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Looking for Wood-Warblers

Canada Warbler

We are now nearly two weeks into September and I have not found as many warblers or songbird migrants as I had hoped. In a previous blog entry I wrote about how edge habitats can be productive for migrants, especially those with a good diversity of plants which provide cover and food sources for not just the birds of the two dominant habitats, but others as well. I’ve been spending most of my weekend mornings at the Eagleson Ponds, followed by trips to other places with good edge habitat – last weekend it was the Old Quarry Trail, Beaver Trail, and Sarsaparilla Trail; this weekend it was the Richmond Sewage Lagoons, Rideau Trail, and Sarsaparilla Trail. Each time I’ve been disappointed, wondering where all the migrants were. I suppose I could just go to Mud Lake and rack up a list of 30+ species there, but it is often packed with birders and photographers this time of year, and I prefer quieter places.

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Sweltering August Heat

Blue Dasher

The August long weekend is here, and it’s been brutally hot and humid. Temperatures have reached as high as 32°C with a humidex of 41. It didn’t feel quite so hot yesterday, but today was awful. The sun was relentless, and there was no cooling breeze to provide relief. Being in the shade helped, but even so, I didn’t feel like staying out for very long.

We haven’t had much rain in the last month, so the water levels of the Ottawa River have dropped and mudflats are developing in Shirley’s Bay and Ottawa Beach. I wanted to look for shorebirds, but Shirley’s Bay didn’t sound too appealing – a long mosquito-infested walk through the woods to get to the dyke, which is almost completely open to the baking sun – all the while carrying a scope that sometimes feels like it weighs as much as I do. So yesterday I drove over to Andrew Haydon Park instead.

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The Henderson Preserve – Lifer #500!

Black Phoebe

Once I’d had my fill of the gorgeous red Cinnamon Teals, Doran and I continued our walk around the ponds. The Cinnamon Teal was bird no. 497 on my life list, and I was getting excited about the possibility of finding three more before we left. We continued making our way around the ponds, and it wasn’t long before I heard some activity in the thin screen of vegetation between the trail and the water. Quite a few songbirds were foraging in the shrubs, including a couple of Ruby-crowned Kinglets, Verdin, and White-crowned Sparrows. Then I heard a familiar buzzy call – it sounded like a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, familiar from my spring visits to Point Pelee, although I knew from checking eBird that this species was only a summer resident. However, the Black-tailed Gnatcatcher spends the winter in Las Vegas, and I spent some time tracking down a couple of these tiny, frantic little birds. I got good enough looks to identify them as gnatcatchers, though I was disappointed they looked just like our Blue-gray Gnatcatchers: males have a distinctive black cap, but only in spring. Still, I was happy to add it to my life list as bird no. 498!

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Why I still love the Beaver Trail after all these years

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

The Beaver Trail (now an ebird hotspot) is rarely mentioned in Ottawa’s birding circles or its birding literature, and never in the OFNC rare bird alerts. I started visiting it in June 2006 because I was tired of going to Sarsaparilla Trail and found it loaded with life birds – though to be fair, my life list was only at 37 species when I started visiting it! It was here that I got my lifer Common Yellowthroat, Eastern Kingbird, Swamp Sparrow, Wood Thrush, Scarlet Tanager and Northern Flicker. I wrote a post about it in March 2011 (“My Favourite Places: The Beaver Trail”), and now, eleven years after I first visited it and six years after writing that post it is still one of my favourite trails in the area. It is still home to a good number of woodland, marsh, and open-edge species during the warmer months, and can be fantastic during migration. According to eBird, I have observed a total of 103 species there in the past 11 years out of a total of 125 recorded. Yesterday morning’s outing was a perfect example of the diversity of breeding and migrating birds, with a total of 39 species observed in about 80 minutes, including three new species for the hotspot and my own personal total!

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Update from the Eagleson Ponds

Red-breasted Nuthatch

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.

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Watersnakes and Warbler-hunting

Philadelphia Vireo

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.
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Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Yellow-bellied Flycatcher

Most new or casual birders find the identification of flycatchers frustrating. Some are distinct enough in appearance to be easily identified, such as the black and white Eastern Kingbird and the Great Crested Flycatcher with its yellow belly and rich, rusty upperparts. The Eastern Phoebe pumps its tail, which is a great clue to its identity. I have the most difficulty with Eastern Wood-pewees (mostly when found in open areas – they breed in the woods) and Empidonax flycatchers, as they are confusingly similar in appearance. Empidonax flycatchers, or Empids for short, are brownish-gray above and white below, with white eye rings of varying sizes and two whitish wing bars. The only surefire way for me to identify them is to wait until they open their beak and sing – each flycatcher has a unique song, which makes things even easier as you don’t even need to get a great look at the bird.

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