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.
Last fall we had the American Pipits, Lesser Black-backed Gull, and all kinds of shorebirds; with so many wonderful birds stopping over at the Eagleson storm water ponds during last fall’s migration, I couldn’t see how spring migration could begin to match it. However, on Sunday I broke 40 species there for the first time ever with a total of 42 – just surpassing my high total of 38 species on September 18, 2016. Even though the shorebird species were limited to the two common summer residents – Spotted Sandpiper and Killdeer – the diversity of the other birds was more than impressive.
Once again I was without a car, so I walked over at about 9:30 through a light rain, bringing my umbrella with me. As soon as I got close to the water I heard the grating calls of a couple of terns and headed out onto the peninsula to take a look. Continue reading →
The middle of May is the best time to see various migrating birds in Ottawa. However, once again the forecast for the weekend called for rain on both days (May 13th and 14th), and I wasn’t sure how long I’d be able to go out birding – or whether or not I’d be able to get out at all. Since my fiancé needed the car for pretty much the full weekend, I was extremely limited in the places I could go. There are only a few places I can get to by bus (not that getting anywhere by bus on the weekend is easy), and I didn’t want to get caught in a downpour someplace where I might need to walk 20-30 minutes to get to the bus stop, then wait another 20-30 minutes for a bus to arrive.
Fortunately, the storm water ponds are only a 15 minute walk from home. Intermittent showers on Saturday made for a not unpleasant experience birding there; I was thrilled to tally 37 species altogether.
After one of the wettest Aprils on record, both the Ottawa and Gatineau Rivers have burst their banks, causing extensive flooding that has affected hundreds of homes on both sides of the provincial border. A combination of snow melt flowing into the Ottawa River through its various tributaries and the high volume of rainfall this spring caused the water to rise faster than could be controlled by engineers at the various dams along the river. The Ottawa River is the highest it has been in decades, and neither I nor the long-time birders here have seen anything like it.
This month alone (now only seven days old) has seen over 100 mm of rain, with 45mm rain on May 1st, 40mm on Friday, and 20 mm yesterday. In the 24-hour period between Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon, the Ottawa River rose 17cm, and, according to the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board, is expected to rise a further 5cm before its peak on Monday. A state of emergency has been declared in Gatineau, where the Canadian Forces was on hand to help police reach difficult to access areas. On the Ontario side, Cumberland and Constance Bay were the two areas affected most, followed by Britannia, Dunrobin, Fitzroy Harbour and MacLarens Landing.
May is here, which means we’ve entered the peak of spring migration! I usually see more bird species in May than in any other month (except perhaps September), though this month has been off to a slow start. Not only did May 1st fall on a Monday this year, but the weather has been terrible – it’s been cloudy and rainy for most of the week, with some mornings still cold enough to require gloves. As such, I’ve been doing most of my birding around home, but even so I’ve managed to pick up a few good birds.
Weather in April can be described in only one way: changeable. It can turn from spring to summer to winter in the matter of hours, making it difficult to know how to dress any given day – you may need a hat and gloves in the morning, then be wearing shorts in the afternoon. Even the weather toward the end of the month can be variable. Last Thursday (April 27th) Ottawa’s temperature reached a sunny, humid high of 26°C; yesterday (April 30th) the rain clouds moved in and temperatures barely reached 5°C.
Migrants have been returning in large numbers despite the inconstant weather. On Friday I woke up to see two White-crowned Sparrows on my backyard, and they were there again Sunday morning. This was a year bird for me, and the earliest date I’ve recorded them in my yard; normally they arrive during the first week of May, with my previous early date being May 4th.
After returning from my vacation to southern Ontario I had two days off, but with no car I wasn’t able to go birdwatching anywhere exciting. On April 19th I headed out to the storm water ponds well before the rain was supposed to start around noon, but got caught in a light shower just as soon as I arrived. I decided to continue my walk anyway, as a few new species had been seen there while I was away: Sophie added Northern Harrier (!), Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Northern Rough-winged Swallow, and Peregrine Falcon (!!) all on April 16th, and Peter Blancher added Fox Sparrow on April 17th. I wasn’t sure whether any of these birds would stick around for very long, but thought it would be great to see what was new.
I found a couple of White-throated Sparrows, two Barn Swallows, and two Tree Swallows almost right away. Ten Hooded Mergansers were still making use of the pond, though most of the geese had left. Only five Mallards were present.