September is a fantastic time to visit the Eagleson Ponds. The asters and goldenrods are in full bloom, there are usually plenty of butterflies and dragonflies still flying, the resident gulls, shorebirds and waterfowl are sometimes joined by migrants from further north, and migrant songbirds can often be found foraging in the groves of trees. Some years are fantastic for migrants with all sorts of birds stopping by (I’ll never forget the September of 2016 when a Lesser Black-backed Gull spent a day here and a large flock of American Pipits found the rocky shoreline to their liking), while others are lackluster. This September has proven to be the latter, much to my disappointment; however the sunny days mean that lots of insects are still flying, and I can usually find something to catch my interest even if the warblers and other songbirds all seem to be elsewhere.
We spent the last two nights of our trip to Nova Scotia in Halifax. While Doran attended Hal-con, I walked around the city. It was very windy, and although I was hoping to find some good birds there weren’t too many around.
My first stop was the Halifax Public Gardens. I wasn’t able to hear much over the wind, but I did find two White-throated Sparrows among the usual starlings, pigeons, gulls and mallards that spend their time here. It would be nice to visit in the warmer months to find some different migrant or breeding songbirds, as the park – though beautiful – doesn’t seem to attract a great variety of species in the later fall months.
From there I walked down to the harbour, hoping the waterbirds would at least make the visit worthwhile. The usual Herring Gulls were bobbing on the water and lined up on the piers, but I didn’t see a single duck or seabird.
In late October Doran and I spent nearly a week in Nova Scotia to visit his family and spend some time at Hal-Con, the huge sci-fi, fantasy and gaming convention held in Halifax. We spent the first part of our trip at a cottage in Margaretsville, a small town on the Bay of Fundy only a short drive from Doran’s home town of Kingston. The cottage was beautiful with a large second floor loft that looked out over the water. It sat on a wide expanse of lawn with a grove of trees between the house and the road. On our first day there I saw a juvenile White-crowned Sparrow on the gravel driveway just outside the cottage, a couple of crows and a raven flying over, five Herring Gulls and a single Ring-billed Gull, and a Common Loon swimming along the bay. The cottage was close enough to the shore that I could set up my travel scope in the large picture window and watch the birds from the comfort of indoors!
I had a few days off in the middle of September and spent them birding. The weather was fantastic from Thursday through Saturday, and I started my days at the Eagleson storm water ponds which usually has a great diversity of species during migration. The habitat has been excellent for shorebirds, as the water levels were low enough for Lesser Yellowlegs to walk around the middle of the central pond. However, I was really hoping to find some different warbler and songbird species to add to my list, and checked each grove of trees carefully. I wasn’t happy when I found only one warbler species (a Common Yellowthroat) in the 5 hours I spent there total, but the diversity of shorebirds was amazingly excellent. Several were foraging quite close to shore, too, making them easy to identify! I found nine species altogether, which is terrific for an urban pond system so close to human habitation.
On August 26th I joined Eastern Ontario Birding’s trip to Presqu’ile Provincial Park. The owner of EOB, Jon, is a friend of mine and got more than he bargained for when he agreed to pick me up at 5:30 am – as soon as he pulled up in front of my house a police car pulled up beside him to ask if he knew anything about a complaint that had been called in. Jon told the officer he was there to pick up a friend to go birding, and the police officer told him that he believed him (the eBird sticker on his car probably hadn’t gone unnoticed, and lent credibility to his statement). The police car drove off just as I was heading out the door, but we saw it stop with two other cruisers on Grassy Plains. Emerald Meadows is a quiet neighbourhood, and I certainly didn’t hear anything at 4:30 in the morning, but it made for a strange start to the day. Continue reading →
Doran and I spent a week in Las Vegas from December 9-15, 2017 to see some shows and do some birding. We’d been planning this trip for a while, and I was excited because (a) I’ve never been to the American southwest before; and (b) I was only 19 species away from hitting 500 species on my life list. I felt I had a reasonably good chance; the target list I generated from eBird for Clark County during the month of December showed that there were 15 species with a frequency of more than 10%, and 37 species with a frequency greater than 1%. The top 15 included three birds on my “most wanted” list, namely, Cinnamon Teal, the only new duck species I could expect; Phainopepla, a desert bird I’d never heard of until one showed up in Brampton, ON in the winter of 2009; and Great Roadrunner, because I grew up watching the Bugs Bunny show and really wanted to see what one looked like in real life. Continue reading →
Our warm fall weather continued this weekend, with sunny blue skies and temperatures reaching above 20°C both days – it was 11°C higher than it should be this time of year. With the return of our rather late summer, it was a bit of a shock on Saturday to see that two of our common winter residents had arrived in the region: the Common Goldeneye, a diving duck that inhabits the ice-free portions of the Rideau and Ottawa Rivers all winter long, and the American Tree Sparrow, a small brown sparrow with a red cap that likes shrubby habitats and sometimes visits bird feeders in more rural areas.
I was still trying to bring my year list up to 200, and started the weekend off with a walk around the Eagleson storm water ponds. I was hoping for Cackling Goose, though a Greater White-fronted Goose would also have been nice – although much more rare than the diminutive Cackling Goose, it’s one I keep looking for every time large numbers of geese start gathering here before finally moving on. To my disappointment I found only three waterfowl species: Canada Goose, Mallard, and a few lingering Double-crested Cormorants. I was happy to see that the cormorants were still around, as every sighting could be the last of the year.
Late summer is a great time for birding. Shorebirds, flycatchers, and warblers which breed further north have moved into the area, while our resident breeding birds are preparing for their journey south. It’s a fantastic time to check out the woods and river for both residents and migrants before they leave for good. Personally, it’s one of my favourite times of year, especially as the summer weather tends to linger on into the end of September – unlike the fickle weather of May, you can go birding in shorts and sandals instead of gloves and winter coats. The diversity is just as excellent, and it is possible to find species that usually bypass Ottawa in the spring lingering here in the fall. Here are a few things I’ve found recently while out birding around the west end.
I’ve seen a few interesting things in my own backyard and in conservation areas close to home these days, but haven’t taken enough photos for a full blog post; here are a few photos from the past couple of weeks.
On July 10th I visited the Eagleson storm water ponds for an hour in the afternoon. Even though this was much later in the day than I usually visit, I still found 21 species including a Green Heron, an Osprey and a Belted Kingfisher. I also counted three Spotted Sandpipers around the pond. It seems odd that I haven’t seen any tiny precocial sandpiper chicks running around here at this point in the breeding season; either they aren’t breeding here, or they are keeping their young well-hidden. This adult kept a wary eye on me as I photographed it from a respectful distance.
Usually the first two weeks of April are a slog to get through – it still looks and feels like March, cold north winds and long spells of rain manage to out-compete the longed-for southerly winds and warm, sunny days, and although migration should be well under way, it takes forever for the next spate of migrants to arrive. Then one day it happens: you realize the snow is finally all gone, the ponds are ice-free, the buds on the trees look ready to burst open, and your neighbourhood Chipping Sparrows are back and singing right outside your window. The temperatures are finally reaching double-digits on a daily basis, and there are new birds moving in! The second half (well, the last third, really) of April is when the birding really picks up and it really begins to feel like spring. This truly is the beginning of my favourite time of year; here are a few of the things that make birding in late April so wonderful.