Back in March, when my law firm’s downtown office shut down and I began working from home as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, I had expected some semblance of normal life to return by the fall. I had guessed that by September the office would be open again, and that once again I would lose two hours of my day to the daily commute. I was wrong, however, and Covid-19 cases are climbing once again in an indisputable second wave. My law firm is still not fully open yet; however, I’m back at work downtown providing administrative support for a lengthy civil trial. The trial is taking place over Zoom, with the judge, court staff, court reporter, both sets of counsel, both sets of experts, and all parties to the lawsuit participating via videoconference. Once again I’m a slave to the city’s public transportation schedule, and while I’m really happy that both the bus and LRT are virtually empty, I’m not thrilled to lose those precious two hours and almost all of my weekday birding time as a result. I am really hoping that when life does return to normal one day, full-time attendance in the office won’t be mandatory and that I will still be able to enjoy at least a couple days a week working from home and getting out for birding walks in the morning and butterfly walks at lunch.
The year 2020 has arrived, and it’s a new decade as well as a new year. Usually it’s only the excitement of starting a brand new list from scratch that gets me going out in January, so on the first day of 2020 I got out early to see how many bird species I could find. As usual, I planned to check a couple of different habitats to maximize the number of potential species; my strategy consists of birding in open farmland, forests, along open water, with a stop at the local landfill. In the past couple of years I’ve only averaged about 17 or 18 species, which is not a particularly high number. My best New Year’s Day was back in 2017 where I counted 26 species – that year I visited Shirley’s Bay, Mud Lake, Jack Pine Trail, the Trail Road landfill, and the Eagleson ponds. The best birds of that day included Bald Eagle and White-throated Sparrow at Mud Lake, Horned Lark on Rushmore, and Gray Partridge on Eagleson. I also tallied 26 species back in 2012, where an unexpected Northern Flicker at Mud Lake, a Red-winged Blackbird at the Hilda Road feeders, and Glaucous and Great Black-backed Gulls at the landfill were the best birds of the day.
On May 16th I headed over to Hurdman at lunch to search for some migrants. I only found 17 species in the hour I was there, and all but three were migrants. The first migrant was a Swamp Sparrow singing in the vegetation of a tiny, wet reedy patch that bore little resemblance to the cattail marshes in which they normally breed. The second was a Rose-breasted Grosbeak heard, but not seen, and while it is possible that they may breed here I have never come across any outside of migration. The third was a Black-and-white Warbler.
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!
The temperature dropped by the time Saturday rolled around, and it was only -19°C when I headed out birding. I was eager to add some more birds to my brand new year list, and started off the morning with a walk at Old Quarry Trail, hoping that the trails would be much quieter first thing in the morning given the frigid cold. I still needed Pileated Woodpecker for my list, and was hoping to find a few other surprises such as Ruffed Grouse, Northern Goshawk, an owl, some winter finches, or even a Black-backed Woodpecker. Any mammals would be welcome, too, as Old Quarry Trail is a good spot to see White-tailed Deer and porcupines. When I arrived I set off on my usual walk along the northern-most trail. There were only two other cars in the parking lot, and for most of my walk I saw no one on the trail.
I haven’t been able to get out birding as much as I had hoped over the holidays. For one thing, I didn’t have any days off except for the stat holidays; while this resulted in a four-day weekend for me, I only had the car for only three of them, and we had our typical December bad weather on two of them (including freezing rain on Boxing Day). However, my firm closed at noon on both December 23rd and 30th, so I was able to go birding right after work on both Fridays. As the weather was decent both days, I got to spend a little at places I usually don’t visit on the weekend – Hurdman and Billings Bridge.
On the first day of June I brought my camera to work with me and headed over to Hurdman at lunch, hoping to find some interesting butterflies and odes to photograph. Hurdman can be a very “buggy” place, so I was sure to find something interesting; at that time I still hadn’t seen my first damselflies of the year, and Hurdman is a great spot to find Eastern Forktails, Elegant Spreadwings, Powdered Dancers, Stream Bluets and Rainbow Bluets during the month of June. However, with the closure of the transitway between Hurdman and Laurier stations, as well as the detours and increased traffic on Nicholas Street resulting from the sinkhole on Rideau Street, it now takes much longer to get there so I am no longer able to spend as much time there on my lunch hour as I would like. Getting around downtown has become and adventure, and timely bus schedules have become the first casualty of all the construction.
As migration progresses and the weather turns warmer, I find myself going into “birding withdrawal” during the work week. Fortunately I was able to visit Hurdman Park at lunch time a couple of times this month in order to keep the symptoms of withdrawal in check. On my visit of May 11th last week I decided to visit the western part of the park since my normal route along the “feeder path” is now blocked due to the construction of the LRT station. Today I started my visit on the western side, but when that proved relatively unproductive, I ended up walking beneath the transitway bridge to the eastern side in order to check the tangles along the feeder trail. Although I managed to find some good birds and other interesting wildlife on both days, my visit today was by far the more rewarding of the two.
I was too busy enjoying warbler migration this past month to take many photos. Most of my birding outings involved craning my neck while searching for tiny, flitting birds high up in the green back-lit canopy, desperately trying to focus on a single distinguishing field mark before the bird disappeared into the foliage. These kinds of outings are not conducive for photography. Still, I managed to get a few birds in focus this past month – both in the binoculars and the camera’s viewfinder – and a few of them were even warblers.
As usual, Hurdman was a great place to spend my lunch hours, looking for migrants in the woods along the Rideau River. At the beginning of September, I knew migration had begun when I found a few Black-and-white Warblers with the resident American Redstarts and Common Yellowthroats. Two days later I discovered a Northern Parula, two Black-throated Green Warblers, and a Wilson’s Warbler as well.
The end of August is the beginning of one of my favourite birding seasons: fall migration. Even though identification is more difficult in the fall than in the spring – birds in winter or non-breeding plumage can be very drab and often resemble other species – the volume of birds seems to be greater and the migration process takes longer, commencing in August and ending in December. This means that every outing has the potential to turn up something interesting, whether a year bird, a life bird or a real rarity. I’m not particularly adept at finding rarities, but I do enjoy seeing species that I haven’t seen since the spring, and watching them feed and interact with other birds. Here are some highlights from the beginning of migration.