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Las Vegas: A Trip to Red Rock Canyon

Western Bluebird

On our first morning in Las Vegas we woke up nice and early to meet the Red Rock Audubon Club at the Pine Creek Canyon Trail in Red Rock Canyon. I wanted to make the most of our trip, and since we had never been to the desert before, we wanted to go out with an experienced guide. I’d been eyeing the outings on the Red Rock Audubon Club website for a while, and this trip was exactly what I was looking for. It cost $7 to enter the park for the day, and the Pine Creek Canyon Trail is described as a three-mile, two-hour loop that crosses the open desert, vists an old homestead, and passes through a meadow before heading up into the canyon.

We ended up getting to the meeting point a couple of minutes late, as the road through the park is a one-way, 35 mph scenic loop with multiple look-outs and hiking trails branching off of it, and the one we wanted was – of course – near the end of the loop. In this it reminded me of Algonquin Park’s Highway 60 corridor, except the view was drastically different – I wished we had time to stop and take pictures of the dramatic Spring Mountains rising up from the floor of the Mojave Desert.

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Snippets from Late Summer

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.

Great Black-backed Gull

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Fledgling Season

Swamp Sparrow

By late July nesting season is over for many species and the newly fledged young are beginning to learn how to make their way in the world. Although the young birds are rapidly gaining their independence, their parents are still present, seeking out food sources and teaching their offspring how to forage on their own while avoiding predators and other dangers. I headed out to Stony Swamp one morning in late July and was surprised by how many different fledglings I found – sparrows, mainly, but also robins, Blue Jays and even a Downy Woodpecker.

I started the morning with a walk at the Beaver Trail, where I observed 25 species in total. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird was present in the parking lot, and I heard a pair of Alder Flycatchers in the marsh – this isn’t a species I hear often here anymore. I also heard a Common Gallinule in the marsh close to where a Belted Kingfisher was hanging out, though the kingfisher didn’t stay long when I arrived at the observation dock.

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Costa Rica: Birding around the Resort

Great Kiskadee

Costa Rica operates on Central Standard Time. Being so close to the equator, however, it receives roughly 12 hours of daylight throughout the year; as such, it has no need for Daylight Saving Time, and doesn’t reset its clocks twice a year. This is quite unlike Ottawa, which fluctuates from about 8 hours of daylight at the December solstice to just under 16 hours at the June solstice. It was light enough to go birding around 5:30 am, and started getting dark around 6:30 pm. Costa Rica was two hours behind Ottawa time during our trip, and as a result of the time change, we were up earlier than usual. This made time seem to slow down, for the days seemed much longer, with plenty of hours to fill.

With my sleep issues I still woke up at my usual time each day, which meant I was wide awake by 3:30 or 4:00 am and couldn’t fall back asleep. As soon as it got light I went birding, sneaking out around 5:30 or 6:00 am almost every day we didn’t have any activities planned. We spent our first full day in Costa Rica on the resort, and almost right away I discovered a great birding spot right near our building.
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Rain and Flooding in Ottawa

Palm Warbler

After one of the wettest Aprils on record, both the Ottawa and Gatineau Rivers have burst their banks, causing extensive flooding that has affected hundreds of homes on both sides of the provincial border. A combination of snow melt flowing into the Ottawa River through its various tributaries and the high volume of rainfall this spring caused the water to rise faster than could be controlled by engineers at the various dams along the river. The Ottawa River is the highest it has been in decades, and neither I nor the long-time birders here have seen anything like it.

This month alone (now only seven days old) has seen over 100 mm of rain, with 45mm rain on May 1st, 40mm on Friday, and 20 mm yesterday. In the 24-hour period between Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon, the Ottawa River rose 17cm, and, according to the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board, is expected to rise a further 5cm before its peak on Monday. A state of emergency has been declared in Gatineau, where the Canadian Forces was on hand to help police reach difficult to access areas. On the Ontario side, Cumberland and Constance Bay were the two areas affected most, followed by Britannia, Dunrobin, Fitzroy Harbour and MacLarens Landing.

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Algonquin Park: Finches, Martens, and Canada’s National Bird

Gray Jay

Gray Jay

It’s been a while since I’ve been to Algonquin Park – over three and a half years! – and after having a camping trip with Dad last summer and a birding trip with Deb this winter both fall through, I wasn’t sure when I’d get to visit that beautiful park again. When Jon Ruddy announced an excursion to Algonquin this month, I jumped on the chance to go. The birding there this winter has been excellent, with not only the usual Boreal specialties being found on most visits (including Gray Jay, Evening Grosbeak, Boreal Chickadee, and Spruce Grouse), but also most of the winter finches as well. In addition, the park naturalists had put out a road-killed moose carcass in the valley below the Visitor Center, and foxes were being seen feeding on it. Pine Martens have also been observed at the suet feeders and Mew Lake garbage bins in the park on occasion.

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The Gray Jay: Canada’s unofficial National Bird

Gray Jay

Gray Jay (2012)

Unless you’ve been committed yourself to complete isolation from the internet and news media for the past few days (in which case you probably aren’t reading my blog anyway), you have probably heard that on November 16, 2016, Canadian Geographic selected the Gray Jay as Canada’s National Bird. While this decision is not official – it needs government approval for that – the selection followed almost two years of debate, including an online round of voting open to the public, and then the choosing of the the national bird from the top five contenders by Canadian Geographic. The opinions of ornithologists, conservationists, cultural experts and indigenous peoples also played a large part in choosing the Gray Jay over the other finalists, which included iconic birds such as the Common Loon, Snowy Owl, Canada Goose, and Black-capped Chickadee. However, three of these are already provincial birds, and one of these is largely considered a pest (despite how heart-meltingly cute its goslings are).

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