I usually take the second week of May off every year, and head south to spend time birding Point Pelee National Park with my mother. I was unable to make the trip this year, but as I needed a break from work and a change of scenery I spent three nights in Westport instead (more to follow in a separate post). Spending time at Murphy’s Point Provincial Park, Frontenac Provincial Park, and Foley Mountain Conservation Area was fantastic, but unlike Point Pelee, these areas are not migration hotspots or migrant traps, and I had to work hard to get as many species as I did. As a result, I wasn’t expecting much when I returned to Ottawa on Thursday, but it seemed the floodgates had finally opened and the birds were moving north in large numbers. I went out Friday morning, and although the temperature hadn’t improved – the day was overcast and the temperature was still below normal for this time of year – the birds must have been getting anxious to get back to their breeding grounds, for the variety of birds at the Eagleson ponds was amazing. Continue reading →
By the end of September there is a change in the air. There are fewer warbler species and more sparrows and thrushes and kinglets as the temperature starts to fall and the nights grow longer than the days. On the last Saturday in September I started my day with a walk at the Eagleson ponds, where only a few Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs remained after the recent rains caused the water levels to rise. The Great Black-backed Gull, three heron species, and a single kingfisher were still present as well. About 150 Canada Geese were swimming throughout the ponds; these were new, as only one or two families had stayed the summer. The only Red-winged Blackbirds I saw were all in a single flock of about two dozen birds flying over, and while Song Sparrows were still numerous, the first Dark-eyed Junco had arrived. A single Ruby-crowned Kinglet, two Yellow-rumped Warblers, and two Blackpoll Warblers were signs that the season was changing.
I had a few days off in the middle of September and spent them birding. The weather was fantastic from Thursday through Saturday, and I started my days at the Eagleson storm water ponds which usually has a great diversity of species during migration. The habitat has been excellent for shorebirds, as the water levels were low enough for Lesser Yellowlegs to walk around the middle of the central pond. However, I was really hoping to find some different warbler and songbird species to add to my list, and checked each grove of trees carefully. I wasn’t happy when I found only one warbler species (a Common Yellowthroat) in the 5 hours I spent there total, but the diversity of shorebirds was amazingly excellent. Several were foraging quite close to shore, too, making them easy to identify! I found nine species altogether, which is terrific for an urban pond system so close to human habitation.
In September 2016, I started a project on iNaturalist to document the non-avian species I’ve found at the Eagleson Road ponds just after the reconstruction that took place in 2015 and 2016 was completed. I was chiefly interested in the mammals and odonates (I use eBird, of course, for birds), largely in part because I wondered if the beaver would be back after its lodge was destroyed and if there were any Rainbow Bluets or Fragile Forktails left. Then, seeing the extensive wildflower plantings after the reconstruction, I began to wonder what species of butterflies might feed here. Since then I’ve started documenting all kinds of insects, turtles, plants and mammals that I can identify on my own, and even some that I can’t…one of the functions of iNaturalist is to connect experts and knowledgeable nature enthusiasts with those who aren’t as experienced in order to assist with identifications. I have hesitated to use the site for this purpose, because identifications are done entirely by volunteers, and (a) there is no guarantee that your species will be identified, particularly for lesser known or more difficult genera (for example, I have some photos of Red-blue Checkered Beetles from July 2016 that have yet to be confirmed); and (b) there is no guarantee that the observation will be identified correctly. Generally the more people who add their identification to an observation, the better; the main identification is decided by a two-thirds majority, and once it has received two or more confirmatory identifications it is considered “research grade” and can be used by scientists for their own projects.
During the August long weekend I visited the Eagleson storm water ponds a couple of times to check out the shorebird habitat – the southern pond is starting to dry up, leaving a huge swath of the smelly, muddy pond bottom exposed. The usual Spotted Sandpipers and Killdeer were present, but at least four Lesser Yellowlegs, one Greater Yellowlegs, and five Least Sandpipers had joined them. It’s still early in shorebird migration, so I expect the diversity will increase as the season progresses.
The number of herons hunting at the ponds has also increased lately, which is typical this time of year as the birds disperse from their breeding grounds to look for good feeding areas. At least two Great Blue Herons, two Great Egrets, and three Black-crowned Night Herons are around; I haven’t seen any Green Herons yet so far, but expect they will show up shortly. Because there are so many herons here, and because they perch and feed out in the open, they make excellent targets of study; I shouldn’t be surprised that they are starting to draw the attention of local photographers. I ran into one this weekend specifically to photograph the egrets and herons; doubtless there are others.
On Saturday, July 28th I wasn’t able to get out birding, so on Sunday I headed over to the Eagleson storm water ponds. There were only two species of herons (Great Blue Heron and Great Egret) and one species of sandpiper (Spotted Sandpiper) but the Osprey flew over and hovered over the main pond before flying off, and I found a Red-eyed Vireo feeding its offspring. This was a surprise to me as I have heard this species singing in this area only twice this year, both times in May, and thought that they were just passing through. Red-eyed Vireos sing long into the summer, well into the afternoon, and are easily detected on their breeding grounds, so I’m curious as to where the female actually nested – here at the ponds, or somewhere nearby. All the usual bird species were still present, including a few Barn Swallows and a Northern Flicker flying over the pond, but Common Grackles were noticeably absent – they have now dispersed from the ponds, and last weekend I had an even dozen at my feeder, mostly juveniles! Continue reading →
Mid-May is the most exciting time to go birding in northeastern North America. The peak of migration has arrived, bringing the bulk of the warblers, flycatchers, cuckoos, vireos, a few shorebirds, Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, Indigo Buntings, Scarlet Tanagers, Baltimore Orioles, and Rose-breasted Grosbeaks. On good days with fallout conditions, birds can be everywhere in migrant traps like Point Pelee, Rondeau Park, or Mud Lake here in Ottawa. Sometimes vagrants can occur with these expected species, particularly southern species that overshoot their breeding grounds and end up further north than their breeding range. The chance of seeing just such a rarity adds to the excitement and joy of seeing all our familiar summer residents again.