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Spring Comes to Ottawa

Cedar Waxwing

April has arrived, and I think spring has finally arrived with it. We’ve finally had some nice, sunny days and the weather has warmed up, so Deb and I finally got together to do some birding on the second day of April. We headed over to Mud Lake, where we only managed to tally 20 species; this is usually a great place to take in spring migration, but there was surprisingly little difference in the species seen since my previous visit on March 18th. The best birds there were an American Tree Sparrow, three Wood Ducks flying along the river, and an adult Cooper’s Hawk in the woods. Once again a male and female Downy Woodpecker pair came readily to my hand to take some food. I am now noting these birds in eBird, as I’ve been hand-feeding them for a couple of years now. The starlings singing near the filtration plant were of special interest, as we heard them imitating the calls of a Killdeer, an Eastern Wood-pewee, and even a Tree Frog!

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The Annual January Thaw

Great Horned Owl

For the past three days I’ve been listening to the sound of the steady drip of water from the snow melting on my roof. Almost every year we get a warm spell where the temperature climbs a few degrees above zero for a couple of days. While it is usually called the “January thaw”, sometimes it occurs in February, usually right in the middle of Winterlude. It is a welcome break from the bitterly cold days that remain well within the negative double digits. Not only does this weather make birding more pleasant – despite the heavy gray skies that usually accompany these warm spells – but birds and animals become more active, moving around instead of hunkering down against the cold.

I was hoping that this would happen on Saturday, and started my morning at the Trail Road landfill where I hoped to find at least a couple of different species of gull. Once again I found only Herring Gulls, and the only other birds present were two Red-tailed Hawks, crows and starlings. Even these seemed down in numbers.
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Car Birding in Ottawa West

On Sunday the temperature dropped again; when I left at 10:00 am it was only -8°C and a gusty wind was blowing. It was too cold to spend much time in the open, so I decided to drive over to Dunrobin and do my birding from the car. Evidently the birds felt the same way about the weather, for most of the songbirds that I found were tucked away in sheltered stands of trees, and few hawks and geese were flying across the open sky. Still, I found a good number of birds on my trip (including 8 year birds!), but due to the conditions I didn’t get a picture of a single one.

Out in Dunrobin, I got my first two year birds on Marchurst Road – a pair of Eastern Bluebirds flitting in a field and a pair of Great Blue Herons flying over. I also saw a displaying male Wild Turkey and two Hooded Mergansers in a small pond. When I turned onto Thomas Dolan Parkway I noticed a flock of about 50 Snow Buntings flying over a field. I would have liked to have checked them out for other species, but they didn’t stay on the ground long enough to get the scope out.

From there I drove north to Constance Creek. The Osprey weren’t back yet, but I noticed a large flock of ducks swimming in the creek on the eastern side of the bridge. Most of the 50 birds were Ring-necked Ducks, but I also noticed about 10 Bufflehead ducks, two Hooded Mergansers and an American Coot swimming in the back! I never see coots during spring migration in Ottawa, so this was a great find for me. While scoping the ducks a hawk flew within my scope view, and I followed it until I confirmed its identity as a Northern Harrier. A second one was coursing over the marsh as well; this was another new bird for the year. I also saw a Wood Duck fly over the marsh, as well as a few distant songbirds, but I didn’t hear a single songbird singing or see one close enough to identify. It seemed weird to enter a complete eBird checklist with no songbirds whatsoever!

Next I drove up to Greenland Road where I found a Killdeer and not much else. This rural area is very beautiful, with great views from Dunrobin Ridge sweeping down toward Constance Creek. I was hoping to find an Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Bluebird, or maybe an American Kestrel, but had no luck with any of these birds.

Barn on Greenland Road

Barn on Greenland Road

From there I circled back to Kanata via March Valley Road. I didn’t see much while driving along the road, but at the pond at the corner of Klondike Road I noticed an Osprey sitting along the tree line behind the pond, a Turkey Vulture swooping low over the water, and 11 Hooded Mergansers and two Wood Ducks in the pond.

I was still hoping to see an Eastern Phoebe so I decided to check out the picnic shelter at Shirley’s Bay. A small flock of Bohemian Waxwings flew over Rifle Road as I drove by, and I observed an accipiter flying over the parking lot when I arrived; however, it disappeared by the time I parked the car. There was no sign of the phoebe at the picnic shelter, but I did run into Richard Waters who told me that there were Rusty Blackbirds in a mixed flock of blackbirds near the base of the dyke. We exchanged notes on the birds we had seen that morning, and then I decided to try for the Rusties despite my aversion to the wind. Fortunately it was calmer in the shelter of the trees, and I found a flock of finches near the DND fence line (most of which were Purple Finches) and heard a few Golden-crowned Kinglets. I checked the base of the dyke and found no blackbirds. The woods, however, were completely swamped with water and I startled a pair of Wood Ducks into flight.

Swampland at Shirley's Bay

Swampland at Shirley’s Bay

As I was leaving I realized I could hear a group of blackbirds to the west; I heard at least three distinct Rusty Blackbirds calling and saw two Red-winged Blackbirds and five Common Grackles fly over. Although I could see blackbirds flying around deep within the woods, there was no way to get closer to them so I had to be satisfied with just listening to their rusty gate-hinge calls.

I found one last new year bird while driving home – an Eastern Phoebe sitting on a fence along Carling Avenue. I was driving the speed limit at the time (80 km/hr) and wasn’t able to stop; however, it was a great bird to end the day with. So although I wasn’t happy I still had to bundle up in my winter gear, I was pleased with all the birds I found on my outing. Hopefully next time I’ll get some photos worth sharing!

Exploring the Carp Hills

Baltimore Checkerspot

Baltimore Checkerspot

On June 7th I headed west to Dunrobin, still hoping to find some more birds for my year list. My plan was to stop in at Pinhey’s Point first, a historical site along the Ottawa River that I’d never visited before. I’d heard there were Cliff Swallows nesting there, and as I haven’t seen one of these birds in Ottawa in years, I was hoping it would be an easy tick. I was also still hoping to find the Golden-winged Warblers and Eastern Towhees that breed along the Thomas Dolan Parkway, plus whatever interesting butterflies and dragonflies that were flying – I’ve had both Baltimore Checkerspots and Horned Clubtails at the Stonecrest Trail, and was eager to see both again.

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A Lifer Dragonfly

Eastern Bluebird

Eastern Bluebird

I had so much fun catching and photographing dragonflies at the South March Highlands on the first day of June that I decided to spend some time at the Cedar Grove Nature Trail in Marlborough Forest the next day. First, though, I headed out to Dunrobin to check out the Carp Hills along Thomas Dolan Parkway for Eastern Towhees and Golden-winged Warblers. It was still cool in the morning when I left, perfect for birding, and although I didn’t find either of my target species, I had some great birds nonetheless. These included an American Kestrel, a Wild Turkey, two Wilson’s Snipes, a couple of House Wrens, and a couple of Alder Flycatchers.

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The First Butterflies

Eastern Comma

Eastern Comma

Last week saw the arrival of a whole slew of migrants; I added 13 new birds to my year list between Thursday and Sunday, NOT including the two swallow species seen at Billings Bridge on Friday. Even better, the temperature finally warmed up enough for the first butterflies and amphibians to emerge on Saturday!

I’d been seeing large flocks of geese flying over my house for a while now, and I wanted to check out the flooded fields along Eagleson before they dried up. I thought I’d have a good chance of finding large flocks (i.e. hundreds or more) of geese in the wet corn fields and, after finishing an early dinner on Thursday night, headed south along Eagleson Road. It wasn’t so much the Canada Geese that interested me as it was the possibility of finding other species – Snow Geese, Ross’s Geese, Cackling Geese, and the ever-elusive Greater White-fronted Geese – lurking among the huge numbers of Canadas that stage here before flying north.

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On A Winter’s Morn

Juvenile Bald Eagle

Juvenile Bald Eagle

It snowed again yesterday. I went out early in the morning to try to find some gulls at the Trail Road Landfill but the white skies were spitting snow even as I left. I found three Red-tailed Hawks along Trail Road, several European Starlings, and at least 200 crows near the dump, but no gulls. Further along the road I saw a single Dark-eyed Junco and some chickadees. I then checked some of the back roads near Richmond and came up with a single Rough-legged Hawk flying over and a Snowy Owl perched on top of a telephone pole, both new for my winter list. I didn’t stay out too long because the snow was beginning to accumulate on the roads and visibility was poor.

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