Weather in April can be described in only one way: changeable. It can turn from spring to summer to winter in the matter of hours, making it difficult to know how to dress any given day – you may need a hat and gloves in the morning, then be wearing shorts in the afternoon. Even the weather toward the end of the month can be variable. Last Thursday (April 27th) Ottawa’s temperature reached a sunny, humid high of 26°C; yesterday (April 30th) the rain clouds moved in and temperatures barely reached 5°C.
Migrants have been returning in large numbers despite the inconstant weather. On Friday I woke up to see two White-crowned Sparrows on my backyard, and they were there again Sunday morning. This was a year bird for me, and the earliest date I’ve recorded them in my yard; normally they arrive during the first week of May, with my previous early date being May 4th.
Rain and thunderstorms were in the forecast Saturday morning, so I went birding close to home as I didn’t have much time before the rain was supposed to start. Although it was still sunny when I left, I decided to visit the Rideau Trail and Sarsaparilla Trail as I knew I didn’t have enough time to visit a larger trail like Jack Pine, though I’ve been meaning to return there for a while now. I haven’t been to these two trails since Labour Day, and was hoping to find some different migrants there, but once again the trails were disappointingly quiet.
When I reached the parking lot at Sarsaparilla Trail the first thing I noticed were a couple of crows flying up into the trees. The second thing I noticed was the Snowshoe Hare in the grass at the edge of the parking lot. It’s been a while since I’ve seen one here; it was good to see that at least one of the two was still around.
On August 7th I met up with Chris Lewis at Shirley’s Bay for a morning of birding and dragon-hunting. The morning got off to a great start when I saw a group of Wild Turkeys along Rifle Road even before I met Chris at the parking lot; there were two adults and a couple of baby turkeys! As soon as I stopped the car the adult turkeys began herding their offspring away from the road. Although they weren’t that close to begin with, it was cute to watch the babies stop and peck at the weeds while Mom and Dad steadily walked toward the back of the meadow. I’ve seen Wild Turkeys in that field before, but this was the first time I’d seen them with any young, and it was a thrilling experience.
When I decided to take today off it wasn’t my intention, in the beginning, to embark on an all-out “dragon blitz” and search for as many odonate species as possible (or at least as many as I could find until my stamina began to falter); the forecast for the weekend looked terrible, so I wanted to go out while the weather was nice to look for birds in the morning and odes as soon as it warmed up. However, that’s exactly what it became as I started finding some good dragonflies early in the morning and decided to keep visiting different trails where I knew I could find different species.
My morning began with a visit to Lime Kiln Trail, which isn’t a place I visit very often. However, a Mourning Warbler has been heard singing away there for a couple of days now, and I thought I would try to find it. My walk started out fairly quiet, but I saw a Veery on the ground and a Common Raven flying overhead right near the beginning of the trail, and heard a couple of Red-eyed Vireos and a Brown Creeper in the woods.
By the third week of May the weather finally warmed up enough to do some dragon-hunting, so on May 21st I made plans with Chris L. and Jakob M. to go to Roger’s Pond in Marlborough Forest to look for birds, bugs and herps. We had great luck with all three, though mammals were sadly lacking. I’m not sure why I don’t see many mammals at this trail; the only one I can remember seeing with any certainty was a Snowshoe Hare right on the gravel trail as it ran by me.
As migration progresses and the weather turns warmer, I find myself going into “birding withdrawal” during the work week. Fortunately I was able to visit Hurdman Park at lunch time a couple of times this month in order to keep the symptoms of withdrawal in check. On my visit of May 11th last week I decided to visit the western part of the park since my normal route along the “feeder path” is now blocked due to the construction of the LRT station. Today I started my visit on the western side, but when that proved relatively unproductive, I ended up walking beneath the transitway bridge to the eastern side in order to check the tangles along the feeder trail. Although I managed to find some good birds and other interesting wildlife on both days, my visit today was by far the more rewarding of the two.
The Beaver Trail is one of my favourite trails to visit in mid-spring: spring ephemerals such as violets, Trilliums and Hepatica are in bloom, a good variety of butterflies – including various anglewings, Mustard Whites, elfins and azures – are on the wing, and both breeding birds and migrants alike can be found along the edge habitat surrounding the ponds. Although one of the shorter trails in Stony Swamp, the variety of wildlife that can be found here makes it worth visiting in any season. Spring, however, is my favourite season for visiting. On May 7th I arrived at the parking lot just before 8:00 am, and found only a few chickadees and Song Sparrows. It wasn’t until I reached the first marsh that I heard my first good bird of the day – an American Bittern. This was a year bird for me, and not a bird I hear very often in Stony Swamp, making it a great find.