The weather was supposed to be warm and sunny yesterday, so I headed out to the Bill Mason Center to look for marsh birds and dragonflies. Chris T. had found a Crimson-ringed Whiteface at the sand pit early in the season last year, and as I’ve never seen this species in Ottawa, I was curious to find out if his dragonfly was a chance visitor or if they were common there in the late spring. While this species has a flight season from late May to early August, I have never seen it there during any of my summer visits to the Bill Mason Center. I was also hoping to find a few marsh birds such as bitterns, Sora and Virigina Rail, so it seemed like a great idea to stop there after checking out the Carp Ridge and some of the roads in Dunrobin for other species.
It feels like migration has ended. Although my focus was on breeding birds this morning, I had hopes of finding a few last migrants moving through, especially after finding a singing Bay-breasted Warbler in my own subdivision yesterday morning in a nearby park. I visited two spots with specific breeding birds in mind – Nortel Marsh for Willow Flycatcher and Savannah Sparrow, and Shirley’s Bay for Brown Thrasher. The trails along the river at Shirley’s Bay are also a good spot to find migrants, such as the Canada Warbler I had there two years ago. And once it warmed up, I had hopes of finding some butterflies and dragonflies.
On Victoria Day I returned to Mud Lake to look for migrants and dragonflies. I arrived early – before 7:00am – in order to beat the crowds, but even at that time there were a few people wandering around. I started at the ridge and worked my way around the conservation area in a clockwise direction; I hoped that by exploring the quieter side trails I would come up with a decent list for the morning. Well, I did finish my outing with a good number of bird species – 43 total – but most of them were found along the northern and western sides, which is where I usually bird anyway, especially when I am short on time.
By the third week of May the weather finally warmed up enough to do some dragon-hunting, so on May 21st I made plans with Chris L. and Jakob M. to go to Roger’s Pond in Marlborough Forest to look for birds, bugs and herps. We had great luck with all three, though mammals were sadly lacking. I’m not sure why I don’t see many mammals at this trail; the only one I can remember seeing with any certainty was a Snowshoe Hare right on the gravel trail as it ran by me.
As migration progresses and the weather turns warmer, I find myself going into “birding withdrawal” during the work week. Fortunately I was able to visit Hurdman Park at lunch time a couple of times this month in order to keep the symptoms of withdrawal in check. On my visit of May 11th last week I decided to visit the western part of the park since my normal route along the “feeder path” is now blocked due to the construction of the LRT station. Today I started my visit on the western side, but when that proved relatively unproductive, I ended up walking beneath the transitway bridge to the eastern side in order to check the tangles along the feeder trail. Although I managed to find some good birds and other interesting wildlife on both days, my visit today was by far the more rewarding of the two.
Yesterday I headed out relatively late in the morning (8:45 am) as the gray skies, cold temperature, and strong winds did not seem conducive to a productive morning’s birding. The previous week’s temperatures of the low to mid-twenties were gone; yesterday the thermometer plummeted, struggling to reach a paltry high of 9°C. It was one of those mid-spring days where a scarf, gloves, and a winter coat were necessary. I had the scarf and gloves, but didn’t bring my winter coat, thinking that my layers of sweaters beneath my spring coat would be enough. They weren’t.
Yesterday was eBird’s Global Big Day 2016, a Cornell Lab project which tries to find out just how many birds can be recorded across the globe in a single day. During this project, eBird asks people to submit all their bird observations on May 14th into eBird, a global database used by scientists to study the distribution of birds all over the world. eBird is one of the largest biodiversity databases in the world, with more than 300 million records, and last year’s Global Big Day tallied a total of 6,158 species. As I already use eBird to track my bird sightings, I was eager to participate. However, I didn’t have the car, and had to make do with going somewhere reachable by bus. Unfortunately, OC Transpo’s weekend bus routes in Kanata South are not designed to get you any place efficiently except Hazeldean Mall, which severely limited my options – even places like Mud Lake and Andrew Haydon Park take two or three different buses to get there, and places like Shirley’s Bay and Jack Pine Trail are out of the question. Worse, the forecast called for rain later in the morning, so I wasn’t sure how long I would be able to stay out in the event I wanted to go to two or more areas. Because of these limitations, I decided to go to Old Quarry Trail right across from Hazeldean Mall, which is only about a 15-20 minute bus ride from my house and has enough trails in its extensive system to keep me occupied for a couple of hours.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, the birding downtown can be very dull, especially in the concrete corridors away from the green space surrounding the Ottawa River and canal. Every now and then a Great Blue Heron, Common Raven or Turkey Vulture will fly past my window, but those are about the only interesting birds I’ve seen from my highrise office building on Elgin Street. I wasn’t expecting much yesterday morning, until one of the lawyers I work with who knows about my o̶b̶s̶e̶s̶s̶i̶o̶n̶ ̶w̶i̶t̶h̶ interest in birds sent me an email message to come look out her window. To my shock, there was a Peregrine Falcon perching on the balcony of one of the new condos across the street!
Sparrows are moving through right now, and when I returned from my trip on Friday afternoon, I was delighted to find three different species in my yard: a Dark-eyed Junco, a White-crowned Sparrow, and two Chipping Sparrows. I was a bit surprised to see the junco still hanging around, and was happy that the Chipping Sparrows had arrived – they are very common summer residents in my neighbourhood, and often bring their babies to my feeder later in the season once they have fledged. Unlike these two species, however, the White-crowned Sparrow is an uncommon spring visitor to my yard – my first sighting occurred back in May 2006, around the time I got bit by the birding bug. As I was not an avid eBird user back then, my next record is from May 2011, when another single bird appeared, and my last record is from May 2012, when two birds showed up. All sightings occurred between May 4th and May 8th, and most individuals only stayed one day.
The Beaver Trail is one of my favourite trails to visit in mid-spring: spring ephemerals such as violets, Trilliums and Hepatica are in bloom, a good variety of butterflies – including various anglewings, Mustard Whites, elfins and azures – are on the wing, and both breeding birds and migrants alike can be found along the edge habitat surrounding the ponds. Although one of the shorter trails in Stony Swamp, the variety of wildlife that can be found here makes it worth visiting in any season. Spring, however, is my favourite season for visiting. On May 7th I arrived at the parking lot just before 8:00 am, and found only a few chickadees and Song Sparrows. It wasn’t until I reached the first marsh that I heard my first good bird of the day – an American Bittern. This was a year bird for me, and not a bird I hear very often in Stony Swamp, making it a great find.