After about a week of temperatures in the double digits, on November 20th the temperature plummeted. The past week has been cold, with most days not even reaching the freezing mark. Worse, a heavy snowfall on November 20th and 21st dumped more than 10 cm on Ottawa; so even though a few trees and shrubs were still sporting green leaves, it looks like winter has begun a full month early, given that the solstice falls on December 21st this year. Even going by meteorological seasons, which uses December 1st as the start of winter, and March 1st as the beginning of spring, winter is still more than a week early. Maybe we’ll get lucky and find ourselves back in the plus-double digits on February 20th, a full month before the vernal equinox.
Waterfowl are starting to move through our area in good numbers now, so on Saturday afternoon I headed out for a walk around the storm water ponds to see if anything new was around. I chose a late afternoon visit to check on the geese there – they are usually heading out to the corn fields by the time I get there in the morning, so I was hoping to catch them returning for the night – bringing with them, I hoped, some other interesting species. I’ve had both Snow Goose and Cackling Goose there in the past, and I didn’t think it was out of the question for a Greater White-fronted Goose to stop in. It was a warm but windy afternoon, so I was also hoping to see a few late-season butterflies.
It was sunny and cold when I left this morning – only 5°C – with a wind blowing straight out of the north. This was quite a change from my walk at the ponds along Eagleson yesterday morning when it was 16°C and raining lightly. Despite the rain I found some good birds there, including a Belted Kingfisher, two Great Egrets, a Golden-crowned Kinglet and a Ruby-crowned Kinglet along with the usual pond denizens. Even more surprising was the monarch I saw flitting about 12 feet off the ground in the southwest part of the park. I wasn’t sure if it was migrating or trying to find a spot to take shelter; it flew over the trees and looked like it intended to keep going.
The cool weather and gray skies arrived this past week, and with them came the fall birding doldrums. This usually hits me when I realize that we are now halfway through the fall migration season, and that more species have already departed than are still left to come. It’s going to be at least seven months before I hear another Ovenbird or see a flock of Barn Swallows swooping over farm fields; the Wood Thrush, the Eastern Kingbird, and the Yellow Warbler are all somewhere far south of here. Both the birds and the seasons are moving on, and this was made evident when we had to turn the heat on as the nights started dropping down into the single digit temperatures.
I headed out to the Eagleson Ponds yesterday morning, but didn’t spend much time there as there wasn’t much to photograph. After about an hour I ended up with 27 species, and for the first time in months I did not see or hear the Northern Flicker. Sparrows and finches were abundant – it was a mild morning, and several Song Sparrows were still singing. A couple of White-throated Sparrows were attempting to sing, too. A couple of those popped into view when I started pishing, as did an adult and juvenile White-crowned Sparrow.
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.
Easter was early this year, which is always a bit disappointing as a birder – when it falls at the end of March, migration is just getting under way and there isn’t the same variety of species around as there would be later in April. Still, I was looking forward to adding a few birds to my year list, so I headed over to Mud Lake yesterday (Easter Sunday). I still haven’t seen a Great Blue Heron or Brown-headed Cowbird yet this year, and it’s just about time for Eastern Phoebes, Northern Flickers, Tree Swallows and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers to arrive back on territory. I was also curious as to whether the Northern Mockingbird was still around – there haven’t been any reports, but then I don’t know if anyone has gone and looked for it. With a forecast high of 13°C, it seemed a nice day to go for a walk around the lake, though it was still close to 0°C when I headed out.
I usually never believe the groundhogs when they predict an early spring. Regardless of whether they see their shadow, spring usually arrives right when it’s supposed to – between the second and third weeks of March. An “early” spring might arrive on St. Patrick’s Day rather than the solstice a couple of days later; however, the weather usually remains unsettled, with some snow and sub-zero temperatures still occurring at least a week or two later. The last two years were the exceptions, when spring didn’t arrive until the temperatures rose to above 0°C around April! In fact, the new trend seems to be one of seasons arriving later than usual – just look at how long it took winter to get here this year!
When the weather forecast predicted above-zero temperatures every day starting on Sunday, March 6th I was skeptical. We usually get one or two snowstorms in the first half of March, a last act of defiance on the part of Old Man Winter. We got our snow on March 1st, and then by Sunday the temperature rose to +3°C.