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Spring at the Richmond Lagoons

Sora

The Richmond Sewage Lagoons (formally known as the Richmond Conservation Area) is one of the few places in Ottawa that did not close its parking lots during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as such, it is one of the few birding spots I visited regularly during the months of April and May. The habitat is unique: there are three cells left from the former sewage lagoons, each containing its own mini-ecosystem. The first cell as one approaches from the parking lot on Eagleson (the southernmost cell), has deep water and extensive cattails, making it great for Pied-billed Grebes, rails, bitterns, Swamp Sparrows and waterfowl, mainly geese and dabbling ducks. The middle cell has deeper water and very little cattails, making it a better spot to see diving ducks. The third cell used to be almost entirely choked with cattails interspersed with small patches of open water, making it the best spot to watch and listen for rails. This spring when I arrived on my first visit I was dismayed to see that not only had the cattails been chopped down, but so had some of the tall trees bordering the cell. The cell looked like a soup of water and what was left of the churned up marsh bottom and vegetation, although a deep puddle ringed with a few cattails remained.
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Snippets from Migration

Common Yellowthroat

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.

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The Birds of Edmonton

Boreal Chickadee

On September 18th I flew to Edmonton to visit my sister for a few days. Alberta is not a new province for me; my family had lived on an acreage outside of Ardrossan, which is east of Edmonton and Sherwood Park, for seven years from 1989 to 1996. As I was just teenager at the time, enduring all the drama and angst of high school, I had had no interest in nature back then – which is really too bad, as we’d lived on a small lot with a forest behind our house and a slough (a vegetated pond) across the road. When my parents and I moved back in 1996 – they to southern Ontario, via Tweed, and me and my fiancé to Ottawa – my sister remained behind, although it wasn’t until 2012 when I returned to attend her wedding.

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Painted Ladies at Mud Lake

Painted Lady

Back in September 2017 our region experienced an incredible influx of Painted Lady butterflies. When I visited the Eagleson storm water ponds one afternoon just past the autumn equinox, I was surprised to see so many Painted Ladies nectaring on the flowers, and later learned that this butterfly had had an exceptionally successful breeding season in the northeast. We did not see the same numbers of this migratory species last year (2018), so it seemed that the enormous 2017 population explosion – stretching from Ontario all the way to P.E.I. – was a one-time occurrence.

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A Fishy Situation

Common Carp

Fish are something I’ve never been much interested in. I’m not a big fan of water sports such as snorkeling or scuba diving, and have never gone fishing; to me fish are dull, predictable creatures that live in the murky depths of lakes and rivers where I am not likely to go. In addition, the ones we seem to have here in Ontario are dully coloured – brown or gray or some muddy earth tone shade. Perhaps one day on a visit to the tropics I’ll try snorkeling to see some of the more colourful species; I just don’t think I’d bother trying to identify them all or keep a list of all the fish I’ve ever seen. It’s not that I find all sea creatures uninteresting… I love examining the tidal pools in Nova Scotia to see what neat things have been washed up in the Bay of Fundy, and my fiancé and I were excited to discover a neat sea urchin among the rocks of the beach in Costa Rica after the tide had gone out. It’s just fish.

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A Storm of Warblers

Palm Warbler

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.
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Adventure in Westport

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

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.

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A Visit to Murphy’s Point Provincial Park

Barred Owl

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.
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Images from Migration

Mourning Cloak

It’s been a slow start to spring migration. Normally by mid-May returning birds are everywhere, and songbirds are busy feeding and singing in the smallest of parks and unlikeliest of yards. This year, however, with the cold weather and heavy rains it feels like we are still two weeks behind schedule – I saw my first warbler species of the season (a Pine Warbler) at Mud Lake on April 14th, my second (a Yellow-rumped) at Andrew Haydon Park on April 21st, and then my third warbler (a Black-and-White) at the Eagleson Ponds on May 4th. It doesn’t help that Ottawa’s most dynamic and productive migration hotspot, Mud Lake, is closed to the public due to the flooding along the river, but even so I would have thought I’d have seen more warblers by now. It’s been difficult to find new species to add to my year list, even visiting different trails and conservation areas with Mud Lake off limits. Here are a few photos and some of my interesting finds from the past week.

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Nova Scotia Part I: Margaretsville

White-crowned Sparrow

In late October Doran and I spent nearly a week in Nova Scotia to visit his family and spend some time at Hal-Con, the huge sci-fi, fantasy and gaming convention held in Halifax. We spent the first part of our trip at a cottage in Margaretsville, a small town on the Bay of Fundy only a short drive from Doran’s home town of Kingston. The cottage was beautiful with a large second floor loft that looked out over the water. It sat on a wide expanse of lawn with a grove of trees between the house and the road. On our first day there I saw a juvenile White-crowned Sparrow on the gravel driveway just outside the cottage, a couple of crows and a raven flying over, five Herring Gulls and a single Ring-billed Gull, and a Common Loon swimming along the bay. The cottage was close enough to the shore that I could set up my travel scope in the large picture window and watch the birds from the comfort of indoors!

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