and step-father spent the Victoria Day long weekend with us to do some birding in Ottawa. As we will be heading out to Alberta this summer for my sister’s wedding, we decided to skip our annual birding trip to southern Ontario; not only was it cheaper to spend the long weekend at home, but there are a number of breeding birds in Ottawa that mom needed for her life list. Mom and Doug arrived on Friday, and Saturday morning we were out the door early to head to our first spot: the Ottawa airport for sparrows and open grassland birds.

We parked at the trail on Bowesville Road and crossed the road to see what we could find in the scrubby area there. We heard, then saw, a pair of Brown Thrashers before they flew off; Common Yellowthroats and Yellow Warblers were singing their bubbly, exuberant songs from the shrubs, while a couple of swallows – including a Barn Swallow – hawked for insects in the sky. Then I heard the unmistakable song of a Clay-coloured Sparrow. Neither mom nor Doug had ever seen one before, so I managed to locate one singing in a small conifer. While looking at the Clay-coloured Sparrow – a handsome bird, even if he isn’t the most colourful – I heard a Grasshopper Sparrow singing from the top of a stalk, and pointed it out to Mom and Doug.

On the trail across the road I saw some butterflies, including a pair of Black Swallowtails, Common Ringlets (my first of the year) and some sulphurs. We heard, but didn’t see, at least two Vesper Sparrows. However, Grasshopper and Clay-coloured Sparrows were both cooperative, and we heard (and saw) at least three more. A couple of Field Sparrows, two Chipping Sparrows, one Savannah Sparrow and one Song Sparrow rounded out the rest of the sparrows. Other finds included a Bobolink and a Baltimore Oriole both sitting in the top of the same tree, a pair of Eastern Kingbirds, an Alder Flycatcher heard but not seen, and a Great Crested Flycatcher. We didn’t hear or see any House Wrens or Indigo Buntings.

Tree Swallow

We drove over to the High Road trail where we found a couple of Bobolinks, Savannah Sparrows, Tree Swallows and a single Eastern Bluebird near the parking area. We heard an Eastern Meadowlark but couldn’t spot him. As it was getting hot we didn’t wander too far down the trail; I saw a pair of Brown Thrashers run across the road while Mom’s and Doug’s backs were turned.

After lunch we headed over to Mud Lake. Mom and Doug were particularly interested in seeing the tame Wood Ducks there, so we stopped there first before walking the rest of the way around the lake. I tossed some seed into the water, and although one male Wood Duck seemed interested he didn’t come too close. However, a mother mallard and her four babies swam right up to us to get some food.

Mallard Ducklings

Mallard Ducklings

In the woods we saw one Black-and-white Warbler, a couple of Red-eyed Vireos, and heard a couple of Pine Warblers. At the observation dock we noticed two Black-crowned Night Herons hunting for fish and two large snapping turtles basking in the sun. The turtles were both just a little bit too far for my camera. A Broad-winged Hawk also flew over.

Snapping Turtle

We proceeded through the scrubby area south of the lake and found several Yellow Warblers, a Brown Thrasher, a couple of Great Crested Flycatchers (my mom says she will never forget their “song”!), a couple of American Redstarts and a Gray Catbird (heard only). Just as we re-entered the woods we came across a small group of warblers including Chestnut-sided Warbler, Northern Parula, Black-throated Green Warbler, and American Redstart. Both the Chestnut-sided Warbler and a male redstart flew in closer when I started pishing; later, we came across another male redstart foraging on logs and twigs quite close to the ground. I wasn’t able to get any photos of the warblers, but I couldn’t resist photographing this Juvenal’s Duskywing when it landed in front of me:

Juvenal’s Duskwing

We didn’t get to the ridge before we left, so mom and I returned the following day. A group of Cedar Waxwings flew by overhead, and we heard a Baltimore Oriole and a couple of Blackpoll Warblers singing (one had, in fact, woken me up at 6:00 singing just outside my window; I rushed out the door to get a glimpse of him as this was a new species for my yard list). We couldn’t find any of the Blackpoll Warblers that we heard, but a beautiful Blackburnian Warbler almost made up for it. (I say almost because mom needed Blackpoll Warbler, not Blackburnian Warbler, for her life list). We tried the scrubby area west of the lake next. Our best bird there was Tennessee Warbler; we heard at least four of them singing their distinct, three-part song. We only got a glimpse of one of the four, but that was enough for mom to add it to her life list.

Dragonflies were everywhere, and I photographed a couple of perching Beaverpond Baskettails.

Beaverpond Baskettail

After leaving Mud Lake we drove out east to Petrie Island. We found a mother Wood Duck with three babies in the marsh but didn’t see any other marsh birds – no herons, no bitterns, no rails, and no terns. We parked near the beach and walked down the William Holland Trail. In the bay, a few Painted Turtles and Map Turtles were sunning themselves on some logs. We found some warblers right away, including Common Yellowthroat, Blackburnian Warbler, Blackpoll Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler and Black-throated Green Warbler. An Eastern Wood-Pewee was singing, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was tapping, and we came across the usual Warbling Vireos along the path.

We walked down to the sandy area where I had found House Wrens several times last year, but none were present during the Victoria Day long weekend. A Spotted Sandpiper flew in and landed on a rock before flying back out, a Black Tern flew in from across the river, and a pair of Eastern Kingbirds chased each other through a tree. Then a large flock of at least 200 geese flew in from the east and landed on the river close to the Quebec shore. They didn’t sound like Canada Geese; instead, they sounded like a cross between Sandhill Crane and Trumpeter Swan. I looked but couldn’t see any white on the face and realized they were Brant! A couple of all-dark ducks were swimming with them, so I decided to return to the car for my scope. By the time I got back, however, my mother said the geese had all flown away when some motorboats got too close. We saw a large flock of ducks fly in, and a look through the scope confirmed them as White-winged Scoters! They were all dark and had white patches in the wings. Many had a white spot on the face, presumably males.

On our way back to the parking lot we found a pair of Great Crested Flycatchers. I watched one disappear into the top of a dead snag. She stayed there long enough to make me think she might be using it as a nest; when she reappeared I snapped this picture:

Great Crested Flycatcher

The Great Crested Flycatcher is only eastern flycatcher that nests in cavities, preferring to nest in deciduous or mixed woodlands near a clearing or edge. Great Crested Flycatchers are highly beneficial to humans by consuming more than 50 kinds of beetles, wasps, bees, sawflies, mosquitoes, grasshoppers, crickets, moths, caterpillars, cicadas and other insects. Their diet also consists of various berries such as mulberries, pokeberries, blackberries, wild grapes and others. They are quite common in Ottawa; it is a rare outing when I don’t hear their distinctive “wreee-up” calls issuing from the canopy.

After leaving Petrie Island, my mother and I stopped at the Giroux Quarry Ponds and the Embrun Sewage Lagoons to look for ducks and shorebirds; however, the only new species that we saw was a single Semipalmated Plover at Embrun. The mosquitoes were terrible; as soon as we got out of the car we were besieged. We decided not to linger and called it a day after that, returning home to enjoy the warmth of the day.

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