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My Favourite Places: Mud Lake

Southern Ontario has Point Pelee, Ottawa has….Mud Lake. Officially known as the Britannia Conservation Area, this 79-hectare conservation area consists of woodland, riparian, wetland and upland habitats surrounding a large eutrophic (nutrient-rich) pond known as Mud Lake. This large greenspace is bordered by the Ottawa River to the north and by residential and shopping districts to the south, which makes it an attractive place for migrating birds to stop and rest and one of the largest migrant traps within the city. As a result, Mud Lake has become one of Ottawa’s premier birding spots and the best year-round birding hotspot in Ottawa. About 250 bird species have been seen in this conservation area, or approximately 75% of all species recorded in the OFNC study area (a 50-kilometer radius centered on the Peace Tower). From warblers in the spring to herons in the summer, waterfowl in the fall and raptors year-round, Mud Lake is especially known for its songbird migration in the spring and fall when hundreds of swallows, flycatchers, vireos, thrushes, mimids, sparrows, blackbirds, finches, waxwings, grosbeaks, wrens and, of course, warblers descend on the conservation area. It’s had more than its fair share of rarities, too, including Eurasian Wigeon, Harlequin Duck, Little Blue Heron, Forster’s Tern, Gray Kingbird, Connecticut Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, and Yellow-breasted Chat (none of which, I might add, were seen by me).

Map of Mud Lake

Google Map of Mud Lake

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My Favourite Places: Andrew Haydon Park

Andrew Haydon Park is located in the city’s west end on a wide section of the Ottawa River known as Lac Deschênes. It is accessed via two entrances on Carling Avenue.  The western entrance leads to a heavily-used recreational park dominated by manicured lawns, a bandshell for outdoor concerts, a picnic area, and two artificial ponds. A man-made waterfall adds to its charm, and Stillwater Creek flows into a small marsh at its western boundary. The area accessed by the eastern entrance is smaller and more heavily treed.  While there are some picnic tables and a playground close to the parking area, this half of the park is more secluded, more sheltered, and is much better for songbirds.  An unofficial path leads to the mouth of Graham Creek and the area known to birders as Ottawa Beach.

If you are looking for water birds, Ottawa Beach – and the western half of Andrew Haydon Park, to a lesser extent – is THE place to go.

Pond at Andrew Haydon

The western pond at AHP with the Ottawa River beyond

Unlike the trails of Stony Swamp which I’ve written about previously, Andrew Haydon Park is best visited when the water of the Ottawa River is free of ice.  Indeed, the parking lots are closed off during the winter with barricades, preventing access to the park. While spring migration can be good for early waterfowl returning, late summer and fall provide the most spectacular birding.  Not only do lower water levels attract shorebirds and other species which prefer mudflats and shallow marshes, a large number of waterfowl stage here in the fall, lingering for days or weeks while they fatten up for the journey south. However, once the cold weather arrives sometime in December and the river freezes over, the birds all depart – as do the birders.

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A Journey down Hilda Road

Last winter, when inclement weather resulted in a lack of fresh material for my blog, I started a series about my favourite birding places in the Ottawa area. It’s a series I am hoping to expand, and once upon a time I would have definitely included a post about the feeders on Hilda Road. Well, after five years of visiting the feeders, the story I feel compelled to write is not about why Hilda Road is my favourite place, but rather why it’s a place I no longer enjoy visiting.

I first became aware of the Hilda Road feeders in December 2006 after seeing them described as “a must to visit in winter” on NeilyWorld and hearing another birder talk about them. Located on NCC land near Shirley’s Bay, the feeders are situated in a rural area where cottages existed many years ago before eventually being demolished. For many decades a few dedicated individuals have kept the feeders on Hilda Road filled during the winter months at their own expense, for no other reason than to enjoy watching the birds and animals they attract.

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My Favourite Places: The Beaver Trail

The second trail I started visiting after moving to Kanata South was the Beaver Trail around the corner on Moodie Drive just south of West Hunt Club.  It, too, is part of the Stony Swamp Conservation Area, which consists of almost 2,000 hectares of woodland, wetland and regenerating old field within the National Capital Greenbelt. Although the Beaver Trail is only 2.6 km long, it features all three of these unique habitats within its boundaries. 

However, to describe it as just one trail is misleading; there are actually two trails here, with a few short interconnecting pathways.  The inner trail, called the Chipmunk Trail, passes through forest and a small wildflower meadow; the outer trail, called the Beaver Trail, passes through both as well, but also has two observation platforms overlooking the wetland, each of which features a beaver lodge. I always take the outer trail as it has a greater diversity of wildlife.  In addition, just inside the woods near the parking lot is a large building housing the Wild Bird Care Center.  There is an informal feeding station on the east side of the building, which attracts its share of chipmunks, squirrels and birds.

Raised boardwalk leading beyond the loop trail

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My Favourite Places: Sarsaparilla Trail

Sarsaparilla Trail, located on Richmond Road just north of West Hunt Club, is one of the first trails I visited after moving to Kanata South.  It features a small 0.8 km circular trail traversing through the woods and a picnic area in a more open setting.  The chickadees and nuthatches here are among the friendliest I have encountered, and the Red-breasted Nuthatches in particular are not afraid to steal morsels from an outstretched hand.  They especially love sunflower seeds and peanuts.

Sarsaparilla Trail lies within the Stony Swamp Conservation Area, which itself is part of the National Capital Greenbelt. In the woods, the trail diverges into two loops. The outer loop passes through an area of deciduous trees with very little understory, while the inner trail passes through a dense stand of conifers.  On the western side of the trail, a short boardwalk leads to a small observation platform which juts out over a large beaver pond.

Because of its proximity to water and mix of habitats, Sarsaparilla Trail is home to many different species of wildlife.  It has something to offer the nature lover in every season, from the mammals that live here year-round to the butterflies and amphibians which are present only in the warmer months, to the different bird species which come and go with the changing of the seasons.

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