Easter was early this year, which is always a bit disappointing as a birder – when it falls at the end of March, migration is just getting under way and there isn’t the same variety of species around as there would be later in April. Still, I was looking forward to adding a few birds to my year list, so I headed over to Mud Lake yesterday (Easter Sunday). I still haven’t seen a Great Blue Heron or Brown-headed Cowbird yet this year, and it’s just about time for Eastern Phoebes, Northern Flickers, Tree Swallows and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers to arrive back on territory. I was also curious as to whether the Northern Mockingbird was still around – there haven’t been any reports, but then I don’t know if anyone has gone and looked for it. With a forecast high of 13°C, it seemed a nice day to go for a walk around the lake, though it was still close to 0°C when I headed out.
Spring migration is under way, and while that means saying hello to breeding residents such as Red-winged Blackbirds, Turkey Vultures, and Canada Geese, it also means saying goodbye to winter residents such as American Tree Sparrows and Snow Buntings. Spring migration also means encountering irruptive species such as finches and Bohemian Waxwings more frequently as they head back up to their breeding grounds in the Boreal Forest. Pine Siskins were scarce this winter, at least in my part of Ontario, so I thought I was imagining things when I heard my first one calling as it flew over Jack Pine Trail two weeks ago on March 12th. Since then I’ve heard them at Old Quarry Trail and Sarsaparilla Trail, but today I hit the siskin jackpot when I drove down March Valley Road and came across a flock of about 30 birds picking at the gravel at the side of the road.
When I woke up on Saturday, March 19th, there were only two regularly-occurring birds in the Ottawa area I had not yet added to my life list: Golden Eagle and Arctic Tern. Of these two birds, I expected the Arctic Tern to be the easier to see – they migrate along the Ottawa River during the last week of May and the first two weeks of June, and there are only a few spots along the river where they are easily seen during this narrow window of time. I haven’t yet made any serious attempts to find an Arctic Tern for my life list, as (a) you have to either be there at the right time if they are flying through rather than feeding or resting in the rapids, or else put in a lot of time scanning the river; and (b) views from the Britannia Pier and Britannia Point are usually distant, and I’ve always had doubts about being able to separate this species from the similar-looking Common Tern in those circumstances.
After seeing my first Red-winged Blackbirds from the bus on Wednesday, March 9th, I was eager to get out on the weekend and look for more. Saturday morning was mild but gloomy; not a terrific day for photography, but a good day for getting out and seeing what was around. I stopped by the ponds on Eagleson first to look for ducks, and was surprised to hear not one, but two Song Sparrows singing as soon as I got out of the car. It was only March 12th; although it seemed early for them to be back on territory, I enjoyed hearing their jubilant songs after the long, silent winter. Red-winged Blackbirds were back as well, calling from the tops of the trees and adding to the spring chorus. There were no new ducks on the pond, just the usual mallards and Canada Geese.
On Friday I felt like checking the river for ducks and gulls, so I went to Strathcona Park at lunch. I wasn’t surprised to see all the Ring-billed Gulls there – they are back in droves, and I counted over 70 of them in the water and standing on the ice at the margins of the river. I was hoping to see some other species, though, particularly the much larger Great Black-backed and Glaucous Gulls that sometimes can be found loafing along the Rideau River; however, the only other species I saw was a Herring Gull examining a dead fish on the ice in the middle of the river.
I usually never believe the groundhogs when they predict an early spring. Regardless of whether they see their shadow, spring usually arrives right when it’s supposed to – between the second and third weeks of March. An “early” spring might arrive on St. Patrick’s Day rather than the solstice a couple of days later; however, the weather usually remains unsettled, with some snow and sub-zero temperatures still occurring at least a week or two later. The last two years were the exceptions, when spring didn’t arrive until the temperatures rose to above 0°C around April! In fact, the new trend seems to be one of seasons arriving later than usual – just look at how long it took winter to get here this year!
When the weather forecast predicted above-zero temperatures every day starting on Sunday, March 6th I was skeptical. We usually get one or two snowstorms in the first half of March, a last act of defiance on the part of Old Man Winter. We got our snow on March 1st, and then by Sunday the temperature rose to +3°C.
One of the most common atmospheric displays is the 22° circular halo, such as this one that I photographed in Kanata on Saturday. Created by sunlight refracting through hexagonal ice crystals suspended in the atmosphere, they are visible throughout the year and are easiest to spot when the sky is covered with a thin layer of high altitude cirrus clouds. The halo is always a distance of 22° from the sun, or about the distance between your thumb and pinkie finger when your arm is fully extended with all your fingers spread. Although the hexagonal ice crystals may be randomly-oriented, the diameters of the crystals are less than 20.5 micrometers.
Last March I rescued a mouse from the main floor of the building where I work downtown. Yesterday my fiance Doran and I rescued one from our house.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a mouse in our house; unfortunately, the last one was discovered by my cats sometime in the night, and I found its dismembered remains in the kitchen the next day. Actually, one of my cats found this one too, but it was still alive when I noticed him playing with it. I was working on the computer when I heard my male, Jango, playing with something in the doorway. I wasn’t sure what he was doing, and when I looked over, I saw a small brown rodent streak across the hall toward the guest room. Jango followed it, and so did I. I shooed the cat away and then went to get a glass to catch the mouse. By the time I returned, the mouse had vanished. Doran has a live-catch mousetrap, so we set it in the guest room with some peanut butter in it. When we checked the trap the next morning, the mouse was in it.