A Walk at the Pond

Eastern Cottontail

Eastern Cottontail

On the last day of July I got a late start and headed over to the storm water ponds with the intention of checking them briefly before heading elsewhere. However, I had such a great time I ended up spending almost 90 minutes there! Once again when I arrived, I was startled to see a number of swallows flying above the ponds. Most appeared to be Barn Swallows, but I did see at least two Bank Swallows flying with them. It is interesting to think that they managed to nest here this past summer with all the construction going on; fortunately the bridge they nest under hasn’t been touched by the construction. I later found the Barn Swallows resting on the roof of a nearby house, and counted about 15 of them.

There were some nice mudflats on the east side of the main pond, and I found a Least Sandpiper walking through the puddles. At least 15 Killdeer were present around the edges of the water, as were a couple of Spotted Sandpipers.

In the main pond I found nine Canada Geese, several Mallards, and a couple of Double-crested Cormorants standing on the rocks. One was standing with its wings outstretched:

Double-crested Cormorants

Both adults and juveniles were present; immature cormorants are pale brown compared to the matte black of the adults, particularly on the chest. I don’t believe they nest here – cormorants nest in colonies, and there is one well-known colony on the Quebec side of the Deschenes Rapids. Instead, I think that one or two family groups leave the colony to spend the summer on the ponds once the young are large enough to fly. There were only eight birds present yesterday, though I have seen as many as 12 over the course of the summer.

Double-crested Cormorants

The round retention pond was also productive, as a Green Heron was busy fishing near the concrete wall and a juvenile Spotted Sandpiper was working its way around the edges.

Spotted Sandpiper (juvenile)

Only breeding adults have the eponymous spots on the underside, and juveniles can be distinguished from non-breeding adults by the dark scaling and scalloping on back. Spotted Sandpipers are not only found along beaches, but also the shores of lakes, rivers, and streams, making them relatively easy to find in the warmer months.

Spotted Sandpiper (juvenile)

This photo shows the main “central” pond under construction; if you click the photo to enlarge it, you will see a Ring-billed Gull in the center and the group of cormorants to the right. I am not sure what the small stakes sticking out of the bottom are to be used for, but I imagine that once we get some rain they will no longer be visible. It was also nice to see the large rocks in the pond, providing convenient perches for the birds. This photo is looking west toward Eagleson Road; new houses are being built just to the south.

Ponds Under Construction (click to enlarge)

I continued heading north and stopped to check out the area adjacent to the new channel running south from Emerald Meadows Drive. The workers have widened the channel that existed here previously, and created what looks like a floodplain on the western side – the ground is flat and muddy, and although they have planted a few trees there, they may not survive if the water level rises in the fall. A few more Spotted Sandpipers were on the opposite bank, and as was a Black-crowned Night Heron stalking the fish.

There were more plantings on the east side of the channel, with some on either side of the double row of fences left by the construction workers. One fence runs along the edge of the water, presumably to keep animals (muskrats?) from eating the newly planted flowers and shrubs between the two fences. I found a female Belted Kingfisher perching on one of the fence posts, and managed to snap this photo before she flew off. Even my 60x zoom isn’t quite good enough to get a decent picture of these birds, as they fly away as soon as they see a human, making it difficult to get close.

Belted Kingfisher

A couple of crows were also in the area, slowly and methodically walking along the ground as though looking for a tasty treat. One flew up onto the fence post, and the light shining on it was so perfect that I had to snap a picture. It’s hard to believe that it’s only taken me 10 years to get a nice picture of a crow; normally they are too wary of humans to allow a close approach, and if they do, the lighting is too poor to really show any detail in the feathers.

American Crow

American Crow

On my way back to the main path I was delighted to see a Ruby-throated Hummingbird sipping from the flowers planted near the trees. This was a new bird for me at the ponds, and I hoped to get a photo of it. Unfortunately it flew away shortly after I spotted it, flying across the water so fast that I quickly lost sight of it.

This Eastern Cottontail was much more accommodating. It is probably the same one I saw last weekend, and I suspect it is fairly used to the people using the path.

Eastern Cottontail

He doesn’t look all that thrilled when I walked by; here he gives me his “serious face”.

Eastern Cottontail

I checked out the small pond just north of Emerald Meadows Drive next and found two more kingfishers perching on the various fence posts. A small, dark butterfly flew past me and headed toward the large open swath of dirt adjacent to the pond. It landed close enough for me to identify it as a duskywing and take a few photos. As it is too late in the season for Juvenal’s Duskywing, I knew it was either a Columbine Duskywing or a Wild Indigo Duskywing. Ross Layberry confirmed it as a Wild Indigo Duskywing, which can be distinguished by its larger size and the colour of the light patch just inside the small white dots on the forewing. Columbine Duskywings have a grey patch, while the Wild Indigo Duskywing has a light brown patch. Both species are closely tied to areas where their larval host plants grow; the Wild Indigo Duskywing can be found where Purple Crown Vetch is abundant, as its larvae feed almost exclusively on this plant where Wild Indigo is not present. I had seen some of these pretty pink flowers in the area, explaining the presence of this butterfly.

Wild Indigo Duskywing

Wild Indigo Duskywings used to be rare in Ottawa until a few years ago, when a couple of individuals were seen in various areas (including the one I photographed at Mud Lake on August 28, 2010). Since then their population has exploded in areas where Crown Vetch is abundant, and it appears that the Eagleson Storm Water Ponds are the latest spot to host this chocolate-coloured butterfly.

I turned around and headed back to the main ponds, spotting a Northern Flicker, a couple of robins, a small flock of Cedar Waxwings, and several goldfinches.

American Goldfinch

I finished my walk with 26 species – a great tally for a rather sterile area with limited trees and thickets for songbirds to nest or shelter in. So far I’ve been happy with the improvements to the ponds, as there seem to be more species around instead of fewer. Time will only tell whether more species return once the construction is finished and the vegetation returns to a more natural state, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it progresses over the seasons.

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2 thoughts on “A Walk at the Pond

  1. Happy New Year! I’m looking forward to another year of great posts about the Ottawa-area wildlife.I learn useful bits each time, like the difference to look for with the Wild Indigo and Columbine’s. Thanks!

    • Thanks Bet – Happy New Year to you too! I haven’t seen a Columbine Duskywing in a long time, so now I will know what to look for too, and will hopefully be able to post photos of the two species side-by-side! I also hope to post more regularly this year, and to get caught up sometime before spring migration starts. I’ve got a lot of great posts in the works, so keep reading!

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