Interspecies Disputes

Spotted Jewelweed (aka Touch-me-not)

Spotted Jewelweed (aka Touch-me-not)

Labour Day weekend is here, and in my view, it is the best birding long weekend of the year – although Victoria Day comes close, by then songbird migration is mostly over, and high water levels in the spring mean that there are fewer shorebird species around places like Shirley’s Bay and Andrew Haydon Park. At the beginning of September, however, lots of different kinds of birds are passing through, and the weather is still very warm, so there are more insects around, too.

Yesterday morning I decided to head out early as I was hoping to beat the crowds of dog-walkers, wind-surfers, joggers, etc. to the mudflats at Ottawa Beach. It was only 9°C when I left, with a few fog patches in the low-lying areas, but when I arrived at Ottawa Beach at 6:40am I found only two other people – a photographer and another birder just walking in. A small group of shorebirds was foraging along the shore, and when I set up my scope I was happy to see a Sanderling (an Ottawa year bird), a Pectoral Sandpiper, and half a dozen Semipalmated Plovers.

The fog on the river looked amazing so I took this picture with a few Ring-billed Gulls loafing in the water.

Ottawa River in the Fog

Ottawa River in the Fog (click to enlarge)

I checked the creek briefly but didn’t see anything of interest, so I drove over the western parking lot of Andrew Haydon Park and brought my scope to the mudflats there. I spotted movement in the leafy vegetation and counted 15 Killdeer foraging in the muck; a careful scan picked up three Least Sandpipers, four Wood Ducks, two Blue-winged Teal and three Green-winged Teal. A Great Egret standing in the water didn’t need a scope to find or identify, and I wondered if it is the same one that likes hanging around in the bay here, or if different ones take turns.

I returned my scope to the car and took a long walk around the ponds, starting on the north side so I could check the water’s edge for shorebirds. I didn’t find any shorebirds, but I was happy when I saw a Cooper’s Hawk fly in and land in a conifer just past the bridge, irritating both a Red Squirrel and the crows sitting in another tree there. I walked around the tree and managed to take two photos of the hawk before it suddenly took off after one of the crows. I could see that they were about the same size as they flew by, the crow squawking as it went, and after they did one or two laps around the area they both returned to the same tree. A few moments later, the hawk took another run at the crow. This seemed strange to me, for usually it’s the other way around – crows have no tolerance of predators in their territory, and will often dive-bomb, chase and harass owls, hawks, and even ravens. I wasn’t sure a Cooper’s Hawk would try to catch an adult crow for food; they feed on medium-sized birds such as robins, Northern Flickers, Rock Pigeons, Mourning Doves, grouse, and even young crows. A fully adult-sized crow is the same size as the Cooper’s Hawk, which made me wonder if the crows had been harassing the hawk so badly that the hawk decided to chase off its tormentors.

Cooper's Hawk

Cooper’s Hawk

Eventually the Cooper’s Hawk flew off and landed on a tree near the bandshell, seemingly losing interest in the dispute.

I continued on my way to the eastern creek to check the shrubs between the lawn and the creek for migrants. This can be a terrific spot during migration, and I was disappointed that pishing only brought a Northern Parula and a Song Sparrow into view. I saw five Northern Flickers in the dead tree across the creek and could hear other birds moving around, so I decided to walk up the creek to see if I could spot anything there. To my surprise the flock of shorebirds I had seen at Ottawa Beach were now foraging on this side of the creek – one Pectoral Sandpiper, one Sanderling, and 10 Semipalmated Plovers. They didn’t stay long, flying back to Ottawa Beach as I approached them.

Sanderling

Sanderling

In the creek bed I saw a Common Yellowthroat and heard an American Redstart singing and that was it, so I returned to the lawn to work my way down the vegetation to the footbridge. This proved to be an excellent decision as I finally found a large flock of migrants in the tall trees: one Warbling Vireo in full song, two Red-eyed Vireos, my first Wilson’s Warbler of the year, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, a Magnolia Warbler, a Gray Catbird, and this Bay-breasted Warbler. I even found an Ovenbird lurking in the shrubs a few feet above the ground!

Bay-breasted Warbler

Bay-breasted Warbler

As I approached the creek I startled an adult Black-crowned Night Heron and a Green into flight. The Green Heron flew into a shrub just above the water’s edge while the Night Heron flew across the street and landed in a tree above the creek. I always like seeing these birds; unlike the frenetic, here-and-then-gone warblers, kinglets, flycatchers, and vireos, they tend to stay put and move slowly if they don’t feel threatened.

Green Heron

Green Heron

I completed my circuit of the park without finding any other interesting songbirds, so I decided to check the western mudflats one last time before leaving. There I found the Least Sandpipers and Killdeer hanging out with the Pectoral Sandpiper, Sanderling, Semipalmated Plovers and a Lesser Yellowlegs. A Great Blue Heron had joined the Great Egret in the water as well. None of the birds were very close, except for a pair of Killdeer.

Killdeer

Killdeer

I had one particularly disturbing encounter with a Ring-billed Gull; it was walking around with a long piece of plastic in its bill (about the size of five or six sheets of toilet paper), and when I approached it I was horrified to see that it was trying eat the plastic. I walked closer to see if I could grab the plastic, which was dangling behind it; that failed, so I ran at the bird trying to see if it would drop it. Unfortunately that didn’t work either, but a piece of the plastic broke off. I promptly threw it in a garbage can while the gull proceeded to gulp down the rest. Although I was feeling quite sad for the gull and disgusted with humanity at that point, I knew that there was no use in blaming people for littering in the park when I’ve seen both the gulls and the Red Squirrels retrieving garbage from the garbage cans there. Still, it was a terrible experience watching the gull ingesting all that plastic knowing that it would eventually kill it.

From there I headed over to Sarsaparilla Trail to check out the pond there. Unfortunately there wasn’t too much around – a Belted Kingfisher in a tree and a singing Swamp Sparrow were the best birds of my visit. Although it was now quite warm, I found only two dragonflies sitting in the sunny patch near the outhouse – a White-faced Meadowhawk and an Autumn Meadowhawk.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

Disappointed with Sarsaparilla Trail (only 9 species compared to 41 at Andrew Haydon!), I stopped by the Rideau Trail next as the edge habitat there can be excellent. Unfortunately, all I heard along the hydro cut were a Blue Jay and a Gray Catbird. I cut over to the trail and found some activity along the boardwalk: a Rose-breasted Grosbeak squeaked in a tree above me, while two or three Magnolia Warblers, a Common Yellowthroat, and a House Wren responded to my pishing. The House Wren was particularly irritated by my presence, as it scolded me repeatedly for interrupting its peace.

House Wren

House Wren

Here he is, still scolding me. When I later returned to the little clearing I spotted him checking out the cavities in a snag; perhaps checking out next year’s nesting site? This is the first time in several years (five, according to eBird) I’ve seen a House Wren at this trail, though I normally get them in the hydro cut. It would be great to hear their bubbly songs here in the spring.

House Wren

House Wren

A Broad-winged Hawk soaring over the alvar was also a good find, though it was a sheer stroke of luck that I saw it as it wasn’t calling.

It wasn’t even 10:30 yet, so I drove over to the Beaver Trail next. Four Wild Turkeys were feeding on seed left on the ground right at the entrance, and a little further along I heard a Brown Creeper. The pond at the V-shaped boardwalk was full of water again, and I spotted a kingfisher sitting in a shrub near the old beaver lodge (now collapsed or hidden from view; it’s no longer visible from the boardwalk). I also saw a Tennessee Warbler flitting among the shrubs, the only migrant warbler of my visit.

There was more activity near the lookout at the back of the trail – I saw a Purple Finch, a Common Yellowthroat and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak there, and watched as a Ruby-throated Hummingbird sipped nectar from the Spotted Jewelweed there.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

The hummingbird was not particularly happy with the chickadees, and twice it chased one right past my head at full speed. This was an interesting comparison to the chase between the hawk and the crow earlier: unlike the crow and the hawk, neither the chickadee nor the hummingbird preys on birds, although hummingbirds can be aggressive toward other birds feeding in “their” territory. I am not sure what the chickadee had done to merit such a response from the hummingbird; I can’t see them fighting over the same food source, so it seemed very odd. Either way, it was my second interspecies dispute of the day, and the unlikelier of the two!

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Despite the warmth, it wasn’t a great day for insects. I saw a couple of darners flying over the beaver pond and a red-faced meadowhawk in the field; the Autumn and White-faced Meadowhawks at Sarsaparilla Trail were the only species I saw today that I was able to identify. Butterflies were even less accommodating, with only a few crescents seen along the hydro cut at Old Richmond Road and a couple of Cabbage Whites seen later at home. I can’t believe how quickly the season flew by – although a few butterfly species are still around, it’s hard to believe I won’t see any more hairstreaks, elfins, Mustard Whites, Canadian Tiger Swallowtails, Northern Pearly-eyes, or White Admirals until next year.

At least migration has been good so far this year, with many raptors, herons, shorebirds, wrens and warblers; hopefully that will keep my attention occupied until December, and I won’t miss the bugs so much!

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