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November Summary

Snow x Canada Goose hybrid

As expected, November turned out to be a dark, cold and dismal month. Temperatures fell to zero or below every single night, we had our first snowstorm on Remembrance Day (November 11th), and temperatures dropped to a frigid -10°C for a week in the middle of the month. Weather records indicate that this was the coldest November since 1995 with an average temperature of -1.87°C; the normal range usually falls between between -1.08°C and 4.20°C. Only six days were above average, with four days below the minimum temperature ever recorded. Fortunately warmer temperatures caused all the snow to melt in the last week of the month, but as a result of these below-seasonal temperatures, I saw no butterflies or dragonflies this month, and my backyard chipmunks disappeared early for their winter hibernation.

Birding in November means watching the feeders, the landfill (the Trail Road Landfill can be thought of as a giant feeder for gulls, crows and blackbirds) and the river. Driving through farmland and open fields can also be productive as the first returning winter residents, such as Rough-legged Hawks, Snow Buntings, Northern Shrikes, and Snowy Owls, look for suitable habitats to spend the winter. Ponds can be productive early in the month, but once the water freezes any lingering waterfowl or shorebirds will disappear.

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Shorebird Season

Long-billed Dowitcher

By Labour Day weekend shorebird migration is well underway and some of the less common species start to arrive in our region. While the Eagleson storm water ponds are a great spot to find common species such as both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers and Semipalmated Sandpipers, the mudflats of the Ottawa River attract a variety of other birds, especially those that prefer tidal beaches and rushing water. Unfortunately, the water level of the Ottawa River depends not just the amount of rainfall we receive during the summer, but also the actions of the dam further upstream. We have received little rainfall this summer, as in most of our summers recently, however, this year the dam gates have remained shut so that the falling water levels have created the mudflats necessary to attract flocks of shorebirds. It has been great to see the sandbars emerge on the river on my daily bus commute along the Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway, and I was thrilled to see the mudflats developing at Andrew Haydon Park in recent weeks. This past weekend I went looking for shorebirds early in the morning, and the huge exposed muddy beach at Ottawa Beach was the best I’ve seen it in years. As long as the dam gates remain closed, this part of the Ottawa River shoreline will remain the best spot for viewing hard-to-find shorebird species throughout the fall given its accessibility.

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From Migration to Breeding Season

Baltimore Oriole

By late May/early June most birds are exactly where they want to be, having claimed a territory and found a mate with which they will raise their offspring over the next few months. Even so, by Victoria Day several migrants are often still passing through the region; it’s still worth looking for late migrants even into the beginning of June, as migrating birds may stray off-course or get caught up in a bad weather system which may temporarily halt or divert their journey. With the lingering cold north winds and temperatures reluctant to hit the 20°C mark, it’s no wonder that there are plenty of songbirds which haven’t yet settled on a territory of their own.
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A Storm of Warblers

Palm Warbler

I usually take the second week of May off every year, and head south to spend time birding Point Pelee National Park with my mother. I was unable to make the trip this year, but as I needed a break from work and a change of scenery I spent three nights in Westport instead (more to follow in a separate post). Spending time at Murphy’s Point Provincial Park, Frontenac Provincial Park, and Foley Mountain Conservation Area was fantastic, but unlike Point Pelee, these areas are not migration hotspots or migrant traps, and I had to work hard to get as many species as I did. As a result, I wasn’t expecting much when I returned to Ottawa on Thursday, but it seemed the floodgates had finally opened and the birds were moving north in large numbers. I went out Friday morning, and although the temperature hadn’t improved – the day was overcast and the temperature was still below normal for this time of year – the birds must have been getting anxious to get back to their breeding grounds, for the variety of birds at the Eagleson ponds was amazing.
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Images from Migration

Mourning Cloak

It’s been a slow start to spring migration. Normally by mid-May returning birds are everywhere, and songbirds are busy feeding and singing in the smallest of parks and unlikeliest of yards. This year, however, with the cold weather and heavy rains it feels like we are still two weeks behind schedule – I saw my first warbler species of the season (a Pine Warbler) at Mud Lake on April 14th, my second (a Yellow-rumped) at Andrew Haydon Park on April 21st, and then my third warbler (a Black-and-White) at the Eagleson Ponds on May 4th. It doesn’t help that Ottawa’s most dynamic and productive migration hotspot, Mud Lake, is closed to the public due to the flooding along the river, but even so I would have thought I’d have seen more warblers by now. It’s been difficult to find new species to add to my year list, even visiting different trails and conservation areas with Mud Lake off limits. Here are a few photos and some of my interesting finds from the past week.

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Shorebirds and Water Birds

American Wigeon (male)

After Thanksgiving most birders in our region turn their attention from songbirds to water birds, as the bulk of the songbirds have moved through while many ducks, grebes, geese, and shorebirds are just starting to move south. This is about the time we transition from T-shirts to long sleeves, but this year it got cold quickly – the two days following Thanksgiving reached 27°C, then plunged to 11°C the following day. Since then the nights have been cold, hovering just above 0°C, while day-time temperatures have not broken the 20°C mark since, and several days in the past week remained in the single digits. The below-average temperatures may have spurred on some local bird movement, for some great birds have turned up after the drop in temperatures.

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Birds of Early Fall

Winter Wren

By the end of September there is a change in the air. There are fewer warbler species and more sparrows and thrushes and kinglets as the temperature starts to fall and the nights grow longer than the days. On the last Saturday in September I started my day with a walk at the Eagleson ponds, where only a few Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs remained after the recent rains caused the water levels to rise. The Great Black-backed Gull, three heron species, and a single kingfisher were still present as well. About 150 Canada Geese were swimming throughout the ponds; these were new, as only one or two families had stayed the summer. The only Red-winged Blackbirds I saw were all in a single flock of about two dozen birds flying over, and while Song Sparrows were still numerous, the first Dark-eyed Junco had arrived. A single Ruby-crowned Kinglet, two Yellow-rumped Warblers, and two Blackpoll Warblers were signs that the season was changing.

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