Doran and I flew to Las Vegas on Saturday, February 1st for a week in the desert. This was our second time there, but our flights did not go smoothly. Our 7:00 am flight was supposed to land in Toronto at 8:15, then our second flight was supposed to leave Toronto at 9:30. However our plane in Ottawa had been sitting at the gate all night, and we needed to some time to de-ice it. This took about 20 minutes. Then, when we arrived in Toronto we needed to wait a another 20 minutes on the tarmac as another plane had taken our gate because of a medical emergency. We worried about not having time to clear customs before our second flight boarded, but as it turns out this plane was late, too, due to a “mechanical issue.” Then that plane, too, needed de-icing, so it wasn’t until after 12:00 that we got airborne. The strangest part was, after we showed our passports and boarding passes to the flight attendants at the gate, we were quizzed by US security people before entering the jet bridge – where were we going? Did we know the limits on how much cash we could bring into the country? How much were we bringing? When did we book our flights? We hadn’t encountered anything like this before; even my boss who had recently traveled to the U.S. thought it was weird. In any event, this is the third Air Canada trip in a row where we’ve had annoying delays, so I don’t think I will book with them again anytime soon.
As expected, November turned out to be a dark, cold and dismal month. Temperatures fell to zero or below every single night, we had our first snowstorm on Remembrance Day (November 11th), and temperatures dropped to a frigid -10°C for a week in the middle of the month. Weather records indicate that this was the coldest November since 1995 with an average temperature of -1.87°C; the normal range usually falls between between -1.08°C and 4.20°C. Only six days were above average, with four days below the minimum temperature ever recorded. Fortunately warmer temperatures caused all the snow to melt in the last week of the month, but as a result of these below-seasonal temperatures, I saw no butterflies or dragonflies this month, and my backyard chipmunks disappeared early for their winter hibernation.
Birding in November means watching the feeders, the landfill (the Trail Road Landfill can be thought of as a giant feeder for gulls, crows and blackbirds) and the river. Driving through farmland and open fields can also be productive as the first returning winter residents, such as Rough-legged Hawks, Snow Buntings, Northern Shrikes, and Snowy Owls, look for suitable habitats to spend the winter. Ponds can be productive early in the month, but once the water freezes any lingering waterfowl or shorebirds will disappear.
Our third day in the Dominican Republic was spent birding with Explora! Ecotours. I was excited to book them as they are a small, sustainable ecotourism company operating tours from many cities in the Dominican Republic, including Punta Cana. By the time I contacted them to arrange a tour, they only had one tour available – a trip to Parque Nacional Del Este (the National Park of the East, aka National Park Cotubanama). Their website claims that this is the best birding site in the eastern Dominican Republic, as the park is a vast nature preserve that provides habitat for endemic, native, and migratory birds. Their goal on this excursion is to find as many of the Dominican’s 32 endemic species as possible. This sounded wonderful to me, for the key to finding different species is to visit as many different habitats as possible. While the birds at the resort were great, I knew I could see a lot more on a guided tour.
On December 18th I accompanied Jon Ruddy’s Eastern Ontario Birding trip to Algonquin Park. This was an early Christmas present to myself as it’s one of my favourite parks in Ontario and I don’t get to go that often – it’s been almost two full years since the last time I’ve been. As usual, the goal was to find winter finches and Algonquin specialties such as Spruce Grouse, Black-backed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadees and Canada Jays (formerly known as Gray Jays); we were excited when Jon told us just a few days earlier three Spruce Grouse had been photographed right in the parking lot of the Spruce Bog Boardwalk.
The drive down was pleasant; notable birds seen along the way included an American Kestrel perching on a wire near the town of Douglas and a juvenile Bald Eagle soaring above the car just past Barry’s Bay. When we got to the park and paid for our permits, the East Gate was quiet; we heard only a single chickadee calling in the trees.
Mid-May is the most exciting time to go birding in northeastern North America. The peak of migration has arrived, bringing the bulk of the warblers, flycatchers, cuckoos, vireos, a few shorebirds, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Indigo Buntings, Scarlet Tanagers, Baltimore Orioles, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. On good days with fallout conditions, birds can be everywhere in migrant traps like Point Pelee, Rondeau Park, or Mud Lake here in Ottawa. Sometimes vagrants can occur with these expected species, particularly southern species that overshoot their breeding grounds and end up further north than their breeding range. The chance of seeing just such a rarity adds to the excitement and joy of seeing all our familiar summer residents again.
At last, Saturday arrived. Our last morning in Costa Rica, and our last morning at the beautiful Occidental Grand Papagayo resort. The final hours of our wonderful trip to the tropics were trickling through the hourglass, and I was sad to see it coming to an end. I got up, started packing up as much of my stuff as I could without disturbing Doran, then went out for a quick walk to the red-flowering trees – my favourite bird-watching spot on the resort. I still hadn’t given up on seeing those Squirrel Cuckoos again.
All too soon Friday arrived, and I was finally able to sleep in until 5:00 am instead of waking up at 3:30 am. I was up and birding 45 minutes later, taking pictures of everything I would miss once we returned to Canada – our flight was scheduled to leave at 1:30 pm the following day, and this was our last full day in the country. We hadn’t made any plans or booked any excursions, so I was able to get in a few hours of birding before breakfast. As usual it was humid when I set out, but not too hot yet; I headed out to the spot beneath the red-flowering trees first, curious as to which birds I would find there early in the morning.
After one of the wettest Aprils on record, both the Ottawa and Gatineau Rivers have burst their banks, causing extensive flooding that has affected hundreds of homes on both sides of the provincial border. A combination of snow melt flowing into the Ottawa River through its various tributaries and the high volume of rainfall this spring caused the water to rise faster than could be controlled by engineers at the various dams along the river. The Ottawa River is the highest it has been in decades, and neither I nor the long-time birders here have seen anything like it.
This month alone (now only seven days old) has seen over 100 mm of rain, with 45mm rain on May 1st, 40mm on Friday, and 20 mm yesterday. In the 24-hour period between Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon, the Ottawa River rose 17cm, and, according to the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board, is expected to rise a further 5cm before its peak on Monday. A state of emergency has been declared in Gatineau, where the Canadian Forces was on hand to help police reach difficult to access areas. On the Ontario side, Cumberland and Constance Bay were the two areas affected most, followed by Britannia, Dunrobin, Fitzroy Harbour and MacLarens Landing.
May is here, which means we’ve entered the peak of spring migration! I usually see more bird species in May than in any other month (except perhaps September), though this month has been off to a slow start. Not only did May 1st fall on a Monday this year, but the weather has been terrible – it’s been cloudy and rainy for most of the week, with some mornings still cold enough to require gloves. As such, I’ve been doing most of my birding around home, but even so I’ve managed to pick up a few good birds.
April has arrived, and I think spring has finally arrived with it. We’ve finally had some nice, sunny days and the weather has warmed up, so Deb and I finally got together to do some birding on the second day of April. We headed over to Mud Lake, where we only managed to tally 20 species; this is usually a great place to take in spring migration, but there was surprisingly little difference in the species seen since my previous visit on March 18th. The best birds there were an American Tree Sparrow, three Wood Ducks flying along the river, and an adult Cooper’s Hawk in the woods. Once again a male and female Downy Woodpecker pair came readily to my hand to take some food. I am now noting these birds in eBird, as I’ve been hand-feeding them for a couple of years now. The starlings singing near the filtration plant were of special interest, as we heard them imitating the calls of a Killdeer, an Eastern Wood-pewee, and even a Tree Frog!