Stony Swamp in Ottawa’s west end is home to a variety of different flora and fauna. The trails are popular among families for hand-feeding the chickadees and among birders for finding Black-backed Woodpeckers and finches such as Pine Siskins in the winter. There are many different ecosystems within the conservation area – such as rocky alvars, ponds, marshes, streams, deciduous and coniferous forests – which makes this one of the most biodiverse conservation areas within the city.
Despite the large number of birds that breed, overwinter, or migrate through Stony Swamp each year, it is relatively under-birded. The closest trail is only five minutes from my home in Kanata South, so I spend a lot of time within the conservation area – particularly in the warmer months. However, I very rarely come across other birders or photographers on the weekends, probably because it’s not a migrant trap like Mud Lake – the birds are spread out more, making them more difficult to find. Still, the trails are worth checking for pockets of warblers in the spring or flocks of finches in the winter, in addition to all the birds that breed here in the summer: Virginia Rails, Pied-Billed Grebes, Eastern Towhees, Field Sparrows, Swamp Sparrows, Black-throated Green Warblers, Black-and-white Warblers, Eastern Phoebes, and so much more.
The August long weekend is here, and it’s been brutally hot and humid. Temperatures have reached as high as 32°C with a humidex of 41. It didn’t feel quite so hot yesterday, but today was awful. The sun was relentless, and there was no cooling breeze to provide relief. Being in the shade helped, but even so, I didn’t feel like staying out for very long.
We haven’t had much rain in the last month, so the water levels of the Ottawa River have dropped and mudflats are developing in Shirley’s Bay and Ottawa Beach. I wanted to look for shorebirds, but Shirley’s Bay didn’t sound too appealing – a long mosquito-infested walk through the woods to get to the dyke, which is almost completely open to the baking sun – all the while carrying a scope that sometimes feels like it weighs as much as I do. So yesterday I drove over to Andrew Haydon Park instead.
Late summer is a great time for birding. Shorebirds, flycatchers, and warblers which breed further north have moved into the area, while our resident breeding birds are preparing for their journey south. It’s a fantastic time to check out the woods and river for both residents and migrants before they leave for good. Personally, it’s one of my favourite times of year, especially as the summer weather tends to linger on into the end of September – unlike the fickle weather of May, you can go birding in shorts and sandals instead of gloves and winter coats. The diversity is just as excellent, and it is possible to find species that usually bypass Ottawa in the spring lingering here in the fall. Here are a few things I’ve found recently while out birding around the west end.
By late July nesting season is over for many species and the newly fledged young are beginning to learn how to make their way in the world. Although the young birds are rapidly gaining their independence, their parents are still present, seeking out food sources and teaching their offspring how to forage on their own while avoiding predators and other dangers. I headed out to Stony Swamp one morning in late July and was surprised by how many different fledglings I found – sparrows, mainly, but also robins, Blue Jays and even a Downy Woodpecker.
I started the morning with a walk at the Beaver Trail, where I observed 25 species in total. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird was present in the parking lot, and I heard a pair of Alder Flycatchers in the marsh – this isn’t a species I hear often here anymore. I also heard a Common Gallinule in the marsh close to where a Belted Kingfisher was hanging out, though the kingfisher didn’t stay long when I arrived at the observation dock.
June is one of my favourite months. Normally the weather is hot and sunny by the time the solstice rolls around, the birds are all in full song, and butterflies and dragonflies are emerging in woodlands, fields and wetlands. However, the weather this month has not been great. The rain from May continued on and off this month, keeping water levels of the rivers and ponds higher than normal, and likely delaying the emergence of many insects. The weekends have been nice, at least; I’ve been able to get out early in the day in order to look for new birds for my year list and any butterflies and dragonflies that may have emerged. While my enthusiasm has certainly declined since our amazing trip to Costa Rica, I’ve found myself regaining interest in visiting trails and conservation areas close to home, hoping to find some species I haven’t seen since the previous summer.
The day after my trip to the Bill Mason Center, I made plans with Chris Lewis and Chris Traynor to head out to the Cedar Grove Nature Trail in Marlborough Forest to look for odes around Roger’s Pond. I would be co-leading an OFNC outing there the following weekend with Jakob Mueller, a reptiles and amphibians guy, and wanted to get an idea of the dragonflies and damselflies that were flying. As we weren’t meeting at the parking lot there until 8:30, I headed out to Sarsaparilla Trail first, then the Rideau Trail for a quick look around.
After two gray, rainy, miserable weekends, the sun finally came out on the Saturday of the long weekend. We’d been spoiled with hot, summery weather on Wednesday and Thursday when the temperatures reached the high 20s; however, Saturday morning was cold with persistent north winds that just don’t seem to want to leave. I headed out early to Jack Pine Trail, hoping to photograph the towhees again and also to find some returning residents, such as Virginia Rail, Alder Flycatcher, Eastern Wood-pewee, and Ovenbird. If it had been warmer, I would have also looked for butterflies and dragonflies.
One of the first birds I heard as I entered the woods was the Red-eyed Vireo. As the trees are now leafing out, I wasn’t able to spot this small, greenish canopy dweller whose monotonous song rings throughout parks and woodlands throughout the summer months. This was a year bird for me, though it’s the latest I’ve had one since I started keeping track with eBird.
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.