The year 2020 has arrived, and it’s a new decade as well as a new year. Usually it’s only the excitement of starting a brand new list from scratch that gets me going out in January, so on the first day of 2020 I got out early to see how many bird species I could find. As usual, I planned to check a couple of different habitats to maximize the number of potential species; my strategy consists of birding in open farmland, forests, along open water, with a stop at the local landfill. In the past couple of years I’ve only averaged about 17 or 18 species, which is not a particularly high number. My best New Year’s Day was back in 2017 where I counted 26 species – that year I visited Shirley’s Bay, Mud Lake, Jack Pine Trail, the Trail Road landfill, and the Eagleson ponds. The best birds of that day included Bald Eagle and White-throated Sparrow at Mud Lake, Horned Lark on Rushmore, and Gray Partridge on Eagleson. I also tallied 26 species back in 2012, where an unexpected Northern Flicker at Mud Lake, a Red-winged Blackbird at the Hilda Road feeders, and Glaucous and Great Black-backed Gulls at the landfill were the best birds of the day.
As anyone who has followed this blog for a while knows (or who has picked me up to go birding!) I live in a townhouse in the sterile suburban wastelands of Kanata on the southwestern edge of Ottawa. My backyard is the size of a postage stamp, and my front yard is half the size of that as the driveway takes up the rest. We used to have two mature trees on the front lawn we share with our neighbours, until the one closest to the road came down suddenly in a windstorm. Thankfully no people were injured or property was damaged, but this was the same tree I’d seen a Pine Warbler in during the spring of 2017 and I was looking forward to seeing what else might turn up during migration. The tree closest to the house is right outside my computer room, and in recent years the Eastern Gray Squirrels have built leafy dreys right outside my window. Sometimes the squirrel sits on the branch outside its nest of leaves and twigs and stares at me while I’m working; I usually wave to it, but it just stares back at me. I always wondered if they realized that I’m the one who fills the feeders out back and tosses peanuts to them when they visit. Continue reading →
A few weeks ago I first noticed a large black and yellow bug spending time at my “Victoria Blue” Salvia flowers. It would fly from the plant at one end of my garden bed to the plant at other end before flying over the fence to the neighbour’s yard. A few minutes later it would fly back over the fence into my yard, visit both plants, and then disappear again. It was so quick I wasn’t able to photograph it, but it had a habit of hovering in place, so I thought it was a large hover fly of some sort.
Then, last weekend, I noticed several of these large bugs, all following the same route over the neighbour’s fence into mine. For some reason I have thistles blooming in my backyard, and they were visiting both the thistles and the Salvia. It was an overcast day, so they weren’t moving as fast as they usually do. I grabbed my camera and went out to photograph them. To my surprise they weren’t hover flies, they were bees – European Wool Carder Bees – a new species for the yard!
I have four chipmunks now visiting my yard looking for food dropped from the bird feeder. At first I was only aware of three, one of which has a shorter tail than the others, and only two of which will run up to the back door when I open it and call them over (they know I keep the good stuff inside). Then a few weeks ago I noticed three chipmunks with long tails, although they don’t all come at the same time.
One day I noticed this chipmunk in my back garden, standing on its hind legs while munching on my pansy flowers. The pansies are situated just in front of the bird bath and do much better out back than they do in my front garden – they have been blooming profusely since May. (The ones in my front garden died only a few weeks after planting – remind me to never plant them out front again.) I tried to take some photos of the chipmunk standing up and eating the flowers, but they didn’t turn out so well.
However, I did manage to snap the shutter in time to get this photo:
I went out and put some pile of bird seed on the small retaining wall, and the chipmunk disappeared until I was gone. Then it came back out to feed.
It has a much shorter tail than my short-tailed Chippy, and it looks much more ragged – as though it was freshly broken off, and none too cleanly. I am not sure whether my short-tailed chipmunk had its tail further shortened, or whether this is one of my regular long-tailed ones. I’ll have to keep an eye out on the weekends and see.
November is a great month for finding rare birds in Ottawa. The shortening days, dropping temperatures, and unexpected weather systems can all result in birds moving around, and this time of year it’s not uncommon for younger birds to wander or be blown off course. The past few weeks have been exciting, with a Razorbill on the Ottawa River from October 30-31st, a flyby Northern Gannet going up the river on November 12th, and an Anna’s Hummingbird in Carleton Place all being reported. On November 2nd – the day that the temperature jumped from 6°C to 13°C as just such a weather system dropped almost 30mm of rain on the city – an unlikely songbird found itself in Ottawa. A young Black-throated Gray Warbler was discovered at the Britannia Conservation Area, aka Mud Lake, Ottawa’s mega hotspot for rarities, by Bruce Di Labio. This tiny warbler normally lives west of the Rocky Mountains and spends the winters in central Mexico and is not supposed to be anywhere near Ottawa.
Although I went birding this morning, it was the bugs today that stole the show. The temperature reached an unseasonable 18°C, and with the sun shining brightly until about mid-afternoon, this was probably the last nice day of the year. We haven’t had any hard frosts yet, so a lot of insects were on the wing today. I overslept, so I skipped my usual walk at the storm water ponds and headed out to Old Quarry Trail around 9:00 to search for Black-backed Woodpeckers. I didn’t find any, although I was happy to find a Pileated Woodpecker and a couple of Fox Sparrows deep in the woods. This is one of my favourite sparrows, with its rusty red spots on its chest and red face and back.
I also found a singing male Purple Finch at the boardwalk and saw an accipiter fly over – it seemed small, so perhaps it was the same Sharp-shinned Hawk I saw last week. There were still several Golden-crowned Kinglets around, and I heard one or two Ruby-crowned Kinglets as well.
I’ve seen a few interesting things in my own backyard and in conservation areas close to home these days, but haven’t taken enough photos for a full blog post; here are a few photos from the past couple of weeks.
On July 10th I visited the Eagleson storm water ponds for an hour in the afternoon. Even though this was much later in the day than I usually visit, I still found 21 species including a Green Heron, an Osprey and a Belted Kingfisher. I also counted three Spotted Sandpipers around the pond. It seems odd that I haven’t seen any tiny precocial sandpiper chicks running around here at this point in the breeding season; either they aren’t breeding here, or they are keeping their young well-hidden. This adult kept a wary eye on me as I photographed it from a respectful distance.
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.
On May 14, 2017 I received two interesting visitors to my yard. The first was a Nashville Warbler flitting around in the tree outside my computer room – I only got a brief glimpse of the yellow bird with the gray head and white eye-ring before it disappeared, but it was enough to add it to my yard list as bird species no. 66. The second visitor wasn’t a bird, but a mammal; when I saw the small red squirrel poking around the feeder area, I immediately ran for my camera as this was only the second red squirrel I’ve seen in my yard. Although I’m not too far from Stony Swamp where numerous red squirrels make their home, I am just deep enough inside the Emerald Meadows subdivision with its maze of roads and large, open lawns to make travelling a hazard, especially given how open the subdivision is – there are no tree-lined streets and no canopy of interlacing branches for the squirrels to travel along safely above the ground.
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.