The Swans of Spring

American Kestrel

I was supposed to spend Christmas with my Dad in Cambridge, Ontario. Unfortunately, a massive winter storm on December 23rd effectively cancelled those plans, as the terrible driving conditions along Highway 401 resulted in several accidents and even closures of sections of the largest highway in Ontario. Not keen on making the drive by myself once the weather improved (as my fiancé didn’t have any additional time off), I finally felt well enough to make the tiring 7-hour journey by train last week. I departed on March 8th, happy to leave the huge snowbanks of Ottawa behind and hopefully find warmer weather in southern Ontario. On this trip I planned to see both my father in Cambridge and my mother in Wallaceburg, which had no snow on the ground at the time (though of course that changed by the time I got there).

There have been very few signs of migration starting in Ottawa when I left on March 8th – normally the Red-winged Blackbirds and Ring-billed Gulls would have been back by then, but they were still absent from my neighbourhood and the Eagleson ponds by the time I left. However, when I got to my Dad’s place I was thrilled to see plenty of Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles and even a male Brown-headed Cowbird at his feeder. The blackbirds had arrived in numbers, though several winter birds were still around – I was delighted to see a pair of American Tree Sparrows visiting with the juncos, Mourning Doves, and chickadees. Although late winter isn’t the ideal time for a visit, I did want to add some winter species to my southern Ontario county lists as normally I visit my parents in the warmer months. As a result, quite a few common species were missing from my Waterloo and Chatham lists, including the American Tree Sparrows visiting my Dad’s feeder!

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Fall Highlights 2022

Cackling Goose

Cackling Goose

By the beginning of fall (September 22, 2022) I was feeling enough like myself to get out regularly and chase birds close to home. I was up to 158 species for my Ottawa year list, which wasn’t too shabby considering I’d spent most of the first four months at home recuperating from surgery and finishing my active cancer treatment, but I still needed a lot of species to reach my goal of about 200. I’d added Great Black-backed Gull and Redhead with a visit to the Moodie Drive quarry pond on September 20th, and two days later I saw the American Coot and Snow Goose that had been reported there. The day after that I visited the park off of Steeple Hill Park in Fallowfield and added two much-needed songbirds: Blue-headed Vireo and Orange-crowned Warbler. Highlights from that day included a Ruffed Grouse drumming in the woods somewhere and a Merlin flying over – briefly dashing after a goldfinch before flying on. Other warblers included Nashville, Magnolia, and Palm Warblers.

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Surprises at Shirley’s Bay

Juvenile Bonaparte's Gull

Juvenile Bonaparte’s Gull

The second day of September was supposed to be a nice day so a friend and I made plans to go to Shirley’s Bay for a walk together. She had never been there before, and even for non-birders it’s a great place to view the Ottawa River and walk along the shore. I arrived before she did and started checking out the vegetation around the parking lot; sometimes some interesting birds can turn up in the edge habitat adjacent to the greenbelt trails, and I was not disappointed to see a pair of Indigo Buntings high up in a bare tree. I heard them before I saw them, and if it weren’t for those distinct chip notes sounding like a sharper, thinner version of the call of a Common Yellowthroat, I might not have recognized the pair of brown songbirds in the tree. I only managed to get two quick photos of their backs before they flew off, but those pictures further confirmed my identification, as one of the birds showed blue feathers in the rump area. Only the breeding male is entirely blue; females and immatures are brown, though the young males may sometimes show some blue feathers coming in among the brown.

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Nova Scotia 2021: Scots Bay

Seashell on the Sea Shore

Seashell on the Sea Shore – Scot’s Bay

On Saturday, July 31st my fiancé and I took two days to make the long drive to Nova Scotia. We planned to stay two weeks, although we were both working remotely at a cottage on the shore of Scot’s Bay, Kings County during the first week and used the second week as a true vacation week in Greenwood. By then there were no restrictions to enter Quebec or New Brunswick, although we had to show proof of vaccines and a travel permit at the Nova Scotia border. Once inside the border we were still subject to gathering regulations, mask mandates, and contact tracing protocols to dine indoor at restaurants, something we hadn’t done in Ontario since last fall.

Scot’s Bay is a community on Cape Split. The cape juts out into the Bay of Fundy, separating it from the Minas Basin. This continuation of Nova Scotia’s North Mountain range is 7 kilometres long and ranges between several kilometres to several dozen metres in width. It reaches 200 metres above sea-level at the scenic Look-Off halfway along the highway, and terminates in the relatively new (2019) Cape Split Provincial Park at the end. It also has a second provincial park, Blomidon, on the Minas Basin side, and a tiny access point to the beach on the Bay of Fundy side called Scot’s Bay Provincial Park. This is where I got my lifer Sanderling in 2008.

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Northern Visitors

Iceland Gull

This November has witnessed one of the most dramatic battles between the seasons I have ever seen: the battle between Winter and Summer. Autumn has been watching from the sidelines as first Summer forced its way back onto the stage with temperatures ranging from 19°C to 23°C between November 5th and November 11th; birds were singing and butterflies were flying again on Remembrance Day. Winter fought back on November 18th with the first sub-zero day of the season and a high of -3°C, but Summer regained the upper hand when the thermometer rose to 15°C two days later. Winter’s next strategy involved dumping almost 8 cm of snow on our region on November 22nd, with another 2 cm two days later. We haven’t seen this much snow on the ground since March 9th, and normally don’t get this much until about December 11th. Summer has since retaliated by raising temperatures to almost 5°C the past two days, and 7°C today. The snow is melting, and although it looks like Summer is finally weakening, I’m dreading to see what Winter has in store next. Fortunately it looks as though Autumn has had enough of these two fighting over its territory, and has sent them both packing as temperatures are supposed remain in the single digits next week with more rain than snow in the forecast.

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September at the Ponds

Clouded Sulphur

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.

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Nova Scotia Part 3: Halifax

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.

Herring Gull

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Nova Scotia Part I: Margaretsville

White-crowned Sparrow

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!

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Shorebirds of the Eagleson Ponds

Wilson’s Snipe

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.

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Shorebirding at Presqu’ile Provincial Park

Baird’s Sandpiper

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.
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