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!
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.
On Victoria Day I returned to Mud Lake to look for migrants and dragonflies. I arrived early – before 7:00am – in order to beat the crowds, but even at that time there were a few people wandering around. I started at the ridge and worked my way around the conservation area in a clockwise direction; I hoped that by exploring the quieter side trails I would come up with a decent list for the morning. Well, I did finish my outing with a good number of bird species – 43 total – but most of them were found along the northern and western sides, which is where I usually bird anyway, especially when I am short on time.
December is here, and this morning I headed over to Mud Lake to get some more practice with my new Nikon Coolpix P610. Even though the winter birding season officially started five days ago, it still feels like fall, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Fortunately the daytime temperature has remained above 0°C the past couple of days; although the nights have been cold, neither the Ottawa River nor the large ponds have frozen over yet. We haven’t had any snow yet, either, so I was hoping to find either some late-lingering migrants (Hermit Thrush being the most likely, though I also would accept Song Sparrow, Belted Kingfisher, or Northern Flicker), some irruptive winter species (Bohemian Waxwings, Common Redpolls or Pine Grosbeaks would have been awesome), or something really cool like a Northern Mockingbird or a Townsend’s Solitaire. If there’s one spot in Ottawa where you can count on finding something unseasonal or out-of-range from time to time, it’s Mud Lake – and there are plenty of berries there for any winter wanderers.
I resumed my early morning visits to Hurdman on Monday, May 4th and was happy to finally see some new birds. I realized things had changed when I heard my first Black-throated Green Warbler along the feeder path. It was foraging in a relatively small tree, and when I saw a second bird darting among the new leaves I was pleased when I identified it as a Nashville Warbler.
A Ruby-crowned Kinglet was also present, as were several White-throated Sparrows scurrying along the path. It seems like I’ve been waiting for these birds to arrive for ages, and to my surprise I found a single White-crowned Sparrow among them. The White-crowns arrive later in May, after the juncos leave, and I wasn’t quite expecting them yet as I had just seen a junco two days earlier at the Beaver Trail (my last junco sighting of the spring, as it turns out). Altogether I saw between 20 and 30 White-throated Sparrows foraging in various spots along the trail, the largest flock of clear-cut migrants I had seen so far – I have seen and heard other White-throated Sparrows this spring, but never more than ten, and those behaved more like breeding residents singing on territory than migrants just passing through. (Indeed, this turned out to the only large flock of migrant White-throats I’ve observed this spring, adding another mystery to this year’s spring migration.)