Once migration winds down, many birders stop visiting Mud Lake while they look for breeding birds elsewhere. Although birds such as Wood Duck, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler and Common Ravens are abundant and easy to find at the city’s premier migration hotspot during the breeding season, many of Ottawa’s summer specialties – such as Grasshopper Sparrow, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Golden-winged Warbler, Mourning Warbler, and Sedge Wren – are found elsewhere, and so most birders switch their focus from looking for migrating transients to chasing these summer residents down just as soon as the last Blackpoll Warblers and Arctic Terns disappear in early June. This is about the same time my attention to dragonflies and butterflies intensifies – and Mud Lake is a great place to find a good variety of both these insects.
By the end of June it seemed that summer had finally arrived and the weather had returned to normal: the temperature had reached a consistent near 30°C, the state of emergency caused by the unprecedented spring flood had ended on June 12th, water levels were returning to normal, and the sun had finally come out! I was hoping that this meant that the dragonflies were also emerging on schedule again, and decided to head to Mud Lake on the last Saturday of June. Mud Lake is a fantastic place to see dragonflies in mid-summer, as all the dragonfly families except for Cordulegastridae – the spiketails – can be found there. Among the damselfly families both the spreadwings and pond damsels are well-represented; the broad-winged damselflies, mainly Ebony Jewelwings, are seen there from time to time. I had high hopes for my visit. Continue reading →
While at the Dunlop Picnic area, Chris and I got a call from Chris Traynor saying that he was on his way up to Meech Lake. Chris Lewis and I were on our way there next, and it didn’t take him long to catch up with us as we were walking down the large hill to the lake, listening to the vireos and a Blackburnian Warbler singing. Our destination was the waterfall at the old Carbide Wilson ruins where we hoped to find the snaketails Chris T. had reported seeing earlier in the week. However, first we spent some time exploring the shore of the lake where we found Powdered Dancers, a Chalk-fronted Corporal, and a couple of clubtails on logs too far from shore to identify. It was too early for the Slaty Skimmers to be flying; these dark blue dragonflies are one of my personal favourites, but we saw more than enough other species to make up for their absence.
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.
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.
On Saturday, June 21, 2014, a group of OFNC naturalists led by Robert Alvo and Jakob Mueller visited Opinicon Road and the lands around the Queens University Biological Station (“QUBS”) for a day of birding and herping in the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve. Although not even two hours away from Ottawa, this area is rich in fauna typically found in southern Ontario, and our goal was to see some of these species. Targets included Gray Ratsnake, Cerulean Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Red-shouldered Hawk, Black-billed Cuckoo and Yellow-billed Cuckoo. The drive down to Opinicon Road was uneventful, and our first stop of the day was a beaver pond just south of Chaffey’s Locks.
Summer’s a great time to see a variety of wildlife. Although the birding is usually slow up until about mid-August, there are lots of other creatures around to make any outing enjoyable. I’ve had some good luck at Sarsaparilla Trail over the years, encountering a variety of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and bugs. It’s a small trail, but the grassy clearing near the trail entrance, the mixture of deciduous and coniferous woods, and the large pond provide a number of interesting habitats where just about anything can be found.
On the second Sunday of July I headed out to the Bill Mason Center to look for dragonflies. It was already sizzling hot when I arrived around 8:30, with the humidity in the “barely comfortable” range but not yet reaching “intolerable”. I didn’t intend to stay very long; just long enough to see if I could find some Calico Pennants, Azure Bluets, and perhaps some large darners or emeralds at the sand pit.
The first interesting bird that I saw was this Baltimore Oriole near the parking lot. It looks to be a first year bird, lacking the deep orange colour of adult orioles. Baltimore Orioles attain their adult plumage after reaching their second fall, which they then keep year-round with no breeding/non-breeding plumage differences typically seen in other songbirds.
After finishing our ice cream at Scoops, we stopped at the Mississippi Snye culvert on our way to the Morris Island Conservation Area. This spot is well worth checking for odonates; Chris and Bob had a Cyrano Darner here a couple of days ago, and last year we found a Dragonhunter perching over the water. There are usually spreadwings in the vegetation, skimmers gliding above the sluggish water, and clubtails perching on vegetation or on the ground.
As soon as Mike stopped the van we saw a Northern Water Snake basking in the sunshine in the middle of the road. It was a large fellow, and didn’t linger long upon our arrival; it scurried off into the vegetation and disappeared. If you didn’t think snakes could scurry, you haven’t seen a water snake dart off so quickly that it appeared to have legs!
Many birds begin migrating in late August, particularly those birds that feed chiefly on insects. It is not unusual to see large numbers of migrants at this time of year, even though it’s still summer according to the calendar. Insectivores leave the north early to ensure food is still plentiful as they make their way to South America, where many of them will spend the winter. I headed over to Andrew Haydon Park and Mud Lake again during the third weekend of August to see if I could find some of these summer migrants, and I wasn’t disappointed!