Back in 2015 I wrote a blog post about the odonates I found at Andrew Haydon Park one weekday afternoon near the end of July. Since discovering the colony of Halloween Pennants at AHP in 2014, I’ve made it a point to visit this park each year during mid-summer; it’s much closer than travelling all the way to Morris Island to see this stunning dragonfly! So far I’ve only made it out to Morris Island once this year, and when I found no Halloween Pennants flying along the causeway I decided to visit Andrew Haydon Park specifically to search for this species. With the strange, slow start to the season I was bit apprehensive about whether these odes would even be around at AHP, but thankfully I found a few on each of my visits, and in good numbers, too.
It was only two years that the Ottawa-Gatineau region suffered its worst flood in decades. Extraordinary amounts of rain fell in April and May (including 159 millimetres in April alone), causing the Ottawa and Gatineau Rivers to burst their banks and bring devastation to houses and infrastructure situated in the flood zone. We coped with it, we learned from it, we moved on. Or so we thought. This spring local rivers crept higher and higher, until April 28 when this year’s flooding was declared Ottawa-Gatineau’s worst on record with the water still rising. On that date the water level in Arnprior was 14 centimetres above the record set in 2017 and the water level in Britannia was 2 centimetres above the record set in 2017.
The toughest thing about birding – and the thing that makes it so addictive – is that most really good bird sightings or good birding days are a matter of luck: being in the right place at the right time. It’s one thing to know that Mud Lake is usually the best place to find Carolina Wrens here in Ottawa, that Northern Goshawks and Least Bitterns breed in Stony Swamp, or that Spruce Grouse are regularly seen at the Spruce Bog Trail in Algonquin Park, but it’s another thing altogether to actually find or observe these species when they are there. Birding, too, is much tougher these days than it was in the 1960s when most bird species were much more abundant than they are today – most new birders have heard stories about huge flocks of Evening Grosbeaks descending on the city in the winter 40 or 50 years ago and cleaning out the bird feeders in a matter of hours. Sadly, their numbers have declined sharply since those days; as of today I have observed about six Evening Grosbeaks total in the city of Ottawa since I started birding in 2006 – and those six birds were found only on three different occasions. It’s much harder to find birds when their numbers aren’t high to begin with, which makes luck so much more important if you are looking for a particular species or just looking to add something new to your year/life/county list. Sometimes you get lucky and find what you are looking for; sometimes you get lucky by finding something you totally did not expect to see that day or in that location. It’s these occasions that are so rewarding, especially after many a fruitless and frustrating outing where the bird didn’t show, or all you could find were starlings and maybe a crow.
The Ottawa River is the best spot for finding migrating waterfowl in the fall. Dabbling ducks can be found in the quiet bays of Shirley’s Bay and Andrew Haydon Park while diving ducks, loons, grebes, and some sea ducks can be found further out anywhere along the river from Shirley’s Bay to Bate Island. There is no doubt that best viewing spots are Shirley’s Bay, Dick Bell Park, and Andrew Haydon Park – however, because it is such a long walk out to the dyke at Shirley’s Bay (which can only be accessed if you are a member of the OFNC and on the list provided to the DND Range Control), I tend to do most of my river-watching at Dick Bell and AHP. November is usually the best month for waterfowl watching, although late October can be productive as well, right up until the water freezes over sometime in December.
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.
Andrew Haydon Park is best known as a dynamic birding hotspot in the fall and early winter (before the Ottawa River freezes) when various types of shorebirds and water birds stop over on their way south. The thickets and woodlots also provide cover for migrating warblers and songbirds, and hawks patrol the water’s edge regularly looking for an easy meal. The park is not visited by birders as often in the summer, possibly because they are ranging farther afield looking for uncommon breeding birds or rarities somewhere else, possibly because the park is usually full of picnickers and children and smoking barbeques and radios playing loud music after 10:00 am.
However, first thing in the morning, before all the people arrive, the park is full of birds. Common breeding birds, true, but still birds worth seeing as they are only here four or five months of the year, and watching them feeding and raising their young is always enjoyable. Even on a bright mid-July morning there is plenty of avian activity, and today I managed to find 32 species before 10:00 am. Continue reading →
It’s been a strange few days – normally the weather isn’t this warm at the beginning of December. However on Tuesday and Wednesday the temperature rose to 10°C, and yesterday was still nice at 5°C. I went to Jack Pine Trail where the best bird was a dark morph Rough-legged Hawk flying over the marsh at the second boardwalk. The OFNC feeder was empty, and the birds were voracious – I was mobbed by chickadees, Red-Breasted Nuthatches, and Blue Jays as soon as I reached the feeder area. Even the Hairy and Downy Woodpeckers were interested in the peanuts I threw onto the ground. Surprisingly, there were no sparrows around – there are usually American Tree Sparrows and juncos in the feeder area and the trail leading into the woods where they feed on the seed left on the trail.
It was a little chilly this morning at -3°C, but the river is still wide open so I headed to Andrew Haydon Park to look for waterfowl. There wasn’t much on the river, but a pair of White-winged Scoters and a Black Scoter swimming with the Common Goldeneyes were nice to see. The Black Scoter was swimming fairly close to shore for a diving duck!
On the final Wednesday in September the weather finally changed. Once again the temperature climbed into the 30s, but a cold front passed through around 3:00, generating a powerful but short-lived thunderstorm that brought many tree limbs down. This was the first rain we’d had in three weeks. The temperature fell about seven degrees, and since then temperatures have been back to seasonal, falling to single digits in the night and rising to about 15°C in the day. It’s now necessary to wear a coat in the morning, but I find the change refreshing.
The equinox has passed and summer is showing no signs of leaving despite the changing colours of the leaves. Once again the temperatures reached the high 20s, and a heat warning went into effect yesterday, as forecasters say that the continuing sunshine would result in daytime temperatures reaching the low 30s, with humidex values approaching 40C. When I went out yesterday morning I had two targets in mind: the Parasitic Jaeger seen off Andrew Haydon Beach for the past two days, and the influx of Painted Lady butterflies that has reached eastern Ontario. I left early, as I knew the day would warm up quickly, stopping at the Eagleson storm water ponds first to see if anything new had arrived.
Late summer is a great time for birding. Shorebirds, flycatchers, and warblers which breed further north have moved into the area, while our resident breeding birds are preparing for their journey south. It’s a fantastic time to check out the woods and river for both residents and migrants before they leave for good. Personally, it’s one of my favourite times of year, especially as the summer weather tends to linger on into the end of September – unlike the fickle weather of May, you can go birding in shorts and sandals instead of gloves and winter coats. The diversity is just as excellent, and it is possible to find species that usually bypass Ottawa in the spring lingering here in the fall. Here are a few things I’ve found recently while out birding around the west end.