Although birders tend to refer to “spring” and “fall” migration, many birds begin heading south in mid- to late August, and a few (such as shorebirds which are unsuccessful in finding a mate) even begin migrating in July. In Ottawa, this southbound migration often overlaps with post-breeding dispersal, which means that even in July and August it is worth checking familiar places for birds that may be moving through. This year, southbound migration began for me on August 19th with a trip to the Rideau Trail off of Old Richmond Road. I usually start checking the boardwalk and hydro cut for migrants this time of year as the edge habitat and buckthorn bushes loaded with berries can be fantastic for warblers, flycatchers, thrushes and other migrants. Most of the birds I saw or heard were likely local residents, although the Black-and-white Warbler I heard singing here may have come from deep within the woods or elsewhere, and it was pretty neat to see an Ovenbird strolling along the boardwalk. A squeaky Rose-breasted Grosbeak and two Least Flycatchers calling made me think these birds were moving through, as this section of the trail is normally pretty quiet in the summer.
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 →
Migration has been strange this year. Because of the lengthy cold spell at the beginning of May it seemed as if migration had stalled; for so long I felt as though I were waiting for it to begin, then things happened so quickly that now I wonder whether it has passed me by. The White-crowned Sparrows that usually show up in my backyard every year between May 3rd and 5th didn’t arrive until the 14th; the Common Terns that arrive at the Eagleson Ponds between May 10th and May 14th didn’t arrive until May 19th. Neither species stayed long, either. The terns were only there for one day before moving on, instead of spending two or three days. It is harder to know if the White-crowned Sparrow I saw over the course of a few days was the same one or a different one, as many have been singing in our area in the middle of the month.
The warblers came, and the warblers went. I’ve had several Black-throated Blue Warblers this year, and many repeat sightings of local breeding species – but of the ones that only pass through, I’ve sometimes only been lucky to get one: one Cape May Warbler, one Blackburnian Warbler, one Tennessee Warbler, one Bay-breasted Warbler. Again, is this a reflection of my spending time mainly in Kanata south, rather than heading for the migrant traps along the river? There have been excellent reports from the usual spots (Mud Lake, Andrew Haydon Park), but even as the city parks reopened on May 6th and the NCC parking lots reopened on May 22nd as a result of declining Covid-19 cases in the city, I’ve been reluctant to go to the normal spring hotspots to avoid the crowds that tend to gather there, both birding and non-birding alike. This has less to do with any fear of the coronavirus than my preference for quiet birding experiences, away from the loud chatter and narrow, crowded trails that both increase exponentially as the spring wears on and weather warms up.
I usually take the second week of May off every year, and head south to spend time birding Point Pelee National Park with my mother. I was unable to make the trip this year, but as I needed a break from work and a change of scenery I spent three nights in Westport instead (more to follow in a separate post). Spending time at Murphy’s Point Provincial Park, Frontenac Provincial Park, and Foley Mountain Conservation Area was fantastic, but unlike Point Pelee, these areas are not migration hotspots or migrant traps, and I had to work hard to get as many species as I did. As a result, I wasn’t expecting much when I returned to Ottawa on Thursday, but it seemed the floodgates had finally opened and the birds were moving north in large numbers. I went out Friday morning, and although the temperature hadn’t improved – the day was overcast and the temperature was still below normal for this time of year – the birds must have been getting anxious to get back to their breeding grounds, for the variety of birds at the Eagleson ponds was amazing. Continue reading →
The Beaver Trail (now an ebird hotspot) is rarely mentioned in Ottawa’s birding circles or its birding literature, and never in the OFNC rare bird alerts. I started visiting it in June 2006 because I was tired of going to Sarsaparilla Trail and found it loaded with life birds – though to be fair, my life list was only at 37 species when I started visiting it! It was here that I got my lifer Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Kingbird, Swamp Sparrow, Wood Thrush, Scarlet Tanager and Northern Flicker. I wrote a post about it in March 2011 (“My Favourite Places: The Beaver Trail”), and now, eleven years after I first visited it and six years after writing that post it is still one of my favourite trails in the area. It is still home to a good number of woodland, marsh, and open-edge species during the warmer months, and can be fantastic during migration. According to eBird, I have observed a total of 103 species there in the past 11 years out of a total of 125 recorded. Yesterday morning’s outing was a perfect example of the diversity of breeding and migrating birds, with a total of 39 species observed in about 80 minutes, including three new species for the hotspot and my own personal total!
During the third week of August I spent some time at my Dad’s trailer in the Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area near Glen Morris, Ontario. Although more of a campground/recreation area than a conservation area, it is nevertheless a great spot to spend a few days and see some “southern” wildlife. The last time I was here (August 2014) I was treated to the antics of a couple of juvenile Broad-winged Hawks, found a small pond where female Black-tipped Darners laid their eggs in the late afternoon, observed a Blue-winged Warbler on a morning walk, saw my first Red-spotted Purple butterfly, and even saw a bat near one of the washroom lights after dark. I didn’t see any Broad-winged Hawks or cool southern bird species this time, but I still ended up with 28 species over three days – the same number I saw in 2014. Here are some of the interesting creatures that I saw on my trip.
I was happy to have the car during the last weekend of July, and I made the most of it. My first stop was the trail on West Hunt Club (P11) as I wanted to check out the pond there. Ottawa has been stuck in drought for a while now, and water levels have been dropping in all my favourite conservation areas. I thought the pond might be a good spot to look for shorebirds.
I had a really good walk there, seeing and hearing 28 species of birds. Highlights included a Double-crested Cormorant flying over (new for the trail) and two Broad-winged Hawks calling in the hydro cut area. Eventually I saw them both fly over and disappear into the woods on the north side of the clearing.
We got up early on Monday, May 11th for our day at Point Pelee. While we were paying at the kiosk we were told there were two good birds present: a Prothonotary Warbler and a Kirtland’s Warbler. I had seen the rare bird alert for the Kirtland’s Warbler the day before, and was happy to hear it was still around. I had never seen one before (unlike the Prothonotary Warbler) so it would be a lifer for me if I found it. Fortunately, this was easy to do. We took the tram to the Tip and after we had gotten off the shuttle, I came across a group of people who said it was being seen along the footpath that parallels the western beach. I told my mother and step-father and off we went. After about a 10 minute hike with numerous people coming the other way assuring us “it was still there – just look for the crowd of people”, we found a huge throng of people gathered in a tight group. At the center of all the attention, no more than six feet away from the edge of the path, was the female Kirtland’s Warbler.
Although many birders consider the breeding season to be rather slow, I enjoy going out in June and July as many of our breeding birds are still singing, and there is always a chance of finding an active nest or some newly fledged birds being fed or taking their first flights under the watchful eyes of their parents. These months are also good for seeing butterflies and dragonflies, so even if I don’t find any baby birds, there is always something interesting to catch my attention!
I was still on vacation on Friday, July 25th and went to Mud Lake with the hope of seeing some interesting odonates. I came up with a good list, including Northern Spreadwing, Marsh Bluet, Hagen’s Bluet, Powdered Dancer, Eastern Forktail, Common Green Darner, Eastern Pondhawk, Dot-tailed Whiteface, White-faced Meadowhawk, Autumn Meadowhawk, Twelve-spotted Skimmer, Widow Skimmer, and Common Whitetail. I did not see any clubtails.
The marsh that runs west from Moodie Drive to the area behind the Nortel campus is usually productive for a variety of breeding birds in the warmer months of the year. I visited the area again on the morning of June 22nd, still hoping to see or hear the Sedge Wrens that had taken up residence there. Two Savannah Sparrows were singing in the field south of the parking area, and a number of Tree and Barn Swallows were flying overhead as I made my way down the path that skirts the edge of the marsh. I saw a Northern Flicker, two Purple Finches, an American Redstart, and heard several Warbling Vireos, Song Sparrows, and a single Willow Flycatcher.