I have truly enjoyed these past few months working from home. Without the daily two-hour commute, I have been getting out as often as I can before work and at lunch to take advantage of the quiet weekday trails close to my house. With the arrival of September, however, I’ve been less focused on insects and more interested in birds. Migration has started, though so quietly it is hard to tell when post-breeding dispersal ended and true southward movement of the birds began. I’d already seen some good birds in the last few days of August, such as a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk at Sarsaparilla Trail, a Red-necked Phalarope at the Moodie Drive quarry, and a Cape May Warbler in my own backyard, but I was eager to get out and see large numbers of songbirds flitting through the trees in various migrant traps, and start creating eBird lists with 40 or 50 different species.
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.
Although the months of June and July are traditionally considered the breeding season in the Northern Hemisphere, it often lasts well into August in our region. Some species, such as the American Goldfinch and Cedar Waxwing, are late nesters, and time their breeding season with the abundance of seeds and fruit later in the summer. Other species have multiple broods during the course of the season, such as American Robins, Eastern Phoebes, Song Sparrows, and Mourning Doves. August, however, is typically a slow month in the birding world, and while some people characterize the early weeks of the month as the “doldrums”, relieved only by the arrival of the first migrants toward the end of the month, I still enjoy getting out and seeing the young birds following their parents around and listening to those species that are still singing this time of year.
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. Continue reading →
My last day in Westport, May 16th, had arrived. I began my day with a 2-kilometer walk through town; it came as a surprise just how many birds the greenspace around town attracted: I heard a Common Yellowthroat, Warbling Vireo and a House Wren, and saw a White-crowned Sparrow and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak visiting a feeder. Other birds on my walk included Baltimore Oriole, Song Sparrow, Chipping Sparrows, Yellow Warblers, a Red-winged Blackbird and a Northern Flicker, plus the usual Mourning Doves, House Sparrows, starlings, chickadees, robins and grackles. The tall trees, wide yards, dense hedges and shrubs, as well as the water nearby, provided plenty of habitat for migrating birds.
Last fall we had the American Pipits, Lesser Black-backed Gull, and all kinds of shorebirds; with so many wonderful birds stopping over at the Eagleson storm water ponds during last fall’s migration, I couldn’t see how spring migration could begin to match it. However, on Sunday I broke 40 species there for the first time ever with a total of 42 – just surpassing my high total of 38 species on September 18, 2016. Even though the shorebird species were limited to the two common summer residents – Spotted Sandpiper and Killdeer – the diversity of the other birds was more than impressive.
Once again I was without a car, so I walked over at about 9:30 through a light rain, bringing my umbrella with me. As soon as I got close to the water I heard the grating calls of a couple of terns and headed out onto the peninsula to take a look. Continue reading →
The middle of May is the best time to see various migrating birds in Ottawa. However, once again the forecast for the weekend called for rain on both days (May 13th and 14th), and I wasn’t sure how long I’d be able to go out birding – or whether or not I’d be able to get out at all. Since my fiancé needed the car for pretty much the full weekend, I was extremely limited in the places I could go. There are only a few places I can get to by bus (not that getting anywhere by bus on the weekend is easy), and I didn’t want to get caught in a downpour someplace where I might need to walk 20-30 minutes to get to the bus stop, then wait another 20-30 minutes for a bus to arrive.
Fortunately, the storm water ponds are only a 15 minute walk from home. Intermittent showers on Saturday made for a not unpleasant experience birding there; I was thrilled to tally 37 species altogether.
Wallaceburg is in Chatham-Kent, but Lambton County is just a ten-minute drive away from my mother’s house. I didn’t realize this when Mom suggested we go birding north along the St. Clair River; although I am not a huge county lister, the new eBird profile pages are great incentive for birding across county lines. The profile pages provide you with a coloured map of all the countries, provinces, states and counties where you have birded, the colours shading from yellow to red depending on the number of species seen, and there is something about seeing all those empty white spaces (much like a Sudoku puzzle) that creates a festering need to fill them in.
The St. Clair River connects the upper and lower Great Lakes and separates Ontario from Michigan. There are numerous small parks and lookouts along the river that can be used for picnicking, camping, or river-watching. Although most of the parks consist of manicured lawns with a few trees here and there, the chief attraction here for birders is the thousands of ducks, gulls and other migratory waterfowl that congregate here in the winter and during migration, in particular Common Goldeneyes, Redheads, and Canvasbacks. We took a drive from Port Lambton up past Sombra on my first morning in southern Ontario, crossing over into Lambton County as we stopped at some of these parks and giving me the opportunity to fill in one more county on my eBird profile page.
After leaving Corey Billie’s we drove west to Naples, where we easily found the beach. It was crowded with people, which wasn’t surprising given how hot it was. Even so, there were quite a few birds around, including a pair of Snowy Egrets foraging along the water’s edge and several immature Laughing Gulls looking for food scraps amongst the sunbathers. As the gulls were the closest to us, I spent the first couple of minutes watching them. All of them appeared to be immature gulls, as none had the black hood of breeding adults; as best as I can tell, they are second-winter gulls with a gray back, smudgy grayish wash along the sides of the breast, and a long, black, rectangular spot behind the eye.
On Saturday, May 4th, my birding partner, Deb, and I set off on our first road trip and my annual spring visit to southern Ontario. My parents both live in Cambridge, and it has become a tradition for me to spend a week there in the spring, with a three- or four-day trip to Point Pelee and Rondeau Park to enjoy the spring migration. It takes five hours to drive there, but we arrived early enough to spend some time birding the area with my mom. First we visited the square near the Main Street bridge. The Red-tailed Hawk was still using the same stick nest on the same church steeple in the square; we didn’t see any fluffy chicks this time, but an adult was sitting in the nest. This is at least the third time the hawk has nested here in the last four years.