Searching for Migrants in Stony Swamp

Rain and thunderstorms were in the forecast Saturday morning, so I went birding close to home as I didn’t have much time before the rain was supposed to start. Although it was still sunny when I left, I decided to visit the Rideau Trail and Sarsaparilla Trail as I knew I didn’t have enough time to visit a larger trail like Jack Pine, though I’ve been meaning to return there for a while now. I haven’t been to these two trails since Labour Day, and was hoping to find some different migrants there, but once again the trails were disappointingly quiet.

When I reached the parking lot at Sarsaparilla Trail the first thing I noticed were a couple of crows flying up into the trees. The second thing I noticed was the Snowshoe Hare in the grass at the edge of the parking lot. It’s been a while since I’ve seen one here; it was good to see that at least one of the two was still around.

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare

The woods were fairly quiet when I arrived. I headed directly to the boardwalk, hoping to find lots of birds around the pond. Though I saw more today than on my previous visit, there still wasn’t much: waterfowl included two Wood Ducks and three American Black Ducks sitting on a log, a Double-crested Cormorant perching on a stump in the water, and about 15 mallards swimming around the pond. A Green Heron flew low across the pond at one point; that was the only heron present. I heard two Swamp Sparrows and a Purple Finch attempting to sing, a Gray Catbird mewing from somewhere across the pond, and a Pileated Woodpecker calling loudly from the woods. A Song Sparrow briefly landed in the vegetation next to the boardwalk.

I checked the vegetation near the picnic shelter on my way out and was rewarded by two migrant species: a couple of White-throated Sparrows calling from the shrubs and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird seen near the entrance to the woods. It caught my attention by hovering briefly near a tree before flying off quickly into the woods. I hoped it was merely perching on a nearby branch but was unable to locate it. Still, it was a good find as it is my 128th species recorded at this trail and the 149th listed in the eBird hotspot.

I had higher hopes for the Rideau Trail as the sun shining along the hydro cut could potentially bring out warblers and other insectivores looking for food. I saw my first butterflies of the day there, an unknown crescent and at least two fresh-looking Eastern Tailed Blues.

Eastern Tailed Blue

Eastern Tailed Blue

I didn’t find any migrants in the hydro cut. I heard a couple of sparrows, two Gray Catbirds, and a couple of chickadees. There were no warblers or vireos or flycatchers at all – this was a disappointing start to the day. In fact, my best find there turned out to be a spider – these fellows seem to be scarce again this year, with very few webs in the long grass of traditional places like the Bruce Pit, Richmond Lagoons, and Rideau Trail. These orbweavers belong to the genus Argiope and are also known as Black-and-Yellow Argiopes.

Black-and-Yellow Garden Spider

Black-and-Yellow Garden Spider

I tried the boardwalk next to see if there were any birds in the clearing at the end; I saw a robin and a pair of deer. For fun, I headed to the large alvar next. I heard a couple of chickadees and was intent on tracking them down when a dogwalker saw my camera and told me there was a Pileated Woodpecker in a clump of cedars at the other end of the clearing. I headed in that direction and found the chickadees; they sometime form flocks with different species, and I was pleased when I saw a Black-throated Green Warbler close by. I started pishing and managed to call a Blue-headed Vireo into view as well. A third bird – possibly a Bay-breasted Warbler – also popped into view, but didn’t stay out in the open long enough to ID. I noted the Pileated Woodpecker in the cedars and intended to return to it later to take some photographs, but it flew off before I was finished with the flock of songbirds. A second one was also in the same area; I also noticed it when it flew into the woods. It wasn’t until I got home that I realized that this was a new bird for my Rideau Trail list – no. 77. Of course, I wasn’t able to find any other songbirds in the flock other than the chickadees, making me wish I had made a more serious attempt to photograph the two Pileated Woodpeckers.



I also heard a Red-shouldered Hawk calling quite loudly from the direction of the boardwalk and a Purple Finch calling from the trees but wasn’t able to spot either one. On my way back to the parking lot I noticed a Brown Creeper ambling up a tree near the boardwalk; seeing this species two days in a row made me wonder if they were starting to migrate through the area, but a quick look on eBird shows that I’ve had them in Stony Swamp all summer.

As the sun was still shining, I headed back to the trail beneath the hydro towers one last time before heading home to see if any flocks had moved into the area. The only new species I found was a wren that surfaced briefly in another clump of shrubs; it disappeared before I could tell whether it was a House Wren (most likely) or Winter Wren (possible). Still, it was a good outing with 17 species seen (including the unidentified wren), only one more than my outing on September 5th. So although I didn’t find the number of species or variety I was hoping for, it was still good to get out and add a couple of species to both of these locations!


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