On Sunday, May 24th I headed out to the Moodie Drive marsh between Corkstown Road and the former Nortel property to listen (and look) for one of my favourite flycatchers, the Willow Flycatcher. I am not sure what makes it my favourite – perhaps it is because it was the last of Ottawa’s breeding flycatchers that I added to my life list, or perhaps it is because they are harder to find than the others and I need to make a special trip to see them each spring. Whatever the reason, I enjoy visiting the marsh on Moodie Drive in late May to listen for their distinct, sneezy “Fitz-bew!” song.
On Victoria Day I decided to spend some time at Mud Lake as I haven’t been there at all since warbler migration got underway. This has been a deliberate decision on my part, mainly because I had heard it had become very busy in recent weeks. Mud Lake’s popularity as a birding and nature photography site has really increased in the last couple of years, which is really great considering what a treasure trove of species can be found there; however, crowds have never really been my thing, so I’ve found other places to spend my time.
I started the morning off with a stop at Sarsaparilla Trail. Even at 6:30 in the morning there was some activity, although I only heard three warbler species altogether: one Blackpoll Warbler and three Ovenbirds in the woods, and a couple of Common Yellowthroats in the marsh. The pond was quiet and peaceful. I spotted a lone Canada goose on the water, a cormorant and three Green Herons flying over, at least one Tree Swallow and two Eastern Kingbirds among the stand of dead trees, and three Spotted Sandpipers flying over the pond to another log. This was the first outing I can recall where I counted more Green Herons than chickadees and more Spotted Sandpipers than Canada Geese!
When I returned to Ottawa on May 15th I was happy to hear that dragonfly season had begun – fellow OFNC member Chris Traynor had already reported seeing a Hudsonian Whiteface, American Emerald, and a baskettail species (likely a Beaverpond Baskettail) the day before I returned. Last year I didn’t have my first real dragonfly outing until May 31st (chiefly because I was away in Florida the weekend before that), but even so this seemed early.
Eager to see some dragonflies, I checked a few trails in Stony Swamp early on Saturday morning, but found none – though it was warm, the sky was too overcast. I did, however, observe a couple of new birds for my year list, including an Eastern Wood-Pewee, Alder Flycatcher and Clay-colored Sparrow at Jack Pine Trail and a Black-throated Blue Warbler at the Beaver Trail. I was also pleased to hear two Brown Thrashers at Jack Pine Trail, a species I have never observed there before, and a total of nine warbler species including Ovenbird, Black-and-white Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Pine Warbler and Black-throated Green Warbler. In addition to these, a singing Black-throated Blue Warbler and a Yellow-rumped Warbler were at the Beaver Trail.
A cold front moved in the following day, and I hoped it would bring in some good birds. My mother, step-father and I went to Rondeau Park for the day. It was cold and windy, however – cold enough to require my winter gloves – and the “good birds” I was hoping for failed to materialize. We added only four birds to our trip list: a Ruby-throated Hummingbird and Chipping Sparrow at the Visitor Center feeders, and a Prothonotary Warbler and Veery along the Tulip Tree trail. The Spicebush Trail and Pony Barn areas were deathly quiet, and only a few birds along the maintenance loop – including a Red-bellied Woodpecker – made the stop worthwhile. Altogether we saw only three warbler species: Prothonotary, Chestnut-sided, and Yellow Warbler.
We got up early on Monday, May 11th for our day at Point Pelee. While we were paying at the kiosk we were told there were two good birds present: a Prothonotary Warbler and a Kirtland’s Warbler. I had seen the rare bird alert for the Kirtland’s Warbler the day before, and was happy to hear it was still around. I had never seen one before (unlike the Prothonotary Warbler) so it would be a lifer for me if I found it. Fortunately, this was easy to do. We took the tram to the Tip and after we had gotten off the shuttle, I came across a group of people who said it was being seen along the footpath that parallels the western beach. I told my mother and step-father and off we went. After about a 10 minute hike with numerous people coming the other way assuring us “it was still there – just look for the crowd of people”, we found a huge throng of people gathered in a tight group. At the center of all the attention, no more than six feet away from the edge of the path, was the female Kirtland’s Warbler.
After we left Blenheim, our next stop was the Hillman Marsh Conservation Area. Situated on the shore of Lake Erie just a few kilometers northeast of Point Pelee Provincial Park, this conservation area is just as popular with birders as Point Pelee. Although it boasts 5 kilometres of walking trails through many diverse habitats, most birders visit solely because of the shorebird cell, which is essentially a flooded field actively managed to provide essential habitat for migrating shorebirds. Because the shorebird cell is entirely natural, with lots of vegetation and small shrubs growing in the water, it usually attracts more than just shorebirds; gulls, terns and ducks can be found in the cell on almost every visit, while the resident Barn and Tree Swallows skim over the water hunting for insects. This cell also attracts shorebirds not typically found at Blenheim, such as Black-bellied Plovers. Over one hundred species of bird have been recorded at Hillman Marsh, including rarities such as the Yellow-headed Blackbird, Willet, Marbled Godwit, Eurasian Wigeon, Glossy Ibis and American Avocet.
On Saturday, May 9th I took the train to southern Ontario for my annual visit with my family. My mother is a birder, too, so we usually spend a few days birding while on our vacation. This year we returned to the shores of Lake Erie to visit Rondeau Provincial Park and Point Pelee National Park. Along the way we stopped in at the Blenheim Sewage Lagoons (permit required) to check out the shorebird action. This is one of my favourite spots in southern Ontario. Not only are there lots of shorebirds (usually in the hundreds), there are lots of birds of all types. We tallied 34 species there, including a Baltimore Oriole and a Warbling Vireo singing in the tree across from the gate and a Killdeer running down the road upon our arrival.
I resumed my early morning visits to Hurdman on Monday, May 4th and was happy to finally see some new birds. I realized things had changed when I heard my first Black-throated Green Warbler along the feeder path. It was foraging in a relatively small tree, and when I saw a second bird darting among the new leaves I was pleased when I identified it as a Nashville Warbler.
A Ruby-crowned Kinglet was also present, as were several White-throated Sparrows scurrying along the path. It seems like I’ve been waiting for these birds to arrive for ages, and to my surprise I found a single White-crowned Sparrow among them. The White-crowns arrive later in May, after the juncos leave, and I wasn’t quite expecting them yet as I had just seen a junco two days earlier at the Beaver Trail (my last junco sighting of the spring, as it turns out). Altogether I saw between 20 and 30 White-throated Sparrows foraging in various spots along the trail, the largest flock of clear-cut migrants I had seen so far – I have seen and heard other White-throated Sparrows this spring, but never more than ten, and those behaved more like breeding residents singing on territory than migrants just passing through. (Indeed, this turned out to the only large flock of migrant White-throats I’ve observed this spring, adding another mystery to this year’s spring migration.)
When I woke up on Sunday, I knew it was going to be a good day as soon as I looked out the back window and saw a Blue-headed Vireo and a Black-throated Green Warbler in a neighbour’s tree. Both species were new for my (seen from the) yard list, but that’s not what made me so happy; it is the fact that these birds appearing in my wide-open neighbourhood with no real tree canopy could only mean that migration had finally resumed! If I was seeing these kinds of birds in my own neighbourhood, who knew what birds could be found in more migrant-friendly habitat! That morning I planned to attend Jakob Mueller’s OFNC outing to Sheila McKee Park along the Ottawa River. I had never been there, but I was guessing that if it was anything like Shirley’s Bay, I might see all kinds of birds!
The long-awaited south winds arrived on Saturday, and I was eager to get out the door early and see if any new birds had blown in with the gorgeous weather. I started off the day at Jack Pine Trail where I hoped to find the Black-backed Woodpeckers again. Though I didn’t see the woodpeckers or any new birds (where are the Winter Wrens? The Field Sparrows?), I did come up with 25 species, including two Tree Swallows flying over the marsh at the back, three different Brown Creepers singing, two Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a flock of 10 Cedar Waxwings flying over, half a dozen White-throated Sparrows singing, and a single Purple Finch.