Another winter is now over, and spring is finally on its way so I thought it was time to do a brief update on some of my more memorable experiences this past January and February. As the Covid-19 pandemic is still ongoing, my fiancé and I did not travel south this past winter; our last real trip was now more than a year ago, when we went to Las Vegas in the first week of February 2020. As such, all of my birding has been local, and with the amazing winter finch irruption this year the birding has been much better than expected. Milder temperatures helped, too – although Ottawa did not see its usual mid-winter thaw (which was not missed with its alternating rain and cold resulting in sheets of ice covering the ground), we did not have any prolonged deep freezes this year, either. The lowest temperature during this past winter was only -23.4°C. Although this still falls (just barely) within the normal range of between -30.3°C and -23.3°C, it is still 4.5°C above the median of -27.9°C. As I am still working from home, I did not have to go out much, and only noticed the temperatures on the weekend when I wanted to go out birding. There were a few times when I found it too cold (which is about -15°C for me these days) to go out, but I ended up going out birding more often than I thought I would.
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.
Doran and I flew to Las Vegas on Saturday, February 1st for a week in the desert. This was our second time there, but our flights did not go smoothly. Our 7:00 am flight was supposed to land in Toronto at 8:15, then our second flight was supposed to leave Toronto at 9:30. However our plane in Ottawa had been sitting at the gate all night, and we needed to some time to de-ice it. This took about 20 minutes. Then, when we arrived in Toronto we needed to wait a another 20 minutes on the tarmac as another plane had taken our gate because of a medical emergency. We worried about not having time to clear customs before our second flight boarded, but as it turns out this plane was late, too, due to a “mechanical issue.” Then that plane, too, needed de-icing, so it wasn’t until after 12:00 that we got airborne. The strangest part was, after we showed our passports and boarding passes to the flight attendants at the gate, we were quizzed by US security people before entering the jet bridge – where were we going? Did we know the limits on how much cash we could bring into the country? How much were we bringing? When did we book our flights? We hadn’t encountered anything like this before; even my boss who had recently traveled to the U.S. thought it was weird. In any event, this is the third Air Canada trip in a row where we’ve had annoying delays, so I don’t think I will book with them again anytime soon.
Our last day had finally arrived, and as our flight wasn’t until 8:45 pm, I got up early and went out birding before breakfast. I started at the beach, then walked the eastern-most path along the edge of the resort. I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary, and my only goal was to catch up with the cuckoo-like bird Doran and I had seen on our second day.
I didn’t see the cuckoo, but the Northern Parula was in the same tree where I’d seen it before. There was a second warbler in the same tree – brownish overall, with a necklace of dark streaks and a noticeable white wing patch. I thought it might be a Cape May Warbler, but wasn’t able to confirm it until I saw the photos showing the greenish rump and yellow patch behind the auriculars. Continue reading →
Doran and I didn’t have any excursions planned for the rest of the week, so we took it easy on the last three days – swimming at the beach, dining at the restaurants, and even doing a couples massage. I went for my usual walks in the morning and afternoons, and although I had already gotten 19 new life birds on the trip, I kept hoping to find something new, or at least get photos of ones I had missed. I kept checking the western edge of the resort to see if I could find the Hispaniolan Lizard-Cuckoo again, as well as the flowers near the souvenir shops for the Antillean Mango. I also hoped to find some dragonflies to photograph near the swamp, although I had heard that they sprayed the resorts for mosquitoes and wasn’t expecting much ode life if this was true.
After the worst two weeks of winter including frigid temperatures, enough snow to break the record for January (97 cm total as of January 29th) and enough OC Transpo delays and missing buses to induce a severe case of transit rage, my fiancé and I were lucky to have planned to spend the first week of February at an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic. Our plane was supposed to leave on Saturday at 2:35 pm direct to Punta Cana, but heavy snow that morning meant a delay of almost five hours. We didn’t arrive in Punta Cana until 12:30 Sunday morning, and it was almost another hour before our heads hit the pillow despite an easy time at Customs and no traffic to slow us down. There were, however, lots of speed bumps en route, making me wonder about the drivers in the city. Continue reading →
On December 18th I accompanied Jon Ruddy’s Eastern Ontario Birding trip to Algonquin Park. This was an early Christmas present to myself as it’s one of my favourite parks in Ontario and I don’t get to go that often – it’s been almost two full years since the last time I’ve been. As usual, the goal was to find winter finches and Algonquin specialties such as Spruce Grouse, Black-backed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadees and Canada Jays (formerly known as Gray Jays); we were excited when Jon told us just a few days earlier three Spruce Grouse had been photographed right in the parking lot of the Spruce Bog Boardwalk.
The drive down was pleasant; notable birds seen along the way included an American Kestrel perching on a wire near the town of Douglas and a juvenile Bald Eagle soaring above the car just past Barry’s Bay. When we got to the park and paid for our permits, the East Gate was quiet; we heard only a single chickadee calling in the trees.
The following day was gorgeous, so I hit a few hotspots before returning to the Rideau Trail to continue my quest for the first butterflies of the year. My day started with a junco visiting my backyard for food, and a baby chickadee in our front tree emitting begging noises while fluttering its wings at the adult searching the gutters for insects or cached seeds. I had a Tree Swallow and a flyover Killdeer at Kristina Kiss Park, a drumming Ruffed Grouse and more Dark-eyed Juncos at Old Quarry Trail, and two Snowy Owls sitting on chunks of ice out on the river at Andrew Haydon Park. Only the Eastern Phoebe calling near the western creek made it seem like spring….it was slow to warm up to its alleged high of 15°C.
Thursday was our last full day in Vegas. We had no plans that day, as we had hoped to fit in a day trip to the Grand Canyon, but the logistics of such a trip proved more difficult and elaborate than we had anticipated. After deliberating about where to spend our day, we chose to go back to the Red Rock Canyon for a “real” hike. First, however, we stopped in at the Visitor Center to look for the Cactus Wrens we had missed on our first trip. They like to feed on dead bugs on the parked cars, and are said to be easily found there. We parked in a spot well apart from the other cars, close to the edge of the desert, and wandered around the Visitor Center for a bit. By the time we got out we found a couple of birds in the scrub close to our car. Sure enough, they turned out to be the birds we were looking for!
On Wednesday we returned to Sunset Park, as it was only a 15-minute drive from our hotel. I wanted to check the undeveloped desert dune system for more desert birds, and wasn’t disappointed. Although I didn’t get any new life birds, I did get a nice photo of a Greater Roadrunner, perhaps the bird I most wanted to see on the trip. A male Phainopepla and a male Anna’s Hummingbird were also great finds, though both were too far for decent photos.