Fall Arrives

Mourning Dove

Mourning Dove

On the final Wednesday in September the weather finally changed. Once again the temperature climbed into the 30s, but a cold front passed through around 3:00, generating a powerful but short-lived thunderstorm that brought many tree limbs down. This was the first rain we’d had in three weeks. The temperature fell about seven degrees, and since then temperatures have been back to seasonal, falling to single digits in the night and rising to about 15°C in the day. It’s now necessary to wear a coat in the morning, but I find the change refreshing.

The cold front has finally brought a new wave of birds into the region, primarily sparrows and kinglets. I headed out the Eagleson storm water ponds first thing Saturday morning to see if anything else interesting had arrived. I was still thinking about shorebirds; despite the hot, sunny weather these past few weeks, the water levels along the Ottawa River and at the storm water ponds have not decreased by much, and there is relatively little shorebird habitat in the usual places such as Ottawa Beach or Shirley’s Bay. I found only two Killdeer and a Greater Yellowlegs, and realized it has now been a while since I’ve seen any Spotted Sandpipers around. My last sighting of this species according to eBird was on September 10th.


There were no warblers or vireos this time, no nuthatches, and no Black-crowned Night Herons or Green Herons. The large number of American Goldfinches has significantly decreased as well. I’ve been hoping that last year’s pipits would return, but so far I’ve heard none flying over. I did see two Great Egrets and a Great Blue Heron, a kingfisher, four cormorants, and a Green-winged Teal flying up the channel, its wing patches bright metallic green in the sunlight. Sparrows were flying around the much-reduced sparrow field in the center of the property, and I caught a glimpse of an adult White-crowned Sparrow. Later I saw two more near the footbridge, along with a single White-throated Sparrow. About two dozen Song Sparrows were also still present, hiding in the vegetation until I came along and started pishing. I saw two Ruby-crowned Kinglets in one of the cedar hedges along a row of backyards as well.

White-crowned Sparrow

It was too quiet for my liking, so I headed up to Shirley’s Bay to scan for waterfowl and walk the trails east of the boat launch. A single Ring-billed Gull sitting on a rock caught my attention, as did a pair of pipits flying over. I saw movement along the shoreline trail and discovered a huge flock of migrants – mostly White-throated Sparrows and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, with a few Dark-eyed Juncos as well. The sparrows were in the shrubs close to the ground, while the kinglets were flitting about higher up. The further I walked, the more birds I saw, and I realized it was a flock of a size I had never seen before – at least for these two species. They were everywhere, and nearly every bird my binoculars landed on was a White-throated Sparrow or a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. The sparrows were giving high-pitched call notes and the kinglets were either giving their raspy scold calls or attempting to sing. I heard the familiar double call note of a Winter Wren and spotted it in the branches of a woody shrub. An unfamiliar chip note was worth tracking down, as I found a female Black-throated Blue Warbler – although it looks quite different from the male, the warm yellow tones, dark cheek, and single white square on its wings help to ID this pretty warbler. I’m guessing it was a female rather than a juvenile as Sibley’s shows first year birds as lacking the white wing patch.

A little further along I started hearing Golden-crowned Kinglets, and found a group of them fluttering through the shrubs. One was bouncing from branch to branch out in the open, and I managed to get a few photos.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Kinglets are quick-moving birds, and are thus difficult to photograph. Golden-crowned Kinglets are worse than Ruby-crowned Kinglets because they don’t respond to pishing at all – Ruby-crowns are inquisitive and quick to fly into the open when they hear a pishing sound, even perching for a moment or two, but the Golden-crowns just ignore you. It is difficult to get a Golden-crown in focus when they are constantly in movement, and I was happy to get a couple of photos that show the face rather than their backside.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

From there I drove over to Mud Lake where I saw the full extent of the damage from the storm – tree limbs were down, and large parts of the conservation areas were blocked off. The trails up to the ridge were cordoned off, and the entrance to the woods had two sets of yellow tape and a barricade in between the two. Fortunately there was plenty of activity along Cassels Street, and I found lots of Yellow-rumpled Warblers, a Bay-breasted Warbler, a Black-throated Green Warbler, and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet.

Yellow-rumped Warbler

There were more birds in the line of shrubs on the north side of the lawn near the filtration plant. I saw a junco on the lawn, and more warblers in the trees, including Yellow-rumps, another Black-throated Green, two Northern Parulas, two Magnolia Warblers, a Nashville Warbler, and a Tennessee Warbler. The best bird was a Blackburnian Warbler, which eBird flagged as rare. Both kinglets were present as well in good numbers, though not as many as I had seen at Shirley’s Bay.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Two Hooded Mergansers were on the lake, and I saw a Winter Wren on the ground near the entrance to the woods. I headed home after that, having stayed only about an hour; it was disappointing that so much of the conservation area was closed.

I went back out later in the afternoon to check on the quarry at Moodie Drive. Although the pond was dominated by Canada Geese, I did find some Ring-necked Ducks, American Wigeon, Green-winged Teal, Pied-billed Grebes, and a single American Coot – an Ottawa year bird for me.

The next day I spent some time birding with Chris Lewis. We started out by trying to find the Nelson’s Sparrows at Constance Bay. This is a traditional stopover spot for these migratory birds, and one of the few reliable spots in Ottawa to see them in the fall. I got my lifer here back in 2011, but we had no luck in 2017. We spent some time birding the Shirley’s Bay area next, and although the large flock of White-throated Sparrows and juncos was gone, we did get quite a few kinglets, five White-throated Sparrows, a Field Sparrow, a Gray Catbird, a Northern Parula and a Black-throated Green Warbler.

From there we headed over to Ottawa Beach to look for the continuing Parasitic Jaeger. I had already seen it once, back on September 23rd at the mouth of the creek at Andrew Haydon Park, but wasn’t able to get any photos. It has been seen rather reliably at Ottawa Beach recently where it likes to rest on a rock several metres out in the bay when it wasn’t harassing the local Ring-billed Gulls; Chris and I had no issues finding it sitting out in the open. The water is still higher than usual this time of year, so there was no expanse of sand to walk out onto. We cautiously made our way through the tangles and fallen tree trunks along the shoreline to the closest vantage point, where I was finally able to get some photos of this wonderful bird!

Parasitic Jaeger

Most jaegers that show up along the Ottawa River are usually just passing through and disappear after spending a day here. The Parasitic Jaeger that appeared along the same stretch of the river from September 8-14, 2011 was the first one to become more than a “one-day wonder”; that juvenile spent a week here, and was my lifer. This bird was an adult light morph that was initially discovered on September 21st and was last seen on October 3rd.

Parasitic Jaeger

Parasitic Jaegers breed on the Arctic tundra, feeding on insects, small mammals, berries, carrion, adult birds and their eggs. However, when they leave their breeding grounds for the open oceans adjacent to the southern U.S., Mexico, and Central America, they obtain their food by harassing gulls and other seabirds until they give up or regurgitate their catch. We didn’t see the jaeger chasing any gulls, though others watching it this week have!

Parasitic Jaeger

I’ve enjoyed the cooler fall weather and the new influx of birds. Although it’s sad to see the last of the summer breeding birds such as Spotted Sandpipers, Gray Catbirds, and migrating warblers, it’s great to see the transient sparrows and the magnificent Parasitic Jaeger. Hopefully this is the start of a dynamic fall season!

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