Winter has taken its sweet time in leaving. We’re now a week past the Spring Equinox and the temperature has still been below normal. Even worse, last Wednesday the temperature dipped to -17°C (-28°C with the windchill when we woke up) and then Ottawa received another 10cm of heavy, wet snow on Friday. Once again all the lawns were covered beneath a heavy blanket of snow and the open water in the ponds and rivers began to freeze, reversing all the progress we’ve made to date. I suspect either Mother Nature is being held hostage somewhere against her will, or else she is hiding out in the Mexican Riviera, too afraid to come back to Canada because of the way Old Man Winter has taken over the country. Old Man Winter is now talking about building a wall to keep her out; the snow we received on Friday will become his building materials.
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. Continue reading →
On the first day of August I headed over to Jack Pine Trail. It’s been almost a month since I last visited this trail, and while I didn’t expect to see many dragonflies, I hoped the birding at least would be good. Fortunately, it was excellent – even in the middle of breeding season I tallied 24 species in about three hours. As soon as I got out of the car I heard a pair of Broad-winged Hawks calling from the woods across Moodie Drive. I wasn’t able to see them, but I recognized their clear, distinct two-note whistle. After seeing a pair at Trail 26 only two days ago, it made me wonder how many pairs were breeding in Stony Swamp. Could these be the same birds, or at least part of the same family? Or was there more than one breeding pair in this area?
July has arrived, and today’s weather was typical of summer – hot and sunny for most of the day with thundershowers rolling in later in the afternoon. Fortunately there was no humidity, which made my morning in Stony Swamp looking for breeding birds and bugs comfortable.
It was clear from my outing today that we are at the peak of the breeding season, one of my favourite times of year. Although some birders become afflicted by the “summer birding doldrums” in the period between when the birds stop singing and songbird migration starts in the fall, I was surprised to find that the doldrums have already been referenced in both eBird’s latest monthly challenge and in every OFNC bird sighting report since June 16th. There are too many birds around – including nestlings and the newly fledged young following their parents about – and still so many birds singing right now that I probably won’t become desperately bored until about mid-August when I start longing for the first wave of warblers and insectivores to arrive.
The day after the excellent snaketail adventure in Gatineau Park, I headed over to Jack Pine Trail to see if any of its unique dragonflies were on the wing. Two years ago I found a healthy population of Brush-tipped and Williamson’s Emeralds, and Arrowhead Spiketails are regularly seen along the stream at the back. Although I’d heard that it takes four years for Williamson’s Emerald larvae to mature, I had hopes of at least finding the Brush-tipped Emerald; I still think it’s amazing that all these wonderful dragonflies live and breed so close to home. I was also hoping to find some spreadwings, as I’ve seen both Northern and Emerald Spreadwings along the trails here in the past – though none in the past couple of years.
After leaving Sarsaparilla Trail I drove over to the NCC parking lot on Corkstown Road and followed the bike path beneath the Queensway to the place where Chris Traynor had seen the Eastern Red Damsels earlier in the week. The spot isn’t hard to find; just keep following the path parallel to the Queensway as it passes over a small bridge and skirts the northern edge of a farmer’s field. Eventually the path reaches a small woodlot and abruptly turns south; before you get to the small stand of trees, watch for an NCC sign on the left about the crops of the Greenbelt. Chris had found the damselflies in the grass behind the sign.
After seeing my first Red-winged Blackbirds from the bus on Wednesday, March 9th, I was eager to get out on the weekend and look for more. Saturday morning was mild but gloomy; not a terrific day for photography, but a good day for getting out and seeing what was around. I stopped by the ponds on Eagleson first to look for ducks, and was surprised to hear not one, but two Song Sparrows singing as soon as I got out of the car. It was only March 12th; although it seemed early for them to be back on territory, I enjoyed hearing their jubilant songs after the long, silent winter. Red-winged Blackbirds were back as well, calling from the tops of the trees and adding to the spring chorus. There were no new ducks on the pond, just the usual mallards and Canada Geese.