I started my walk hoping to find shorebirds – good numbers are being reported at the eastern lagoons, and a few different species show up at the ponds each migration. My first good bird was a Black-throated Blue Warbler singing in the trees of the peninsula. I’ve heard several this spring, but have only seen one female, so I spent some time tracking it down. This male was cooperative, perching out in the open – but not in the sun where his brilliant blue, black and white colours appear most striking.
Four other warbler species were present, represented by only one individual each: Magnolia Warbler, Yellow Warbler, Wilson’s Warbler, and a surprise Blackburnian Warbler were all found foraging in the trees surrounding the ponds. Both the Blackburnian and Wilson’s Warblers were new for my Eagleson Ponds list; I heard the Wilson’s Warbler singing, but didn’t recognize the song and tracked it down until I got a good enough look to identify it.
The only shorebirds I found in the southern pond were a Killdeer and a Spotted Sandpiper, which are both regular summer residents, but when I checked the mouth of the channel I found three Semipalmated Plovers on the western bank and two Least Sandpipers and a fourth Semipalmated Plover in the circular bay on the eastern bank. Two Killdeer were calling in alarm, and a third one – possibly the one from the southern pond – flew in and joined them.
From there I headed north toward Emerald Meadows Drive where I noticed this robin tugging at a worm on the ground – it picked it up and dropped it several times.
A muskrat was swimming around the circular pond, and climbed up onto the bank to munch on the grass.
I walked all the way to Emerald Meadows Drive and then headed back south toward my car, stopping when I spotted a medium-sized bird perching silently atop the birch tree in the northern grove of trees. It was unfamiliar to me, and the fluffy white and dark feathering reminded me of a Gray Jay (now called Canada Jay), although I knew it wasn’t a jay. However, the patches of white along its wings left me entirely uncertain as to its identity, so I turned on the camera and started snapping pictures.
It took flight a few moments later, but I was relieved when it only swooped around the opening and flew back to the birch tree, landing on top. This time it revealed its white belly, dark vest, and distinctive flycatcher head and I realized I was watching an Olive-sided Flycatcher!
These birds are more often seen in fall migration than in spring, as they breed in the northern portion of the Ottawa 50-km circle where woodland openings close to swamps or beaver ponds have sufficient snags for flycatching. They prefer similar habitats during migration, but are often found in scrubby areas such as the sumac field at Mud Lake, a repeat spot for this species.
I was hoping to hear this bird sing as I have never seen one singing before; birders often render its song as “Quick, three beers”. However, the bird was intent on catching food, darting out from the birch to snag an insect every now and then before returning to the same tree. I didn’t realize it had caught a wasp of some sort until I saw my pictures at home later.
This surprised me, as I thought that only birds that are specialized in eating bees or wasps would eat an insect with a stinger, such as bee-eaters and tanagers; however, most flycatchers are opportunists, and will take wasps and bees as well as flying ants, dragonflies, grasshoppers, beetles, moths, butterflies, and flies. Olive-sided Flycatchers are also thought to eat fruit, particularly berries, while migrating or on their winter grounds, as other large flycatchers do; however, there are few such observations.
It was a real treat to see this Olive-sided Flycatcher so close to home, bird no. 145 on the Eagleson Ponds hotspot list and bird no. 125 on my own personal list for this location. It can be a difficult species to see in Ottawa, and finding it in such an unlikely spot just serves as a reminder how important and worthwhile it can be to keep checking your local patch or favourite under-birded park or conservation area.