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April Sun, April Showers

Winter Wren

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.

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A Shadow at Last

Shadow Darner

The Equinox fell on Thursday, and by then the winds were blowing down from the north, putting an abrupt end to summer. Although I quite love the crisp, cool days of fall, I hate the cold early mornings which require hats and gloves to stay warm. On Saturday I headed out to Jack Pine Trail, leaving at 8:15 – the sun is visibly lower in the sky now – and I wished I had brought gloves as my hands were so cold. A Blue Jay and some chickadees were feeding on seeds left on the ground in the parking lot, and it seemed strange not to hear any Red-eyed Vireos or Eastern Wood-pewees singing.
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Labour Day Ramblings

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Yesterday morning I went birding on my own again, stopping in at Sarsaparilla Trail, the Rideau Trail, and Richmond Lagoons before ending up at the ponds on Eagleson. I arrived at Sarsparilla Trail at 7:30, but unfortunately I wasn’t the first one there; two young people were flying a drone from the boardwalk. I had never seen a drone in action before, and was momentarily intrigued by it; however, this put a damper on my birding experience as it was too noisy to hear any chip notes from the birds in the marsh. This resulted in an uncharacteristic zero-sparrow list, though I did hear a Gray Catbird, and find a Brown Creeper, a Pileated Woodpecker, and a Ruffed Grouse in my short time there. The Rideau Trail wasn’t much better, though I did see a phoebe flycatching from a post in the parking lot fence and two House Wrens in the hydro cut – I wondered if one was the same individual that I saw along the boardwalk on Saturday.

From there I drove over to the Richmond Lagoons, traditionally a great spot for shorebirds and ducks in the fall. The drought, however, had dried the ponds completely up and I was curious to see whether the ponds had filled again after the recent rains. To my disappointment they were still fairly dry, but the birding was still pretty good so I spent an hour walking the loop that goes through the woods, cutting close to the Jock River.

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A Watery Waterfowl Weekend in Ottawa

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

Once again we had a cooler than normal weekend in Ottawa, and this time it was completely overcast with torrential downpours on Saturday. I only managed to get out for a few hours each morning, and didn’t see a single dragonfly. With the weather so uncooperative for dragon-hunting, I decided to spend my time birding instead – and what better weekend to look for water birds? I was especially hoping to see some herons, as I’ve noticed an unprecedented number of Black-crowned Night-herons flying around lately – a pair near the storm water pond at Mud Lake, one near the War Museum on Scott Street, one along Old Richmond Road in Stony Swamp, two from my back window (a new yard bird!) and one flying along the creek at Moodie and Highway 417 on two separate occasions.

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Shorebirds in the Afternoon

Long-billed Dowitcher

Long-billed Dowitcher

On Sunday Jon Ruddy and I met at the Moodie Drive quarry pond late in the afternoon to scope out the birds on the pond. I usually don’t do much birding late in the day, but I have been thinking of upgrading my Nikon Fieldscope ED50 to something more powerful, and Jon generously agreed to meet me so I could try out his new Vortex Viper. The quarry pond was a great spot to meet, since it is fairly close to where both of us live, and has great potential for interesting gulls, geese and other waterfowl. Unfortunately large flocks of Canada Geese were all flying out of the quarry pond when we arrived, leaving us with a few Redheads, Ruddy Ducks, Hooded Mergansers and Common Mergansers interspersed with a raft of at least 100 Ring-necked Ducks. A single Double-crested Cormorant and a Red-tailed Hawk were the only other species we found.

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Ode Investigations

Northern Crescent

Northern Crescent

On June 13th I went for a walk at Jack Pine Trail. This large Stony Swamp Trail can be good for odonates, and although I thought it was probably early for the Arrowhead Spiketail and various emerald species I’d seen on June 29th last year, I was hoping to find some Fragile Forktails, Emerald Spreadwings, or Northern Spreadwings as well as the usual breeding birds and butterflies. I didn’t see any really exciting birds; my best birds were a Double-crested Cormorant flying over, a Red-breasted Nuthatch feeding its newly-fledged young, two House Wrens singing in the alvar, a Brown Thrasher, two Alder Flycatchers, and six species of warbler (Ovenbird, Black-and-white Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler and Pine Warbler).

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Damselfly Photography at Richmond Lagoons

Sedge Sprite

Sedge Sprite

On June 6, 2015, I visited the Bruce Pit and a couple of the Stony Swamp trails before heading off to the Richmond Lagoons to look for a few common birds that I was missing from my year list. At Sarsaparilla Trail I saw a Snowshoe Hare near the entrance to the woods and heard a Northern Waterthrush singing somewhere across the pond, a new bird for my year list, though one I wasn’t expecting. Also of note were a Marsh Wren singing in the reeds right next to the boardwalk and a male Scarlet Tanager in the woods. I found him singing his hoarse, robin-like song right at the end of the branch overhead, his bright red underparts glowing in the foliage.

At the Bruce Pit I added Common Gallinule to my year list when I spotted an adult walking with a young bird at the edge of the cattails. I also saw a Virginia Rail and a beaver in the creek, a Belted Kingfisher hovering over the pond, pairs of Killdeer and Spotted Sandpiper feeding along the water’s edge, and a couple of Chestnut-sided Warblers at the back of the trail. I heard an American Redstart and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing but wasn’t able to spot either of them. It was too early for any dragonflies to be flying yet.

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