The second day of September was supposed to be a nice day so a friend and I made plans to go to Shirley’s Bay for a walk together. She had never been there before, and even for non-birders it’s a great place to view the Ottawa River and walk along the shore. I arrived before she did and started checking out the vegetation around the parking lot; sometimes some interesting birds can turn up in the edge habitat adjacent to the greenbelt trails, and I was not disappointed to see a pair of Indigo Buntings high up in a bare tree. I heard them before I saw them, and if it weren’t for those distinct chip notes sounding like a sharper, thinner version of the call of a Common Yellowthroat, I might not have recognized the pair of brown songbirds in the tree. I only managed to get two quick photos of their backs before they flew off, but those pictures further confirmed my identification, as one of the birds showed blue feathers in the rump area. Only the breeding male is entirely blue; females and immatures are brown, though the young males may sometimes show some blue feathers coming in among the brown.
The day after I published my post “Birding in the Time of the Coronavirus”, one of my fears came to pass: the NCC announced it would be closing vehicle access to the Greenbelt as of 9 pm on Friday, March 27th until further notice. This meant that all parking lots at trailheads would be closed, and that trails such as Jack Pine Trail, Sarsaparilla Trail, Mer Bleue Bog and others would be inaccessible to those driving in. However, the trails themselves would be open for people who live nearby and can access the entrances on foot. On April 3rd the NCC website clarified that people can still walk through some of the NCC recreational sites, provided that they are not closed (i.e. Gatineau Park), they can be accessed locally, and people respect public health recommendations, including physical distancing of two metres. That same day our local rare bird alert coordinators decided to ban any alerts from being posted to our local RBA Whatsapp channel; this decision was made in conjunction with other southern Ontario RBA coordinators to prevent large groups of people gathering at rare birds sites. In addition, Parks Canada announced that all national parks and historic sites would be closed as of March 25th until further notice, with no vehicular access permitted. Ontario Parks had already closed all provincial parks as of March 19th. Continue reading →
On the final Wednesday in September the weather finally changed. Once again the temperature climbed into the 30s, but a cold front passed through around 3:00, generating a powerful but short-lived thunderstorm that brought many tree limbs down. This was the first rain we’d had in three weeks. The temperature fell about seven degrees, and since then temperatures have been back to seasonal, falling to single digits in the night and rising to about 15°C in the day. It’s now necessary to wear a coat in the morning, but I find the change refreshing.
Late summer is a great time for birding. Shorebirds, flycatchers, and warblers which breed further north have moved into the area, while our resident breeding birds are preparing for their journey south. It’s a fantastic time to check out the woods and river for both residents and migrants before they leave for good. Personally, it’s one of my favourite times of year, especially as the summer weather tends to linger on into the end of September – unlike the fickle weather of May, you can go birding in shorts and sandals instead of gloves and winter coats. The diversity is just as excellent, and it is possible to find species that usually bypass Ottawa in the spring lingering here in the fall. Here are a few things I’ve found recently while out birding around the west end.
On July 10th I took the day off work and went birding. It was another overcast day, and I found myself at Shirley’s Bay to see how bad the damage was to the dyke from the spring flooding. Although I was warned that it was bad in spots, I was allowed to go out birding on the dyke by the DND Range Control. While some areas had been heavily eroded, the part birded by most people – about halfway to the first island – was fine. After that it began to resemble the crumbled path between the first and second islands, with huge chunks of earth torn away. I did not go any further, though I was curious if anything was left between the two islands.
My attention was immediately caught by an adult Bald Eagle perching in a tree right out on the dyke, though it flew off before I could get close to it. I heard a Common Gallinule, two Common Yellowthroats, and several Marsh Wrens in the reeds, and saw an Osprey flying over the water. Two Spotted Sandpipers, a kingfisher, and a Common Tern were also present along the dyke. I didn’t stay long, as there wasn’t much of interest right in the middle of breeding season, and there was no shorebird habitat yet for early migrants heading south.
When most people think of milkweeds and the insects that are associated with them, they think of the iconic Monarch butterfly, which subsists solely on these plants in its larval stage. Others may recall the beautiful Red Milkweed Beetle, the black and orange Small and Large Milkweed Bugs, or the fuzzy Tussock Milkweed Moth caterpillars that sometimes gather together in groups of a dozen or more. However, milkweeds are an abundant source of nectar and pollen for many types of insects, and these in turn attract predators searching for easy prey. If you spend some time examining these plants at the height of their flowering season, an amazing secret world opens up, as all kinds of colourful creatures can be found on their flowers and leaves. Here are a few of the colourful and intriguing creatures I photographed in early to mid-July while looking for the more common butterflies and dragonflies.
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.
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.
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.
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.