Archives

The Annual January Thaw

Great Horned Owl

For the past three days I’ve been listening to the sound of the steady drip of water from the snow melting on my roof. Almost every year we get a warm spell where the temperature climbs a few degrees above zero for a couple of days. While it is usually called the “January thaw”, sometimes it occurs in February, usually right in the middle of Winterlude. It is a welcome break from the bitterly cold days that remain well within the negative double digits. Not only does this weather make birding more pleasant – despite the heavy gray skies that usually accompany these warm spells – but birds and animals become more active, moving around instead of hunkering down against the cold.

I was hoping that this would happen on Saturday, and started my morning at the Trail Road landfill where I hoped to find at least a couple of different species of gull. Once again I found only Herring Gulls, and the only other birds present were two Red-tailed Hawks, crows and starlings. Even these seemed down in numbers.
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A Golden Life Bird

When I woke up on Saturday, March 19th, there were only two regularly-occurring birds in the Ottawa area I had not yet added to my life list: Golden Eagle and Arctic Tern. Of these two birds, I expected the Arctic Tern to be the easier to see – they migrate along the Ottawa River during the last week of May and the first two weeks of June, and there are only a few spots along the river where they are easily seen during this narrow window of time. I haven’t yet made any serious attempts to find an Arctic Tern for my life list, as (a) you have to either be there at the right time if they are flying through rather than feeding or resting in the rapids, or else put in a lot of time scanning the river; and (b) views from the Britannia Pier and Britannia Point are usually distant, and I’ve always had doubts about being able to separate this species from the similar-looking Common Tern in those circumstances.

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Amherst Island Raptors

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

On January 30th I joined Jon Ruddy’s Eastern Ontario Birding outing to Amherst Island. I haven’t been there in three years – not since the last OFNC outing on January 26, 2013 – so a trip there was long overdue. Late January is a great time to go, as by this time of the year the winter birding blahs have set in and I find that a change of scenery really helps to get me through the rest of the winter. A trip to Amherst Island with all of its overwintering birds of prey is the perfect antidote to the Ottawa birding blues that usually start creeping in this time of year.

Jon picked me up dark and early at 6:30 am, requiring the early start in order to pick up another member in Perth. On the way to the ferry dock in Millhaven we saw an adult Bald Eagle and a muskrat on a two different lakes along Highway 7. We arrived at the ferry dock at 9:15 am, where we met the rest of the group and began checking out the ducks in the bay.

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The Bird Islands Boat Tour

Razorbill

Razorbill

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.

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Easter Reptiles and Amphibians

Mating Wood Frogs

Mating Wood Frogs

The last day of my four-day Easter weekend dawned cool and overcast. Deb and I headed out to the east end together to check out a couple of trails near the Mer Bleue Bog. We started off at the boardwalk where we were greeted by the songs of at least two Fox Sparrows in the dense vegetation beyond the parking lot. Two Eastern Phoebes were attempting to catch flies in the open area between the parking lot and the picnic shelter, while a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was tapping nearby. We didn’t see a lot on the boardwalk; only the usual early marsh birds were present, as well as a pair of Wilson’s Snipes which we heard calling from the marsh. The most interesting birds were three Common Ravens flying over together while being chased by a couple of crows. One of the ravens did a barrel-roll trying to evade the crow, reminding me what magnificent fliers they are.

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In the Depths of Winter

Brown Creeper

Brown Creeper

It has not been a great winter for birding so far. Although the Harlequin Ducks are still hanging out at Deschenes Rapids and a Varied Thrush has been reported somewhere near Pakenham / Arnprior, there have been no rarities in our area. Redpolls, crossbills and even Bohemian Waxwings are completely absent, and with the freeze-up of our local ponds and rivers (except for the rapids along the Ottawa and Rideau Rivers), most of the gulls and water birds have left. All that remains are our hardy year-round residents and the usual winter residents: American Tree Sparrows, Snow Buntings, Snowy Owls, Northern Shrike and the like.

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On A Winter’s Morn

Juvenile Bald Eagle

Juvenile Bald Eagle

It snowed again yesterday. I went out early in the morning to try to find some gulls at the Trail Road Landfill but the white skies were spitting snow even as I left. I found three Red-tailed Hawks along Trail Road, several European Starlings, and at least 200 crows near the dump, but no gulls. Further along the road I saw a single Dark-eyed Junco and some chickadees. I then checked some of the back roads near Richmond and came up with a single Rough-legged Hawk flying over and a Snowy Owl perched on top of a telephone pole, both new for my winter list. I didn’t stay out too long because the snow was beginning to accumulate on the roads and visibility was poor.

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