A Watery Waterfowl Weekend in Ottawa

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

Once again we had a cooler than normal weekend in Ottawa, and this time it was completely overcast with torrential downpours on Saturday. I only managed to get out for a few hours each morning, and didn’t see a single dragonfly. With the weather so uncooperative for dragon-hunting, I decided to spend my time birding instead – and what better weekend to look for water birds? I was especially hoping to see some herons, as I’ve noticed an unprecedented number of Black-crowned Night-herons flying around lately – a pair near the storm water pond at Mud Lake, one near the War Museum on Scott Street, one along Old Richmond Road in Stony Swamp, two from my back window (a new yard bird!) and one flying along the creek at Moodie and Highway 417 on two separate occasions.

I started my weekend at the Moodie Drive quarry pond at 7:30 am. This place is usually best visited in the afternoon when the sun is behind you, but the thick overcast ensured easy viewing of the pond without the sun’s reflection glaring off the water. The first bird I noticed was a Belted Kingfisher on the telephone wire on Moodie Drive overlooking the farm field; there was no water there, and a few minutes later it flew toward the pond with its harsh rattling call.

There were no geese on the pond, but there were quite a few ducks: a mother Wood Duck with three juveniles, three Gadwall right across from the gate, several mallards, and one male Northern Shoveler swimming with a group of mallards. I didn’t see any herons, but I did observe at least one Common Tern flapping above the water, an Osprey flying by, and a Spotted Sandpiper on the shore opposite the gate.

There was no sign of the rain by the time I was done, so I drove over to the Richmond Lagoons. Wild Parsnip was growing along the path between the parking area and the lagoons, and once I reached the lagoons I found it growing in the middle of the path itself. The first birds I noticed were the shorebirds in the southern cell: four Killdeer, two Least Sandpipers and one Solitary Sandpiper. In the middle pond I found ducks: at least 30 mallards and 30 Wood Ducks, including several juveniles. I was surprised to see a male Blue-winged Teal and three male Green-winged Teals on the pond as well. Again there were no herons, but I did see a Chimney Swift and a Tree Swallow hawking for insects, a pair of Purple Finches (including a singing male), and a pair of Northern Flickers. I didn’t feel like walking into the woods given the threat of rain and all the Wild Parsnip blooming, so I headed to Jack Pine Trail for a quick walk. The most interesting bird there was the Common Grackle – a large flock of 40-50 of them flew over, and landed in the woods. It seems too early for the blackbirds to start forming large flocks, but they tend to disappear from view before the Red-wings do, so perhaps this is the first sign of the gathering of the post-breeding season flocks. An Eastern Phoebe was back sitting on the nest on the new outhouse again, the chicks from the previous brood having already fledged.

I was about halfway through my walk when it started to rain, but as it was light one I opened my umbrella and kept walking. About 20 minutes later the rain started to pour down in earnest, and my pants and shoes got soaked despite the umbrella. The rain was too loud to hear anything anyway; it was time to call it a day.

The next morning I stopped by Sarsaparilla Trail on my way to Andrew Haydon Park, still hoping to find some herons. A Great Egret was stalking fish along the far shore, its plumage bright white in the overcast morning light. A second one flew in a little later, and a Green Heron flew across the pond, making it a two heron species morning. Also of note were a ton of swallows; several were swooping through the air, but about 20 were perching in the dead trees near the beaver lodge. Many were brown, so I went back to the car to grab my scope for a better look. I was happy to ID Barn, Tree and Bank Swallows – the Bank Swallows were a bit smaller than the Tree Swallows, and had a distinct brown breast band (juvenile Tree Swallows may show a faint grayish breast band). The vocalizations of the flying swallows were different, too. The Barn Swallows were much easier to ID with their orange underparts and long, forked tail.

At Andrew Haydon Park I visited the mudflats at the western creek hoping for more shorebirds. Although the mudflats are developing nicely, and should host several species of shorebird once fall migration begins in earnest, there were none. A Great Egret and a Great Blue Heron had parked themselves in the water next to the mudflats, while several mallards and a few Wood Ducks were dabbling in the water.

I walked around the ponds, noticing an Osprey circling over the western pond and a few brownish swallows hawking for insects high in the sky – these remained unidentified, as none came close enough to see any useful field marks. Two Black-crowned Night-herons also flew over, heading east, so I walked over to the eastern creek to see if they had landed there. As I made my way around the eastern pond I noticed a female or juvenile Hooded Merganser resting on the grass on the island.

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

As mergansers are diving ducks, it is rare to see them on land. I am used to seeing them on the rocky islands that appear in Deschenes Rapids at Mud Lake in the fall, but can’t recall ever seeing one on the grass before. I abandoned my plan to check the eastern creek, crossed the bridge to the southern shore of the pond, and walked closer to get some photos. While I was walking toward the merganser, two more climbed up onto the bank – clearly a mother and two juveniles. The mother is the one keeping an eye on me here – she has a more fully developed crest than her offspring. A fourth merganser briefly joined them on the bank before heading back out for swim.

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

I didn’t want to spook them, so I continued on my way to the creek. I found a Yellow Warbler singing and an Eastern Kingbird calling (I’m not sure if those high-pitched sneezy notes are supposed to be songs or calls) along the way. When I reached the corner of the park I was happy to see that the river was low enough to walk into the creek mouth. There I found a mother Mallard with several tiny babies. When she saw me she swam out away from shore despite the choppy water; the ducklings were so tiny it seemed difficult to believe they could survive such a swim. I hurried on my way, hoping the mother and her babies would come back closer to shore.

Mallard Ducklings

Mallard Ducklings

I found a Spotted Sandpiper on the far shore of the creek but no herons. I wondered if the boat tied up in the wide spot frequented by sandpipers and small herons in the fall had anything to do with their absence – it looked as though the owner were there for an extended stay, with a rolled up sleeping bag visible onboard.

I returned to the eastern pond where I found three of the four mergansers swimming in the channel between the two bridges. It was easy to photograph them from a distance despite the awful, flat lighting and harsh reflection of the white sky on the water. The mother is the last one of the three.

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

One of the babies stayed behind when a dog-walker crossed the bridge ahead of them; here it has its crest raised.

Hooded Merganser (juvenile)

Hooded Merganser (juvenile)

In this image the young hoodie is swimming toward the cattails, which seem to be taking over this section of the channel.

Hooded Merganser (juvenile)

Hooded Merganser (juvenile)

Despite the cool, overcast conditions all weekend I enjoyed searching for different water birds in the west end. It was great to see that post-breeding dispersal (as evidenced by the Blue- and Green-winged Teals at Richmond Lagoons) and southbound migration (as evidenced by the two different sandpiper species at Richmond) had begun; this keeps the birding interesting as different species can turn up in places where you would least expect to find them.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s