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Ode-Hunting in Early July

Taiga Bluet

Taiga Bluet

By early July a variety of dragonflies and damselflies are on the wing, although some of the early species – such as the Beaverpond and Spiny Baskettails – have already finished flying for the year. This is usually the time of year when I start focusing on odes on afternoon outings in addition to enjoying them as distractions on morning birding outings. While some of the best ode-hunting can be found along the Ottawa River (including Mud Lake, Andrew Haydon Park, Petrie Island, and Morris Island) there are some great spots in my own backyard, including Bruce Pit, Stony Swamp, and the Eagleson storm water ponds (which will be the focus of a separate post of its own). Bruce Pit is a particularly great spot for odes, and some unusual ones have turned up there including Swift River Cruiser, Black Meadowhawk and Black Saddlebags. Eastern Red Damsels used to breed there prior to 2010, and I decided to spend the afternoon of July 4th wading around the edges of Bruce Pit to see if I could find any. Unfortunately, the area where we used to see them (and odes such as Amber-winged Spreadwing and Saffron-winged Meadowhawk) has become overgrown with cattails and phragmites over the year, so I wasn’t sure it was possible to walk along the shore where we used to go a decade ago (I can’t believe it has been so long …. apologies to those who have never visited my old LiveJournal site, back in the days when I used to host my images on Photobucket which no longer allows free hosting and has hidden many of my images).

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Northern Visitors

Iceland Gull

This November has witnessed one of the most dramatic battles between the seasons I have ever seen: the battle between Winter and Summer. Autumn has been watching from the sidelines as first Summer forced its way back onto the stage with temperatures ranging from 19°C to 23°C between November 5th and November 11th; birds were singing and butterflies were flying again on Remembrance Day. Winter fought back on November 18th with the first sub-zero day of the season and a high of -3°C, but Summer regained the upper hand when the thermometer rose to 15°C two days later. Winter’s next strategy involved dumping almost 8 cm of snow on our region on November 22nd, with another 2 cm two days later. We haven’t seen this much snow on the ground since March 9th, and normally don’t get this much until about December 11th. Summer has since retaliated by raising temperatures to almost 5°C the past two days, and 7°C today. The snow is melting, and although it looks like Summer is finally weakening, I’m dreading to see what Winter has in store next. Fortunately it looks as though Autumn has had enough of these two fighting over its territory, and has sent them both packing as temperatures are supposed remain in the single digits next week with more rain than snow in the forecast.

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A Green Comma in Stony Swamp

Green Comma (Old Quarry Trail, June 2019)

Once again I’m behind in my blogging – it seems once spring arrives, I end up with too many photos and too many stories I want to tell, and not enough time to do any actual blogging! I’m so far behind on my blog that I haven’t even finished all my posts from 2019 – so much for getting caught up over the winter, then during the early weeks of the pandemic – and I’m even behind on sorting my photos from last year.

I could try to write less and post more photos, but I don’t want this to turn into the type of blog that says “I went here and I saw this, and this and this”. I like to research a bit about the species I’ve photographed, and find something interesting to say about them. My feeling about nature photography is that a picture is rarely worth a thousand words; it shows one species or one scene in just one moment in time. It rarely says anything about that creature’s life cycle, its distribution, how common it is, whether its population is booming or declining, its relationship to other species, and any other “fun facts” that make that creature worth getting to know. This is why I stay away from social media sites that focus on pure photography and look for the ones that get into identification or discussion.
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November Summary

Snow x Canada Goose hybrid

As expected, November turned out to be a dark, cold and dismal month. Temperatures fell to zero or below every single night, we had our first snowstorm on Remembrance Day (November 11th), and temperatures dropped to a frigid -10°C for a week in the middle of the month. Weather records indicate that this was the coldest November since 1995 with an average temperature of -1.87°C; the normal range usually falls between between -1.08°C and 4.20°C. Only six days were above average, with four days below the minimum temperature ever recorded. Fortunately warmer temperatures caused all the snow to melt in the last week of the month, but as a result of these below-seasonal temperatures, I saw no butterflies or dragonflies this month, and my backyard chipmunks disappeared early for their winter hibernation.

Birding in November means watching the feeders, the landfill (the Trail Road Landfill can be thought of as a giant feeder for gulls, crows and blackbirds) and the river. Driving through farmland and open fields can also be productive as the first returning winter residents, such as Rough-legged Hawks, Snow Buntings, Northern Shrikes, and Snowy Owls, look for suitable habitats to spend the winter. Ponds can be productive early in the month, but once the water freezes any lingering waterfowl or shorebirds will disappear.

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The Second Great Ottawa Flood

Muskrat

It was only two years that the Ottawa-Gatineau region suffered its worst flood in decades. Extraordinary amounts of rain fell in April and May (including 159 millimetres in April alone), causing the Ottawa and Gatineau Rivers to burst their banks and bring devastation to houses and infrastructure situated in the flood zone. We coped with it, we learned from it, we moved on. Or so we thought. This spring local rivers crept higher and higher, until April 28 when this year’s flooding was declared Ottawa-Gatineau’s worst on record with the water still rising. On that date the water level in Arnprior was 14 centimetres above the record set in 2017 and the water level in Britannia was 2 centimetres above the record set in 2017.

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Images from Migration

Mourning Cloak

It’s been a slow start to spring migration. Normally by mid-May returning birds are everywhere, and songbirds are busy feeding and singing in the smallest of parks and unlikeliest of yards. This year, however, with the cold weather and heavy rains it feels like we are still two weeks behind schedule – I saw my first warbler species of the season (a Pine Warbler) at Mud Lake on April 14th, my second (a Yellow-rumped) at Andrew Haydon Park on April 21st, and then my third warbler (a Black-and-White) at the Eagleson Ponds on May 4th. It doesn’t help that Ottawa’s most dynamic and productive migration hotspot, Mud Lake, is closed to the public due to the flooding along the river, but even so I would have thought I’d have seen more warblers by now. It’s been difficult to find new species to add to my year list, even visiting different trails and conservation areas with Mud Lake off limits. Here are a few photos and some of my interesting finds from the past week.

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The Hawks of Stony Swamp

Northern Goshawk

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.

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Mammals of Old Quarry Trail

Snowshoe Hare

It’s difficult to plan a mammal-watching excursion here in Ottawa. Most of my mammal sightings are random occurrences; they are much more secretive than birds, and do not conveniently give away their location with boisterous song in the summer or quiet chip notes in the non-breeding season. Diurnal mammals such as squirrels and chipmunks are the exception – both are quick to voice their displeasure with or fear of intruders in their territory. However, most other mammals are silent and prefer not to be noticed.

Stony Swamp is home to a large number of mammals, from the tiny Southern Red-backed Vole to the large White-tailed Deer and fierce coyote. By spending a lot of time on the trails – particularly in the evening or first thing in the morning, before it gets fully light or too crowded – you can see many of these mammals over the course of a year, but it’s difficult to tally more than a couple of species in a single outing. I find the Old Quarry Trail is one of the most reliable trails for seeing mammals such as Snowshoe Hare and porcupine, so I decided to spend some time there this morning.

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A Slow Start to Spring

Common Grackle

By the end of March temperatures were back to seasonal again, with daily highs between 6 and 8°C. Then it got cold again in early April, with snow in the first week. The birds were coming back, though, and with a long Easter weekend right at the beginning of the month, I was able to get out and spend some time looking for migrants.

On Good Friday (March 30th) I counted 20 species at the Eagleson ponds, including at least five Song Sparrows, two American Tree Sparrows, one Dark-eyed Junco, and eight robins. Blackbirds were back in good numbers; I observed at least five male Red-winged Blackbirds and 15 Common Grackles! In the water, a male Common Merganser had joined the five Hooded Mergansers – two males and a female were swimming in the northern pond while a male and female were swimming together in the southern pond.

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The Winter Doldrums

Northern Pintail

The winter doldrums hit early, and hit hard. After a late start to winter, there were two feet of snow on the ground by Christmas, and by New Year’s Day we were in the grip of a week-long deep freeze with temperatures rising only as high as -17°C during the day – most of the time we were right around -20°C. From then on we suffered the usual bitter cold/messy thaw/winter storm cycle that characterizes our Ottawa winter throughout January and February. While a good number of Snowy Owls were present in the region, there were no winter finches, no Bohemian Waxwings, no northern woodpeckers, and no unusual owls or raptors (i.e. Boreal Owl, Gyrfalcon) to add excitement to the birding scene. Less and less I found a reason to go out, even on those weekends when it wasn’t snowing/raining or bitterly cold, and I lost the motivation to keep a winter list or work on my year list – anything that’s in the first two months of 2018 will still be around when the weather warms up in April.

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