The Victoria Birding Weekend Part I

Male Wood Duck

My mother and step-father spent the Victoria Day long weekend with us to do some birding in Ottawa. As we will be heading out to Alberta this summer for my sister’s wedding, we decided to skip our annual birding trip to southern Ontario; not only was it cheaper to spend the long weekend at home, but there are a number of breeding birds in Ottawa that mom needed for her life list. Mom and Doug arrived on Friday, and Saturday morning we were out the door early to head to our first spot: the Ottawa airport for sparrows and open grassland birds.

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Searching for Sparrows

The following day I returned to the airport, hoping to see the Clay-coloured and Grasshopper Sparrows I had missed on my previous visits. It was a beautiful summer morning and, after an unfruitful stop at Tom Roberts Avenue, I headed over to the Bowesville Road entrance where I found a pair of Tree Swallows flitting gracefully above the road, hunting for insects.

A couple of Song Sparrows and a Savannah Sparrow were singing in the field near the dirt bike track. I did not hear any Grasshopper Sparrows, even though I’ve usually found them here whenever I’ve visited during the last couple of years. I followed a trail through the grassy field to the north, listening for the distinctive “tick, tick, zeeeeeeee” of the Grasshopper Sparrow and the low-pitched “buzzzz, buzzzzz” of the Clay-coloured Sparrow.

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BioBlitz & Butterflies

On June 11, 2011, I participated in a BioBlitz in Russell, and spent the morning surveying an area which has been proposed for a new landfill. The people who organized the BioBlitz, many of whom live nearby, were interested in finding out how many different species of flora and fauna are present, and whether any are considered at risk. This area is mostly agricultural, with some forested areas and open, grassy fields. Bobolinks inhabit the grasslands and were of particular interest. This species, which nests primarily in hayfields, pastures, and wet prairies, has been declining in recent years because of loss of habitat, pesticides, climate change and farming practices. Farmers are cutting and mowing hayfields earlier in the season, and as a result, mowing-induced nest mortality has increased dramatically over the past 50 years.

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Conversation with a Savannah Sparrow

Savannah Sparrow Ottawa’s international airport is an excellent place for birding in the late spring and summer.  Although many of its regular residents haven’t arrived yet, birding the trails here in late April can be rewarding.  As my fiancé had to work on Easter Monday, I dropped him off then proceeded to Bowesville Road where there is ample parking and access to the trails on either side of the road.

As soon as I got out of the car I heard a Song Sparrow and a Brown-headed Cowbird singing.  I checked the first pair of bluebird boxes and found only a couple of Tree Swallows in the vicinity.  Eastern Bluebirds are one of the airport specialties that draws many birders here each spring; the airport is perhaps the easiest place to find them in the Ottawa area.  However, none were present at their usual box so I continued on my way to the trails.

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