Late summer is a great time for birding. Shorebirds, flycatchers, and warblers which breed further north have moved into the area, while our resident breeding birds are preparing for their journey south. It’s a fantastic time to check out the woods and river for both residents and migrants before they leave for good. Personally, it’s one of my favourite times of year, especially as the summer weather tends to linger on into the end of September – unlike the fickle weather of May, you can go birding in shorts and sandals instead of gloves and winter coats. The diversity is just as excellent, and it is possible to find species that usually bypass Ottawa in the spring lingering here in the fall. Here are a few things I’ve found recently while out birding around the west end.
Great Black-backed Gulls are a nemesis of mine. I see them fairly often, but usually too far away to photograph. On the last Sunday of August I found two at Andrew Haydon Park, one on the docks of the yacht club (far away as usual), and this one on the lawn by the eastern creek. This is the first time I was able to get close to one, and I wonder if it was sick – it appeared to coughing or trying to bring something up, all without making a sound.
A juvenile Wood Duck was sitting on the grass near the edge of the eastern creek, and a Hooded Merganser was in the western pond. I found three warbler species in the trees, including a Northern Parula, a Magnolia Warbler, and at least three Yellow-rumped Warblers. This juvenile Great Blue Heron was standing on a rock next to the bandshell and was tame enough for me to get some great portrait shots.
In mid-September I went for a walk at the Old Quarry Trail. There wasn’t much around, but I did get my first Dark-eyed Junco of the fall, and saw an adult Cooper’s Hawk – likely a female – eating a red squirrel. I got some pictures, but due to the low light they didn’t turn out very well. These mushrooms were also quite interesting, and the photos turned out better. I don’t know what they are, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them before.
That same weekend I visited the Beaver Trail and Jack Pine Trail, and both were equally productive for birds. At the Beaver Trail I found a Virginia Rail at the boardwalk, a Blue-headed Vireo which kept singing the whole time I was near it, both Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets, three Gray Catbirds, two Common Yellowthroats, and a Magnolia Warbler.
I heard another Blue-headed Vireo singing at Jack Pine Trail, and heard a Common Gallinule calling in the marsh. There were no migrant warblers, but a Rose-breasted Grosbeak was nice to see, and four Blue Jays kept me busy doling out the birdseed.
In the alvar I was surprised to hear a pair of Eastern Towhees calling back and forth, both giving a metallic, up-slurred “to-weeee”. I only saw the male, but he paused in the open long enough to get a photo.
At Shirley’s Bay the same day, I checked the old cottage area and along the shoreline for songbirds. I had little luck with warblers, finding only a Magnolia and a Palm Warbler. However, I did find two species of thrush, including a Wood Thrush and a Swainson’s Thrush foraging in a shrub. The Wood Thrush was my last of the year. The Swainson’s Thrush, which breeds only slight further north, was very responsive to pishing.
I was surprised to find a Brown Thrasher foraging for food on the lawn of the sailing club. These birds prefer skulking in thickets where they are difficult to photograph, so seeing one out in the open was a treat. It, too, was my last of the year.
One Gray Catbird, a few juncos, and three Eastern Phoebes were also present, which was interesting to me as it seldom that I see a Gray Catbird (an insect-loving summer resident) and a junco (a common bird at winter feeders) in the same day. This is why September is a bittersweet time for me – I hate saying goodbye to our summer residents, and would rather put off saying hello to our winter ones for another couple of months!
I’ve had Wood Thrush on both the Fall Bird Count (now defunct) and the first ever CBC record. So you can say something is the last of the year but you never know!