Migration at Mud Lake

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

There’s nowhere better in Ottawa to take in migration than Mud Lake. On May 11th I planned to meet up with some friends from the OFNC for a morning of birding; however, first I decided to stop in at the Beaver Trail to see if the beavers were still around. I didn’t see any, but I heard a couple of Black-throated Green Warblers, an Ovenbird, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, and a Yellow Warbler on my walk. A pair of Ruby-crowned Kinglets were still around, and a Great Crested Flycatcher had taken up residence along the trail. My best sighting was of four White-crowned Sparrows foraging along the edge of the parking lot just as I was leaving; I was about to drive off when I spotted them scurrying along the edge of the grass.

White-crowned Sparrows

White-crowned Sparrows

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.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

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.

Tree Swallow

Tree Swallow

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 Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

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.

Blackburnian Warbler

Blackburnian Warbler

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!

Lodging Together

Lodging Together

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!

Snapping Turtle

Snapping Turtle

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.

Mourning Cloaks

Mourning Cloaks

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:

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

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.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

This one flew out of a shrub right at me, and landed in a sumac shrub only a couple of feet away.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

One of the Baltimore Orioles also stayed still long enough for me to photograph:

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

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.

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6 thoughts on “Migration at Mud Lake

    • Thanks Pat! Yes, he was within arm’s reach, that’s how close I was to him! I don’t think he saw me when he flew right toward me. It was one of many great moments at Mud Lake this past spring!

  1. I watched two very large snappers mating in the pond between the ridge and the road. Hopefully some of their young will survive.

    • Thanks Jason! I’m really pleased with the sparrow photo, too. We get about 25 warbler species that regularly pass through Ottawa during migration, many of which stay and breed here in the summer. That’s one thing I like about living so far north – the breeding warblers and sparrows! It seemed very strange to me while visiting the Everglades in May that I didn’t hear a single Song Sparrow or Swamp Sparrow, two species which are abundant here – Swamp Sparrows love wetlands, while Song Sparrows are the default sparrow in just about every habitat, including suburban neighbourhoods (though the Chipping Sparrows outnumber the Song Sparrows in mine)!

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