Usually the first two weeks of April are a slog to get through – it still looks and feels like March, cold north winds and long spells of rain manage to out-compete the longed-for southerly winds and warm, sunny days, and although migration should be well under way, it takes forever for the next spate of migrants to arrive. Then one day it happens: you realize the snow is finally all gone, the ponds are ice-free, the buds on the trees look ready to burst open, and your neighbourhood Chipping Sparrows are back and singing right outside your window. The temperatures are finally reaching double-digits on a daily basis, and there are new birds moving in! The second half (well, the last third, really) of April is when the birding really picks up and it really begins to feel like spring. This truly is the beginning of my favourite time of year; here are a few of the things that make birding in late April so wonderful.
Mother Nature has been toying with us. After some great spring-like weather at the end of February, temperatures plummeted to well below seasonal. By March 12th the daily high is supposed to be 0°C; for the last two weeks it’s been much lower, with last weekend’s temperatures below -10°C. I was tired of being cooped up due to the cold weather, so last Sunday I went out to look for Gray Partridges, gulls and hawks south of Kanata despite the frigid temperatures. I struck out completely – it was too cold even for the birds.
On January 1st I woke up early to go birding. The morning was cold, but I was eager to start my new year list. I decided to head to Shirley’s Bay first as I was hoping to see the Bald Eagles around the nest; although I didn’t get the eagles, I found about 30 Snow Buntings foraging along the shore. The only other birds I noted there were American Crow, Common Raven, American Robin, and a goldfinch. I didn’t get photos of any them, either; one thing I hope to do this year is to take a good enough photo of each species I see and add them to my eBird checklists. The new eBird profiles allow you to see how many species you have photographed and uploaded to the eBird library. I have been adding photos to my checklists since this feature first became available last year, but am missing quite a few species on my life list; I figure this is a fun way to try to get good photos of even the common species.
After about a week of temperatures in the double digits, on November 20th the temperature plummeted. The past week has been cold, with most days not even reaching the freezing mark. Worse, a heavy snowfall on November 20th and 21st dumped more than 10 cm on Ottawa; so even though a few trees and shrubs were still sporting green leaves, it looks like winter has begun a full month early, given that the solstice falls on December 21st this year. Even going by meteorological seasons, which uses December 1st as the start of winter, and March 1st as the beginning of spring, winter is still more than a week early. Maybe we’ll get lucky and find ourselves back in the plus-double digits on February 20th, a full month before the vernal equinox.
I was off on Friday and had to go downtown for an appointment first thing in the morning; it was a gorgeous day, so after I was finished I headed to Mud Lake to do some birding. I entered via the southwest corner on Howe Street and found a Gray Catbird sitting silently in a shrub. Not long after that I encountered my first flock of birds foraging in the woods; pishing brought out an Ovenbird, a couple of Tennessee Warblers, and a beautiful male Black-throated Blue Warbler. A little further along I saw a Nashville Warbler foraging close to the ground and heard the brief, sweet trill of a Pine Warbler issuing from the trees near the observation dock.
On Sunday of the Labour Day weekend Chris Lewis and I spent the morning and early afternoon looking for birds and bugs. We met at Mud Lake at 7:00 am to check out the warbler action, then headed over to Trail 10 once the day warmed up and the trails started becoming busy. Once we were finished there, we returned to Mud Lake to look for odes. It was a good morning with a lot of walking, and we saw a lot of different things.
Our first visit to Mud Lake lasted just over an hour. We started out at the ridge, where the sun was just hitting the highest branches of the trees. The warmth of the sun stirs the insects into activity, which then attracts all sorts of insectivores looking for food. We did see a good number of birds in the tree tops, including a couple of Nashville and Cape May Warblers, several Tennessee and Yellow-rumped Warblers, and at least three Eastern Phoebes. Warbling Vireos were still singing, and a couple of Red-eyed Vireos were foraging low enough in the trees to identify them without hearing their familiar song.
On the Friday before the Labour Day long weekend we got to leave work early. It was a beautiful day, so I decided to bring my birding gear and head out to Mud Lake after lunch. Migration is well under way now, and there’s no better place in the city to take it all in than Mud Lake – particularly since it’s one of the few places I can get by bus during the week. I knew I had plenty of time to wander around before my express bus to Kanata started running, so instead of going straight to Mud Lake, I took the 87 to the base of Woodroffe Avenue and walked across the parkway to the Deschenes Rapids lookout. Only four days ago I’d spotted an adult Bald Eagle perching in a tree above the small inlet here during my morning bus ride – an awesome bird for my bus list, and the main reason why I decided to start my afternoon adventure here.