Flood Watch

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

A lot of snow fell this past winter, and the sudden rise in temperatures this past week is causing it to melt very fast. The Rideau Valley Conservation Authority issued a flood watch last Monday, which it upgraded to a warning on Tuesday, stating that some parts of the Rideau River were expected to rise to the flooding levels “within the next 24 hours”. When I went to Hurdman at lunch on Thursday, I found that a significant amount of snow had melted, not only flooding the bike path in its usual spot near the transit station, but also the feeder path along the woods. I started walking through what looked like snow, only to sink into a large lake of water about a foot deep hidden underneath. As I couldn’t take either of my usual routes, I had to take a longer loop around to reach the river.

Red-winged Blackbirds and Song Sparrows were back in good numbers, and I saw my first Wood Duck along the Hurdman Park section of the river. A Great Blue Heron flew over as well, and I had a thrilling encounter with an accipiter when I spotted one across the river flying toward me. I watched it through the binoculars until it passed directly overhead only a few feet above me and kept going. Although I can usually identify most accipiters when perching, I still have trouble with these birds of prey in flight. I never get a good enough look, or a long enough one to note the pertinent field marks.

When I reached the open area near the footbridge where I had spotted the Black-shouldered Spinyleg last year I was shocked to see the river had reached the top of the concrete barrier. This is what it looked like in October:

Rideau River in October

Rideau River in October

The water appeared to be about three feet higher than usual; this is what it looked like on Thursday:

Rideau River at Hurdman

Rideau River at Hurdman

I didn’t want to backtrack, so I tried to circle around the transit station by taking the bike path beneath the transit bridge. However, it was closed.

Bike Path near Hurdman Station

Bike Path near Hurdman Station

The following day I went to Billings Bridge to look for Double-crested Cormorants that had been recently seen there. I started off at Billings Bridge Park across from the mall and walked east toward the Bank Street bridge. I wasn’t surprised to see that the park was also submerged beneath a foot of water; this had happened six years ago when I took almost the exact same images on April 14, 2008.

Bike Path at Billings Bridge Park

Bike Path at Billings Bridge Park

Waterfowl were making good use of the water; I saw five Wood Ducks, a male Hooded Merganser, an American Black Duck, and several Canada Geese in the water.

Wood Duck

Wood Duck

This is the lawn that extends from the bike path that runs parallel to Riverside Drive to the water. I doubt anyone will be using that picnic table any time soon!

Billings Bridge Park

Billings Bridge Park

The line of trees in the back marks the edge of the riverbank. There are numerous groundhog burrows along the bank; I felt bad for the groundhogs that lived there, either killed or flooded out by the rising water. I didn’t see any on my visit there.

Billings Bridge Park

Billings Bridge Park

While there I heard a single Song Sparrow singing as well as several Red-winged Blackbirds calling. A Red-tailed Hawk flew across the river and landed in one of the trees at the western end of the park; I would have attempted to get closer to it if I had had a canoe! A Pileated Woodpecker flew in and started working on a tree on the island, while a Great Blue Heron stood motionlessly along the shore.

Canada Geese were pairing off, and I saw about four pairs feeding on the grass as well as this pair in the water at the water’s edge.

Canada Geese

Canada Geese

The best birds of the day were the swallows flitting upriver. I heard them and looked up in time to see a pair of Tree Swallows hawking for insects just above the trees. A moment later, two Barn Swallows followed. Both were year birds for me, though normally I see my first Barn Swallows a week or two after the Tree Swallows. I didn’t see much else of interest until I reached the bridge, where I spotted an accipiter soaring in circles high up in the sky. These birds must be migrating right now, for it’s the third one I’ve seen in a week. Unfortunately this one was moving away from me so I wasn’t able to get a good look at the shape of the bird.

Though I’d love to go back to Billings Bridge again in the near future to look for more waterbirds, I think I’ll put off a return visit to Hurdman Park to a later date, when the woods are accessible again. Hopefully the water will recede and the parks and the bike paths dry up quickly!

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