Catching up in Ottawa

Northern Shoveler (male)

Northern Shoveler (male)

After returning to Ottawa I couldn’t wait to go birding and see what migration had brought in. On the day after we returned, I spent two hours at Jack Pine Trail. An Ovenbird and a Black-throated Green Warbler had returned to the woods; I heard both of them singing away. I also heard, but didn’t see, two new year birds: a Black-throated Blue Warbler and a Great Crested Flycatcher. This turned out to be my only Black-throated Blue Warbler this spring; hopefully I will see one in the fall. In the clearing near the feeder, which still had seeds in it, I saw two White-crowned Sparrows and a Black-and-white Warbler. It was chilly, so unfortunately no butterflies or dragonflies were flying.

Later that week I found my first Scarlet Tanager of the year at Confederation Park downtown, and found a second male at Hurdman Park later that same day. The breeding birds had all returned to Hurdman, including Yellow Warblers, American Redstarts, Warbling Vireos, a Baltimore Oriole, a Gray Catbird and a Least Flycatcher. A few migrants were still around; I found a White-throated Sparrow and a Black-throated Green Warbler foraging with a few Yellow-rumps; when I started pishing, a Common Yellowthroat and a Lincoln’s Sparrow popped out of a brush pile! The Lincoln’s Sparrow was new for my Hurdman list.

At Sarsaparilla Trail the next day I found a Red-eyed Vireo, a Great Crested Flycatcher, two kingbirds and a Black-throated Green Warbler. A pair of Canada Geese with five fuzzy yellow chicks all clambered up onto the boardwalk and slowly began walking toward me! While waiting for the goslings to move, I saw a brown bird fly across the water and land in the reeds at the eastern edge. I thought it was a juvenile Black-crowned Night-heron until I got a good look at it and saw that it was an American Bittern! He spent about ten minutes out in the open at the water’s edge before disappearing into the reeds.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

I spent the following morning at Britannia where I tallied 11 warbler species: Ovenbird, a Northern Waterthrush heard at the base of the ridge, Black-and-white Warbler, at least two Tennessee Warblers (one of which I managed to see), several American Redstarts, a Northern Parula, several Yellow Warblers, a Blackpoll Warbler, a Pine Warbler, a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers and a Black-throated Green Warbler. I also heard a Wood Thrush singing in the woods and saw three Common Terns flying above the lake. At one point they flew over the sumac field west of the lake where I was listening to the warblers! At Shirley’s Bay I added two more warbler species to the day’s list: a Common Yellowthroat and a gorgeous Canada Warbler. I heard the Canada Warbler singing and managed to track him down; when I started pishing he flew right toward me and took a good long look at me while I was looking at him. A male Rose-breasted Grosbeak and two Brown Thrashers were also fun to see.

A male Eurasian Wigeon at the Moodie Drive Quarry Pond on Victoria Day was a marvelous bird. It’s been a long time since I got my lifer in Kingston several years ago.

The next weekend I spent my Saturday in the west end. It was still chilly; I was still waiting for some good weather to see some butterflies and dragonflies but had no luck. Nevertheless, I should have known I was in for a great day when I found a raptor eating something in a field on Huntmar and realized it was a Peregrine Falcon!

Peregrine Falcon

Peregrine Falcon

I got out of the car and took a few photos from behind it, catching him red-feathered at the site of his kill. It’s not often that I see Peregrine Falcons away from the two breeding sites in Ottawa; although I don’t think of them as birds that prefer agricultural areas, the last non-breeding bird I saw was standing in a field off of Frank Kenny Road.

After leaving the Peregrine, I made my way toward Dunrobin and saw a male turkey courting two females, a Savannah Sparrow, a Brown Thrasher, and a couple of Eastern Meadowlarks. One of the meadowlarks sat on the telephone wire just long enough for me to get this photo. This is probably my best photo of a meadowlark yet; they aren’t as obliging as their red-winged cousins.

Eastern Meadowlark

Eastern Meadowlark

I arrived at the Bill Mason Center early enough that I was the first person there. Before I had even entered the boardwalk I heard the whinnying call of a Sora from the marsh. Once I reached the boardwalk, I tried playing the Sora’s call on my iPhone to try and elicit a response; I heard him again, somewhere south of the boardwalk, as well as two Virginia Rails! I caught a couple of brief glimpses of the two Virginia Rails, though neither paused out in the open as they scurried between clumps of vegetation.

Near the end of the boardwalk I found two Gray Catbirds, each perching on a tree branch out in the open, singing away in a bizarre duet. A Great Blue Heron flew over, while somewhere in the distance I heard an Alder Flycatcher sing.

Boardwalk at the Bill Mason Center

Just inside the woods I was treated to the song of a Northern Waterthrush. This was not the first time I’d heard one singing in this area, though I am not sure if they breed here or just pass through. I saw a couple of Veeries foraging near the ground and a Black-and-white Warbler ambling along the trunk of a tree. I heard, but didn’t see, two Scarlet Tanagers, a Tennessee Warbler, an American Redstart and an Eastern Wood-Pewee. I saw two Ovenbirds, one on each side of the path; both of them started scolding me, so I assume they had a nest nearby.

In the field behind the woods, I found a pair of Nashville Warblers, another Alder Flycatcher, and a Cedar Waxwing. The waxwings seemed slow to return this spring, and hadn’t arrived in great numbers as of the end of May, though now I have see two or three on most outings. Even though it was still quite cool, the sound of Cedar Waxwings always makes me think of summer. Back near the boardwalk, I found a pair of Chestnut-sided Warblers chasing each other.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

An Eastern Phoebe at the gazebo paused long enough for me to take a photo.

Eastern Phoebe

After leaving the Bill Mason Center I headed back home. On Fifth Line Road I found my first Eastern Bluebird of the year perching on a fence post and a Wild Turkey right next to the road. I drove over to March Valley Road to check out one of the fields there; we’ve received a lot of rain this spring, and in the past the large puddles have attracted a variety of shorebirds – including a Wilson’s Phalarope a couple of years ago. I pulled over onto the side of the road, and did a quick scan with my binoculars. A beautiful male Northern Shoveler immediately stood out in his bright white finery; he was swimming in a large puddle with a female. He left the water when he saw me and started walking along the shore.

Northern Shoveler (male)

Northern Shoveler (male)

I saw several small peeps as well, and slowly began walking into the field. Several Least Sandpipers were walking through the grass and along the edges of the puddles; then I noticed a slightly larger peep, with fine streaking on its breast and sides and a noticeably orange mandible. It was a White-rumped Sandpiper, a species which doesn’t seem to show up in large numbers the way the other shorebirds do.

White-rumped Sandpiper

White-rumped Sandpiper

The White-rumped Sandpiper has one of the longest migration routes of any American bird. It breeds on mossy or grassy tundra near water in the Arctic and winters in southern South America. During migration and on its wintering grounds, this species may be found in grassy marshes, mudflats, sandy beaches, flooded fields, and along the edges of ponds and lakes. Migrating White-rumped Sandpipers fly over the Atlantic ocean from northeastern North America to South America, taking about one month to reach their wintering grounds.

White-rumped Sandpiper

White-rumped Sandpiper

Nearby were two Dunlin whose bright reddish backs, black bellies, and long, drooping black bills help to distinguish them from almost any other shorebird. They do not winter as far south as the White-rumped Sandpipers, instead spending the winter along both coasts of North America. Birds that breed in Alaska sometimes travel west during fall migration and spend their winters along the eastern coast of Siberia and Asia, including Japan and China.

Dunlin with White-rumped Sandpiper

Dunlin with White-rumped Sandpiper

In the winter, adults in non-breeding plumage lose the reddish hue and black belly. They can be distinguished by their long, drooping bill and chunky shape.

Dunlin

Dunlin

Although the flock flushed two or three times, they allowed me to get very close to them. I moved very slowly and cautiously, standing still for the most part while waiting for them to approach me. Two Semipalmated Sandpipers and four Semipalmated Plovers were also present, and I was happy to finally see such a good variety of shorebirds in Ottawa.

I spent some time taking photos of the shovelers on my way out, as this is a species I’ve never seen up close…I’ve only ever seen them far out in the water in places like Shirley’s Bay and the Richmond Lagoons. The female looks very similar to a female mallard, except for the larger bill.

Northern Shoveler (female)

Northern Shoveler (female)

Northern Shoveler pairs are monogamous, and remain together longer than pairs of other dabbling duck species. Although this species’ breeding range occurs primarily in the western half of North America, The Atlas of the Breeding Birds of Ontario indicates that shovelers breed sporadically across Ontario, though in numbers too insignificant to generate an abundance map.

Northern Shoveler (male)

Northern Shoveler (male)

It was a fabulous day, from the Peregrine Falcon first thing in the morning to the Northern Waterthrush and Virginia Rails at the Bill Mason Center to the shorebirds and shovelers along March Valley Road. I certainly hadn’t expected to see so many great birds when I set out so early in the morning!

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4 thoughts on “Catching up in Ottawa

  1. Crazy great pictures AGAIN hehehe. Never been to the Bill Mason center so that is my plan for next weekend if the weather is good. It appears to be an educational program spot but I assume you can go in there freely at any time?

    • Hi Cathy,

      Yes, you can go there anytime. However, there is now a gate blocking the entrance to the parking lot so you will have to park by the school and walk in. It’s a terrific place in the summer!

      Cheers,
      Gillian

    • Hi Pat,

      I was surprised at how well these photos turned out (they are cropped) considering I was still shooting at a distance….they weren’t very approachable, but they were a heck of a lot closer than the normal ponds where I see them! I’m sure in time you’ll get some great photos of them too. In the meantime, I’m jealous of all the new species you are seeing in Korea!

      Best,
      Gillian

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