As I was photographing the sparrows, a Northern Flicker flew in and landed on a small tree trunk quite close to the ground; I took her photo, too.
At Mud Lake I met Jean, Bev and Chris for a leisurely walk through the conservation area. There were lots of people present, and lots of birds! We started out on the ridge where we found lots of Yellow Warblers, Cedar Waxwings, Warbling Vireos, Song Sparrows, Baltimore Orioles, Tree Swallows, Gray Catbirds, and Red-winged Blackbirds. While most of the Tree Swallows were hawking for insects high above the ridge, one was perched on a dead tree.
Bev took us on a brief detour to the lawn below the ridge when she heard the staccato song of a Tennessee Warbler; we managed to spot it, and a Nashville Warbler, high up in one of the trees close to the fence. The Ottawa River was still very high, and we couldn’t get to the area behind the ridge, so we returned to the ridge where we found a Rose-breasted Grosbeak and two male Blackburnian Warblers.
Blackburnian Warblers are the only North American warblers that have an orange throat, which is why they are also known as “Firethroats” or “Torchbirds”. A long-distance migrant, they breed in the mature coniferous and mixed forests of the Northeast and winter in South America. Unlike other warblers, Blackburnian Warblers usually forage high up in the tree tops, even during migration, where they search for caterpillars and other insects. Although their bright orange throats make them easy to see before leaf-out occurs, once the foliage develops they are difficult to spot, and their high-pitched song is usually the only sign of their presence.
We left the ridge and followed the trail through the woods to the western fence line near Rowatt Street. There we saw a House Wren bouncing among a tangle of fallen branches, a Nashville Warbler foraging so low he came right down to the ground, and a beautiful blue, yellow and white Northern Parula in a small tree. The back half of the conservation area alive with birdsong. We heard several Nashville Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers and Yellow-rumped Warblers singing high up in the canopy; I also heard one Black-throated Blue Warbler and one Black-and-white Warbler as well. Bev was able to pick out the high-pitched song of a Cape May Warbler, and by straining our necks we were able to see at least two of them foraging high in the pines in the southwest corner. It was amazing just how many warblers were singing all at once – I had never heard anything like it before.
Along the southern part of the woods we came across a couple of Palm Warblers foraging close to the ground and heard our first American Redstart of the day. We spent some time off-trail looking for the tiny orange and black singer but was unable to locate him – even though he sounded as though he were right above our heads! On our way back to Cassels Street we came across an unusual sight: an adult Snapping Turtle basking on a beaver lodge right next to a Canada Goose sitting on a nest!
The Snapping Turtles at Mud Lake had a tough winter – unusually cold temperatures resulted in the deaths of at least six large adults, the bodies of which were found in the spring along the edges of the lake and among the branches of one of the beaver lodges. I only saw one dead turtle that day, in the same spot where I was photographing this live one. The loss of so many turtles in one season could have a devastating impact on the population at Mud Lake, particularly if they were females of breeding age; as females do not begin to breed until they are 17 to 19 years old, and as so few hatchlings survive to become adults, it may take several years before any young turtles grow old enough to replace the loss of these breeding adults. It was good to see this one alive and well!
Birds and turtles weren’t the only creatures to catch our eye; a few butterflies were fluttering through the woods, including a Spring Azure and a pair of Mourning Cloaks visiting this sap run.
Altogether we tallied 45 species, including 14 warbler species – a highly successful morning indeed, and a more successful outing than the one I had the following Saturday when I only counted 33 species of birds, including 11 warblers.
On May 17th I entered the conservation area via Rowatt Street, and found numerous Yellow Warblers and Cedar Waxwings in the sumac field. At least four Gray Catbirds were singing in the shrubs, and this one stayed out in the open long enough for me to photograph:
I heard a couple of Tennessee Warblers and American Redstarts singing in this area, and, closer to the main path along the lake I heard another Black-throated Blue Warbler singing though I couldn’t spot him for the life of me. I went up to the ridge where I found a Blackburnian Warbler, a Magnolia Warbler, a few Yellow-rumps, and more Yellows. The Yellow Warblers proved easiest to photograph as they breed here and were openly proclaiming their territories along the ridge.
This one flew out of a shrub right at me, and landed in a sumac shrub only a couple of feet away.
One of the Baltimore Orioles also stayed still long enough for me to photograph:
There were more warblers in the trees along the riverbank east of the ridge, and these had attracted a crowd of photographers. I heard a Blackpoll Warbler and a Black-throated Green Warbler singing and had a Cape May Warbler land on a branch right above my head! Just as interesting to me was a beautiful Black-crowned Night Heron in breeding plumage standing in a tree above the river. He had flown in and landed amazingly close to where I was standing, and I could have gotten some lovely photos if there hadn’t been so many branches in the way.
It was interesting to me how much had changed in only six days – birds present on Sunday’s outing that had gone by Saturday included both White-crowned and White-throated Sparrow, all of the Nashville Warblers, and the Ruby-crowned Kinglets. Warblers were still moving through in good numbers, though I had fewer species on Saturday. However, I only spent two hours there rather than the three-and-a-half that I spent there on Sunday, and covered a much smaller area. Even so, both outings proved that Mud Lake is one of the best spots in Ottawa to see a variety of birds – especially warblers! – during spring migration.