When I’m not busy looking for birds and bugs at the Eagleson Ponds, I’ll be at one of the many other trails and conservation areas in west end. Stony Swamp attracts its fair share of migrants, and is home to numerous fascinating reptiles, amphibians, and insects, so I spend a lot of time there in the warmer months. Jack Pine Trail and the Beaver Trail are my favourite trails as the loops are small enough that they can be completed quickly, with a variety of habitats to attract different wildlife; however, Sarsaparilla Trail can also be amazing, although the boardwalk is still closed for repairs. I really mean to spend more time at Old Quarry Trail and Lime Kiln Trail, but as these are a bit further away, with larger trail systems, I often opt for the convenience of one of the other trails instead – especially if I have plans to go elsewhere after, such as Mud Lake or Andrew Haydon park.
September is a fantastic time to visit the Eagleson Ponds. The asters and goldenrods are in full bloom, there are usually plenty of butterflies and dragonflies still flying, the resident gulls, shorebirds and waterfowl are sometimes joined by migrants from further north, and migrant songbirds can often be found foraging in the groves of trees. Some years are fantastic for migrants with all sorts of birds stopping by (I’ll never forget the September of 2016 when a Lesser Black-backed Gull spent a day here and a large flock of American Pipits found the rocky shoreline to their liking), while others are lackluster. This September has proven to be the latter, much to my disappointment; however the sunny days mean that lots of insects are still flying, and I can usually find something to catch my interest even if the warblers and other songbirds all seem to be elsewhere.
During my visit to Edmonton, there were two places I was hoping to go birding: Elk Island National Park and the John E. Poole Wetland in Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park. My sister’s new place was only a 15-minute drive from Lois Hole PP, and as she isn’t a birder, I decided to forego the long drive to Elk Island in order to visit the much smaller wetland twice. We did one morning visit for birds and an afternoon visit for bugs, which worked out perfectly with her schedule.
The wetland is adjacent to Big Lake in St. Albert, a globally recognized Important Bird Area which provides habitat for thousands of waterfowl and shorebirds during both migration and the breeding season. The 350-metre long boardwalk crosses through the marsh, with sections of open water among the dense cattails to provide windows into the wetland. My mother, stepfather and I visited the wetland in early July 2018 on a gray, breezy day where the highlights included Eared Grebe, three Sora calling, a Wilson’s Snipe calling, four Black Terns, five Common Yellowthroats, and an assortment of waterfowl, including Bufflehead and Ring-necked Duck – two ducks we only see during migration in Ottawa.
September is not the best month to find a great variety of insects in most of Canada, but the weather in Edmonton was still warm enough that I saw four butterfly species, five dragonfly species, and two damselfly species. There were quite a few individuals flying, too, so there was no shortage of insects to photograph whenever I went out. The best spots were the gravel path that runs along the edge of the urban forest and the vegetation around Lake Crystallina. The day I’d visited the large lake to photograph the three Swainson’s Hawks was too cold and windy for many insects to be out, but I suspect due to the untouched wilderness surrounding it – no manicured lawns there! – it would be even more productive for bugs, especially in June or July when insects are at the height of diversity. The last site I’d visited was Poplar Lake, another protected storm water pond on the other side of 82nd Street in Klarvatten. My sister dropped me off there to check it out on our way home one afternoon, however, I soon discovered that the pond was entirely fenced with no trails or access to the wetland whatsoever. This was too bad because I always saw lots of waterfowl on the pond, and I was hoping to find a good spot for shorebirds and grebes.
On September 18th I flew to Edmonton to visit my sister for a few days. Alberta is not a new province for me; my family had lived on an acreage outside of Ardrossan, which is east of Edmonton and Sherwood Park, for seven years from 1989 to 1996. As I was just teenager at the time, enduring all the drama and angst of high school, I had had no interest in nature back then – which is really too bad, as we’d lived on a small lot with a forest behind our house and a slough (a vegetated pond) across the road. When my parents and I moved back in 1996 – they to southern Ontario, via Tweed, and me and my fiancé to Ottawa – my sister remained behind, although it wasn’t until 2012 when I returned to attend her wedding.
I was off work on Monday, and after seeing all the Painted Ladies at Mud Lake the day before I decided to go to the Eagleson Storm Water Ponds later in the morning to see if I could find the similar numbers there – I had had great luck seeing them there in 2017 and was hoping to repeat that experience. Lots of asters are in bloom, and after photographing them on the yellow blossoms of the Jerusalem Artichokes yesterday I was eager to photograph them on the purple flowers of the asters! It was another warm day, with a few clouds in an otherwise blue sky – perfect for looking for bugs.
Back in September 2017 our region experienced an incredible influx of Painted Lady butterflies. When I visited the Eagleson storm water ponds one afternoon just past the autumn equinox, I was surprised to see so many Painted Ladies nectaring on the flowers, and later learned that this butterfly had had an exceptionally successful breeding season in the northeast. We did not see the same numbers of this migratory species last year (2018), so it seemed that the enormous 2017 population explosion – stretching from Ontario all the way to P.E.I. – was a one-time occurrence.
Back in 2011 I wrote about a visit to Andrew Haydon Park where I had the privilege to see both a Red-necked Phalarope and a Parasitic Jaeger. Today I had the opportunity to see another Red-necked Phalarope the same time a different jaeger was reported.
It was a cool, gloomy morning threatening rain, so I wasn’t sure I wanted to go out birding. At 10:00 I received a report that two Red-necked Phalaropes, as well as several Sanderlings, Pectoral Sandpipers, and Bonaparte’s Gulls, were refound at Ottawa Beach (Andrew Haydon Park East). Then, almost three hours later another report came in: a jaeger was also present at Ottawa Beach! It wasn’t a flyby, as so often happens with rare birds; instead it had landed and was resting on the water. That report settled my indecision, so I headed off to the river. Unfortunately by the time I arrived it was just a dark blob bobbing on the water near Britannia Pier, so I turned my attention to the shorebirds instead. I saw the Bonaparte’s Gull standing in the water, the Pectoral Sandpipers and Sanderlings near the mouth of the creek, and both Red-necked Phalaropes. One was foraging on the opposite bank, but the other was on my side of the creek only a few feet away!
This morning I stopped by the Eagleson Ponds to see if any new migrants had arrived. Other than one unidentified flycatcher and one vireo – possibly a Philadelphia Vireo – it was quiet, with no warblers seen. The Green Heron had returned, and I heard a Gray Catbird again, but there were fewer shorebirds and migrants than there had been the day before. The day was mild, with a thick, damp overcast sky, so looking for insects was out. I decided to head over to the Beaver Trail, which can either be fantastic for migrants this time of year, or very quiet. After a disappointing visit to Mud Lake yesterday, I was hoping the woods and swamps would be more productive.
By Labour Day weekend shorebird migration is well underway and some of the less common species start to arrive in our region. While the Eagleson storm water ponds are a great spot to find common species such as both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers and Semipalmated Sandpipers, the mudflats of the Ottawa River attract a variety of other birds, especially those that prefer tidal beaches and rushing water. Unfortunately, the water level of the Ottawa River depends not just the amount of rainfall we receive during the summer, but also the actions of the dam further upstream. We have received little rainfall this summer, as in most of our summers recently, however, this year the dam gates have remained shut so that the falling water levels have created the mudflats necessary to attract flocks of shorebirds. It has been great to see the sandbars emerge on the river on my daily bus commute along the Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway, and I was thrilled to see the mudflats developing at Andrew Haydon Park in recent weeks. This past weekend I went looking for shorebirds early in the morning, and the huge exposed muddy beach at Ottawa Beach was the best I’ve seen it in years. As long as the dam gates remain closed, this part of the Ottawa River shoreline will remain the best spot for viewing hard-to-find shorebird species throughout the fall given its accessibility.