Catching Up with Migration in Ottawa

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

After we returned from Mexico I only had a week to enjoy migration in Ottawa before heading off to southern Ontario to see my family. When I awoke in my own bed on Saturday, the day after our return to Ottawa, I was happy to find some migrants right out in the backyard: a Red-winged Blackbird was singing and two male Brown-headed Cowbirds were foraging in the neighbour’s trees, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet was flitting around in a shrub in the yard behind ours, and a Chipping Sparrow and three Dark-eyed Juncos were vacuuming up the seeds beneath my feeder. Both the cowbirds and kinglet were year birds for me. Out front I heard a Common Grackle singing and saw a Blue Jay breaking off twigs from the tree outside my window for nesting material. I was surprised that the juncos were still there, but – as expected – the Pine Siskins were gone. Indeed, although I heard and saw others around Ottawa until the middle of May, I never had any visit the feeder in my yard again.

I started the morning off with a quick walk at Sarsaparilla Trail. It was cool, only about 10°C, and the wind was blowing straight from the Arctic Circle. There were lots of White-throated Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos in the woods, though no Fox Sparrows. Three Hooded Mergansers were swimming on the pond, an Eastern Phoebe was calling near the entrance to the woods, and I heard a single Pine Siskin fly over. From there I drove over to Jack Pine Trail to see which summer residents had arrived back on territory. I heard a Northern Flicker calling, and found three Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets were still passing through, as were Pine Siskins, juncos and White-throated Sparrows. I heard a raven squabbling overhead and caught a glimpse of it chasing a Red-tailed Hawk, one of the best sightings of my walk.

The other bird of note was a Winter Wren singing away along the trail just beyond the feeders. It was foraging out in the open, and I managed to get a few shots of it in the bright sunlight:

Winter Wren

Winter Wren

Although it hadn’t warmed up much, I saw a brownish butterfly fly by, and lost it when it landed in the leaf litter. I suspect it was a Compton Tortoiseshell from the brief glimpse that I saw, but didn’t see any distinguishing features.

I had butterflies on my mind the following day when I headed over to the Rideau Trail on Old Richmond Road. This is usually a good spot for Eastern Commas and Mourning Cloaks in the early spring, and as it was a sunny and calm morning, I wasn’t disappointed when I finally came across this somewhat battered Eastern Comma in an area of deciduous woods.

Eastern Comma

Eastern Comma

Although this trail is much better for birds in the fall, I was happy to find three Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, including a male with a bright red throat and a visibly yellow belly.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

I heard a Red-shouldered Hawk calling from the alvar and decided to check it out before I left. A hawk was perching in a tree in the middle of the large, stony clearing, but I was surprised to identify it as a Red-tailed Hawk.

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

I looked up and found the Red-shouldered Hawk circling the sky above the alvar. The next thing I knew the Red-tailed Hawk had also taken flight, and the Red-shouldered Hawk was chasing it! This is probably my best photo of a Red-shouldered Hawk to date:

Red-shouldered Hawk

Red-shouldered Hawk

On Monday I had to return to work, but was happy to see one Red-winged Blackbird and one junco out back before I left. On my walk to the bus stop (about 1.5 km) I found 8 Chipping Sparrows, a good number for the neighbourhood. By Thursday the remaining Dark-eyed Juncos in my backyard had been joined by a White-throated Sparrow. They were there until Saturday, the day I left for my trip to southern Ontario.

I did get in a brief morning of birding on Saturday before I left. At Sarsaparilla Trail I found a Hermit Thrush in the woods, new for my year list; there were a few Tree Swallows flying over the pond, and a couple of Ruby-throated Kinglets were singing along the trail. I added a Yellow-rumped Warbler to my year list at Andrew Haydon Park; this was the only new songbird there, but two Buffleheads in the western creek and four Lesser Scaup on the western pond provided some interest. I was able to get some good photos of the male scaup with the 60x zoom on my camera.

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

Lesser Scaup

I walked over to the creek to try to get closer to the Bufflehead – I still don’t have a decent picture of a male – but they quickly caught on to me and swam further out. A muskrat close to shore helped to make up for this disappointment, proving to be very cooperative for some photos:

Muskrat

Muskrat

Song Sparrows are common around the park, and I found one singing at the top of a cultivated shrub along the path. These birds are much easier to photograph once they have a territory to defend; I find it difficult to get good shots of them in March and early April when they just start to return.

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

Although much too short to see all the new birds that had returned, it was a good week for catching up with migration in Ottawa. I added only 7 birds to my year list, but I knew I would see a large variety in southern Ontario and, that when I returned a week later, many new songbirds will have arrived. Hopefully it will be warmer, and the butterflies and dragonflies will be on the wing as well!

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