This year the Audubon Christmas Bird Count celebrates its 121st year. Counting birds at Christmas became a tradition in the year 1900 when ornithologist Frank M. Chapman proposed it as an alternative to the annual Christmas side hunt, a competition in which two different teams killed “practically everything in fur or feathers that crossed their path”. The idea of wildlife conservation was just beginning to take hold around the turn of the 20th century, and Chapman seemed optimistic that burgeoning criticism of the side hunt was a sign that the unnecessary slaughter of hundreds of non-game birds was coming to an end. Chapman asked readers of the journal Bird Lore (the predecessor of Audubon Magazine) to spend some of their time on Christmas Day conducting a census of the birds in their area and send the results to him for publication in February. During that first Christmas Bird Count, 27 enthusiastic birders from two provinces and thirteen states tallied 90 species. Counts took place in New Brunswick, Ontario, a handful of northeastern states, Missouri, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Colorado, and California. In most cases, there was only one observer per count!
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.
The COVID-19 pandemic caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is going to be the largest global crisis in modern times. The outbreak started in Wuhan, Hubei, China, in December 2019, and was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020. Coincidentally, Ottawa’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was identified on March 11, 2020 when a Ciena employee returning from a trip overseas fell ill immediately after returning home. A second case also related to travel was made public on March 12, 2020, and our Prime Minister’s wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau was confirmed to have a mild case the same day. As a precaution Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also went into a 14-day isolation at home, and as he never developed any symptoms, that isolation ended today. By March 13, 2020, the Canadian Tire Center had cancelled all events, the City of Ottawa had closed all of its facilities, a new screening center had been set up at Brewer Arena, and post-secondary schools had moved to online classes. March Break was just beginning for elementary and secondary schools, though they’d been advised that they, too, would be shutting down for a few weeks afterward. Continue reading →
On Sunday, February 2nd Doran and I went birding with Bird Las Vegas in order to see some new places and fill in some gaps in my life list after our first trip to Las Vegas in 2017. It was not only Groundhog Day, but Super Bowl Sunday, although any dedicated birder recognizes this day as Superb Owl Sunday instead. When I booked the day-long excursion with Justin Streit, I told him there were two species I really wanted to see: Steller’s Jay and Burrowing Owl. We had already found the Steller’s Jay; the owl was number 16 on my list of target birds, having been reported on 1.0% of all complete checklists in February. The low number bears little correlation to the actual likelihood of the owls being found, however; Justin told me most birders visit them in January to tick them for their year list. Continue reading →
We spent the first day on our vacation catching up on sleep and getting acquainted with the services the resort has to offer. We booked reservations at each of the specialty restaurants (Mexican, Italian, seafood, Oriental, and steakhouse) and arranged a non-birding excursion to Catalina Island. On our second day we spent more time exploring the resort. My goal was to get up early and hit the beach at sunrise to see if I could find some beach birds (gulls, terns, shorebirds, pelicans, frigatebirds) before the beach crowd arrived. Doran decided to come with me, and we did get to see the sunrise. Unfortunately there were still no birds present, and enough people up and walking around to make getting a clear photo of the beach difficult. Continue reading →
On the final Wednesday in September the weather finally changed. Once again the temperature climbed into the 30s, but a cold front passed through around 3:00, generating a powerful but short-lived thunderstorm that brought many tree limbs down. This was the first rain we’d had in three weeks. The temperature fell about seven degrees, and since then temperatures have been back to seasonal, falling to single digits in the night and rising to about 15°C in the day. It’s now necessary to wear a coat in the morning, but I find the change refreshing.
After our birdwatching excursion on Monday we spent Tuesday relaxing at the resort. Once again I awoke hideously early and slipped out just after dawn to go birding around the resort. I heard the chatter of the parakeets coming from behind our building and headed off in that direction instead of the hummingbird spot. The usual White-winged Doves and Great-tailed Grackles were around, and I heard a couple of Rufous-naped Wrens near the mango trees. In the dead tree by the pool I found about ten Orange-chinned Parakeets perching out in the open.
Costa Rica operates on Central Standard Time. Being so close to the equator, however, it receives roughly 12 hours of daylight throughout the year; as such, it has no need for Daylight Saving Time, and doesn’t reset its clocks twice a year. This is quite unlike Ottawa, which fluctuates from about 8 hours of daylight at the December solstice to just under 16 hours at the June solstice. It was light enough to go birding around 5:30 am, and started getting dark around 6:30 pm. Costa Rica was two hours behind Ottawa time during our trip, and as a result of the time change, we were up earlier than usual. This made time seem to slow down, for the days seemed much longer, with plenty of hours to fill.
With my sleep issues I still woke up at my usual time each day, which meant I was wide awake by 3:30 or 4:00 am and couldn’t fall back asleep. As soon as it got light I went birding, sneaking out around 5:30 or 6:00 am almost every day we didn’t have any activities planned. We spent our first full day in Costa Rica on the resort, and almost right away I discovered a great birding spot right near our building. Continue reading →
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.
Winter has taken its sweet time in leaving. We’re now a week past the Spring Equinox and the temperature has still been below normal. Even worse, last Wednesday the temperature dipped to -17°C (-28°C with the windchill when we woke up) and then Ottawa received another 10cm of heavy, wet snow on Friday. Once again all the lawns were covered beneath a heavy blanket of snow and the open water in the ponds and rivers began to freeze, reversing all the progress we’ve made to date. I suspect either Mother Nature is being held hostage somewhere against her will, or else she is hiding out in the Mexican Riviera, too afraid to come back to Canada because of the way Old Man Winter has taken over the country. Old Man Winter is now talking about building a wall to keep her out; the snow we received on Friday will become his building materials.