Archives

Spring at the Richmond Lagoons

Sora

The Richmond Sewage Lagoons (formally known as the Richmond Conservation Area) is one of the few places in Ottawa that did not close its parking lots during the COVID-19 pandemic, and as such, it is one of the few birding spots I visited regularly during the months of April and May. The habitat is unique: there are three cells left from the former sewage lagoons, each containing its own mini-ecosystem. The first cell as one approaches from the parking lot on Eagleson (the southernmost cell), has deep water and extensive cattails, making it great for Pied-billed Grebes, rails, bitterns, Swamp Sparrows and waterfowl, mainly geese and dabbling ducks. The middle cell has deeper water and very little cattails, making it a better spot to see diving ducks. The third cell used to be almost entirely choked with cattails interspersed with small patches of open water, making it the best spot to watch and listen for rails. This spring when I arrived on my first visit I was dismayed to see that not only had the cattails been chopped down, but so had some of the tall trees bordering the cell. The cell looked like a soup of water and what was left of the churned up marsh bottom and vegetation, although a deep puddle ringed with a few cattails remained.
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Butterflies of Early Spring

Spring Azures

Butterflies emerge in late winter or early spring as soon as the first warm, sunny days arrive and the temperatures reach about 13-15°C. This could happen as early as mid-March here in Ottawa, although the butterflies usually don’t stay out for very long – the nights are still cold in late March and early April, and they may not become fully active until the weather warms up to a consistent 15°C in late April. The first butterflies that emerge are those that spent the winter in their adult form, hibernating in mixed or deciduous woodlands beneath the bark of trees, in brush piles, or in other nooks and crannies where they are protected from the wind and biting cold Arctic air. Only a few species hibernate as adults; others overwinter as caterpillars, eggs, or pupae contained within their protective chrysalises. Still others are unable to tolerate Canadian winters in any form, and migrate south to warmer regions – the Monarch is the most familiar of these.

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Spring Arrives in midst of the Pandemic

Mourning Cloak

It’s been another slow spring; although the snow was quick to melt this year without any flooding, it took until the last week of April before temperatures reached a daily high of more than 10°C, and not once did Ottawa reach 20°C – in fact our highest temperature last month was 16.8°C (normally the highest temperature falls in between 20.7°C and 28.5°C). This is only the eighth time since records began in 1870 that April temperatures stayed below 17°C. Migrants have been slow to trickle in, however, this may be a reflection of the greatly reduced number of trails and habitats I visit rather than the actual number of birds passing through, as eBird sightings have been steady despite the cooler temperatures and persistent north winds. Despite the weather and the smaller area in which I’ve been birding, I’ve had some good mammal sightings in the past few weeks, and have seen my first butterflies of the season.

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A Storm of Warblers

Palm Warbler

I usually take the second week of May off every year, and head south to spend time birding Point Pelee National Park with my mother. I was unable to make the trip this year, but as I needed a break from work and a change of scenery I spent three nights in Westport instead (more to follow in a separate post). Spending time at Murphy’s Point Provincial Park, Frontenac Provincial Park, and Foley Mountain Conservation Area was fantastic, but unlike Point Pelee, these areas are not migration hotspots or migrant traps, and I had to work hard to get as many species as I did. As a result, I wasn’t expecting much when I returned to Ottawa on Thursday, but it seemed the floodgates had finally opened and the birds were moving north in large numbers. I went out Friday morning, and although the temperature hadn’t improved – the day was overcast and the temperature was still below normal for this time of year – the birds must have been getting anxious to get back to their breeding grounds, for the variety of birds at the Eagleson ponds was amazing.
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Looking for Wood-Warblers

Canada Warbler

We are now nearly two weeks into September and I have not found as many warblers or songbird migrants as I had hoped. In a previous blog entry I wrote about how edge habitats can be productive for migrants, especially those with a good diversity of plants which provide cover and food sources for not just the birds of the two dominant habitats, but others as well. I’ve been spending most of my weekend mornings at the Eagleson Ponds, followed by trips to other places with good edge habitat – last weekend it was the Old Quarry Trail, Beaver Trail, and Sarsaparilla Trail; this weekend it was the Richmond Sewage Lagoons, Rideau Trail, and Sarsaparilla Trail. Each time I’ve been disappointed, wondering where all the migrants were. I suppose I could just go to Mud Lake and rack up a list of 30+ species there, but it is often packed with birders and photographers this time of year, and I prefer quieter places.

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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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