June is my favourite month of the year. This is the month when most insects begin to emerge, their bright wings bringing life and colour to forests, meadows, ponds and backyard gardens. Birds are in full song, and the air is fragrant with all the flowers in bloom. While butterflies and dragonflies become my main focus this time of year, this month I had a second agenda: to continue to look for evidence of breeding for the third Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas. Since I am still working from home as a result of the pandemic, I devoted my morning weekday walks to looking for birds and my longer weekend excursions to looking for all types of wildlife, particularly dragonflies. I thought birding would become boring once migration ended and the resident birds settled down into the more predictable routine of nesting season, but to my surprise I was wrong.
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.
I took the second week of May off work to do some birding. I wasn’t able to able to get to southern Ontario for my usual Point Pelee/Rondeau Park trip due to family reasons, and as I didn’t want to drive too far I thought I would spend three nights in Westport and visit the nearby parks and conservation areas. Both Murphy’s Point and Frontenac Provincial Parks are about a 40-minute drive from Westport, and the Foley Mountain Conservation Area is just outside of town. I thought this would be a great way to enjoy spring migration in a few different counties, see some southern specialties that don’t quite make it to Ottawa, and get a much-needed change of scenery without having to spend too much time in a car or on a train. Continue reading →
After leaving the Black Phoebe and Crissal Thrasher Doran and I walked over to the boardwalk at Pond 4. This is one of the largest ponds and I was told it was one of the best for waterfowl. I was disappointed to see that the boardwalk doesn’t extend very far into the lake-sized pond, and most of the birds – including a flock of gulls I really wanted to ID – were way out in the middle and required a scope. I was able to identify a male Northern Pintail preening on a rock, which was a new bird for my U.S. list, and that was about it. Fortunately there were a few songbirds in the shrubs on the small island right in front of the platform that kept us entertained, and these made the stop worthwhile.
On our first morning in Las Vegas we woke up nice and early to meet the Red Rock Audubon Club at the Pine Creek Canyon Trail in Red Rock Canyon. I wanted to make the most of our trip, and since we had never been to the desert before, we wanted to go out with an experienced guide. I’d been eyeing the outings on the Red Rock Audubon Club website for a while, and this trip was exactly what I was looking for. It cost $7 to enter the park for the day, and the Pine Creek Canyon Trail is described as a three-mile, two-hour loop that crosses the open desert, vists an old homestead, and passes through a meadow before heading up into the canyon.
We ended up getting to the meeting point a couple of minutes late, as the road through the park is a one-way, 35 mph scenic loop with multiple look-outs and hiking trails branching off of it, and the one we wanted was – of course – near the end of the loop. In this it reminded me of Algonquin Park’s Highway 60 corridor, except the view was drastically different – I wished we had time to stop and take pictures of the dramatic Spring Mountains rising up from the floor of the Mojave Desert.
Late summer is a great time for birding. Shorebirds, flycatchers, and warblers which breed further north have moved into the area, while our resident breeding birds are preparing for their journey south. It’s a fantastic time to check out the woods and river for both residents and migrants before they leave for good. Personally, it’s one of my favourite times of year, especially as the summer weather tends to linger on into the end of September – unlike the fickle weather of May, you can go birding in shorts and sandals instead of gloves and winter coats. The diversity is just as excellent, and it is possible to find species that usually bypass Ottawa in the spring lingering here in the fall. Here are a few things I’ve found recently while out birding around the west end.
After two gray, rainy, miserable weekends, the sun finally came out on the Saturday of the long weekend. We’d been spoiled with hot, summery weather on Wednesday and Thursday when the temperatures reached the high 20s; however, Saturday morning was cold with persistent north winds that just don’t seem to want to leave. I headed out early to Jack Pine Trail, hoping to photograph the towhees again and also to find some returning residents, such as Virginia Rail, Alder Flycatcher, Eastern Wood-pewee, and Ovenbird. If it had been warmer, I would have also looked for butterflies and dragonflies.
One of the first birds I heard as I entered the woods was the Red-eyed Vireo. As the trees are now leafing out, I wasn’t able to spot this small, greenish canopy dweller whose monotonous song rings throughout parks and woodlands throughout the summer months. This was a year bird for me, though it’s the latest I’ve had one since I started keeping track with eBird.
Weather in April can be described in only one way: changeable. It can turn from spring to summer to winter in the matter of hours, making it difficult to know how to dress any given day – you may need a hat and gloves in the morning, then be wearing shorts in the afternoon. Even the weather toward the end of the month can be variable. Last Thursday (April 27th) Ottawa’s temperature reached a sunny, humid high of 26°C; yesterday (April 30th) the rain clouds moved in and temperatures barely reached 5°C.
Migrants have been returning in large numbers despite the inconstant weather. On Friday I woke up to see two White-crowned Sparrows on my backyard, and they were there again Sunday morning. This was a year bird for me, and the earliest date I’ve recorded them in my yard; normally they arrive during the first week of May, with my previous early date being May 4th.
On the first day of August I headed over to Jack Pine Trail. It’s been almost a month since I last visited this trail, and while I didn’t expect to see many dragonflies, I hoped the birding at least would be good. Fortunately, it was excellent – even in the middle of breeding season I tallied 24 species in about three hours. As soon as I got out of the car I heard a pair of Broad-winged Hawks calling from the woods across Moodie Drive. I wasn’t able to see them, but I recognized their clear, distinct two-note whistle. After seeing a pair at Trail 26 only two days ago, it made me wonder how many pairs were breeding in Stony Swamp. Could these be the same birds, or at least part of the same family? Or was there more than one breeding pair in this area?
On Saturday, April 30th I took the train to Kitchener to visit my mother and step-father, and on Sunday, May 1st we drove down to Point Pelee. We weren’t able to check in at the Best Western just outside of the park until the afternoon, so we headed to the Tip as soon as we arrived at 11:00. The weather was not cooperative – it was cold and overcast, with the same north winds I’d experienced in Ottawa. North winds in May are never good for migration; birds trying to fly across the Great Lakes will stay on the south side of the lakes until the winds shift from out of the south, giving them a boost across the water. Of course, north winds could also mean that any birds already in the park would likely stick around before continuing north, but this did not seem to be the case.