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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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Day of the Pipit

American Pipit

American Pipit

My goal on Sunday was to visit the Eagleson Ponds briefly before heading out to the woods, but once again I had such a fantastic time there that I couldn’t bring myself to leave. I spent almost 3.5 hours there, completely circled the ponds on the south side of Emerald Meadows Drive only once (but backtracked multiple times), and found 32 bird species together. I also saw two odes – a Common Green Darner and a couple of bluets – and four or five butterfly species. It still amazes me how terrific these little man-made ponds have been these past two and a half months; and I don’t even need to drive there!

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Encounter with a Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

After Saturday’s rather dull outing I decided to get up early on Sunday and hit the storm water ponds before heading out to Jack Pine Trail. I wanted to look for warblers and water birds – particularly shorebirds – before checking Jack Pine for warblers, thrushes, and other forest birds. If time permitted, I hoped to stop in at the Richmond Lagoons to see if the recent rains had refilled the ponds there. Unfortunately for my plans I had such a fabulous time at the storm water ponds that I didn’t make it to the other spots.

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White-crowned Sparrows

White-crowned Sparrow

White-crowned Sparrow

Sparrows are moving through right now, and when I returned from my trip on Friday afternoon, I was delighted to find three different species in my yard: a Dark-eyed Junco, a White-crowned Sparrow, and two Chipping Sparrows. I was a bit surprised to see the junco still hanging around, and was happy that the Chipping Sparrows had arrived – they are very common summer residents in my neighbourhood, and often bring their babies to my feeder later in the season once they have fledged. Unlike these two species, however, the White-crowned Sparrow is an uncommon spring visitor to my yard – my first sighting occurred back in May 2006, around the time I got bit by the birding bug. As I was not an avid eBird user back then, my next record is from May 2011, when another single bird appeared, and my last record is from May 2012, when two birds showed up. All sightings occurred between May 4th and May 8th, and most individuals only stayed one day.

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Easter Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwing

Bohemian Waxwing

Easter was early this year, which is always a bit disappointing as a birder – when it falls at the end of March, migration is just getting under way and there isn’t the same variety of species around as there would be later in April. Still, I was looking forward to adding a few birds to my year list, so I headed over to Mud Lake yesterday (Easter Sunday). I still haven’t seen a Great Blue Heron or Brown-headed Cowbird yet this year, and it’s just about time for Eastern Phoebes, Northern Flickers, Tree Swallows and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers to arrive back on territory. I was also curious as to whether the Northern Mockingbird was still around – there haven’t been any reports, but then I don’t know if anyone has gone and looked for it. With a forecast high of 13°C, it seemed a nice day to go for a walk around the lake, though it was still close to 0°C when I headed out.

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Easter Migrants

American Tree Sparrow

American Tree Sparrow

Birders love it when the Easter long weekend falls in April. The weather is usually nice, and the early migrants have already begun to arrive. If it’s warm enough, the first frogs, butterflies and snakes will have emerged. Easter fell on the first weekend of April this year, and although winter and spring are still battling for supremacy, I was still able to find plenty of birds for my year list.

I started Good Friday with a walk at the Beaver Trail where I unknowingly flushed six ducks hidden in the marsh at the back, at least two of which were Wood Ducks. A few more Red-winged Blackbirds had arrived, and I heard a single Common Grackle call near the Wild Bird Care Centre. Blackbirds flew over several times while I was there, but the day was overcast and I didn’t get a good look at them. The best bird was a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets in the woods near the meadow – this species was a year bird for me.

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Spring’s Progress

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

The weather for the past few weeks has remained mostly below seasonable. It has been slow to reach the freezing mark during the day, but I think we’ve finally reached the point where the daily high is now above 0°C. The Ottawa River is still frozen except for the rapids at Mud Lake and Bate Island, and a couple of centimeters of frozen snow still blanket the woods. At least the Rideau River has finally begun to open up on both sides of the 417 bridge. The City usually starts blasting the river open in March to prevent flooding, and although I read that the City would be blasting the ice throughout the month of March, as of the last time I visited Hurdman Park (March 31st) there was no evidence of any workers on the river in that area.

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