Migration finally started picking up toward the end of April, though the only interesting bird that showed up in my yard this year was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet on two occasions. Hurdman Park turned out to be great spot to take in migration this year. On one occasion I spotted 40 or 50 swallows flitting over the fields and river; they were probably mostly Tree Swallows, though I did spot a brown swallow and what was likely a Barn Swallow among them. On the first day of May I spotted a different flock of birds soaring over the area – a large kettle of Broad-winged Hawks! I had seen them fly over Hurdman before, though the most I had seen together was three. This time I spotted a large flock of over 20 birds, with another flock of 11 following behind it. As the birds were constantly moving in and out of the main group, I didn’t want to double-count any; it is likely that there were as many as 50 hawks altogether – the most I had ever seen at one time!
I started whistling their two-note call trying to elicit a response, and eventually one called back. It also elicited a response from an irate kingfisher, which flew out of the woods with an annoyed chatter and landed on a telephone wire.
The best moment came when two crows chased a Broad-winged Hawk right toward me. All three birds were flying low – about as high as the treetops – and the hawk was making strange noises as it tried to evade the crows. After they passed by I spotted another bird flying fairly low; this turned out to be a Black-crowned Night-heron flying toward the river – my first of the season.
Yellow-rumped Warblers arrived the same day, and when I found a small flock near the river I began pishing to try to bring them out into the open. About 6 or 7 responded, all males in crisp breeding plumage. I was hoping to spot other warbler species with them, but there were none. Also on May 1st I found a Ruby-crowned Kinglet, a distant accipiter, an American Tree Sparrow, and a couple of White-throated Sparrows.
When I returned six days later I didn’t see or hear a single warbler, though I found my first Warbling Vireo of the year, a pair of Hooded Mergansers on the river, and four male Wood Ducks preening in the same tree. The next day I returned and decided to visit a different area of the park. This turned out to be a fantastic decision. In the woods I found a large flock of warblers foraging; most were Yellow-rumped Warblers, but I did see my first Nashville Warbler among them. I saw my first Eastern Kingbirds and heard my first Least Flycatcher of the year; when I managed to track it down, I spotted another bird hopping about on the ground beneath some trees. I was quite surprised when it turned out to be a Wood Thrush, my first of the year and the first one I’d observed at Hurdman, making it the 100th species for my Hurdman list. Number 101 came shortly after when I found a Swamp Sparrow singing in a wet area full of cattails.
I spotted some other interesting wildlife on my visits to Hurdman, including a couple of Mourning Cloaks, an orange butterfly that flew off to quickly to identify (likely an Eastern Comma), and this Woolly Bear caterpillar crossing the bike path. I moved it safely into the grass so it wouldn’t get run over by a cyclist.
The best non-avian find of the spring was an American Toad sitting right at the edge of the feeder path one day. He was a large fellow, and the first toad I’d seen at Hurdman making it another new species for my list.
It wouldn’t be migration without a trip to Mud Lake, and by the beginning of May all the expected species were back. On May 4th I had a large flock of 30+ Yellow-rumped Warblers (with one Pine Warbler amongst them) in the riparian zones to the north, east and south of the Filtration Plant. Both Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets were present, as was a male Common Goldeneye on Mud Lake and six Horned Grebes in the bay. I had my first Brown Thrasher of the year, and my first Savannah Sparrow for the conservation area at the edge of the trees along the north side of the lake. The best bird of the day was a Blue-Gray Gnatcatcher which sang almost constantly as it foraged in the area between the lake and the sumac field to the west. I wasn’t able to make it to Point Pelee this year and didn’t expect to see one this year; this was an awesome bird to see in Ottawa.
A Northern Flicker feeding on insects in the lawn provided a great photo opportunity:
Flickers are members of the woodpecker family, though they prefer to dig for insects in the soil rather than by hammering on tree trunks or branches like other woodpeckers. Ants are their primary food, and Northern Flickers use their long, barbed tongue to lap up the ants. Although they also eat fruits and seeds, especially in winter, they are more strongly migratory than other woodpeckers in North America, leaving most of its Canadian range for warmer areas in the States. One or two can usually be found in Ottawa in the winter.
Although not as migratory as many of our other raptors, I had a thrilling encounter with a Red-tailed Hawk at the end of April. I was at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden one evening when I found a group of Golden-crowned Kinglets foraging on the other side of the pond. I spent a good five or ten minutes watching them, when suddenly I noticed something white in one of the large conifer trees overlooking the path. To my amazement, a young Red-tailed Hawk was sitting there, watching the area with no interest in me whatsoever. Although I find that hawks are notoriously shy and almost always fly away as soon as they catch me watching them, this one saw me but completely ignored me! Instead, it seemed interested in something in the area near the pond, for it kept looking in that direction.
Finally, in early May I began hearing White-crowned Sparrows in the neighbourhood. I sometimes get one or two at my feeder, but this year I didn’t see any in my yard. One evening I decided to walk around the ponds near Eagleson Road and found seven foraging beneath the same tree. Most of them flew up into the branches when I approached, allowing me to get a decent photo of one of these handsome sparrows. These sparrows are usually only seen in eastern Ontario during migration; they tend to winter further south, and they breed only as far south as the Hudson Bay area.
The end of April and beginning of May is a great time for bird-watching, as many new species are arriving daily; visiting a few different habitats will produce a great mix of birds. Any spot near the river can produce a good variety of birds – I had a three-grebe day at Andrew Haydon Park on May 4, 2014 when I spotted six Pied-billed Grebes and one Red-necked Grebe fairly close to the shore and one Pied-billed Grebe, several Lesser Scaup, and two Bufflehead ducks on the pond. Places like Mud Lake and Shirley’s Bay along the Ottawa River and Hurdman Park along the Rideau River are also worth several repeat visits, for the species that are present one day may be entirely different the next!