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The South March Highlands

Yellow Trout Lily

One of my favourite places to go birding in late May and early June is the South March Highlands in Kanata North. It is said that this forest has the highest ecological value and biodiversity of any area within the City of Ottawa, with more than 654 species found within its borders – some of which are considered to be species at risk, such as the Blanding’s Turtle, Least Bittern, and Butternut Tree. These Canadian Shield uplands are rich in wetlands and mature forest, with marshes, ponds, deciduous forest and coniferous forest all accessible via a network of trails. Despite its ecological significance, the City of Ottawa has allowed parts of the forest to be sold to developers and clear-cut for new homes and the infamous Terry Fox Drive extension. Still, the forest that remains is a beautiful spot for birding, though it is extremely popular with mountain bikers and caution should be taken not to block the trails while scanning the tree tops for warblers!

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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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South March Highlands

Horned Clubtail

Horned Clubtail

After my success in finding the first dragonflies of the season at the Beaver Trail five days earlier, I was eager to find some more and spent the last day of May on the trails of the South March Highlands where I’d had some luck before. I stopped at the Nortel Marsh first, hoping to find the Willow Flycatcher that I missed on my previous visit as well as a colony of Sedge Wrens that had taken up residence in the large sedge meadow north of the bike trail. I didn’t hear any Sedge Wrens singing, but I did find 27 species during my visit, including two Willow Flycatchers calling in the cattail marsh at the back, a Wilson’s Snipe perching on a stump, two female Purple Finches, two Brown Thrashers, one Marsh Wren, an Alder Flycatcher, three Bobolinks in the Equestrian Park, and two Savannah Sparrows in the same field as the Bobolinks.

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A New Checkerspot

Harris’s Checkerspot

On Sunday Deb and I met up to do some west end birding. It was supposed to be a gorgeous sunny day, but when I got up I was dismayed to see gray clouds overhead and a thick fog obscuring my neighbourhood. If the sun was shining above, I sure couldn’t see it! Still, I met Deb in our usual spot and was encouraged to hear that the sun was shining in the east end where she lives. We discussed our route for the morning, and as I loaded my gear into her car I noticed that one of the gulls in the parking lot was much bigger than the others. It was a Herring Gull, a sub-adult from the plumage; I snapped a few pictures, but as it was standing alone I wasn’t able to include any of the Ring-billed Gulls for size comparison.

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