Six species of swallows breed in the Ottawa area, and most are easy to find. Tree Swallows like open fields and agricultural areas, particularly where there are lots of natural tree cavities or nest boxes. Barn Swallows also like open fields and farms, but need water in order to build cup-shaped nests of mud on the walls of man-made structures, such as the undersides of bridges and in the rafters of barns or other open structures. Purple Martins nest almost exclusively in man-made houses that can be single gourd-shaped boxes or large multi-cavity apartments; it is difficult to find colonies away from human settlements these days, at least in the east. Northern Rough-winged Swallows nests in burrows or cavities in various substrates, particularly near water, and often use circular drainage holes in the cement walls along bridges and canals. Bank Swallows also nest in burrows and cavities, but are much more particular about using vertical cliffs or banks along streams, lakes, or man-made quarries where they nest in colonies of 10 to 2,000 pairs. Finally, Cliff Swallows – personally the most difficult swallow species for me to find in Ottawa outside of a few known colonies – nest on buildings, bridges, and other man-made structures close to fields or pastures for foraging, and a source of mud for nest building.
Hundreds of Canada Geese stage in Ottawa during fall migration, giving birders an opportunity to sort through them for different species and odd forms.
Between September 26 and 28, 2014, the Ontario Field Ornithologists hosted their annual convention in Ottawa. While the evening programs included banquets and social events such as the OFO Annual General Meeting, “Birds and Beers”, “Birding Jeopardy” with Sarah Rupert, presentations from Bruce Di Labio and keynote speaker Chris Earley (whose books I own!), and the presentation of the Distinguished Ornithologist Award, the majority of the daylight hours were spent birding Ottawa’s hot spots with leaders provided from the OFNC, the Club des ornithologues de l’Outaouais, Bird Studies Canada, the Pembroke Area Field Naturalists, the Innis Point Bird Observatory, and the Wild Bird Care Center. I was co-leader with various other OFNC members for trips on each of the three days, with full day trips to the East End on Friday and Sunday and an afternoon walk along the Ottawa River on Saturday.
The weather was fantastic all three days, and although most birders would agree that a cold north wind would have helped to bring in the migrants, I don’t think too many people complained about the hot, sunny 27°C afternoons.
The last few weeks have brought yet another change in migration. The only fall migrants that seem to be around these days are water birds; the late-season land birds, such as Ruby-crowned Kinglets, White-throated Sparrows and White-crowned Sparrows have all gone, while winter birds such as American Tree Sparrows and Snow Buntings have arrived. There are still many robins, juncos, and Golden-crowned Kinglets around, though these may stay the winter if they can find enough food.
I spend a lot of time birding along the Ottawa River in late October and November. A good variety of water birds can be found on Lac Deschenes this time of year, and birding anywhere between Bate Island and Shirley’s Bay can produce good numbers of loons, grebes, geese, scoters, and diving ducks. Many dabbling ducks can still be found in the smaller ponds, and it is worth stopping in at Sarsaparilla Trail, the ponds at Andrew Haydon Park, or the Richmond Lagoons to see what’s around.
On Saturday I drove to Dow’s Lake at first light to look for the Surf Scoter that has been hanging out there since Thursday. It was supposed to rain later that afternoon, and indeed the sky was dark and ominous when I left. It was rather cold and damp, too, so I wore my winter coat for the first time this fall, even though the temperature was supposed to rise to 14°C.
When I arrived I heard a couple of Golden-crowned Kinglets in the trees near the parking area. I didn’t see much at the Arboretum, but in the marshy area at the edge of Dow’s Lake I saw six Red-winged Blackbirds perched in a large tree and heard a Song Sparrow singing. Another group of about 20 Red-winged Blackbirds flew by a little later but didn’t land. On the water, there were at least 1000 Canada Geese and perhaps half as many mallards swimming in the bay. A large number of American Black Ducks looked completely black in the poor light.
The Thanksgiving long weekend is one of my favourite holidays. The fall colours are at their peak here in Ottawa, and the days are usually still warm enough to wear T-shirts. Migration brings an interesting assortment of birds, while a few butterflies and dragonflies are still flying. If the afternoons are warm and sunny, you may even see some frogs or snakes enjoying the last of the nice weather.
On Friday I visited Hurdman at lunch and was happy to hear the loud, ringing song of a Carolina Wren. This is likely the same bird I saw back on September 13th; the habitat is good in this section of the park, with lots of dense thickets and thick, deciduous woods, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he stayed a while longer.
The following day Deb and I spent the morning birding along the Ottawa River. There were only two weeks left until Christmas, and we wanted to make the most of our morning as we weren’t sure whether we’d be able to get out together again before the new year. We agreed to meet at 7:30, not realizing just how short the days had become; the sun had barely risen when I left, and a sun pillar was visible in the sky. The sunrise was gorgeous, but by the time I was able to pull over onto the shoulder in a safe place the sun pillar had become nearly invisible. One of the bonuses of winter birding is that the sun is so low in the sky in the morning, atmospheric phenomena such as sun dogs and other ice crystal halos are often visible. Continue reading →
Deb and I went to Mud Lake on May 1st with high hopes of seeing some warblers and other migrants. After finding 5 species on Jeff Skevington’s Constance Bay outing (Yellow, Yellow-rumped, Palm, Pine and Black-and-white) I was hopeful that we might find some others in Ottawa’s most beloved birding hotspot. We were off to a promising start as soon as we got out of the car, for we heard a Warbling Vireo singing away in the tree tops. We managed to catch a glimpse of him foraging among the burgeoning leaves, and he became our first year bird of the day. These drab vireos breed here in Ottawa, and we’ll be hearing their song for weeks to come.