Archives

Birding in the Time of the Coronavirus

Blue-winged Teal (male)

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.
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Chasing the Vermilion Flycatcher

Cinnamon Teal

Thursday turned out to be just as sunny as the previous days, with the temperature rising even higher. I had checked eBird the night before to see if any interesting birds were being seen at the Henderson Bird Viewing Preserve or Red Rock Canyon, and when I saw that a Vermilion Flycatcher had been present at Henderson for the past month, I immediately knew this was Thursday’s destination. Males are bright red with black wings, a black back, and a black mask, and if I had chosen a most-wanted bird of the south this would be it. Unfortunately the photos showed that the bird was a female, which is much drabber and looks more like a Say’s Phoebe, but would still be a life bird. Doran and I headed out to the Henderson Preserve early in the morning, and this time we only drove two blocks past the entrance before figuring out we had missed it (my map application had improved since our last visit, but not by much).
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October Summary

Wood Duck

October is a month of transition – we leave the hot days of summer behind (although September didn’t feel like summer this year, as the sultry 25-plus-degree temperatures of years past never materialized) and enter true fall, enjoying those crisp sunny days where the north wind carries a hint of winter and the brilliant orange and red foliage slowly starts to carpet the ground. The sun casts longer shadows as its zenith drops lower and lower in the sky each day, and the shorter days become evident when I have to leave for work in the dark in the morning. The birds, too, are transitioning, as most of the insect-eaters are now gone and the bulk of the seed-eaters – mainly sparrows – start moving through. It’s not going to be a good year for seeing finches in the south, as Ron Pittaway’s Winter Finch Forecast indicates bumper crops up north will keep the crossbills, redpolls and Pine Grosbeaks on their summer territory. Waterfowl and shorebirds are still moving through, although heavy rain toward the end of the month obliterated the remaining shorebird habitat along the Ottawa River – so much for the flocks of Dunlin and White-rumped Sandpipers I was hoping to find at Andrew Haydon Park again.

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Other Highlights from September

Monarch

When I’m not busy looking for birds and bugs at the Eagleson Ponds, I’ll be at one of the many other trails and conservation areas in west end. Stony Swamp attracts its fair share of migrants, and is home to numerous fascinating reptiles, amphibians, and insects, so I spend a lot of time there in the warmer months. Jack Pine Trail and the Beaver Trail are my favourite trails as the loops are small enough that they can be completed quickly, with a variety of habitats to attract different wildlife; however, Sarsaparilla Trail can also be amazing, although the boardwalk is still closed for repairs. I really mean to spend more time at Old Quarry Trail and Lime Kiln Trail, but as these are a bit further away, with larger trail systems, I often opt for the convenience of one of the other trails instead – especially if I have plans to go elsewhere after, such as Mud Lake or Andrew Haydon park.

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The John E. Poole Wetland

Gadwall

During my visit to Edmonton, there were two places I was hoping to go birding: Elk Island National Park and the John E. Poole Wetland in Lois Hole Centennial Provincial Park. My sister’s new place was only a 15-minute drive from Lois Hole PP, and as she isn’t a birder, I decided to forego the long drive to Elk Island in order to visit the much smaller wetland twice. We did one morning visit for birds and an afternoon visit for bugs, which worked out perfectly with her schedule.

The wetland is adjacent to Big Lake in St. Albert, a globally recognized Important Bird Area which provides habitat for thousands of waterfowl and shorebirds during both migration and the breeding season. The 350-metre long boardwalk crosses through the marsh, with sections of open water among the dense cattails to provide windows into the wetland. My mother, stepfather and I visited the wetland in early July 2018 on a gray, breezy day where the highlights included Eared Grebe, three Sora calling, a Wilson’s Snipe calling, four Black Terns, five Common Yellowthroats, and an assortment of waterfowl, including Bufflehead and Ring-necked Duck – two ducks we only see during migration in Ottawa.

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A Storm of Warblers

Palm Warbler

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.
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April Summary

White-throated Sparrow

By the time March comes, birders are tired of winter and are eagerly awaiting the arrival of the first spring migrants – the Red-winged Blackbirds, the Common Grackles, the Turkey Vultures, the Song Sparrows and Killdeer. By the time April arrives, birders are eagerly awaiting the next wave of migrants and the first warm days of spring. This year, the second wave of migrants was delayed by the lingering cold temperatures and the lingering snow on the ground. Then it started raining in the middle of the month, and the rivers and creeks began to flood. It was really tough to find the motivation to go out – the weather wasn’t cooperative, the birds were late, and it wasn’t warm enough to look for the first butterflies of the year until toward the end of the month.
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A new life bird on the resort

Hispaniolan Parrot

Doran and I didn’t have any excursions planned for the rest of the week, so we took it easy on the last three days – swimming at the beach, dining at the restaurants, and even doing a couples massage. I went for my usual walks in the morning and afternoons, and although I had already gotten 19 new life birds on the trip, I kept hoping to find something new, or at least get photos of ones I had missed. I kept checking the western edge of the resort to see if I could find the Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoo again, as well as the flowers near the souvenir shops for the Antillean Mango. I also hoped to find some dragonflies to photograph near the swamp, although I had heard that they sprayed the resorts for mosquitoes and wasn’t expecting much ode life if this was true.

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Second day in the Dominican

White-cheeked Pintail

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.
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Dominican Holiday Part 1: Arrival in Punta Cana

Skipper sp.

After the worst two weeks of winter including frigid temperatures, enough snow to break the record for January (97 cm total as of January 29th) and enough OC Transpo delays and missing buses to induce a severe case of transit rage, my fiancé and I were lucky to have planned to spend the first week of February at an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. Our plane was supposed to leave on Saturday at 2:35 pm direct to Punta Cana, but heavy snow that morning meant a delay of almost five hours. We didn’t arrive in Punta Cana until 12:30 Sunday morning, and it was almost another hour before our heads hit the pillow despite an easy time at Customs and no traffic to slow us down. There were, however, lots of speed bumps en route, making me wonder about the drivers in the city.
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