Images from Migration

Mourning Cloak

It’s been a slow start to spring migration. Normally by mid-May returning birds are everywhere, and songbirds are busy feeding and singing in the smallest of parks and unlikeliest of yards. This year, however, with the cold weather and heavy rains it feels like we are still two weeks behind schedule – I saw my first warbler species of the season (a Pine Warbler) at Mud Lake on April 14th, my second (a Yellow-rumped) at Andrew Haydon Park on April 21st, and then my third warbler (a Black-and-White) at the Eagleson Ponds on May 4th. It doesn’t help that Ottawa’s most dynamic and productive migration hotspot, Mud Lake, is closed to the public due to the flooding along the river, but even so I would have thought I’d have seen more warblers by now. It’s been difficult to find new species to add to my year list, even visiting different trails and conservation areas with Mud Lake off limits. Here are a few photos and some of my interesting finds from the past week.

On Saturday, May 4th I returned visited Stony Swamp where I heard American Bittern, Pied-billed Grebe, and Pine Siskin at Sarsaparilla Trail, with the only songbirds of note being a Tree Swallow, Ruby-crowned Kinglet and Yellow-rumped Warbler. At Trailhead P11 I had both Golden-crowned and Ruby-crowned Kinglets, a Field Sparrow, and a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker – but no warblers. The best bird there was a Hermit Thrush. There were actually two of them, one that I heard in a dark patch of forest, its ethereal flute-like song drifting down from the shadows of the canopy, and one that I saw in an open area foraging at the edge of the path. It flew up onto a branch when I startled it, then disappeared into the forest.

Hermit Thrush

My luck improved at the Beaver Trail where I heard a Winter Wren singing around the corner from the Wild Bird Care Center, and saw a male and female Wood Duck sitting in a tree together. I heard a Pine Warbler singing at the back of the trail, and had two Rusty Blackbirds fly over. The best sighting there was of an adult Cooper’s Hawk. When I first saw it it was chasing a small bird past the Wild Bird Care Center. It failed to catch it, then swung around and landed in a distant tree where I was able to identify it. From there I drove to Bruce Pit, where I found two Green-winged Teal (a year bird) and five Bufflehead in the pond, and heard a Hermit Thrush calling from the tangles. A Brown Thrasher was also a nice surprise.

I got two more year birds at the Eagleson ponds. The first was a Greater Yellowlegs (well, actually three of them) which had joined the Killdeer and Spotted Sandpipers that will presumably summer here; the second was a Black-and-White Warbler foraging in the northern woodlot. It was a male, as evidenced by the black cheeks, and it was foraging low enough to attempt to take a few pictures. As a result I got my best photo of this species yet!

Black-and-white Warbler

The following day, Sunday May 5th, was still cool, but the sunshine made for a nice walk in the woods. I started my morning at Sarsaparilla Trail and found 26 birds, compared to 22 the day before; new were a Wood Duck, Spotted Sandpiper, Belted Kingfisher, Pileated Woodpecker, Brown Creeper, and Chipping Sparrow. I tallied an even 30 species at Jack Pine Trail after that, including three warbler species: Yellow-rumped Warbler, Black-and-White Warbler, and Common Yellowthroat (a year bird). A Wood Thrush in a relatively open area of the woods along west side of the outer loop was a nice find; I heard it calling its rapid-fire “pip-pip-pip” notes and located it on a branch about 20 feet up:

Wood Thrush

The Brown Thrasher was still singing out in the open in the alvar. I tried to shoot some video, but the wind overpowered the song several times, and I was disappointed to find out that YouTube had removed its image stabilizing tool – as someone who doesn’t use a tripod, I depend on this feature for all my videos, and will have to find another video editor (preferably free) so I can post videos again.

Brown Thrasher

I found a total of three Winter Wrens along the outer loop – two were heard along the northern arm of the loop, including one in its usual spot near the swamp by the feeder, and a second one (photo below) heard close to the parking lot before pishing brought it out into the open. A third was in the deciduous woods along the western side, scuttling along the limbs of a fallen tree.

Winter Wren

Terry Carisse Park on Steeple Hill Crescent can be a good spot to find Rusty Blackbirds in the spring, and a stop there produced 20 species including a Yellow Warbler and two Rusty Blackbirds. A Barn Swallow was also flying over the field across the road.

The annual spring White-crowned Sparrow showed up in my backyard on May 5th. I usually get one or two each year sometime during the first week of May, staying three or four days to fatten up on the food in my feeder before flying north. Chipping Sparrows and Dark-eyed Juncos are also visiting the feeder, and later that night I saw a Ruby-crowned Kinglet in the neighbour’s tree out back. The White-crowned Sparrow apparently doesn’t like Chipping Sparrows, for one evening I saw it take a run at the Chipping Sparrow twice! Two White-throated Sparrows showed up with a White-crowned Sparrow in my yard on May 7th, and by that evening I had four White-crowned Sparrows in my backyard, including one drinking water from the birdbath! At least two White-throated and two White-crowned Sparrows were still present today (May 11th). This is the most I’ve ever had before!

White-crowned Sparrow

This morning I went to the Eagleson ponds and found 30 species. One Common Merganser, one Great Egret and a pair of Black-crowned Night Herons were present, and there were now five Spotted Sandpipers and four Greater Yellowlegs foraging in the shallow water.

Greater Yellowlegs

About half a dozen Tree Swallows were also present, and I was surprised to see them perching in the small saplings at the edge of the soccer field. They never stayed for long; they perched in one of the trees for a few moments, flew a loop over the field and/or water, then would fly back and land in a different tree. One stayed long enough to snap a few pictures. Tree Swallows used to breed here in nest boxes, before the city removed them when the ponds underwent reconstruction in 2015-2016. Since then I’ve only seen them with their young here last year, possibly breeding in a tree cavity.

Tree Swallow

I saw a Barn Swallow as well, and three Ruby-crowned Kinglets were also still present. Five Chipping Sparrows and eleven Song Sparrows were back on territory, and three White-crowned Sparrows had stopped in on their way further north. I ended up seeing one vireo species – a Warbling Vireo – and only three warbler species: one Yellow-rumped Warbler, two Yellow Warblers, and a single Palm Warbler.

Palm Warbler

I had much better luck at Old Quarry Trail, which was still underwater in some parts. I took the left-hand loop past the Deer George feeders, and found a group of warblers along the side path cutting through the woods to the right-hand loop. An American Redstart, two Northern Parula, a Pine Warbler and a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers and Black-and-white Warblers gave good views in the darkened woods, and I heard a Black-throated Blue Warbler and Nashville Warbler as well. Deeper in the woods I heard four Ovenbirds, a Winter Wren, and a couple of Purple Finches. Then I heard a buzzy song that made me think of a juvenile chickadee’s call: “Spee! Spee! Spee-spuh, spee-spuh, spee-spuh” it went. I tracked down the song coming from high up within a group of cedars, and caught a glimpse of a small bird with a white belly and a long tail. It was a gnatcatcher, and when I played the call of the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher on my iPhone I was able to confirm its identity. Unfortunately the bird also heard the call and flew off. I heard it about thirty feet away from me and tracked it down again. It’s a regular but very uncommon visitor in the spring, and I was hoping to get a picture for my eBird report as proof. However, the bird would not cooperate and stuck to the shadows high in the canopy. The best I could do was take some video as I followed it around in order to record its song. First, the “Spee!” notes:

Then the “Spee-spuh, spee-spuh, spee-spuh” calls:

I tried to continue on my way around the loop, but after crossing the large lake near the bridge by walking along the logs placed there by other people, I had to turn back at the beaver dam where the trail was completely covered in water. I saw several sparrows, including large flocks of White-throated Sparrows and a single White-crowned Sparrow, and heard a House Wren. On my return trip I took another side trail to the open area on the north side of the conservation area (close to Robertson Road) and found a Brown Thrasher, an uncommon species at this trail. I also scared up a few more sparrows in the woods following the trail back toward the Deer George feeders, including a female Eastern Towhee! I’ve never seen this species here before, and tried to get a few photos for my eBird list. This was the best of them:

Eastern Towhee

The towhee made it a seven sparrow visit – I’d had a Field Sparrow in the open area just north of the parking lot, a single Dark-eyed Junco in the woods, the usual Song and Swamp Sparrows, as well as the aforementioned White-throated and White-crowned Sparrows. The Chipping Sparrow at the Eagleson ponds made it an eight sparrow day!

Although the start to the migration season was slow, it feels like things are starting to pick up. It’s great to see so many birds back on territory and northern breeders stopping here before continuing up to the Arctic. Still, I can’t wait for the warmer weather for the first dragonflies to emerge, and it’s been a slow start for the butterflies as well – to date all I’ve seen are a few Mourning Cloaks at Mud Lake and Jack Pine Trail, and a Red Admiral at the Eagleson ponds. Unfortunately the weather is still below seasonal for this time of year, and it doesn’t look like we’ll hit that 20°C mark anytime soon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s