The weather was a bit cooler this year; it was only about 14°C when I arrived at parking lot P8 along Meech Lake Road at 7:00 am. The sun was shining, and a few dragonflies were already flying – this time I brought my net in order to catch and identify them. Even better, this time I remembered to bring my camera’s memory card!
We spent the first 20 minutes birding the parking lot. One of our first birds was an accipiter flying over; we also saw a male Baltimore Oriole dressed in his brilliant orange and black colours, while a male Purple Finch flying over provided a burst of raspberry red. In the background we could hear a White-throated Sparrow, Common Yellowthroat, Nashville Warbler, and Chipping Sparrow singing. Justin pointed out a Mourning Dove’s flight display; I didn’t know that they glide in large circles with outspread wings when trying to attract a mate, and have mistaken them for raptors on more than one occasion.
As we were leaving the parking lot Justin pointed out an Alder Flycatcher sitting in a tree, singing its snappy song. While the field guides usually describe it as “fee-bee-o”, with the last syllable a mere downward inflection, I have always heard this song as a sharp “re-VEAL!”
On our way to the beaver pond we heard a Veery and saw an American Bittern fly over and land in the thick vegetation at the far edge of the pond. Not long after that a Great Blue Heron flew out of the reeds close to the road, and to our amazement it was being harassed by an Eastern Kingbird! The kingbird escorted the heron out its territory with a ferocity that completely explains its Taxonomic name “Tyrannus tyrannus”.
A few moments later we spotted a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker tapping on a tree. Just as I was about to take a picture of him the kingbird attacked him and drove him away! Kingbirds are quite aggressive toward other birds and even mammals because they nest out in open where they are vulnerable to predation. It has been found that kingbirds that build well-concealed nests tend to be less aggressive than those that don’t. I am not sure why this one thought the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was a threat, for they typically harass nest predators such as crows, jays, hawks, Great Blue Herons, etc. A Common Raven flew over, drawing the Eastern Kingbird’s ire; the kingbird showed no hesitation in driving it off. Two Turkey Vultures spent some time soaring over the pond, and, despite a Red-winged Blackbird’s furious efforts, refused to be driven off. One of them landed on the escarpment where we could see its fleshy red head.
A little while later the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker returned to the dead tree, though it kept looking around as though it feared another attack.
There were few birds on the water itself; we spotted a very vocal Pied-billed Grebe, a male Wood Duck, and a couple of Canada Geese. We saw another American Bittern flying over the marsh (perhaps the same one leaving?) not once, but twice. Their outstretched legs and feet trailing behind helps to separate the American Bittern from the similar-looking juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron in flight.
The ode activity began to pick up as the temperature climbed. I spotted several Chalk-fronted Corporals and four damselfly species in the vegetation next to the pond: Eastern Forktails, Sedge Sprites, a Taiga Bluet and a Marsh Bluet.
I caught the Marsh Bluet and identified it by the shape of its claspers (the upper clasper is forked and looks like a mitt) before releasing it and photographing it on a nearby twig.
A few baskettails were circling the group, preying on the flies that were circling us, and I managed to catch one without hitting anybody. It turned out to be a male Spiny Baskettail, a species that I’m seeing more and more of on my walks. The upper clasper forms a sinuous curve in the shape of a tilde (~) with a downward pointing tooth in the middle; in comparison the Beaverpond Baskettail’s upper clasper bends down at a sharp angle, with a small dorsal tooth pointing out where the tip angles down and another one pointing down on the ventral side.
After showing the Spiny Baskettail to a few interested group members I placed him on a plant and took some photos. This species spends more time on flight than it does perching, making it difficult to get any natural-looking photos. Fortunately this fellow stayed put long enough to take some pictures.
On our way back to the parking lot I noticed a Little Wood Satyr and a Four-spotted Skimmer perching in the vegetation beside the road. Overhead a Broad-winged Hawk and a Red-tailed Hawk soared over the parking lot moments apart; it was turning out to be a good spot for raptors!
By the time we got to the next parking area a thick bank of clouds had moved in. It stayed overcast for the rest of our outing, and it never did warm up – when I left at 1:30 it was still only 17°C. We didn’t add any new bird species to our trip list at the next parking lot, but we did manage to see two new dragonflies, both of which were caught by other people. The first one was a Harpoon Clubtail which someone brought up to me. I had to spend a few minutes checking my Algonquin field guide in order to identify it; the small club, the extremely thin dashes running down the dorsal side of the abdomen and the two yellow lines transversing the last two segments ruled out all the clubtails except Beaverpond and Harpoon Clubtails. The small, single pale lateral spots on segments 4 to 7 – and the harpoon-shaped claspers identified it as a Harpoon Clubtail.
Interestingly, the dragonfly was found in the exact same parking lot where I had found the female Harpoon/Beaverpond Clubtail last year!
At about the same time one of the others spotted another dragonfly and asked to borrow my net. I was surprised when she she brought it back with a large dragonfly buzzing angrily inside; when I took it out I found she had caught another Baskettail – no easy feat! This one was a female Beaverpond Baskettail, and when I let her go she immediately landed in someone else’s pants.
We stopped at a couple of lookouts and heard our first Eastern Wood-pewee of the day; we also got a great look at a Black-throated Green Warbler. Justin told us that this warbler sings two different songs, one early in the spring used primarily to attract a mate (the rapid “zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee”), and one after mating occurs to proclaim its territory (the slow, lazy “zee zee zoo-zoo-zee”, or “trees-trees-murmuring-trees”).
This beetle in the vegetation caught my attention:
We then spent the rest of the outing hiking the trails beyond the Champlain Lookout, hearing a number of Red-eyed Vireos, Ovenbirds, and American Redstarts singing high up in the canopy. Someone spotted a Ruffed Grouse next to the trail before it flew off in a whir of feathers, and we saw a Red-eyed Vireo and a Downy Woodpecker foraging among the leaves of the same tree. We also heard a raspy Scarlet Tanager and the beautiful, bell-like song of a distant Hermit Thrush. This was our second Catharus thrush of the day, and Justin described how each species prefers a slightly different habitat where more than one species occurs together. The Veery tends to occupy the wettest habitat and the Hermit Thrush tends to occupy the driest habitat; Swainson’s Thrush is usually found in mixed forests and Wood Thrush prefers hardwoods. While there may be exceptions, he’s found this to be quite consistent from repeated observation in Gatineau Park, Algonquin Park and elsewhere. My only experience with these birds sharing the same habitat has been at the Bill Mason Center, where I usually observe Veeries in the woods near the vernal pools at the back of the boardwalk, and hear the Hermit Thrush in the woods beyond the sand pit.
Justin also pointed out a lovely white moth with faint green markings sitting on a leaf; as it was one I had never seen before I stopped to take its picture. I later identified it as a Pale Beauty, an apt enough name.
A little further along movement at the side of the trail caught my attention as a small Wood Frog hopped into a large puddle.
Shortly after that I stopped when someone on the trail ahead of me bent down to photograph a tiny Red Eft (the terrestrial form of the Eastern Newt) crossing the path. It was the tiniest salamander I had ever seen, and I was surprised it hadn’t been stepped on by anyone in our group or run over by some of the mountain bikes that had passed by.
We also came across a Red Pine that had been recently damaged by a bear. They use both teeth and claws when marking trees, and Justin found some black hairs caught on the bark.
One of the birds I was hoping to see was the Mourning Warbler, and we found one close to the same spot where we had heard one singing last year. However, like the one last year, we never caught so much as a glimpse of him, only heard the tell-tale song bubbling out of the vegetation. A Chestnut-sided Warbler singing in a bare tree on the opposite side of the path was much more accommodating; both he and the Mourning Warbler were year birds for me.
I didn’t see any odonates on the open road leading back to the parking lot. Even though I wasn’t expecting the amazing Arrowhead Spiketail from last year given the cool, cloudy weather, I had thought I would find at least a few damselflies lurking in the tall grass. I saw two crescent butterflies (likely Northern Crescents) and a couple of moths and that was it.
Once again the trip to Gatineau Park turned out to be a wonderful experience. I leaned a few things from Justin that I hasn’t known before, and Carlos was very knowledgeable and experienced for his age. I counted 50 bird species altogether; Justin said his trip list came to 59 species. It was a fun outing even if the weather wasn’t as cooperative as I had hoped – a trip to Gatineau Park is always incredible!