It’s been a while since we’ve had an early spring in Ottawa. In recent years it seems that the snow hasn’t melted until late April, it hasn’t really warmed up until May, and while the first couple of waves of migrants arrived on time, migration slowed down for a few weeks sometime in April when the north wind started blowing out of the Arctic again. Insect-eating birds were delayed, the butterflies and dragonflies emerged late, and then the Victoria Day long weekend hit and suddenly summer has arrived with temperatures in the mid to high twenties.
This year, however, it warmed up early and stayed warm. Our last subzero day was March 16th, and we regularly started reaching double-digit temperatures on the first day of spring, with nine days at 10°C or higher during the rest of the month. Our total snowfall in March was only 6.8 cm, below the normal range of 11 to 84 cm, and it was the windiest March since 1974. It was the 10th warmest March on record; our highest temperature reached 19.8°C, above the normal range of 8.3 to 19.2°C. I kept waiting with dread for one last cold spell or dump of snow, but so far April has been even nicer, with the first two days reaching only 3°C and the rest (to date) ranging from 10 to 24°C. As the snow disappeared quite quickly last month, plants are emerging from the ground early, buds on trees are starting to leaf out early, and butterflies are emerging early. It’s been great for my mental health to see so many signs of new life and renewal.
Sometime in early 2020 I decided to put in the effort this year to see or hear 200 bird species in Ottawa this year, something I’ve failed to do since 2015 when I observed 210 species while working full-time. I also managed to observe 202 species in 2013 and 205 species in 2011. After 2015 my annual totals dropped to 182, 196, 166 and 177. This was probably about the time that I decided not to chase birds as much as I used to, as it’s not the most enjoyable aspect of birding for me. I prefer exploring new areas or old favourites, just to see what species breed or spend the summer there, or migrate through in the spring and fall. This meant I haven’t gone to see the Sandhill Cranes at Milton Road in the fall since 2015, the Snow Geese in the east end since 2015, or the grassland sparrow species (Vesper, Clay-colored and Grasshopper) at the airport since 2017. Sometimes I get lucky and find those species closer to home; individual Snow Geese are usually seen annually in the west end during spring and fall migration, while Clay-colored Sparrows were found at the Goulbourn sparrow field in 2017 before development ruined that area as a birding spot. Continue reading →
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.
On our first morning in Las Vegas we woke up nice and early to meet the Red Rock Audubon Club at the Pine Creek Canyon Trail in Red Rock Canyon. I wanted to make the most of our trip, and since we had never been to the desert before, we wanted to go out with an experienced guide. I’d been eyeing the outings on the Red Rock Audubon Club website for a while, and this trip was exactly what I was looking for. It cost $7 to enter the park for the day, and the Pine Creek Canyon Trail is described as a three-mile, two-hour loop that crosses the open desert, vists an old homestead, and passes through a meadow before heading up into the canyon.
We ended up getting to the meeting point a couple of minutes late, as the road through the park is a one-way, 35 mph scenic loop with multiple look-outs and hiking trails branching off of it, and the one we wanted was – of course – near the end of the loop. In this it reminded me of Algonquin Park’s Highway 60 corridor, except the view was drastically different – I wished we had time to stop and take pictures of the dramatic Spring Mountains rising up from the floor of the Mojave Desert.
The weather was supposed to be warm and sunny yesterday, so I headed out to the Bill Mason Center to look for marsh birds and dragonflies. Chris T. had found a Crimson-ringed Whiteface at the sand pit early in the season last year, and as I’ve never seen this species in Ottawa, I was curious to find out if his dragonfly was a chance visitor or if they were common there in the late spring. While this species has a flight season from late May to early August, I have never seen it there during any of my summer visits to the Bill Mason Center. I was also hoping to find a few marsh birds such as bitterns, Sora and Virigina Rail, so it seemed like a great idea to stop there after checking out the Carp Ridge and some of the roads in Dunrobin for other species.
Winter finally arrived yesterday with a mix of freezing rain and snow that left my driveway a frozen sheet of ice and kept me indoors most of the day. The temperature dropped overnight, and the high today reached only -8°C – the first really cold day we’ve had this winter. Even worse, there is a winter storm warning currently in effect that will last from midnight tonight until the following midnight. Environment Canada predicts 20-35 cm of heavy and blowing snow, so despite the cold I knew I had to get out today if I didn’t want to be stuck indoors for three days straight.
I didn’t leave until after lunch, when the temperature finally rose above -10°C (I just wasn’t ready for those minus double-digits yet)! My first stop was Century Road south of Richmond to check on the Mountain Bluebird. It’s only a 15-minute drive from my house, and as I was quite taken with this bird I was looking forward to seeing her again.
The rare female Mountain Bluebird first discovered on November 28th on Cambrian Road went missing two days later. Just moments after its last sighting, a Sharp-shinned Hawk was seen carrying a thrush-sized bird in its talons, and as the bluebird was never seen on Cambrian Road again, it was presumed dead. This was the first time this western species has been recorded in Ottawa, and it appeared to be a sad ending for the long-distance wanderer.
Then, on December 11th, Peter Blancher – the same person who discovered the Mountain Bluebird on Cambrian Road east of Richmond – reported a female Mountain Bluebird on Century Road south of Richmond! It was too great a coincidence, and many people were happy to hear that the bluebird did not, in fact, become lunch for the hawk. As Century Road isn’t too far from me, I headed there first thing on Saturday morning just after the sun had risen. It was still hiding behind a thick bank of clouds lying on the eastern horizon when I arrived; the light was poor, but I had no problems finding the Mountain Bluebird perching on the fence right next to the road.