Easter Migrants

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

Birders love it when the Easter long weekend falls in April. The weather is usually nice, and the early migrants have already begun to arrive. If it’s warm enough, the first frogs, butterflies and snakes will have emerged. Easter fell on the first weekend of April this year, and although winter and spring are still battling for supremacy, I was still able to find plenty of birds for my year list.

I started Good Friday with a walk at the Beaver Trail where I unknowingly flushed six ducks hidden in the marsh at the back, at least two of which were Wood Ducks. A few more Red-winged Blackbirds had arrived, and I heard a single Common Grackle call near the Wild Bird Care Centre. Blackbirds flew over several times while I was there, but the day was overcast and I didn’t get a good look at them. The best bird was a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets in the woods near the meadow – this species was a year bird for me.

From there I stopped by the Trail Road Landfill. Three Great Blue Herons flew over, and there were still plenty of Herring Gulls among the numerous Ring-billed Gulls. I saw a Song Sparrow and both Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles along the side of the road as well as two Red-tailed Hawks perching inside the dump.

The ponds at the Richmond Lagoons were still frozen, but I added another new year bird when a single Killdeer flew over. I decided to check the pond at Sarsaparilla Trail, and while it too, was almost completely frozen over, a small channel of water was open in the middle. The only birds of interest were a Pileated Woodpecker calling in the woods, a Common Grackle perching on a dead tree in the middle of the pond, and at least one junco near the boardwalk. This porcupine in a tree near the outhouse was much more interesting.


Porcupine (Click to enlarge)

I went out later in the afternoon to look for butterflies – the temperature had reached 16°C by then, and the sun felt warm on my skin. I decided to visit the Rideau Trail, as this is where I had seen my first two butterflies last year (an Eastern Comma and a Mourning Cloak on the same day). I stopped by the same area where I had heard the Western Chorus Frogs last year, and although the frogs were absent, I saw a Mourning Cloak flying gracefully overhead after about 15 minutes of searching the area. It flew by quickly, at about 15 feet above the ground, so I wasn’t able to get any photos. There were no phoebes, kinglets, Northern Flickers or Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers this time; the only birds of interest were a Turkey Vulture soaring above the woods and a singing Brown Creeper.

After that I went to check the storm water ponds in Emerald Meadows. I was happily surprised to see two male Ring-necked Ducks and a pair of Hooded Mergansers in the largest pond, which was still half-frozen. Two Tree Swallows flying over were a bit of a surprise; I don’t know what they could have been feeding on, as there are still very few insects around. A large flock of blackbirds contained only grackles; I didn’t see or hear any Red-winged Blackbirds.

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

A few of the grackles were feeding on the ground, as was a single American Robin.

American Robin

American Robin

Two of the grackles were perching in a tree; I managed to get this one photo before they flew off. The sun really shows off its iridescent colours.

Common Grackle

Common Grackle

A little further along I came across an American Tree Sparrow sitting in a tree. These sparrows only spend the winter here, and will soon be heading north to their breeding grounds where the treeline gives way to the Arctic tundra. I had never realized just how long their tails were until I saw this photo.

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

I went back home after that, and didn’t plan on going out again. However, not long after I returned home I received an email stating that a Red-throated Loon and a Short-eared Owl were both visible from the Britannia Yacht Club. I had only seen one Red-throated Loon previously, in Nova Scotia in 2008, so I needed it for both my Ottawa and my Ontario lists. I have only seen Short-eared Owls on Amherst Island, and needed on for my Ottawa list. Fortunately they were both still there when I arrived, as were a Pied-billed Grebe, a few Ring-necked Ducks, one Hooded Merganser, a few Common Mergansers and a couple of Common Goldeneye. The owl was sitting by itself on the ice, although at one point a crow flew in, walked around it, and looked at it as though trying to determine whether the owl was worth pestering.

After such a gorgeous day on Good Friday, I was disappointed when winter returned on Saturday with snow and temperatures that barely rose above zero. I stayed home. It was still cold on Sunday, but I decided to go out anyway. I started the day off at Sarsaparilla Trail where I heard a single Golden-crowned Kinglet, a Pine Siskin, and a small flock of Common Redpolls. This chipmunk was busy eating food left on a rock near the bench:

Eastern Chipmunk

Eastern Chipmunk

From there I drove out to Dunrobin to check out the agricultural fields for raptors, meadowlarks, and Eastern Bluebirds. I found three American Kestrels, a couple of Turkey Vultures, and one Red-tailed Hawk. Although I was hoping to spot a Northern Harrier I didn’t find any, nor did I see any meadowlarks or bluebirds.

My last stop of the day was the South March Highlands. I thought I might find Ruffed Grouse here, and sure enough I heard one drumming in the woods. The marshes are still frozen, though a few Red-winged Blackbirds and a single Common Grackle were singing near the boardwalk.

Having a four-day weekend was wonderful. Although the weather wasn’t the greatest, I added ten birds to my year list and saw my first butterfly of the year. Spring is progressing nicely, and the birds are continuing to return!


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