April Summary

White-throated Sparrow

By the time March comes, birders are tired of winter and are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the first spring migrants – the Red-winged Blackbirds, the Common Grackles, the Turkey Vultures, the Song Sparrows and Killdeer. By the time April arrives, birders are eagerly awaiting the next wave of migrants and the first warm days of spring. This year, the second wave of migrants was delayed by the lingering cold temperatures and the lingering snow on the ground. Then it started raining in the middle of the month, and the rivers and creeks began to flood. It was really tough to find the motivation to go out – the weather wasn’t cooperative, the birds were late, and it wasn’t warm enough to look for the first butterflies of the year until toward the end of the month.

My first new year birds in April included Great Blue Heron, Wood Duck, and Ring-necked Duck on April 6th, found at Kristina Kiss park and Andrew Haydon Park. The following day brought four more: Killdeer at the Eagleson storm water ponds, and Northern Goshawk, Eastern Phoebe and Winter Wren at the Beaver Trail. Despite a cold start to the day, the following Saturday (April 13th) warmed up to a beautiful 15°C. Jack Pine Trail was full of good birds: my first Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Golden-crowned Kinglet, and Chipping Sparrow, as well as another Eastern Phoebe and Winter Wren. I had nearly finished the 2.5 kilometer loop and had almost arrived back at the parking lot when I heard the raucous squawking of a group of blackbirds. Most were Red-winged Blackbirds, but I spotted a single Common Grackle among them, and could pick out a couple of Rusty Blackbirds calling as well! They were scattered in the trees around a large vernal swamp formed by the melting snow, and eventually I found one of the Rusty Blackbirds out in the open, singing. There were at least four present, possibly more.

Rusty Blackbird

Although similar in appearance to the Common Grackle, the Rusty Blackbird has a daintier bill, a smaller tail, and lacks the glossy bronze and blue sheen on the body and head.

Rusty Blackbird

I checked the Eagleson ponds the following day, hoping for some new arrivals, and found only a couple of Ring-necked Ducks. From there I headed up to the Ottawa River to see what other waterfowl might have arrived; I started off at Dick Bell Park, where my best bird wasn’t a duck but a pair of Merlins. I saw one flying in circles overhead while calling; eventually it passed right over my head where I was standing. A little later I noticed it had been joined by a second Merlin, and they flew into a tall tree across the street where they began mating. I also heard a Field Sparrow singing somewhere close by, but wasn’t able to locate it. The water was still mostly frozen, so I decided to skip the visit to Andrew Haydon and drive directly to Mud Lake. I got my first Pine Warbler of the year there when I heard at least two singing in the tall pines in the southwest corner. I also saw a Hooded Merganser fly into the cavity in a tall, thin pine; this was the first time I’d ever seen one at a nest before. The strangest sight of the day, however, was a Wood Duck being chased by a crow through the woods! I don’t know what the duck did to make the crow mad, but it was amusing to watch.

I didn’t take many photos that day, but when I found a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets foraging among quite close to the ground near a large puddle in the woods I tried to get a couple of pictures.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

Golden-crowned Kinglet

A quick visit to the Eagleson storm water ponds in the middle of the week produced a total of 13 Hooded Mergansers and my first Brown-headed Cowbirds and Black-crowned Night Heron of the year. That Friday was Good Friday, and although I was hoping for great weather and four good days of birding for the Easter long weekend, 35 mm of rain on the first day put an end to that notion. The following day reached a high of only 7°C, but I found Bufflehead ducks, several Common and Hooded Mergansers, seven Ring-necked Ducks and a Hermit Thrush at Sarsaparilla Trail. The water at Andrew Haydon Park was open by then but I didn’t see any new waterfowl. The Purple Martins, however, were back at Dick Bell Park and I saw a few fly over.

The next day was warmer, and so I started off my search at Kristina Kiss Park where I had seen a Wilson’s Snipe around the same time last year. I found a Swamp Sparrow singing in the narrow cattail-filled channel, which still surprises me; still, it’s amazing that some birds will adapt to smaller habitats than we usually find them in.

Swamp Sparrow

Two Killdeer circled over the park before eventually landing in the gravelly area next to the road. In the same area I found a couple of sparrows chasing each other; to my surprise the chaser was a Savannah Sparrow! It eventually landed in a tree, sang once, then disappeared into the weedy area next to the gravel pit. These birds generally prefer more rural habitats, such as grasslands, meadows, or pastures dotted with trees, cultivated fields, sedge wetlands, tidal saltmarshes and estuaries, and the shrubby willows of the tundra. Kristina Kiss Park doesn’t really fit this description, although the northern border lies next to a hydro corridor with an open pasture nearby that seems much more suitable than a small park in the middle of a subdivision.

Savannah Sparrow

From there I headed up to the river. Andrew Haydon Park was filled with birds – I saw a Spotted Sandpiper flying across the eastern creek and a Snowy Owl perched on an ice floe in the middle of the river. A male Northern Shoveler was swimming in the western bay, while a Blue-headed Vireo was singing in a group of pines near the eastern pond. I saw both Ruby- and Golden-crowned Kinglets, and managed a better picture of a Golden-crowned Kinglet foraging in a cedar tree. A Yellow-rumped Warbler was singing somewhere nearby.

Golden-crowned Kinglet

The following day I was out the door early and stopped in at the Beaver Trail before heading up to Mud Lake. I had six sparrow species there, including my first Fox Sparrows of the year – two were foraging on the ground with a group of Dark-eyed Juncos while two others were singing in the trees nearby. I also heard and saw my first Virginia Rail of the year here. At Mud Lake I tried to walk all the way around the pond but the water was overflowing the trail in the usual spot by the beaver dam on the east side so I had to turn around before I made it to the filtration plant. It had warmed up to almost 20°C, however, and I got my first Garter Snake, my first Blanding’s Turtle, and first butterfly – a Mourning Cloak in the woods – of the year. It seemed there was hope for this spring yet!

Mourning Cloak

The birding was pretty good too, although only one warbler species was still present, the two Pine Warblers singing on territory in the woods. I got my first Pied-billed Grebe on the lake, and saw a beautiful male Northern Shoveler by the bridge.

Northern Shoveler

Cedar Waxwings were back, juncos were still present, and a Brown Creeper was creeping up a tree in the woods. I heard an Eastern Phoebe, and observed multiple Pileated Woodpeckers and Northern Flickers. Two different Winter Wrens were present; this fellow was singing out in the open near the turn-off to the dock. The short, stubby tail is usually cocked up at an angle; I think this is the first time I’ve seen one holding its tail out straight.

Winter Wren

I had hopes that the weather was going to start warming up after that, but it turns out that the 20°C reached on Easter Monday was the warmest it would get until May 5th – and in between those dates the temperature failed to reach 10°C on several days. On April 27th I started the morning off at the Eagleson ponds where I found three Hooded Mergansers, a Common Merganser, and a couple of Ruby-crowned Kinglets. An Eastern Phoebe and four Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were the most interesting birds at the Beaver Trail, while things were more lively at Jack Pine Trail next door: I heard (and saw) my first Broad-winged Hawk of the year soaring over the spiketail creek at the back, and heard four Virginia Rails calling in three different marshes. Field Sparrows and a Brown Thrasher were singing prominently in the alvar while Dark-eyed Juncos still foraged in the woods. White-throated Sparrows were scattered throughout the trail system; I found a few feeding on the ground close to the OFNC feeder.

White-throated Sparrow

The best birds there were the Evening Grosbeaks I heard calling overhead while I was near the feeder – there were two or three of them, and it sounded as though they had flown in and landed nearby. I tried to move closer to see if I could find them, but a plane flew over the trail just then and I wasn’t able to pinpoint their location. By the time the engine noise faded I couldn’t hear the grosbeaks any more.

Although April is normally an exciting month to be birding, it’s been a tough month here in Ottawa. The lingering cold has made it feel as though this month is just a continuation of March, and it doesn’t seem as if the weather is going to return to seasonal any time soon. Hopefully things return to normal by the end of the month, as it would be great to put the winter gear away and start looking for butterflies and dragonflies!

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