While it is true that fall migration proceeds at a much more leisurely pace than migration in the spring, each species moves according to its own internal calendar. In late August and early September you might find warblers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, flycatchers, vireos, orioles, Cedar Waxwings, and Scarlet Tanagers foraging together in a single patch of woods. A month later the same patch of forest might hold sparrows, kinglets, Winter Wrens, Rusty Blackbirds, nuthatches, Hermit Thrushes, and boreal finches, while waterfowl on rivers and ponds increase in numbers and diversity. I usually notice the switch around the fall equinox, when the sparrows start to outnumber the warblers and I realize that it’s been a while since I last saw a flock of Cedar Waxwings. Now is the time to look for American Pipits in open scrubby areas or along rocky shorelines, scoters and grebes along the river, hawks and Turkey Vultures soaring toward southern climes, and any lingering warblers in the hope it is something other than a Yellow-rumped.
This year marks the start of a five-year breeding bird survey for the third Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, which is a collaboration between Birds Canada, the Canadian Wildlife Service, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry, the Ontario Field Ornithologists, and Ontario Nature. Approximately 300 bird species breed in our province, and the goal of the atlas is to map the distribution and relative abundance of these species by looking for evidence of breeding for as many species as possible. By conducting surveys every 20 years researchers are able to determine which species are expanding their range, which ones are shrinking, which species are increasing in abundance, and which ones are declining. Although data collection began on January 1, 2021, breeding bird surveys don’t really kick into high gear until mid-May once almost all of our breeding birds are back from their wintering grounds in central and South America to Ontario. As I was not a birder when data was being collected for the second atlas (2001-2006), this was my first chance to participate as a volunteer atlasser, and I jumped at the opportunity. Over the last few years, and especially during the lockdowns of the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve gotten to know the birds within my own area quite well, and after looking at a list of the species found in my area during the second atlas, I knew I could contribute some new data on species that were missing. For instance, Red-shouldered Hawk wasn’t found in the last atlas in my area, although I found a pair occupying a nest in Stony Swamp back in 2016. Barn Swallow was recorded only as being in suitable habitat in the last atlas, while they used to nest under the bridge at the Eagleson ponds before the city put wire mesh underneath it. And Killdeer was last reported as showing agitated behaviour, while I’ve seen a fuzzy newly-fledged bird at the Eagleson ponds once.
On June 5th I headed out to Dunrobin to spend some time looking for odes and birds. My first stop was the Crazy Horse Trail on March Road at the end of Huntmar Road. This is a relatively new pedestrian-only trail for hikers, skiers, and snowshoers that was developed by the Friends of the Carp Hills under an agreement with the City of Ottawa. It is named for an old tavern that used to stand adjacent to the trailhead but has long since been demolished. The goal of the trail is to provide recreational access to the the Carp Hills on City-owned property while keeping impact on the environment to a minimum. The trail is narrow, and as there is no intention to groom or widen the trail, people are asked to respect the natural areas by staying on the trail, keeping dogs under control at all times (which means using a leash if necessary), leaving no waste, and respecting property boundaries. There are some rough, volunteer-built boardwalks in places too wet to cross which adds to its charm. In fact, all trail maintenance and improvement depends on volunteers, rather than the City, which makes it doubly important to respect the work they have done in creating this trail. Continue reading →
The Richmond Sewage Lagoons (formally known as the Richmond Conservation Area) is one of the few places in Ottawa that did not close its parking lots during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as such, it is one of the few birding spots I visited regularly during the months of April and May. The habitat is unique: there are three cells left from the former sewage lagoons, each containing its own mini-ecosystem. The first cell as one approaches from the parking lot on Eagleson (the southernmost cell), has deep water and extensive cattails, making it great for Pied-billed Grebes, rails, bitterns, Swamp Sparrows and waterfowl, mainly geese and dabbling ducks. The middle cell has deeper water and very little cattails, making it a better spot to see diving ducks. The third cell used to be almost entirely choked with cattails interspersed with small patches of open water, making it the best spot to watch and listen for rails. This spring when I arrived on my first visit I was dismayed to see that not only had the cattails been chopped down, but so had some of the tall trees bordering the cell. The cell looked like a soup of water and what was left of the churned up marsh bottom and vegetation, although a deep puddle ringed with a few cattails remained. Continue reading →
On Family Day I accompanied Jon Ruddy’s Eastern Ontario Birding trip to Algonquin Park to look for winter finches and other Boreal specialties. As predicted in Ron Pittaway’s Winter Finch Forecast back in September, the winter of 2019-2020 was not an irruption year; most finch species stayed up north in the Boreal Forest given the abundance of mountain-ash berries, spruce cones and birch seed crops there. This meant that while berry-eaters such as Pine Grosbeak and Bohemian Waxwings remained on their breeding territories in the far north, Pine Siskins, Evening Grosbeaks, and both crossbill species were widespread across central Ontario – including the traditional winter finch hotspot, Algonquin Park. Continue reading →
The cold front that arrived late on Sunday brought high winds as well as cold temperatures. Monday morning was so chilly and so gusty that we didn’t do any birding, and when we went to our first show that night (La Reve by Cirque du Soleil) the nighttime temperature had fallen to 0°C. I had hoped that the wind would abate on Tuesday, but it was still blowing strong and not much warmer. That was the only free day of our trip, so I was hoping to do some serious birding, but we stayed inside instead – wind is my least favourite condition for birding, as it makes it hard to hear any calls or chip notes, and most birds are hunkered down themselves.
The weather improved on Wednesday, so Doran and I made plans to go to Sunset Park to look for a Varied Thrush that has been hanging around. This is a rare bird in Las Vegas in the winter, and I had heard about it from Justin Streit, who was also kind enough to send me a map showing its exact location in the park. It was most often seen foraging on the ground near a line of dense shrubs east of the pond, often feeding with doves and blackbirds.
Although the months of June and July are traditionally considered the breeding season in the Northern Hemisphere, it often lasts well into August in our region. Some species, such as the American Goldfinch and Cedar Waxwing, are late nesters, and time their breeding season with the abundance of seeds and fruit later in the summer. Other species have multiple broods during the course of the season, such as American Robins, Eastern Phoebes, Song Sparrows, and Mourning Doves. August, however, is typically a slow month in the birding world, and while some people characterize the early weeks of the month as the “doldrums”, relieved only by the arrival of the first migrants toward the end of the month, I still enjoy getting out and seeing the young birds following their parents around and listening to those species that are still singing this time of year.
On July 4th I woke up and went for my usual early morning walk up to Morrison Point Road. I saw a Great Crested Flycatcher carrying food along Loves Lane, followed by a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and two Hairy Woodpeckers in the same patch of woods; the Hairy Woodpecker was new for my Prince Edward County list. Along Morrison Point Road itself I observed the usual species, including two Indigo Buntings, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a Yellow Warbler, a Red-bellied Woodpecker, a Gray Catbird, and a Field Sparrow….I was really hoping to catch a glimpse of the Red-bellied Woodpecker, but again it was not to be. Five Barn Swallows were hunting in the fields near the barn, while two Killdeer roamed the grounds near the pond behind it.
The more you look, the more you see….this is a common theme among those of us who spend our time outdoors with a camera or binoculars, looking for birds, bugs, or just about any facet of nature. The longer a person spends searching an area, whether a quiet bay on a lake, a small urban park, one of the best-known birding hotspots in the city, or even one’s own backyard, the more species a person seems to find – whether they be colourful wildflowers, a new dragonfly or butterfly, small insects they’d never noticed before, or birds that would have been missed if they’d left after that first cursory glance. This, to me, sums up the joy of going outside – it’s a treasure hunt where, instead of targeting one specific thing, any colourful or interesting creature that catches my eye is a treasure! It’s one of the reasons I return to the same spots again and again – to see what “new treasures” might be found there. So of course when I got tired of being indoors at the cottage we rented on Prince Edward Bay in Prince Edward County, I grabbed my camera and went for a walk.
By late May/early June most birds are exactly where they want to be, having claimed a territory and found a mate with which they will raise their offspring over the next few months. Even so, by Victoria Day several migrants are often still passing through the region; it’s still worth looking for late migrants even into the beginning of June, as migrating birds may stray off-course or get caught up in a bad weather system which may temporarily halt or divert their journey. With the lingering cold north winds and temperatures reluctant to hit the 20°C mark, it’s no wonder that there are plenty of songbirds which haven’t yet settled on a territory of their own. Continue reading →