Summer at the Pond

Green Heron

Green Heron

I was car-less this weekend, as Doran spent most of it in Petawawa visiting friends. Unfortunately the best bird- and bug-watching trails are all difficult to reach by bus on a Sunday, so even a trip to one of the closer spots – such as Mud Lake or Andrew Haydon Park – was out of the question, as either would take two buses and much walking just to get there. And, given the high temperature forecast for today (almost 30°C) and the lack of air-conditioned food and washroom facilities nearby, I didn’t feel up to a long excursion. That left a walk around the neighbourhood as my only option, and fortunately the Emerald Meadows storm water ponds are close by. The ponds have been under construction for over a year now, but I haven’t seen any heavy machinery or workers there in ages, and none of the large gaps that appeared in the plastic orange fences surrounding the construction site have been repaired in weeks. As I’ve noticed people walking their dogs or jogging along the paths inside the construction zone, I thought it would be all right to take a look.

The walk was well worth it. When I entered the area, the first thing I noticed was a large flock of about 20 swallows flying above the southern ponds. There were Barn and Bank Swallows as far as I could tell; I didn’t notice any Tree Swallows, perhaps because the swallow boxes near the Emerald Meadows sign had been removed at the start of the construction project. The water in the ponds is quite low in some spots, and the large puddles have created some excellent shorebird habitat. I wasn’t surprised to hear a couple of Killdeer, since they breed in the area, but I wasn’t expecting to count ten of them in one area. A Common Raven flew over, followed by an Osprey about half an hour later, while in the southern-most pond a Great Blue Heron stood motionlessly on the shore and three Double-crested Cormorants swam in the water.

American Goldfinches seem to be doing well this year, and a bright yellow male perched briefly at the top of a small tree.

American Goldfinch

American Goldfinch

Wild Parsnip has started growing among the vegetation lining the paths, and as this flower is a magnet for nectar-loving bugs, I stopped to examine each group of flowers that I passed. One on plant, I found a pair of lady bugs mating.

Asian Ladybeetles

Asian Ladybeetles

Several plants were crawling with tiny reddish soldier beetles, many of them in the process of mating; I recalled seeing my first one some Wild Parsnip last summer at Trail 26 on West Hunt Club. Their black-tipped red legs and abdomen are distinctive.

Common Red Soldier Beetle (Rhagonycha fulva)

Common Red Soldier Beetle (Rhagonycha fulva)

A large black-and-blue bluet caught my attention – the only bluets I recall seeing here prior to the construction are Rainbow Bluets, and this was clearly not one. I hadn’t brought my net or magnifying lens, so I contented myself with taking a few photos before moving on. I later saw a female bluet and some Eastern Forktails, so it was good to know they at least had survived the draining and dredging of the ponds during last year’s construction.

Bluet sp.

Bluet sp.

Eastern Forktail

Eastern Forktail

A few shorebirds were relatively close to the path, so I spent some time watching and photographing them. I estimate there were at least a dozen Killdeer around the ponds, and perhaps up to 15 or 18.

Killdeer

Killdeer

One Lesser Yellowlegs and a couple of young Spotted Sandpipers were also present. The Lesser Yellowlegs spent some time foraging in a small pool close to the path; I wasn’t sure what it was eating, but it had found enough food to decide to stay put.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

The Lesser Yellowlegs is a common July migrant, and one of the first non-resident shorebirds I usually see in mid-summer. It was great to see this bird at the storm water ponds, and I hoped that any construction taking place during the week wouldn’t disturb the shorebirds feeding there.

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

Lesser Yellowlegs

A little further along I saw two cormorants standing on the shore. One was drying its wings, looking like a huge bat with turquoise eyes.

Double-crested Cormorant

Double-crested Cormorant

Movement near the concrete wall caught my attention, and I was happily surprised to find a Green Heron fishing along the shore. This is the only regularly-occurring heron I haven’t yet seen at these ponds – other than the bitterns, of course, and with no more cattails that’s not likely to change. It was eating a small fish when I saw it, and spent several minutes just standing in the same spot waiting for more to swim within reach.

Green Heron

Green Heron

A bullfrog was sitting in the middle of the circular retention pond near the small building, and I was happy to see it; I had wondered what had happened to all of the frogs and turtles that lived here prior to the draining of the ponds.

Bullfrog

Bullfrog

Two sharp notes that sounded like a Spotted Sandpiper imitating a yellowlegs caught my attention, and I saw four shorebirds running along the shore of another pool of water nearby. The strong eye-ring identified them as Solitary Sandpipers, another common mid-summer migrant.

Solitary Sandpiper

Solitary Sandpiper

It was great to see so many different shorebird species using the ponds, as normally the water is too high to attract all but the resident Killdeer and Spotted Sandpipers. Other birds seen during my walk included a pair of Belted Kingfishers, four Mourning Doves, a Northern Flicker, two chickadees, over a dozen Cedar Waxwings, a couple of Chipping Sparrows, lots of Song Sparrows, a couple of House Finches, and about ten Red-winged Blackbirds. The large stand of cattails that used to grow near the western shore of the central pond has been removed, so the songs of the Common Yellowthroats and Swamp Sparrows were absent. Common Grackles, too, were absent. I used to see them in the patch of small evergreen trees on the western shore just south of the Emerald Meadows entrance, though I don’t know if they used to breed there; those evergreens, too, are gone. Still, the diversity of water birds using the ponds was far better than I had expected, though I expect that will change once the water level rises again.

I headed north toward the Emerald Meadows entrance and found this fellow munching on the grass. Eastern Cottontails are common in the neighbourhood, though they are adept at keeping out of sight during the daylight hours.

Eastern Cottontail

Eastern Cottontail

In the pond just north of Emerald Meadows Drive I found a single Great Egret hunting for fish. I also found this Twelve-spotted Skimmer resting in the vegetation; it made for a pretty sight.

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

The water level was the highest in the pond south of Bridgestone, so as expected, there weren’t many birds present. I turned around to go back to the central pond, as it had the most activity. Along the way I spotted this baby robin following its parent along the ground. It is a fairly young bird, and based on the little tufts of white down sticking out of its head, it has only fledged within the past day or two. These wispy feathers typically break off or fall out within a week or so after a bird leaves its nest and, as such, can be used to determine a fledgling’s age fairly accurately. Another feature that can be used to tell a bird’s age is the presence of the fleshy gape at the corner of its mouth. In young birds the brightly coloured gape appears soft and swollen, but once the birds are old enough to have fledged, the gape begins to harden, become less prominent, and darken with age. In the photo below, the yellow gape extends nearly to the bottom of the robin’s eye.

Baby American Robin

Baby American Robin

This is the probably the youngest robin I’ve seen out of the nest, and while it followed its parent fairly closely at first, the adult quickly began to outpace it. The youngster eventually stopped, taking cover in the tall grass.

Despite not having a car and not being able to go to a place with more variety, I was pleased by the birds that I saw at the ponds. There was a lot more biodiversity present than I had dared to hope for after all the construction, with 29 species of birds, three different odes, and some other interesting mammals and bugs. I just hoped that whatever construction is left wouldn’t disturb the wildlife in the area, and that eventually the ones that have been displaced – such as the beavers, muskrats, frogs and turtles that lived in the pond – will return once the construction is finally finished.

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