Back in 2011 I wrote about a visit to Andrew Haydon Park where I had the privilege to see both a Red-necked Phalarope and a Parasitic Jaeger. Today I had the opportunity to see another Red-necked Phalarope the same time a different jaeger was reported.
It was a cool, gloomy morning threatening rain, so I wasn’t sure I wanted to go out birding. At 10:00 I received a report that two Red-necked Phalaropes, as well as several Sanderlings, Pectoral Sandpipers, and Bonaparte’s Gulls, were refound at Ottawa Beach (Andrew Haydon Park East). Then, almost three hours later another report came in: a jaeger was also present at Ottawa Beach! It wasn’t a flyby, as so often happens with rare birds; instead it had landed and was resting on the water. That report settled my indecision, so I headed off to the river. Unfortunately by the time I arrived it was just a dark blob bobbing on the water near Britannia Pier, so I turned my attention to the shorebirds instead. I saw the Bonaparte’s Gull standing in the water, the Pectoral Sandpipers and Sanderlings near the mouth of the creek, and both Red-necked Phalaropes. One was foraging on the opposite bank, but the other was on my side of the creek only a few feet away!
By Labour Day weekend shorebird migration is well underway and some of the less common species start to arrive in our region. While the Eagleson storm water ponds are a great spot to find common species such as both Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Least Sandpipers and Semipalmated Sandpipers, the mudflats of the Ottawa River attract a variety of other birds, especially those that prefer tidal beaches and rushing water. Unfortunately, the water level of the Ottawa River depends not just the amount of rainfall we receive during the summer, but also the actions of the dam further upstream. We have received little rainfall this summer, as in most of our summers recently, however, this year the dam gates have remained shut so that the falling water levels have created the mudflats necessary to attract flocks of shorebirds. It has been great to see the sandbars emerge on the river on my daily bus commute along the Sir John A. MacDonald Parkway, and I was thrilled to see the mudflats developing at Andrew Haydon Park in recent weeks. This past weekend I went looking for shorebirds early in the morning, and the huge exposed muddy beach at Ottawa Beach was the best I’ve seen it in years. As long as the dam gates remain closed, this part of the Ottawa River shoreline will remain the best spot for viewing hard-to-find shorebird species throughout the fall given its accessibility.
On July 22nd I received an email from Chris Lewis about a new dragonfly spot along the Ottawa River. I’d been to Shelia McKee Park out near Dunrobin just once, on an OFNC trip in 2015 to look for herps; it has a network of woodland trails and a steep staircase that leads down from the top of the cliff to the rocky beach at the bottom. Chris said she found evidence of a very recent dragonfly emergence of in the form of both exuviae and teneral dragonflies; she recognized exuviae of both clubtails and emeralds, though she was not able to identify them to species. She saw an unidentified darner and several teneral meadowhawks in the woods, and several Powdered Dancers and a pair of Stream Bluets in tandem near the water. However, it was her clubtail report that intrigued me: she mentioned one Lancet Clubtail, both mature and teneral Black-shouldered Spinylegs, several Midland Clubtails, and one Cobra Clubtail which had become the unfortunate meal of a Midland Clubtail. It is amazing that I’ve never considered going back to this park for odes before – the shoreline here is quite rocky, with little or no emergent vegetation, reminiscent of Britannia Point at Mud Lake or the causeway at Morris Island, both of which are great spots for clubtails. Curious to see these clubtails for myself, I headed out the following Sunday (July 28th) and brought my net in case there was anything worth catching.
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.
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.
We are now nearly three weeks into the new year and already I’m detecting a rather concerning weather trend: the sun comes out during the week, when I’m working, and then when the weekend arrives the clouds and the precipitation (both rain and snow so far this month) arrive with it. I prefer to do my birdwatching and photography on days with some sun, as the sunlight brightens up the dreary gray-and-white landscape and makes the colours on the birds pop. It’s often difficult to see the field marks on a dark bird silhouetted against a white sky, especially from a distance; and in the woods, it’s often too dark beneath the trees to get any decent photographs. Still, I hate being cooped up indoors for any length of time, so even when it’s been rainy or snowy I’ve been trying to get out to find some birds to add to my year list. The list has been growing slowly but steadily, with 12 new birds added since I went back to work on January 4th.
On Friday, June 26 I took the day off work to go dragon-hunting at Morris Island. First, however, I stopped in at the Deschenes Rapids parking lot at the end of Woodroffe Avenue to go searching for not one, but two rare birds. The Little Egret was back after having spent some time wandering along the Jock River near Manotick, the ponds along Eagleson Road, the pond near Palladium Drive in Kanata, and however many unknown places in between. The egret has finally found a spot to its liking along the Ottawa River, spending the past few days at the mouth of Pinecrest Creek on the east side of Mud Lake or along the shore of Andrew Haydon Park in the mornings before flying off to spend the day elsewhere. In the evenings, it has been seen flying in to roost on Conroy Island, presumably because it feels at home with the colony of Great Egrets, Black-crowned Night Herons and Ring-billed Gulls that nest there. This pattern has become somewhat predictable, so that many people who missed it elsewhere have been able to see it.
In mid-June Chris Lewis received correspondence and photos from two members of the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists regarding their recent sightings of Rapids Clubtails along the Mississippi River. A couple of these clubtails were observed along the shore at Blakeney on June 15, 2015, while one or two others were spotted at the bottom of the power station discharge channel next to Metcalfe Park in Almonte. Chris was interested in trying to track these small dragonflies down, and so on June 20th she, Mike Tate and I headed out to Almonte.
The Rapids Clubtail flies between mid-June and mid-July and is considered rare and local because of its preference for fast-moving waters along various water courses. It was first discovered in the Ottawa area by Paul Catling in mid-June 2001 when he found them at the five-arch bridge in Pakenham and at the rapids near Blakeney. In 2009, it became the first Ontario dragonfly to be added to the endangered species list; the larvae are extremely sensitive to river degradation resulting from the building of dams and increasing pollution levels. While it previously inhabited four rivers in southern Ontario, the Rapids Clubtail is now found only along the Humber and Mississippi rivers.
Rapids Clubtail habitat in Almonte (click to enlarge)
Hundreds of Canada Geese stage in Ottawa during fall migration, giving birders an opportunity to sort through them for different species and odd forms.
Between September 26 and 28, 2014, the Ontario Field Ornithologists hosted their annual convention in Ottawa. While the evening programs included banquets and social events such as the OFO Annual General Meeting, “Birds and Beers”, “Birding Jeopardy” with Sarah Rupert, presentations from Bruce Di Labio and keynote speaker Chris Earley (whose books I own!), and the presentation of the Distinguished Ornithologist Award, the majority of the daylight hours were spent birding Ottawa’s hot spots with leaders provided from the OFNC, the Club des ornithologues de l’Outaouais, Bird Studies Canada, the Pembroke Area Field Naturalists, the Innis Point Bird Observatory, and the Wild Bird Care Center. I was co-leader with various other OFNC members for trips on each of the three days, with full day trips to the East End on Friday and Sunday and an afternoon walk along the Ottawa River on Saturday.
The weather was fantastic all three days, and although most birders would agree that a cold north wind would have helped to bring in the migrants, I don’t think too many people complained about the hot, sunny 27°C afternoons.
Today at lunch I finally had the chance to go look for the male Eurasian Wigeon that has been hanging out around the mouth of the Rideau Canal since the end of May. It is believed to be injured, and has been most frequently observed on the Ottawa River near the entrance to the locks or the grassy hill on the western bank near where the boats tie up. I had tried for it once, a few weeks ago, but didn’t see it; when I saw the weekly Ottawa report yesterday advising it was still there I decided to try again. It was a hot, sunny afternoon and for the first time in a week I didn’t have any obligations at lunch preventing me from going for a walk.