Although birders tend to refer to “spring” and “fall” migration, many birds begin heading south in mid- to late August, and a few (such as shorebirds which are unsuccessful in finding a mate) even begin migrating in July. In Ottawa, this southbound migration often overlaps with post-breeding dispersal, which means that even in July and August it is worth checking familiar places for birds that may be moving through. This year, southbound migration began for me on August 19th with a trip to the Rideau Trail off of Old Richmond Road. I usually start checking the boardwalk and hydro cut for migrants this time of year as the edge habitat and buckthorn bushes loaded with berries can be fantastic for warblers, flycatchers, thrushes and other migrants. Most of the birds I saw or heard were likely local residents, although the Black-and-white Warbler I heard singing here may have come from deep within the woods or elsewhere, and it was pretty neat to see an Ovenbird strolling along the boardwalk. A squeaky Rose-breasted Grosbeak and two Least Flycatchers calling made me think these birds were moving through, as this section of the trail is normally pretty quiet in the summer.
Marlborough Forest has become one of my favourite spots to visit because of its bounty of butterflies, breeding birds, and dragonflies. The best month for visiting is June, when birds are are still singing and insect diversity is at its peak. The first few weeks of July are also a fine time to visit, as different butterflies are present than were initially flying in early June. By mid-August, however, it is harder to detect birds as most have stopped singing, and insect diversity is on the wane. Still, I thought I would visit the E4 trail on the third Saturday of August, a place I hadn’t been to since Canada Day. I was curious to see what birds might still be present, and whether it might be a good spot to see different darners and meadowhawks.
I arrived a little later than I usually do at the height of nesting season – 9:00 am instead of 7:00 am – to give it time to warm up. The biting bugs were not as bad as they are in the middle of summer, but I was annoyed to still find myself slapping mosquitoes away. The woods were very quiet compared to June; the Red-eyed Vireos and one Eastern Wood-pewee were still singing (both sing late into the season, sometimes into September), but the Ovenbirds, Scarlet Tanagers, Veeries, Nashville Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, White-throated Sparrows, and Swamp Sparrows were silent.
After my vacation ended and I returned to work, memories of Marlborough Forest continued to distract me. This was by far the best new place I had discovered during the pandemic and I couldn’t wait to return. Even with another hot weekend in store and deer flies and mosquitoes at their peak I dreamed of going back and finding interesting new birds and wildlife in this amazingly diverse place. I returned on Sunday, June 28th after a successful morning birding in Stony Swamp – I got Least Bittern for the year when I saw one fly across the pond at Sarsaparilla Trail, heard a Virginia Rail, and heard a vireo singing just off the parking lot which initially sounded like a Yellow-throated Vireo, but turned out to be a Blue-headed Vireo when I used a Yellow-throated Vireo call to call it in. I normally only see these vireos as migrants at this trail; I’ve never heard one singing here in the summer before, so this was a good bird to find at the trail in late June!
Migration has been strange this year. Because of the lengthy cold spell at the beginning of May it seemed as if migration had stalled; for so long I felt as though I were waiting for it to begin, then things happened so quickly that now I wonder whether it has passed me by. The White-crowned Sparrows that usually show up in my backyard every year between May 3rd and 5th didn’t arrive until the 14th; the Common Terns that arrive at the Eagleson Ponds between May 10th and May 14th didn’t arrive until May 19th. Neither species stayed long, either. The terns were only there for one day before moving on, instead of spending two or three days. It is harder to know if the White-crowned Sparrow I saw over the course of a few days was the same one or a different one, as many have been singing in our area in the middle of the month.
The warblers came, and the warblers went. I’ve had several Black-throated Blue Warblers this year, and many repeat sightings of local breeding species – but of the ones that only pass through, I’ve sometimes only been lucky to get one: one Cape May Warbler, one Blackburnian Warbler, one Tennessee Warbler, one Bay-breasted Warbler. Again, is this a reflection of my spending time mainly in Kanata south, rather than heading for the migrant traps along the river? There have been excellent reports from the usual spots (Mud Lake, Andrew Haydon Park), but even as the city parks reopened on May 6th and the NCC parking lots reopened on May 22nd as a result of declining Covid-19 cases in the city, I’ve been reluctant to go to the normal spring hotspots to avoid the crowds that tend to gather there, both birding and non-birding alike. This has less to do with any fear of the coronavirus than my preference for quiet birding experiences, away from the loud chatter and narrow, crowded trails that both increase exponentially as the spring wears on and weather warms up.
Warblers are probably the most eagerly-awaited returning migrants for birders all over northeastern North America. As a group, the combination of song and colour is unmatched by any other type of songbird in our region, and many North American birders consider them the jewels of our region. Warblers are insect eaters, and as such, pass through Ottawa late in the spring migration season, with the hardiest species arriving in mid- to late April. The Pine Warbler is usually the earliest of these, closely followed by the Yellow-rumped and Palm Warblers. About a week later the first Black-and-white Warblers, Nashville Warblers and Black-throated Green Warblers arrive. The Blackpoll Warbler is usually the last warbler to appear, stopping here only temporarily before continuing on to its breeding grounds in the black spruce and tamarack forests further north. This amazing species holds the record for the longest nonstop over-water flight by a songbird, taking up to three days in the fall to reach its wintering grounds in the southern Caribbean and northern South America.
The Eagleson storm water ponds continue to be a great place to look for birds and other wildlife, and this under-birded gem can be fantastic during migration. I like to spend my mornings here in order to add new species to the hotspot list and new photographs to the illustrated list on eBird. As of July 29, 2017, the list stood at 125 species when I added Rose-breasted Grosbeak to the list. In the past few weeks, I’ve added four new species while others have added two, bringing the list to 131 species to date!
On August 26th I added two new bird species here: Red-eyed Vireo and Red-breasted Nuthatch. There’s just enough of a woodlot here to attract some forest birds, though they are few and far between. I heard a Red-eyed Vireo singing and was happy to add it to my list. I was even happier when I saw a Red-breasted Nuthatch in the tall pines in the same woodlot – nuthatches only show up occasionally, as do woodpeckers. Interestingly, I heard a White-breasted Nuthatch the same day, and I saw a Hairy Woodpecker fly into a tree across Meadowbreeze Drive.
I had hoped to find more migrants at Sarsaparilla Trail, but saw no warblers whatsoever. I did have two species of flycatcher – Great Crested Flycatcher and Eastern Wood-Pewee – a Red-breasted Nuthatch, and a Pied-billed Grebe, but nothing out of the ordinary.
However, my visit was redeemed by snakes – five Northern Watersnakes altogether! Two of them were curled up on the boardwalk, although I didn’t notice them until the first – and closest – slithered off of the boardwalk and into the water. I stopped where I was, took a look around, and noticed another one curled up at the very end of the boardwalk. Two more were resting on logs in the water, and the one I scared was swimming in the water toward a different log. A fifth was barely visible through my binoculars on a log near the beaver lodge. Continue reading →
It’s been a fantastic week both in terms of weather and finding wildlife. Last Saturday I visited Andrew Haydon Park to check out the developing mudflats in the western bay. Unfortunately the water was rising again, so the expanse of sand has diminished. Several swallows were flying out over the river (species unknown), and I realized a small bird flying with them was not a swallow but something else – a good look revealed a small shorebird being chased by one of the swallows! The shorebird headed toward Ottawa Beach before circling back and landing on the small muddy area in the western bay, where I was able to identify it as Semipalmated Sandpiper – my first of the year!
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.
After my return to Ottawa from southern Ontario I was eager to get out and see what was going on in my favourite conservation areas. On Saturday morning I headed out to Mud Lake where I had an excellent morning, finding 39 species in two hours including nine warblers, three flycatchers, three sparrows, and two thrushes. I didn’t spend much time searching for water birds, but even so I saw the usual mallards, a couple of Wood Ducks, two Spotted Sandpipers, and one Great Blue Heron in the channel behind the ridge. A large number of gulls were roosting on the rocks in the rapids, and I spotted a couple of Herring Gulls among the Ring-bills.