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