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.
It feels like migration has ended. Although my focus was on breeding birds this morning, I had hopes of finding a few last migrants moving through, especially after finding a singing Bay-breasted Warbler in my own subdivision yesterday morning in a nearby park. I visited two spots with specific breeding birds in mind – Nortel Marsh for Willow Flycatcher and Savannah Sparrow, and Shirley’s Bay for Brown Thrasher. The trails along the river at Shirley’s Bay are also a good spot to find migrants, such as the Canada Warbler I had there two years ago. And once it warmed up, I had hopes of finding some butterflies and dragonflies.
On May 30th I met with Chris Traynor for a morning of bug-hunting in the west end. My main goal was to look for River Jewelwings, a damselfly that I see much less frequently than the similar-looking Ebony Jewelwing. Both of these broad-winged damselflies (genus Calopteryx) breed in the flowing waters of medium-sized creeks and streams, particularly in forested areas. While Ebony Jewelwings are most commonly found in shallow, shady streams with much emergent vegetation, River Jewelwings prefer swifter and somewhat rocky streams. There aren’t too many streams I would characterize as “rocky” in Ottawa’s west end (they are more common up in the Gatineau Hills); indeed, I have found only one stream inhabited by these colourful damselflies: Watts Creek near Shirleys Bay, on the south side of Carling Avenue. However, the bank is very steep where I have seen them – it is about a five- or six-foot vertical drop to the water, and the top of the stream bank is too thickly vegetated to walk along in order to find another spot with a shorter drop. This makes photographing them quite difficult, as they like to perch on vegetation close to the water.
On Sunday, May 24th I headed out to the Moodie Drive marsh between Corkstown Road and the former Nortel property to listen (and look) for one of my favourite flycatchers, the Willow Flycatcher. I am not sure what makes it my favourite – perhaps it is because it was the last of Ottawa’s breeding flycatchers that I added to my life list, or perhaps it is because they are harder to find than the others and I need to make a special trip to see them each spring. Whatever the reason, I enjoy visiting the marsh on Moodie Drive in late May to listen for their distinct, sneezy “Fitz-bew!” song.
On Saturday I got up early as I only had a couple of hours until it was supposed to rain. My first stop of the day was Sarsaparilla Trail, where I heard a White-throated Sparrow singing as soon as I got out of the car. This reminded me of the White-throated Sparrow I had heard singing somewhere close to the parking lot all last summer; I wondered if the same territorial male had returned. What made this observation interesting is that I haven’t yet heard or seen any White-throats around, other than the three over-wintering sparrows at Mud Lake. This seems a bit late to me, as I’m sure I’ve seen them by mid-April in previous years.
Sunday was another gorgeous day so after lunch I went out to look for butterflies. I started off my walk at the Rideau Trail, but after seeing very little I decided to head over to the former Nortel campus instead. The woods here are a traditional spot to find overwintering butterflies on the first warm days of spring, and I’ve had luck finding Mourning Cloaks and Eastern Commas here in the past. I also wanted to check on a few spots where I’d heard Western Chorus Frogs calling in previous years.
The woods were quiet when I arrived – there weren’t many birds around, though a few chickadees flew up to me looking for handouts. It didn’t take long to find a couple of Mourning Cloaks circling each other as they flew up into the trees. As I was still watching them, a third landed on a tree in front of me.
The marsh that runs west from Moodie Drive to the area behind the Nortel campus is usually productive for a variety of breeding birds in the warmer months of the year. I visited the area again on the morning of June 22nd, still hoping to see or hear the Sedge Wrens that had taken up residence there. Two Savannah Sparrows were singing in the field south of the parking area, and a number of Tree and Barn Swallows were flying overhead as I made my way down the path that skirts the edge of the marsh. I saw a Northern Flicker, two Purple Finches, an American Redstart, and heard several Warbling Vireos, Song Sparrows, and a single Willow Flycatcher.
After my success in finding the first dragonflies of the season at the Beaver Trail five days earlier, I was eager to find some more and spent the last day of May on the trails of the South March Highlands where I’d had some luck before. I stopped at the Nortel Marsh first, hoping to find the Willow Flycatcher that I missed on my previous visit as well as a colony of Sedge Wrens that had taken up residence in the large sedge meadow north of the bike trail. I didn’t hear any Sedge Wrens singing, but I did find 27 species during my visit, including two Willow Flycatchers calling in the cattail marsh at the back, a Wilson’s Snipe perching on a stump, two female Purple Finches, two Brown Thrashers, one Marsh Wren, an Alder Flycatcher, three Bobolinks in the Equestrian Park, and two Savannah Sparrows in the same field as the Bobolinks.
I took some vacation time in late May, not to take in migration at Point Pelee as usual, but to head south to Florida for a few days! I didn’t spend a lot of time outside on the day before we left, but I did head over to the Nortel Marsh early on the morning of May 19th to try and find the Willow Flycatchers that breed there. I arrived around 6:00 am and immediately spotted a Great Egret in the wet area just north of the Corkstown Road trail….my first of the year.
In the tall grass of the equestrian park on the other side of the bike trail I heard both a Bobolink and an Eastern Meadowlark singing, both grass-loving species that are highly specific to open fields such as those by the airport. It is always something of a surprise to me that both species live here, so close to Highway 417 and only 10 minutes away from home.
The sun finally came out on Easter Sunday. I started my day with a visit to the Richmond Lagoons, intending to take the new trail all the way around the lagoons and into the woods. There is a flooded spot in the woods where the Jock River passes quite close to the trail; I thought I might find some interesting birds tucked away in there.
The first birds I heard when I got out of the car were a Song Sparrow, the resident phoebe, a Brown-headed Cowbird and the gobbling of a Wild Turkey. When I reached the lagoons, I counted about 300-400 Canada Geese in the water with more flying overhead, as well as two Ring-necked Ducks, a male Wood Duck, and a female Bufflehead.