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Birding in late April means…

Ring-necked Duck

Usually the first two weeks of April are a slog to get through – it still looks and feels like March, cold north winds and long spells of rain manage to out-compete the longed-for southerly winds and warm, sunny days, and although migration should be well under way, it takes forever for the next spate of migrants to arrive. Then one day it happens: you realize the snow is finally all gone, the ponds are ice-free, the buds on the trees look ready to burst open, and your neighbourhood Chipping Sparrows are back and singing right outside your window. The temperatures are finally reaching double-digits on a daily basis, and there are new birds moving in! The second half (well, the last third, really) of April is when the birding really picks up and it really begins to feel like spring. This truly is the beginning of my favourite time of year; here are a few of the things that make birding in late April so wonderful.

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Searching for Migrants in Stony Swamp

Rain and thunderstorms were in the forecast Saturday morning, so I went birding close to home as I didn’t have much time before the rain was supposed to start. Although it was still sunny when I left, I decided to visit the Rideau Trail and Sarsaparilla Trail as I knew I didn’t have enough time to visit a larger trail like Jack Pine, though I’ve been meaning to return there for a while now. I haven’t been to these two trails since Labour Day, and was hoping to find some different migrants there, but once again the trails were disappointingly quiet.

When I reached the parking lot at Sarsaparilla Trail the first thing I noticed were a couple of crows flying up into the trees. The second thing I noticed was the Snowshoe Hare in the grass at the edge of the parking lot. It’s been a while since I’ve seen one here; it was good to see that at least one of the two was still around.

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare

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Interspecies Disputes

Spotted Jewelweed (aka Touch-me-not)

Spotted Jewelweed (aka Touch-me-not)

Labour Day weekend is here, and in my view, it is the best birding long weekend of the year – although Victoria Day comes close, by then songbird migration is mostly over, and high water levels in the spring mean that there are fewer shorebird species around places like Shirley’s Bay and Andrew Haydon Park. At the beginning of September, however, lots of different kinds of birds are passing through, and the weather is still very warm, so there are more insects around, too.

Yesterday morning I decided to head out early as I was hoping to beat the crowds of dog-walkers, wind-surfers, joggers, etc. to the mudflats at Ottawa Beach. It was only 9°C when I left, with a few fog patches in the low-lying areas, but when I arrived at Ottawa Beach at 6:40am I found only two other people – a photographer and another birder just walking in. A small group of shorebirds was foraging along the shore, and when I set up my scope I was happy to see a Sanderling (an Ottawa year bird), a Pectoral Sandpiper, and half a dozen Semipalmated Plovers.
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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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Visiting the South March Highlands

I haven’t visited the South March Highlands in a long time – not since April 2015. However, the weather this morning was poor for dragon-hunting (only 13°C, with more clouds than blue sky showing above and a brisk wind blowing), and as a Blue-winged Warbler had been discovered breeding there with a Golden-winged Warbler last month, I thought it was long past time to pay a visit.

The woods were still fairly dark by the time I arrived at 6:45. One of the first birds I saw was a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak in the gloomy woods, and one of the first birds I heard was a Wilson’s Snipe keening in the marsh close to the Brady Avenue entrance. The Blue-winged Warbler nest was a good 2 or 3 kilometers along the bike trail, and as there wasn’t much to see in the dark forest, I covered the distance in good time. Birds of note included a Great Blue Heron and a Black-crowned Night-heron at Confederation Bridge, a Wood Thrush chasing a Blue Jay, a family of Baltimore Orioles, at least four different Scarlet Tanagers calling, and two Pine Warblers and three Black-throated Green Warblers singing. I wasn’t able to get photos of any of them.

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Dragon Blitz 2016 – Part I

Northern Cloudywing

Northern Cloudywing

When I decided to take today off it wasn’t my intention, in the beginning, to embark on an all-out “dragon blitz” and search for as many odonate species as possible (or at least as many as I could find until my stamina began to falter); the forecast for the weekend looked terrible, so I wanted to go out while the weather was nice to look for birds in the morning and odes as soon as it warmed up. However, that’s exactly what it became as I started finding some good dragonflies early in the morning and decided to keep visiting different trails where I knew I could find different species.

My morning began with a visit to Lime Kiln Trail, which isn’t a place I visit very often. However, a Mourning Warbler has been heard singing away there for a couple of days now, and I thought I would try to find it. My walk started out fairly quiet, but I saw a Veery on the ground and a Common Raven flying overhead right near the beginning of the trail, and heard a couple of Red-eyed Vireos and a Brown Creeper in the woods.

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Bugs of Gatineau Park Part I – The Dragonflies

Common Whitetail

Common Whitetail

On the first Saturday in June I made plans to meet Chris Traynor at the parking lot of the Sugarbush Trail in Gatineau Park to look for dragonflies. He has re-named this trail the “Clubtail Trail” due to the large number of clubtails that breed there, and I was eager to find some new species for my life list. Unfortunately our last visit there wasn’t terribly productive due to the overcast skies; the weather on Saturday was much nicer, sunny and warm even in the morning.

As we weren’t planning to meet until 9:00 am, I stopped by Sarsaparilla Trail first to check out the birds there. This turned out to be a fantastic idea as I heard a Least Bittern calling somewhere in the reeds to the north of the boardwalk and a Virginia Rail grunting somewhere on the south side. Other species included Brown Creeper, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, a couple of Tree Swallows, a Marsh Wren singing in the reeds at the end of the boardwalk (the same one from last year?), a couple of Yellow Warblers, a White-throated Sparrow, and two Purple Finches.

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