April has arrived, and I think spring has finally arrived with it. We’ve finally had some nice, sunny days and the weather has warmed up, so Deb and I finally got together to do some birding on the second day of April. We headed over to Mud Lake, where we only managed to tally 20 species; this is usually a great place to take in spring migration, but there was surprisingly little difference in the species seen since my previous visit on March 18th. The best birds there were an American Tree Sparrow, three Wood Ducks flying along the river, and an adult Cooper’s Hawk in the woods. Once again a male and female Downy Woodpecker pair came readily to my hand to take some food. I am now noting these birds in eBird, as I’ve been hand-feeding them for a couple of years now. The starlings singing near the filtration plant were of special interest, as we heard them imitating the calls of a Killdeer, an Eastern Wood-pewee, and even a Tree Frog!
I haven’t been blogging as much this winter for a simple reason: I haven’t been going out as much. It’s been a strange winter since January ended, with warm rainy spells interspersed with snowstorms and bitterly cold temperatures. The weather on the weekends hasn’t been conducive for getting out; this is the second weekend in a row that morning temperatures have started in the double negative digits with a windchill bringing the temperature below -20°C. I am so sick and tired of the winter that I just can’t do the cold any more. And if it isn’t the cold, it’s the snow, or else I haven’t been feeling well.
After my return to Ottawa from southern Ontario I was eager to get out and see what was going on in my favourite conservation areas. On Saturday morning I headed out to Mud Lake where I had an excellent morning, finding 39 species in two hours including nine warblers, three flycatchers, three sparrows, and two thrushes. I didn’t spend much time searching for water birds, but even so I saw the usual mallards, a couple of Wood Ducks, two Spotted Sandpipers, and one Great Blue Heron in the channel behind the ridge. A large number of gulls were roosting on the rocks in the rapids, and I spotted a couple of Herring Gulls among the Ring-bills.
On August 7th I met up with Chris Lewis at Shirley’s Bay for a morning of birding and dragon-hunting. The morning got off to a great start when I saw a group of Wild Turkeys along Rifle Road even before I met Chris at the parking lot; there were two adults and a couple of baby turkeys! As soon as I stopped the car the adult turkeys began herding their offspring away from the road. Although they weren’t that close to begin with, it was cute to watch the babies stop and peck at the weeds while Mom and Dad steadily walked toward the back of the meadow. I’ve seen Wild Turkeys in that field before, but this was the first time I’d seen them with any young, and it was a thrilling experience.
After we returned from Mexico I only had a week to enjoy migration in Ottawa before heading off to southern Ontario to see my family. When I awoke in my own bed on Saturday, the day after our return to Ottawa, I was happy to find some migrants right out in the backyard: a Red-winged Blackbird was singing and two male Brown-headed Cowbirds were foraging in the neighbour’s trees, a Ruby-crowned Kinglet was flitting around in a shrub in the yard behind ours, and a Chipping Sparrow and three Dark-eyed Juncos were vacuuming up the seeds beneath my feeder. Both the cowbirds and kinglet were year birds for me. Out front I heard a Common Grackle singing and saw a Blue Jay breaking off twigs from the tree outside my window for nesting material. I was surprised that the juncos were still there, but – as expected – the Pine Siskins were gone. Indeed, although I heard and saw others around Ottawa until the middle of May, I never had any visit the feeder in my yard again.
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.
The Red-shouldered Hawk is a secretive woodland hawk which can be difficult to find in the Ottawa area outside of a few known locations where they breed. They prefer dense, mature hardwood forests close to wetlands and lakes, and in Ontario, are most abundant along the southern edge of the Canadian Shield and on the Frontenac Axis. In Ottawa, they are most commonly seen west of the city, with the Constance Lake and Constance Bay areas the best spots to find these birds. They are more conspicuous when they first return to their breeding grounds in late March and early April, vocalizing frequently during courtship and up until incubation begins. Once the breeding season gets under way, however, they fall silent and become difficult to detect.