Arrival of the Warblers

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

On Saturday the temperature dropped and we finally got some desperately-needed rain. It started falling early in the morning and continued throughout the day, putting a damper on my plans to go dragon-hunting along the river. However, as the rain wasn’t falling too heavily when I got up, I headed out to do some birding instead. While my chief target was the three Short-billed Dowitchers at Andrew Haydon Park, I made a quick stop at Sarsaparilla Trail first to check out the action there. The birds were very quiet, however, and if it weren’t for the Virginia Rail scurrying in the reeds next to the boardwalk, it wouldn’t have been worth the stop.

From there I drove to Ottawa Beach to search for shorebirds. According to Mark Gawn, who was leaving just as I arrived, I had just missed a Black-bellied Plover and a Ruddy Turnstone – two birds that I needed for my Ottawa list, though I’d had excellent views of both in Mexico. On the mudflats I saw a few Semipalmated Plovers, a Greater Yellowlegs, a Least Sandpiper and a Semipalmated Sandpiper. Not long after I arrived I was treated to the sight of an adult Bald Eagle cruising east fairly close to the shore. What struck me about this bird was how long its wings were – it almost looked like a giant butterfly flapping along.

By the time I headed over to the western mudflats of Andrew Haydon Park, the rain was coming down again in earnest. I saw the three Short-billed Dowitchers, a few more Semipalmated Sandpipers, and several Killdeer. The usual Great Egret was stalking the river there; that was the only heron I saw.

Even though it was raining, I was hoping for some songbird action and headed over to Mud Lake next. There were quite a few birds around, including a pair of Eastern Kingbirds on the ridge, but it wasn’t until I was heading out – thoroughly soaked from pushing through the vegetation on the narrow trails – that I found a pocket of migrants. The light was poor, and my binoculars kept getting wet, but I identified a Red-eyed Vireo, two Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a Black-and-white Warbler in the group. I first noticed them flying over Cassels Street toward the scrubby sumac field, landing in the dead trees just across the road, and if the light had been better I probably would have identified a few more birds. They were moving too quickly too high up, and too far into the thick vegetation, to get a good look at all of them. Still, in the hour that I was there I managed to see 26 species, including three Great Blue Herons, two Green Herons flying over the ridge together, an immature Black-crowned Night-heron, an Osprey hunting over the lake, a Gray Catbird, a couple of orioles, several Yellow Warblers and American Redstarts, and a dozen Cedar Waxwings.

Because of the rain I left my camera in my bag almost the whole time I was there; I took it out only to photograph this Autumn Meadowhawk resting on a leaf. It had only emerged recently, and it was the reddish glints in the wings that attracted my attention.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

The rain had stopped by the time I got up this morning, so I decided to return to Mud Lake for a quick outing before my train left for Cambridge. On my first pass of the ridge it didn’t seem as though there was much around; a Gray Catbird and a young Baltimore Oriole seemed to be the best birds, although a Black-crowned Night Heron flying over was nice to see. I heard a Common Yellowthroat’s distinctive chip note in the shrubs that ringed the small swamp but wasn’t able to spot it. They don’t breed at Mud Lake, so it was either a migrant or a bird undergoing post-breeding dispersal.

When I got to the lawn just beyond the five huge spruce trees, I heard some activity in the shrubs and spotted a pair of Yellow-rumped Warblers. They flew into the spruces, so I started pishing and was surprised to see a gorgeous immature Chestnut-sided Warbler pop into view!

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

It remained on the branch for at least two full minutes while I kept pishing and taking pictures. If only all warblers were so cooperative!

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

I think this might be my favourite photo of the set:

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Encouraged by my finds so far, I returned to the ridge with the intention of heading into the woods after to see if the group of birds I had found there yesterday was still around. When I heard some birds moving around in the vegetation, I started pishing and was surprised by all the birds that popped out: one American Redstart, one Great Crested Flycatcher, two Cape May Warblers (including one bright yellow bird and one dull grayish-brown bird) and two Black-and-white Warblers!

American Redstart

American Redstart

Black-and-white Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler

They were all in the vegetation on the south side of the ridge, and once the flocked moved on I headed further west. I kept pishing, hoping to get a photo of a Cape May Warbler; instead I had an empidonax flycatcher pop up, and found a Nashville Warbler working its way through the shrubs only a few feet above the ground.

Nashville Warbler

Nashville Warbler

Swallows were flying high above the ridge as well, and I counted at least 20 Tree Swallows, along with one Barn Swallow. In the non-passerine department, three Hooded Mergansers were present on the lake, and an Osprey flying over was the only raptor of the day.

Encouraged by the flock of migrants on the ridge, I headed toward the sumac field west of the lake. There I found more warblers, including a couple of Blackburnian Warblers, more American Redstarts, and a couple of Yellow Warblers that were still singing. A couple of Gray Catbirds, a Warbling Vireo, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, two Baltimore Orioles, a Great Crested Flycatcher and the usual Cedar Waxwings also made it seem very “birdy”.

I thoroughly enjoyed the morning’s birding, and counted 38 species (39 including the unidentified empid) altogether at Mud Lake, including nine species of warbler. Many of these birds likely haven’t travelled very far, as they all breed in the Ottawa-Gatineau region, but it was great to see the arrival of so many warblers and fall migration finally beginning in earnest.

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