It’s been another slow spring; although the snow was quick to melt this year without any flooding, it took until the last week of April before temperatures reached a daily high of more than 10°C, and not once did Ottawa reach 20°C – in fact our highest temperature last month was 16.8°C (normally the highest temperature falls in between 20.7°C and 28.5°C). This is only the eighth time since records began in 1870 that April temperatures stayed below 17°C. Migrants have been slow to trickle in, however, this may be a reflection of the greatly reduced number of trails and habitats I visit rather than the actual number of birds passing through, as eBird sightings have been steady despite the cooler temperatures and persistent north winds. Despite the weather and the smaller area in which I’ve been birding, I’ve had some good mammal sightings in the past few weeks, and have seen my first butterflies of the season.
We headed out of the park to eat a late lunch in Leamington (nothing along Point Pelee Drive was open on Easter Sunday) and then returned to the marsh boardwalk as our final stop in the park. It was a bit cool out on the water, but it was great to see several Barn and Tree Swallows swooping over the observation platform. As usual, there were lots of Red-winged Blackbirds and grackles, but unlike other years we saw no warblers or small migrants in the trees adjacent to the parking lot. Six Turkey Vultures and one Double-crested Cormorant flew over, and we heard two Song Sparrows and three Swamp Sparrows. We also saw two Herring Gulls land on a small clump of dirt in the marsh – this was the first time I’d seen this species at this location. Common Yellowthroats hadn’t returned yet, so we didn’t hear their rolling “witchity, witchity, witchity” song in the cattails.
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.
Over a century ago, hundreds of thousands of Trumpeter Swans ranged across North America from the Atlantic to the Pacific. However, because their skins and feathers were greatly valued by European settlers, the swans were hunted and harassed to the point where, in 1933, the North American population hovered briefly on the edge of extinction, with only 77 breeding swans in Canada and 50 in the United States. The last known Trumpeter Swan in Ontario was shot in 1886 by a hunter at Long Point on Lake Erie. Although the inclusion of the Trumpeter Swan in the Migratory Birds Convention of 1916 helped prevent the population from sliding into extinction by putting an end to the hunting of this species, it remained absent from Ontario for many decades.
On Tuesday I left Dad’s trailer at Pinehurst and drove north to Kitchener, where my Mom and Step-Dad had been living since winter. I hadn’t been to their new apartment, and was interested in the birding opportunities nearby. Mom told me that there was a community trail within walking distance of their apartment, though she hadn’t been there before. We visited the trail on Wednesday, and enjoyed the walk alongside a shallow, swift-moving creek through a tangle of trees and shrubs. The riparian zone looked perfect for migrating songbirds, with lots of dense vegetation for them to find cover. There were also a few open places filled with wildflowers such as Spotted Jewelweed, goldenrod and Joe Pye Weed which looked great for butterflies and perhaps hummingbirds.
We spent our second day at Rondeau Provincial Park. The weather was essentially the same as the day before: sunny, though with less wind, which caused migration to slow even further. When we arrived in the park, we spent about an hour at the Visitor Center feeders, waiting for one of the Yellow-throated Warblers to show up. This southern species is very uncommon in Ontario, but usually can be found in the southern part of the province every year. Unlike most warblers, which dine chiefly on insects, the Yellow-throated Warbler will sometimes visit feeders for suet and sunflower seeds; at least two individuals have been reported at a couple of different feeders in Rondeau Park.