Once I parked my car at the bike trail near Corkstown Road I stopped to listen for grassland birds in the pasture just south of the bike trail. I wasn’t disappointed – I heard (and saw) a Savannah Sparrow singing from a short shrub, and then observed a Bobolink singing while in flight. I didn’t hear any Eastern Meadowlarks; this is one species I still need for my year list, and I’ve often heard them here.
Once the bike path entered the trees I heard American Redstarts, Yellow Warblers, a Baltimore Oriole and a Purple Finch. I spotted two birds on the bike path itself; I thought they were Song Sparrows at first, but when I got closer I realized they were thrushes – Swainson’s Thrushes! I only managed a couple of distant shots before a few cyclists came along and scared them into the vegetation. I stopped and waited for them to come out, and eventually one did, only to be flushed a minute later by another cyclist.
Once I reached the marsh I heard Common Yellowthroats, Swamp Sparrows, and one Virginia Rail. I heard both an Alder Flycatcher (“Fee-bee-o!”) and a Willow Flycatcher (“Fitz-bew!”) singing in the marsh, and even managed to spot the Willow Flycatcher. A few minutes later, a second one started calling in response. I saw an Eastern Kingbird and a Chipping Sparrow along the trail at the back, and a single Barn Swallow flying over the marsh. This was an Ottawa year bird for me.
A few birds deigned to have their pictures taken, including this robin at eye level:
A Yellow Warbler was singing with a small green caterpillar in its bill; I was pleased when I got this photo of it just before it flew off.
A Common Yellowthroat was also singing close by, and I finally spotted it in the middle of the shrub. I kept hoping it would climb up to a more exposed perch, but this image gives you an idea of why they can be so hard to spot – they generally prefer to sing from some sort of cover.
I saw a small group of Cedar Waxwings in a honeysuckle shrub along the trail, but was surprised to see a much larger flock in the bare trees overlooking the sedge meadow – Cedar Waxwings have been conspicuously absent so far this spring, but seem to finally arrived in numbers. A couple of waxwings were sitting in a shrub right beside the trail, and I noticed a pair kept touching their bills together. I would have loved to have gotten a photo, but they were deep inside the shrub and I couldn’t get a clear view of them among the shadows and branches. This one, however, was content to sit out in the open.
I saw a couple of dragonflies flying around, but no butterflies; Nortel Marsh isn’t a great spot for bugs, in my experience. Tree Swallows were also absent, which is surprising as they nest in holes in the metal posts supporting the traffic lights at Corkstown and Moodie. I heard one last migrant before I finished my walk – a Blackpoll Warbler singing from a clump of trees in the marsh. I ended up with 35 species, including six new species for my Ottawa year list.
From there I went to Shirley’s Bay, stopping at the boat launch first to see what was around. A pair of Eastern Phoebes were hanging around the outhouse where they have nested in the past, and along the shore I saw three Spotted Sandpipers – none were lurking in the shrubs this time; they were all walking along the shore like normal sandpipers! A single Killdeer was also patrolling the shoreline.
I found Mike Tate at the boat launch; he was watching for migrants such as Arctic Tern and Whimbrel, but had only found a couple of Common Terns on a stick out in the river when I arrived. He allowed me to check them out through his scope; this was another year bird for me.
From there I headed east down the trail between the road and the river where I heard a Wood Thrush singing. As I drew closer, I realized a second one was singing from the trees across the road. I spent several minutes trying to catch a glimpse of one of these birds, and finally managed to spot one singing in a bare tree. Unfortunately the sky behind the singing thrush was a dreary gray, so I didn’t bother to take any pictures. Instead I took some video of the singing duet (I would have made a longer video if the car hadn’t turned down the street when it did). Wood Thrushes are declining in population, so hearing two singing together was pretty amazing. I later spotted a third Wood Thrush further down the road – I’m not sure if they are all resident breeders, or just moving through. There is usually at least one Wood Thrush at Shirley’s Bay each summer, so perhaps they will stay.
By the time I reached the trails between Lois Avenue and Shirley’s Blvd. the sun had emerged from behind the clouds and the temperature was climbing. I saw several Gray Catbirds, heard a House Wren and a Field Sparrow singing, and spotted two more Brown Thrashers. The bugs were beginning to become active, and I found one spot where several species were flying. Most were emeralds, and most of the emeralds were baskettails. The only ones I saw perching were females, and I didn’t have my net, so I was unable to identify them to species.
I also saw a couple of American Emeralds, and was delighted when one landed on the lilac flowers! I see these handsome dragonflies far less often than I do the Racket-tailed Emeralds and Baskettails, so this was a particularly nice sighting.
I saw one small dragonfly fluttering close to the ground, and was happy when it, too, landed on the lilacs (this area was full of lilac blooms; I was hoping to see some butterflies nectaring on the flowers, but no luck).
It was an immature whiteface, and the squarish yellow spot on the 7th segment leads me to believe it is a Dot-tailed Whiteface – Hudsonian Whitefaces have a similar pattern, but the final spot on the abdomen is triangular in shape. Other common whiteface species have thin yellow streaks down the abdomen. This was my first confirmed Dot-tailed Whiteface of the season.
A small orange butterfly flying close to the ground also caught my attention. I thought it was a crescent at first, but when it landed I was surprised to see a Hobomok Skipper, our earliest flying orange skipper. Normally I don’t see them until June.
A larger dragonfly with spots on its wings flew by, and when it landed I identified it as a female Common Whitetail. This was another first-of-season dragonfly for me.
I noticed a Six-spotted Tiger Beetle crawling on a rock nearby and took a photo. These handsome metallic green beetles fly early in the season, and I’ve always had difficulty in getting decent photos of them since they are too skittish to allow close-up macro photos. I took this photo from a good distance away, and didn’t even notice the Common Whitetail in the background until I got home!
Several Great Crested Flycatchers were calling in the area. They like to perch among the leaves at the top of the trees where it is difficult to spot them, but I found this one sitting out in the open.
Then I saw a large dragonfly zip by and land in a shrub. It seemed a bit too large to be an emerald, and when I first got my binoculars on it I noticed a single straight thoracic stripe reminiscent of a Springtime Darner. However, it was brown in colour and did not have the abdominal markings of a darner, so I edged closer to it until I was able see the whitish spots of a Stream Cruiser. This was a pleasant surprise as I had never seen one at Shirley’s Bay before, and see perhaps one each season. It appeared to be an immature, and didn’t move as I leaned in close for some photos.
Migration may be just about over, but there are still lots of breeding birds on territory. If I ever get bored of listening to them sing, dragonfly season is really beginning to heat up! Butterfly season is progressing nicely, too; in addition to the Hobomok Skipper I saw one Canadian Tiger Swallowtail zoom by, a likely Juvenal’s Duskywing, an unidentified white butterfly, and something large and dark enough to be a Black Swallowtail, although I only caught a glimpse of it. With the temperature reaching 30°C this afternoon, it feels as though we can finally put the long, snowy winter and long, cold spring finally behind us and enjoy all the birds and bugs of summer.