Summer Drought

White-faced Meadowhawk obelisking

When Doran and I returned to Ottawa on July 23rd we were shocked to see the effects of the drought. Ottawa had received no rain while we were gone, except for the severe thunderstorms on the day we returned, and the landscape reflected this. Almost all the lawns were dry and brown, the fields were parched, and the wildflowers were brown and withered – there were hardly any left in bloom. In our backyard, the weeds had all thrived when the grass died, and all my container plants appeared dead. I was shocked to visit the Richmond Lagoons and Jack Pine Trail and find there was no water in the ponds at all. The mudflats at Shirley’s Bay and Ottawa Beach were quite extensive; the water level on the river was lower than I had ever seen it.

I went out to a few of my favourite west-end spots on the last Sunday in July. It was hot and sunny, and there was little to see at Sarsaparilla Trail, but at least the pond hadn’t dried up. Although the water was much lower than normal, the usual mallards and black ducks were still present and a Belted Kingfisher perched in one of the dead trees. There must have been some good shorebird habitat around the edges of the pond, for I saw a yellowlegs fly out from the far side, calling as it flew. The best bird, however, was a young Virginia Rail among the cattails near the boardwalk.

Virginia Rail

Next I drove over to Mud Lake to see if post-breeding dispersal had resulted in any good birds showing up. I came across an interesting assortment of birds behind the ridge, including a Brown Thrasher, several Chipping Sparrows and Yellow Warblers, and several Cedar Waxwings, but nothing unusual. On the ridge I found a single Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a Warbling Vireo, some Gray Catbirds, and a couple of House Finches. A walk through the woods produced an American Redstart, two Red-eyed Vireos, two singing Pine Warblers, and a cooperative Black-and-white Warbler foraging close to the ground.

Black-and-white Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler

I decided to walk all the way around the lake, something I don’t often do. There were plenty of Canada Geese, Mallards and Wood Ducks on the water, but I only saw one heron, a Great Blue Heron standing in the middle of the pond.

Juvenile Wood Duck

A Widow Skimmer perching in the vegetation was very cooperative.

Widow Skimmer

The lake was surprisingly green. Water levels here, too, were very low, and the emergent vegetation seemed to be taking over.

Mud Lake

I found a muskrat swimming in the small pond near the bike path on the southeast side of the conservation area. Once he saw me he dove under the water but didn’t resurface. A few Common Whitetails were perching on the ground in the same area, and I saw a Common Green Darner and a Blue Dasher hunting over the water.

Muskrat

Further along the trail I came across a White-faced Meadowhawk basking in the sun. At first he was perching normally, with his body and wings all in the same plane, but then he lifted his abdomen into the air in an obelisk position toward the sun (see the top photo). Some dragonflies, such as the Blue Dasher and several clubtails, do this to reduce the amount of sunlight hitting their body in an effort to cool down. I have never seen a meadowhawk do this so I took a few pictures.

White-faced Meadowhawk

I followed the trail around the back of the filtration plant, and found a Common Tern resting on a rock in the bay here. In the channel between the ridge and the island I came across four Hooded Mergansers, likely a female with her young. The water here appeared shallow enough to walk out to the island without rising above the tops of my shoes, though I didn’t want to put that idea to the test!

Hooded Merganser

I returned to the ridge where my best find wasn’t a bird but a dragonfly. I first noticed the Swift River Cruiser flying around a small open area, and couldn’t believe it when he landed in a shrub in front of me. As its name suggests, this dragonfly is often seen patrolling over rivers in search of prey. I had already seen one hunting over the water near Britannia Point, too far out to capture with my camera. The large, bright yellow spot near the end of its abdomen is easily seen in flight and is diagnostic (here in Ottawa, at least). This was a species I had only photographed once before, at Algonquin Provincial Park, so I was thrilled when he stayed long enough to take a few pictures!

Swift River Cruiser

It was sad to see the effects of the drought and to think of how it would affect the wildlife that depends on water, such as frogs, turtles, and dragonflies which lay their eggs in ponds and streams, and the insects that depend on flowers for nectar. There is very little rain in the forecast, and certainly not enough to return places like Jack Pine Trail and the Richmond Lagoons to their former state any time soon.

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