Fish are something I’ve never been much interested in. I’m not a big fan of water sports such as snorkeling or scuba diving, and have never gone fishing; to me fish are dull, predictable creatures that live in the murky depths of lakes and rivers where I am not likely to go. In addition, the ones we seem to have here in Ontario are dully coloured – brown or gray or some muddy earth tone shade. Perhaps one day on a visit to the tropics I’ll try snorkeling to see some of the more colourful species; I just don’t think I’d bother trying to identify them all or keep a list of all the fish I’ve ever seen. It’s not that I find all sea creatures uninteresting… I love examining the tidal pools in Nova Scotia to see what neat things have been washed up in the Bay of Fundy, and my fiancé and I were excited to discover a neat sea urchin among the rocks of the beach in Costa Rica after the tide had gone out. It’s just fish.
We spent the last two nights of our trip to Nova Scotia in Halifax. While Doran attended Hal-con, I walked around the city. It was very windy, and although I was hoping to find some good birds there weren’t too many around.
My first stop was the Halifax Public Gardens. I wasn’t able to hear much over the wind, but I did find two White-throated Sparrows among the usual starlings, pigeons, gulls and mallards that spend their time here. It would be nice to visit in the warmer months to find some different migrant or breeding songbirds, as the park – though beautiful – doesn’t seem to attract a great variety of species in the later fall months.
From there I walked down to the harbour, hoping the waterbirds would at least make the visit worthwhile. The usual Herring Gulls were bobbing on the water and lined up on the piers, but I didn’t see a single duck or seabird.
By the end of March temperatures were back to seasonal again, with daily highs between 6 and 8°C. Then it got cold again in early April, with snow in the first week. The birds were coming back, though, and with a long Easter weekend right at the beginning of the month, I was able to get out and spend some time looking for migrants.
On Good Friday (March 30th) I counted 20 species at the Eagleson ponds, including at least five Song Sparrows, two American Tree Sparrows, one Dark-eyed Junco, and eight robins. Blackbirds were back in good numbers; I observed at least five male Red-winged Blackbirds and 15 Common Grackles! In the water, a male Common Merganser had joined the five Hooded Mergansers – two males and a female were swimming in the northern pond while a male and female were swimming together in the southern pond.
After breakfast Doran and I walked down to the beach. To get there we had to pass by the small group of mango trees, cross an open lawn, and descend a few Palm-shaded stairs before emerging onto the sand. There was a wide swath of sand exposed by the low tide, and a large crust of rocks protruding from the water that reminded me that the geological history of Central America is very different from that of eastern North America. The land bridge connecting North and South America – which includes Costa Rica and Panama – didn’t exist until about three million years ago. Costa Rica was formed when the movement of the western edge of the Caribbean plate forced the Cocos plate beneath what is now the Pacific Ocean to slide beneath it, creating a subduction zone which birthed a number of volcanoes. The relentless grinding of the Caribbean plate over the Cocos plate and the numerous volcanic eruptions over the millennia caused the land mass to grow, resulting in a today’s mountainous west coast with its steep cliffs overlooking rocky tidal lagoons.
Waterfowl are starting to move through our area in good numbers now, so on Saturday afternoon I headed out for a walk around the storm water ponds to see if anything new was around. I chose a late afternoon visit to check on the geese there – they are usually heading out to the corn fields by the time I get there in the morning, so I was hoping to catch them returning for the night – bringing with them, I hoped, some other interesting species. I’ve had both Snow Goose and Cackling Goose there in the past, and I didn’t think it was out of the question for a Greater White-fronted Goose to stop in. It was a warm but windy afternoon, so I was also hoping to see a few late-season butterflies.
Shorebird migration is in full swing right now. This is one of my favourite groups of birds, and normally I have to go to places like the Richmond Lagoons, Shirley’s Bay or Andrew Haydon Park to see them – and this summer’s drought has left the Richmond Lagoons with zero habitat. However, there’s a terrific spot to see these particular birds only a 10 minute walk from my house. The Emerald Meadows storm water pond system has had fabulous habitat these past few months, resulting in 11 species so far since I started visiting in July. This was about the time that the work on the ponds had been completed, and as the southern ponds had been completely drained while the construction was going on, for several weeks they had held only an inch or two of water. Since then the water levels have been slowly increasing, but the water is still low enough – particularly in the southern-most pond – to attract some shorebirds to the muddy edges.
On the last day of July I got a late start and headed over to the storm water ponds with the intention of checking them briefly before heading elsewhere. However, I had such a great time I ended up spending almost 90 minutes there! Once again when I arrived, I was startled to see a number of swallows flying above the ponds. Most appeared to be Barn Swallows, but I did see at least two Bank Swallows flying with them. It is interesting to think that they managed to nest here this past summer with all the construction going on; fortunately the bridge they nest under hasn’t been touched by the construction. I later found the Barn Swallows resting on the roof of a nearby house, and counted about 15 of them.
I was car-less this weekend, as Doran spent most of it in Petawawa visiting friends. Unfortunately the best bird- and bug-watching trails are all difficult to reach by bus on a Sunday, so even a trip to one of the closer spots – such as Mud Lake or Andrew Haydon Park – was out of the question, as either would take two buses and much walking just to get there. And, given the high temperature forecast for today (almost 30°C) and the lack of air-conditioned food and washroom facilities nearby, I didn’t feel up to a long excursion. That left a walk around the neighbourhood as my only option, and fortunately the Emerald Meadows storm water ponds are close by. The ponds have been under construction for over a year now, but I haven’t seen any heavy machinery or workers there in ages, and none of the large gaps that appeared in the plastic orange fences surrounding the construction site have been repaired in weeks. As I’ve noticed people walking their dogs or jogging along the paths inside the construction zone, I thought it would be all right to take a look.
On July 6th my fiancé and I left the Silver Dart Lodge early to take a boat tour to the Bird Islands, the best place to see nesting puffins and sea birds in Nova Scotia. The Bird Islands are located about 4 kilometres off of Cape Dauphin, between the end of the Cabot Trail and North Sydney. They consist of two large islands (Hertford Island and Ciboux Island) as well as the various small rocky outcroppings around and between them which are not large enough to merit the designation of “island” or have a name of their own. Hertford Island and Ciboux Island are both long and narrow, and lie in a straight line running from southwest to northeast. Hertford Island, which is the closer of the two, is approximately 1.1 km long by 120 metres wide, while Ciboux Island is approximately 1.6 km long by 120 metres wide. The islands themselves consist of rocky twenty-metre high cliffs, with grasses and stunted shrubs covering the tops. Numerous ledges and small caves in the cliff face provide ample space for a variety of breeding birds. I was excited when Doran suggested the tour, as two of the birds – the Great Cormorant and Black Guillemot – would be lifers for me.
Spring is here! Not only are the birds flooding back, but temperatures have finally reached the double-digits! The snow is virtually gone, and the Ottawa River is flowing again (although some icy parts remain near the shores, particularly between Woodroffe and Dominion Station). Since April 9th I have added 10 new birds to my year list, seen a few more butterflies, and – best of all – I have finally ditched the winter coat.
I’ve been meaning to get to Billings Bridge for a while now, and finally had the chance last Thursday. It was overcast and cold (only 4°C at lunch time). I still managed to tally 16 species including one Common Goldeneye, 3 Wood Ducks, 8 Hooded Mergansers, 3 Common Mergansers (all males), a couple of Red-winged Blackbirds and a Song Sparrow.