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Rain and Flooding in Ottawa

Palm Warbler

After one of the wettest Aprils on record, both the Ottawa and Gatineau Rivers have burst their banks, causing extensive flooding that has affected hundreds of homes on both sides of the provincial border. A combination of snow melt flowing into the Ottawa River through its various tributaries and the high volume of rainfall this spring caused the water to rise faster than could be controlled by engineers at the various dams along the river. The Ottawa River is the highest it has been in decades, and neither I nor the long-time birders here have seen anything like it.

This month alone (now only seven days old) has seen over 100 mm of rain, with 45mm rain on May 1st, 40mm on Friday, and 20 mm yesterday. In the 24-hour period between Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon, the Ottawa River rose 17cm, and, according to the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board, is expected to rise a further 5cm before its peak on Monday. A state of emergency has been declared in Gatineau, where the Canadian Forces was on hand to help police reach difficult to access areas. On the Ontario side, Cumberland and Constance Bay were the two areas affected most, followed by Britannia, Dunrobin, Fitzroy Harbour and MacLarens Landing.

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Weekday Migrants

White-crowned Sparrow

May is here, which means we’ve entered the peak of spring migration! I usually see more bird species in May than in any other month (except perhaps September), though this month has been off to a slow start. Not only did May 1st fall on a Monday this year, but the weather has been terrible – it’s been cloudy and rainy for most of the week, with some mornings still cold enough to require gloves. As such, I’ve been doing most of my birding around home, but even so I’ve managed to pick up a few good birds.

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Birding in late April means…

Ring-necked Duck

Usually the first two weeks of April are a slog to get through – it still looks and feels like March, cold north winds and long spells of rain manage to out-compete the longed-for southerly winds and warm, sunny days, and although migration should be well under way, it takes forever for the next spate of migrants to arrive. Then one day it happens: you realize the snow is finally all gone, the ponds are ice-free, the buds on the trees look ready to burst open, and your neighbourhood Chipping Sparrows are back and singing right outside your window. The temperatures are finally reaching double-digits on a daily basis, and there are new birds moving in! The second half (well, the last third, really) of April is when the birding really picks up and it really begins to feel like spring. This truly is the beginning of my favourite time of year; here are a few of the things that make birding in late April so wonderful.

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Day of the Pipit

American Pipit

American Pipit

My goal on Sunday was to visit the Eagleson Ponds briefly before heading out to the woods, but once again I had such a fantastic time there that I couldn’t bring myself to leave. I spent almost 3.5 hours there, completely circled the ponds on the south side of Emerald Meadows Drive only once (but backtracked multiple times), and found 32 bird species together. I also saw two odes – a Common Green Darner and a couple of bluets – and four or five butterfly species. It still amazes me how terrific these little man-made ponds have been these past two and a half months; and I don’t even need to drive there!

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Green Birds at Mud Lake

Black-throated Green Warbler

I was off on Friday and had to go downtown for an appointment first thing in the morning; it was a gorgeous day, so after I was finished I headed to Mud Lake to do some birding. I entered via the southwest corner on Howe Street and found a Gray Catbird sitting silently in a shrub. Not long after that I encountered my first flock of birds foraging in the woods; pishing brought out an Ovenbird, a couple of Tennessee Warblers, and a beautiful male Black-throated Blue Warbler. A little further along I saw a Nashville Warbler foraging close to the ground and heard the brief, sweet trill of a Pine Warbler issuing from the trees near the observation dock.

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Interspecies Disputes

Spotted Jewelweed (aka Touch-me-not)

Spotted Jewelweed (aka Touch-me-not)

Labour Day weekend is here, and in my view, it is the best birding long weekend of the year – although Victoria Day comes close, by then songbird migration is mostly over, and high water levels in the spring mean that there are fewer shorebird species around places like Shirley’s Bay and Andrew Haydon Park. At the beginning of September, however, lots of different kinds of birds are passing through, and the weather is still very warm, so there are more insects around, too.

Yesterday morning I decided to head out early as I was hoping to beat the crowds of dog-walkers, wind-surfers, joggers, etc. to the mudflats at Ottawa Beach. It was only 9°C when I left, with a few fog patches in the low-lying areas, but when I arrived at Ottawa Beach at 6:40am I found only two other people – a photographer and another birder just walking in. A small group of shorebirds was foraging along the shore, and when I set up my scope I was happy to see a Sanderling (an Ottawa year bird), a Pectoral Sandpiper, and half a dozen Semipalmated Plovers.
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Green Heron Fishing

Green Heron

Green Heron

On the Friday before the Labour Day long weekend we got to leave work early. It was a beautiful day, so I decided to bring my birding gear and head out to Mud Lake after lunch. Migration is well under way now, and there’s no better place in the city to take it all in than Mud Lake – particularly since it’s one of the few places I can get by bus during the week. I knew I had plenty of time to wander around before my express bus to Kanata started running, so instead of going straight to Mud Lake, I took the 87 to the base of Woodroffe Avenue and walked across the parkway to the Deschenes Rapids lookout. Only four days ago I’d spotted an adult Bald Eagle perching in a tree above the small inlet here during my morning bus ride – an awesome bird for my bus list, and the main reason why I decided to start my afternoon adventure here.

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