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Rain and Flooding in Ottawa

Palm Warbler

After one of the wettest Aprils on record, both the Ottawa and Gatineau Rivers have burst their banks, causing extensive flooding that has affected hundreds of homes on both sides of the provincial border. A combination of snow melt flowing into the Ottawa River through its various tributaries and the high volume of rainfall this spring caused the water to rise faster than could be controlled by engineers at the various dams along the river. The Ottawa River is the highest it has been in decades, and neither I nor the long-time birders here have seen anything like it.

This month alone (now only seven days old) has seen over 100 mm of rain, with 45mm rain on May 1st, 40mm on Friday, and 20 mm yesterday. In the 24-hour period between Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon, the Ottawa River rose 17cm, and, according to the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board, is expected to rise a further 5cm before its peak on Monday. A state of emergency has been declared in Gatineau, where the Canadian Forces was on hand to help police reach difficult to access areas. On the Ontario side, Cumberland and Constance Bay were the two areas affected most, followed by Britannia, Dunrobin, Fitzroy Harbour and MacLarens Landing.

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Late October Sightings

Black-crowned Night-heron

Although migration continues to progress, I haven’t seen as many late-season migrants as I had hoped. Still, there have been a few highlights during the last week of the month, including the arrival of some of our winter birds.

I headed out to Shirley’s Bay on Sunday, October 23rd, but the wind was so cold and blustery that I didn’t spend much time there. I saw a Merlin perching in a tree along Rifle Road and found my first Snow Buntings of the fall picking their way along the shore. There were only two of them, and they flushed when a couple of photographers got too close – I don’t think they even realized they were there. They may have been trying to get close to a Common Loon swimming fairly close to shore, unremarkable in its gray winter plumage.

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Dragon-hunting at the Bill Mason Center

Azure Bluet

Azure Bluet

On August 7th I met up with Chris Lewis at Shirley’s Bay for a morning of birding and dragon-hunting. The morning got off to a great start when I saw a group of Wild Turkeys along Rifle Road even before I met Chris at the parking lot; there were two adults and a couple of baby turkeys! As soon as I stopped the car the adult turkeys began herding their offspring away from the road. Although they weren’t that close to begin with, it was cute to watch the babies stop and peck at the weeds while Mom and Dad steadily walked toward the back of the meadow. I’ve seen Wild Turkeys in that field before, but this was the first time I’d seen them with any young, and it was a thrilling experience.

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Lepidoptera Along the River

Coral Hairstreak

Coral Hairstreak

Even though we’ve reached the halfway point of the butterfly season, with many early species already gone for another year (including Henry’s Elfin and Juvenal Duskywing), mid-July is still a great time to see a wide diversity of butterflies and moths. I took Friday off work to do some birding and bug-hunting along the Ottawa River and was pleasantly surprised by the various species of lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) I found. Birds and dragonflies were also plentiful, but I took so many pictures that I will save them for another post!

I started the morning at Shirley’s Bay after dropping my fiance off at work. The trails east of the boat launch and the open fields near the Hilda Road feeders are a good spot to find different insects; I’ve seen Prince Baskettails, Halloween Pennants, Giant Swallowtails, and Banded Hairstreaks in this area, though my favourite six-legged discovery was actually a moth: the stunningly beautiful Scarlet-winged Lichen Moth (Hypoprepia miniata). It was probably too early in the season to see another one of these bright red moths, but I did find some other interesting and beautiful bugs.

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A Wood Thrush Duet

Hobomok Skipper

Hobomok Skipper

It feels like migration has ended. Although my focus was on breeding birds this morning, I had hopes of finding a few last migrants moving through, especially after finding a singing Bay-breasted Warbler in my own subdivision yesterday morning in a nearby park. I visited two spots with specific breeding birds in mind – Nortel Marsh for Willow Flycatcher and Savannah Sparrow, and Shirley’s Bay for Brown Thrasher. The trails along the river at Shirley’s Bay are also a good spot to find migrants, such as the Canada Warbler I had there two years ago. And once it warmed up, I had hopes of finding some butterflies and dragonflies.

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Migration Cools Down

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Yesterday I headed out relatively late in the morning (8:45 am) as the gray skies, cold temperature, and strong winds did not seem conducive to a productive morning’s birding. The previous week’s temperatures of the low to mid-twenties were gone; yesterday the thermometer plummeted, struggling to reach a paltry high of 9°C. It was one of those mid-spring days where a scarf, gloves, and a winter coat were necessary. I had the scarf and gloves, but didn’t bring my winter coat, thinking that my layers of sweaters beneath my spring coat would be enough. They weren’t.

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Car Birding in Ottawa West

On Sunday the temperature dropped again; when I left at 10:00 am it was only -8°C and a gusty wind was blowing. It was too cold to spend much time in the open, so I decided to drive over to Dunrobin and do my birding from the car. Evidently the birds felt the same way about the weather, for most of the songbirds that I found were tucked away in sheltered stands of trees, and few hawks and geese were flying across the open sky. Still, I found a good number of birds on my trip (including 8 year birds!), but due to the conditions I didn’t get a picture of a single one.

Out in Dunrobin, I got my first two year birds on Marchurst Road – a pair of Eastern Bluebirds flitting in a field and a pair of Great Blue Herons flying over. I also saw a displaying male Wild Turkey and two Hooded Mergansers in a small pond. When I turned onto Thomas Dolan Parkway I noticed a flock of about 50 Snow Buntings flying over a field. I would have liked to have checked them out for other species, but they didn’t stay on the ground long enough to get the scope out.

From there I drove north to Constance Creek. The Osprey weren’t back yet, but I noticed a large flock of ducks swimming in the creek on the eastern side of the bridge. Most of the 50 birds were Ring-necked Ducks, but I also noticed about 10 Bufflehead ducks, two Hooded Mergansers and an American Coot swimming in the back! I never see coots during spring migration in Ottawa, so this was a great find for me. While scoping the ducks a hawk flew within my scope view, and I followed it until I confirmed its identity as a Northern Harrier. A second one was coursing over the marsh as well; this was another new bird for the year. I also saw a Wood Duck fly over the marsh, as well as a few distant songbirds, but I didn’t hear a single songbird singing or see one close enough to identify. It seemed weird to enter a complete eBird checklist with no songbirds whatsoever!

Next I drove up to Greenland Road where I found a Killdeer and not much else. This rural area is very beautiful, with great views from Dunrobin Ridge sweeping down toward Constance Creek. I was hoping to find an Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Bluebird, or maybe an American Kestrel, but had no luck with any of these birds.

Barn on Greenland Road

Barn on Greenland Road

From there I circled back to Kanata via March Valley Road. I didn’t see much while driving along the road, but at the pond at the corner of Klondike Road I noticed an Osprey sitting along the tree line behind the pond, a Turkey Vulture swooping low over the water, and 11 Hooded Mergansers and two Wood Ducks in the pond.

I was still hoping to see an Eastern Phoebe so I decided to check out the picnic shelter at Shirley’s Bay. A small flock of Bohemian Waxwings flew over Rifle Road as I drove by, and I observed an accipiter flying over the parking lot when I arrived; however, it disappeared by the time I parked the car. There was no sign of the phoebe at the picnic shelter, but I did run into Richard Waters who told me that there were Rusty Blackbirds in a mixed flock of blackbirds near the base of the dyke. We exchanged notes on the birds we had seen that morning, and then I decided to try for the Rusties despite my aversion to the wind. Fortunately it was calmer in the shelter of the trees, and I found a flock of finches near the DND fence line (most of which were Purple Finches) and heard a few Golden-crowned Kinglets. I checked the base of the dyke and found no blackbirds. The woods, however, were completely swamped with water and I startled a pair of Wood Ducks into flight.

Swampland at Shirley's Bay

Swampland at Shirley’s Bay

As I was leaving I realized I could hear a group of blackbirds to the west; I heard at least three distinct Rusty Blackbirds calling and saw two Red-winged Blackbirds and five Common Grackles fly over. Although I could see blackbirds flying around deep within the woods, there was no way to get closer to them so I had to be satisfied with just listening to their rusty gate-hinge calls.

I found one last new year bird while driving home – an Eastern Phoebe sitting on a fence along Carling Avenue. I was driving the speed limit at the time (80 km/hr) and wasn’t able to stop; however, it was a great bird to end the day with. So although I wasn’t happy I still had to bundle up in my winter gear, I was pleased with all the birds I found on my outing. Hopefully next time I’ll get some photos worth sharing!