Finally: Spring!

Mourning Cloak

Mourning Cloak

The weather has warmed up over the past week and the migrants have been pouring in. Since my last blog post on April 21st I’ve added nine new species to my year list, and seen my first butterflies and amphibians of the year.

I spent two lunch hours at Hurdman last week, and found some amazing birds each time. On Monday, a couple of American Tree Sparrows were feeding in the grass near the entrance to the woods; these are the first ones I’ve seen there this year, and were probably just stopping in on their way north to their breeding grounds. Also new for the year were a pair of Hooded Mergansers sleeping in a quiet bay along the river and at least three Ruby-crowned Kinglets singing energetically. In the woods, several Dark-eyed Juncos and White-throated Sparrows were singing as they foraged in the leaf litter.

On Friday, I arrived in time to see a large number of swallows swarming above the woods. Most were Tree Swallows, but I saw at least one Barn Swallow as well. They were flying quite high up, but not as high as the three Broad-winged Hawks (my first year-bird) soaring together. The hawks drifted their way north, riding the thermals without flapping a wing. As I made my way toward the woods, I was surprised to hear the song of a Field Sparrow somewhere close by. It wasn’t the normal, bouncing ball song I am familiar with, but rather the siren-like song which I can only recall hearing two other times (You can listen to it here but will have to turn up the volume).

Although I didn’t see the Hooded Mergansers on the river on my second visit, I did find a pair of Wood Ducks and this Double-crested Cormorant sunning himself on a rock. In this photo you can see one of the crests that gives this species its name.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

There were two other interesting birds on the river as well: one was a male Lesser Scaup sleeping on the water near the transitway bridge, and the other was a Pied-billed Grebe making its way downriver. Both of these were new for my Hurdman list, and the Lesser Scaup was new for my year list.

On Thursday an exceptionally rare Violet-Green Swallow turned up at Mud Lake, so I headed out there on Saturday to look for it. I saw hundreds of swallows hawking for insects above the river, the grounds, and Mud Lake, but to my knowledge the Violet-Green Swallow was not seen after Friday afternoon. This is only the second time this species has been recorded in Ontario, and the first one seen in Ottawa. Generally found no further east than the Saskatchewan/Alberta border, it would have been a lifer for me.

However, I tallied 32 species during the two and a half hours I was there, including my first Bank Swallows, Palm Warbler and Chimney Swift of the year. While scanning the lake for the Violet-Green Swallow, a few birders and I were lucky enough to spot about 20-30 swallows perching in a tree right above us; there were three Bank Swallows and at least one Barn Swallow mixed in with the Tree Swallows.

Other birds of interest included two Ring-necked Ducks on Mud Lake, an Osprey flying over, ten Bufflehead on the river, two Ruby-crowned Kinglets, an American Tree Sparrow in full song, a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers, and several Song Sparrows. This one became interested in the seed I was feeding the chickadees, and when I threw some down on the ground, he actually flew down to grab one!

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

I met up with Deb on Sunday and we spent the morning looking for migrants in various places. We started the day off at the Richmond Lagoons, which now have a lot of water in the first two cells, though the water level is not as high as it normally is in the spring. The highlights there were seven Northern Shovelers, one Northern Pintail, several Green-winged Teals, a female Hooded Merganser, over a dozen Swamp Sparrows, and – to my surprise – a Fox Sparrow! We found him on the open, weedy dyke between the second and third cells, not in the wooded area where I would have expected to see him.

There were a couple of Tree Swallows flitting around above the water, too, when they weren’t staking their claims on the two Purple Martin houses. One kept flying down to the ground to pick up nesting material.

Tree Swallow with nesting material

Tree Swallow with nesting material

This is my favourite photo from the day:

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

We could hear several frogs calling from the edges of the first pond, and I spent some time looking for them. Most of them sounded like Chorus Frogs, though I could hear one or two Spring Peepers calling as well. No matter how hard I looked, however, I just couldn’t spot a single frog in the pond. Then Deb pointed out a Leopard Frog. I had a hard time picking him out, he was so well-camouflaged!

Northern Leopard Frog

Northern Leopard Frog

A brief stop at the Moodie Drive Quarry yielded a male Brown-headed Cowbird, ten Common Mergansers, a pair of Green-winged Teals and a pair of Northern Shovelers. There were lots of ducks at the back of the quarry, but we were looking into the sun so I wasn’t able to identify the tiny silhouettes gliding on the water.

We drove to Shirley’s Bay next where we heard, then saw, a Common Loon swimming in the bay. This is one of my favourite water birds and it is always a thrill to see one close to the shore. A pair of Bufflehead were swimming just beyond the boat launch in front of a large flock of scaup; I think they were Lesser Scaup but couldn’t be sure. We saw a female Common Goldeneye fly downriver, probably our last of the season.

In the woods we found a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers and two or three Mourning Cloaks enjoying the warm weather. One sat still long enough for me to photograph it.

Mourning Cloak

Mourning Cloak

The Ottawa River is quite high right now, and just beyond the small side path leading to the creek the woods were flooded. The water reached all the way to the path on both sides, resulting in a large swamp where we found a large flock of blackbirds flitting through the trees and walking along logs floating in the water. While the majority of them were Red-winged Blackbirds and grackles, we observed a couple of Rusty Blackbirds singing in the trees. I took this picture from the dyke, looking back toward the creek mouth.

Shirley's Bay

Shirley’s Bay

This is all that remained of the cattail “spit” where we’ve observed White-tailed Deer feeding, Marsh Wrens and Swamp Sparrows singing, and Northern Harriers hunting in the fall.

Shirley's Bay

Shirley’s Bay

I had thought that there would be lots of ducks in the bay, but we only saw a pair of American Wigeon, a pair of Bufflehead, and a Double-crested Cormorant. An Osprey flew over the bay and hovered briefly over the water before continuing on its way across the river, while a Bald Eagle was sitting in a nest on the far shore.

Our last stop of the day was Mud Lake. We didn’t stay too long as the woods were crowded with people, including several with strollers. We saw a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers and heard at least one Pine Warbler singing; at one point I thought I heard a Blue-headed Vireo, but it only sang once and I couldn’t locate him.

The Scilla growing in the woods was gorgeous, so I stopped to take some pictures before leaving.

Scilla siberica

Scilla siberica

Scilla siberica

Scilla siberica

By the time we had finished our outing it had warmed up enough that I didn’t need my jacket. It has been a great week, with lots to see with the warm sunshine finally making it feel like spring.

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4 thoughts on “Finally: Spring!

  1. Good to hear from you again. I like the shot of the cormorant–it has a contemplative feel.

    I’ve only seen a cormorant in its full double-crested glory once. And it was well before I became a birder, so my husband and I could only stare at this strange, crested, duck-footed, heron-billed, bat-winged creature and say, “what is THAT?”

    • Thanks Suzanne. I was down in southern Ontario last week and didn’t have a chance to get this posted before I left. It was almost done, too!

      Your description of the cormorant is very apt. They DO look like they have been assembled from various parts of different birds, don’t they?

  2. What wonderful pictures!! I only began really watching the birds last year and so I have much to learn. Last year I seemed to have a lot of visitors to my couple of feeders but this year, other than a ton of redpolls last month, it has been brutally quiet. I did take a walk on one of the Anderson road trails last week and saw my first woodpecker (Hairy woodpecker) from what I’ve read. Aside from that, again t felt soooo quiet, I was very shocked. Hopefully the temperatures are going to stay up and I will get to see some visitors to my feeders:)

    Great blog. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks Cathy! While most people seem to get more birds during the winter, I get more in the summer. I live in a fairly new subdivision, which is mostly open (no large trees overhanging the roads!) so I don’t get the nuthatches and woodpeckers some people get. However, I enjoy watching the Mourning Doves and Chipping Sparrows in the spring, and my Blue Jays are back after being absent all winter. I think they are nesting in the neighbourhood as I saw them breaking off twigs from the tree out the front. White-throated Sparrows and Juncos (both gone now) stop by before continuing their journey, while our resident Song Sparrow, cardinals and robins drop in from time to time. Even the grackle is welcome – as long as he doesn’t bring all of his buddies!

      You should see lots of great birds in the woods (and at the Mer Bleue boardwalk) this time of year. All the birds are singing, which makes it easier to find them among the foliage. And if you’re ever out in the west end, Mud Lake is a fantastic place in all seasons! You’ll quickly add to your life list with a few visits there!

      Cheers,
      Gillian

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