While it is true that fall migration proceeds at a much more leisurely pace than migration in the spring, each species moves according to its own internal calendar. In late August and early September you might find warblers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, flycatchers, vireos, orioles, Cedar Waxwings, and Scarlet Tanagers foraging together in a single patch of woods. A month later the same patch of forest might hold sparrows, kinglets, Winter Wrens, Rusty Blackbirds, nuthatches, Hermit Thrushes, and boreal finches, while waterfowl on rivers and ponds increase in numbers and diversity. I usually notice the switch around the fall equinox, when the sparrows start to outnumber the warblers and I realize that it’s been a while since I last saw a flock of Cedar Waxwings. Now is the time to look for American Pipits in open scrubby areas or along rocky shorelines, scoters and grebes along the river, hawks and Turkey Vultures soaring toward southern climes, and any lingering warblers in the hope it is something other than a Yellow-rumped.Continue reading
Although birders tend to refer to “spring” and “fall” migration, many birds begin heading south in mid- to late August, and a few (such as shorebirds which are unsuccessful in finding a mate) even begin migrating in July. In Ottawa, this southbound migration often overlaps with post-breeding dispersal, which means that even in July and August it is worth checking familiar places for birds that may be moving through. This year, southbound migration began for me on August 19th with a trip to the Rideau Trail off of Old Richmond Road. I usually start checking the boardwalk and hydro cut for migrants this time of year as the edge habitat and buckthorn bushes loaded with berries can be fantastic for warblers, flycatchers, thrushes and other migrants. Most of the birds I saw or heard were likely local residents, although the Black-and-white Warbler I heard singing here may have come from deep within the woods or elsewhere, and it was pretty neat to see an Ovenbird strolling along the boardwalk. A squeaky Rose-breasted Grosbeak and two Least Flycatchers calling made me think these birds were moving through, as this section of the trail is normally pretty quiet in the summer.Continue reading
As my fiancé and I were working remotely during our week at Scot’s Bay, we did not have a lot of time to do much hiking or birding. Poor weather, especially on our one free day – the rainy Monday of the August long weekend – further reduced the number of opportunities to spend much time outdoors. Still, we were able to visit a couple of places during our week at Cape Split. The first was a new spot for us, Cape Split Provincial Park, which was intriguing enough to warrant a return trip. We stopped in briefly on Monday, August 2nd ahead of the rain just to check it out. The parking lot was busy with avian activity, including a Ruby-throated Hummingbird checking out the flowers, a pair of Bald Eagles (one adult and one juvenile) flying over the coast, a Blue-headed Vireo singing, a Common Raven “quarking” in a tree, and a couple of Song Sparrows chipping at us from the vegetation surrounding the parking lot.Continue reading
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.Continue reading
Every time I leave Marlborough Forest I can’t wait to go back. My last visit occurred on June 12th, and as insects were my primary target, I was disappointed that the cloudy, rainy weekend weather toward the end of June meant I wasn’t able to return until July 1st. Once I saw the gorgeous, sunny forecast for Canada Day I knew immediately I needed to return to Trail E4 in the hope of finding some skippers and maybe some unique emeralds. Last year I had seen some large unidentified emeralds patrolling the trails well before the early morning shadows had vanished from the narrow trail, so I made sure I left early enough to find any that might be out and about despite the coolness of the hour.
The birds were in full song when I arrived, and I was happy to hear the chorus of Winter Wren, Eastern-Wood Pewee, Wood Thrush, Scarlet Tanager, Veery, Red-eyed Vireo and a single Blue-headed Vireo intermingling with the usual Marlborough warblers: Black-and-White, Nashville, Black-throated Green, Pine, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Waterthrush, and of course plenty of Ovenbirds. I also heard a cuckoo calling, and in the far distance, the bugling of a Sandhill Crane! I heard its prehistoric call twice from somewhere north of the T-intersection beyond the ponds. This is the second time I’ve heard this species here – the first was back in March when at least two were calling to the west of the pond.Continue reading
The beginning of June arrived with plenty of warmth and sunshine, and I couldn’t wait to go back to Marlborough Forest at the peak of butterfly and dragonfly season to look for new species living there. Last year when I started going to Marlborough Forest in mid-June, I kept seeing large, dark dragonflies – almost certainly emeralds of some sort – zipping down the shadowy trail before the sun had fully risen above the trees. I never had my net on me when I saw them on my early-morning birding walks, so I was unable to catch one to verify their identity. This time I was prepared for these dawn-flying dragons, and brought my net with me. I had already added one dragonfly to my life list, the Ocellated Emerald at Trail E4 last year; was it possible that there were other species of interest here?
My first summer visit to Trail E4 occurred on June 6th. Although it started cool, it quickly warmed up. The usual birds were singing along the trail, including all the Red-eyed Vireos, Eastern Wood-pewees, Eastern Kingbirds, Veeries, and the Tree Swallows that were missing from my mid-May visit. I heard seven warblers (Ovenbirds, Northern Waterthrushes, Black-and-whites, Nashvilles, Common Yellowthroats, Black-throated Greens, and a single Magnolia Warbler), two Chipping Sparrows, a Field Sparrow, and a Blue-headed Vireo singing in its usual spot in the large open area devastated by motor bikes and ATVs.Continue reading
November is goose season here in Ottawa. While flocks of local Canada Geese start gathering together in late September, geese from much further north begin arriving throughout October, once the lakes and rivers on their breeding grounds in the territories and along Hudson’s Bay freeze over, until their numbers peak in November. Ottawa is an important staging area for many different waterfowl species, as the Ottawa River and numerous small lakes and ponds in the area often remain open well into December; the geese rest on these bodies of water during the night, then go feed in the numerous agricultural fields just outside the city during the day. This is the time to look for Snow Geese and the diminutive Cackling Geese among them; if you are lucky you will find a Greater White-fronted Goose hiding within the flock – or something much rarer.Continue reading
On October 17, 2020 eBird celebrated its third annual October Global Big Day. Normally these Big Day events are held in May, but in 2018 the Cornell Lab of Ornithology decided it couldn’t wait a full year to do another one, and held the first annual October Big Day later that year. Birders recorded a total of 6,331 species across the world on the first October Big Day, which is held from midnight to midnight in each birder’s time zone. The second October Big Day in 2019 saw more than 20,000 eBirders tallying a total of 6,709 species, and so in 2020, eBird aimed to have more than 25,000 people submit eBird checklists on October 17.
I’ve gone out on previous Big Days and submitted my sightings, but never really made it a personal big day. That changed this year, although when I went out first thing in the morning I didn’t really plan to do a big day – my main goal was to visit Shirley’s Bay and Andrew Haydon Park to look for a few species I was missing this year, with a stop in at Jack Pine Trail to look for sparrows. I had actually just reached my goal of 200 species in Ottawa two days earlier with the additions of Red-breasted Merganser, Surf Scoter and Common Loon, but I was still missing birds like Horned Grebe, Greater Scaup, Black Scoter, White-winged Scoter and Long-tailed Duck.Continue reading
Last year an American Bittern showed up at the Eagleson storm water ponds on August 21, 2019. This is the last place I expected to see this species, since the ponds are mostly open water and this is a species that prefers dense cattail marches. It was hunting for fish along the west side of the shore of the central pond, tucked up against a patch of smartweed but completely visible to any who cared to look. It was a one-day wonder, and as no one reported seeing it after that date I figured that would be the last time I would see one at the ponds. Then, on August 12th, my friend Sophie – who first messaged me about the bittern last year – messaged me again after dinner to say that another bittern was at the pond – in the same area as the one last year! Is it a coincidence? Although I have not proof, I do think it is the same one, as many birds show a strong degree of fidelity to their summer breeding sites and a lesser degree of fidelity to their wintering areas. Perhaps they also keep track of particular stopover sites where the food is abundant to help ensure their survival.Continue reading
Marlborough Forest has been long known to me as a special place to find some of the more unusual species of the Ottawa area – various trips to the Cedar Grove Nature Trail over the past ten years have turned up Mink Frogs, Eastern Newts and Red Efts, Blue-spotted Salamanders, Bronze Coppers, Silvery Checkerspots, Harvesters, Calico Pennants, Brush-tipped Emeralds, Lake Darners, Twin-Spotted Spiketails, Ebony Jewelwings, and Aurora Damsels. The one “specialty” of Marlborough Forest that I had not yet found, and search for every time I go, is the Smooth Green Snake – it has managed to elude me every single visit.Continue reading