November is a great month for finding rare birds in Ottawa. The shortening days, dropping temperatures, and unexpected weather systems can all result in birds moving around, and this time of year it’s not uncommon for younger birds to wander or be blown off course. The past few weeks have been exciting, with a Razorbill on the Ottawa River from October 30-31st, a flyby Northern Gannet going up the river on November 12th, and an Anna’s Hummingbird in Carleton Place all being reported. On November 2nd – the day that the temperature jumped from 6°C to 13°C as just such a weather system dropped almost 30mm of rain on the city – an unlikely songbird found itself in Ottawa. A young Black-throated Gray Warbler was discovered at the Britannia Conservation Area, aka Mud Lake, Ottawa’s mega hotspot for rarities, by Bruce Di Labio. This tiny warbler normally lives west of the Rocky Mountains and spends the winters in central Mexico and is not supposed to be anywhere near Ottawa.
Our warm fall weather continued this weekend, with sunny blue skies and temperatures reaching above 20°C both days – it was 11°C higher than it should be this time of year. With the return of our rather late summer, it was a bit of a shock on Saturday to see that two of our common winter residents had arrived in the region: the Common Goldeneye, a diving duck that inhabits the ice-free portions of the Rideau and Ottawa Rivers all winter long, and the American Tree Sparrow, a small brown sparrow with a red cap that likes shrubby habitats and sometimes visits bird feeders in more rural areas.
I was still trying to bring my year list up to 200, and started the weekend off with a walk around the Eagleson storm water ponds. I was hoping for Cackling Goose, though a Greater White-fronted Goose would also have been nice – although much more rare than the diminutive Cackling Goose, it’s one I keep looking for every time large numbers of geese start gathering here before finally moving on. To my disappointment I found only three waterfowl species: Canada Goose, Mallard, and a few lingering Double-crested Cormorants. I was happy to see that the cormorants were still around, as every sighting could be the last of the year.
So far October’s been a great month for birding. On Friday, October 6th I stopped in at the Eagleson storm water ponds after work and was surprised to see a Snow Goose in among all the Canada Geese. There were only about 300 geese on the pond, so it was easy to spot the white one among all the regular dark geese. Snow Geese show up occasionally on the ponds during migration, but so infrequently that any sighting is cause for excitement. Normally large flocks pass through the region east of the city, with tens or hundreds of thousands seen in the fields south of Casselman. Only the few odd stragglers appear in the west end, though once I saw a flock of about 200 on the grassy hill near the Moodie Drive Quarry!
On the final Wednesday in September the weather finally changed. Once again the temperature climbed into the 30s, but a cold front passed through around 3:00, generating a powerful but short-lived thunderstorm that brought many tree limbs down. This was the first rain we’d had in three weeks. The temperature fell about seven degrees, and since then temperatures have been back to seasonal, falling to single digits in the night and rising to about 15°C in the day. It’s now necessary to wear a coat in the morning, but I find the change refreshing.
On August 7th I decided to return to Mud Lake, a place I hadn’t visited in a few weeks. First, however, I stopped in at the storm water ponds to check if anything new had arrived. I saw two Northern Flickers flying over, a species I occasionally observe here, though not on every visit. Only two herons were present, a Great Blue Heron and a Black-crowned Night Heron. Three Barn Swallows were swooping over the water, and I found a young Common Yellowthroat lurking in the vegetation close to the water. Best of all, there were some new shorebirds present – two Solitary Sandpipers and a single Least Sandpiper!
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.
I didn’t intend to spend three hours at the Eagleson Storm Water Ponds on Saturday morning. However, it was one of those days where the longer I stayed, the more I saw, and the more I saw, the longer I wanted to stay! The birds were quite active, with two woodpecker species (Downy Woodpecker and Northern Flicker), eight Canada Geese (one group of seven and a singleton by itself), a family of Yellow Warblers, a Turkey Vulture flying over, 16 Barn Swallows perching on the roof of one of the buildings on the west side, two Belted Kingfishers, and several young Common Grackles following their parents around, begging for food. All four heron species were present, including one Great Blue Heron, one Green Heron, one Great Egret, and one juvenile Black-crowned Night-heron and two adults.