Winter finally arrived yesterday with a mix of freezing rain and snow that left my driveway a frozen sheet of ice and kept me indoors most of the day. The temperature dropped overnight, and the high today reached only -8°C – the first really cold day we’ve had this winter. Even worse, there is a winter storm warning currently in effect that will last from midnight tonight until the following midnight. Environment Canada predicts 20-35 cm of heavy and blowing snow, so despite the cold I knew I had to get out today if I didn’t want to be stuck indoors for three days straight.
I didn’t leave until after lunch, when the temperature finally rose above -10°C (I just wasn’t ready for those minus double-digits yet)! My first stop was Century Road south of Richmond to check on the Mountain Bluebird. It’s only a 15-minute drive from my house, and as I was quite taken with this bird I was looking forward to seeing her again.
On Saturday, November 28th, two rare birds were discovered in the Ottawa area. The first was the Mountain Bluebird on Cambrian Road which I learned about early Sunday morning after receiving a rare bird alert from eBird. I wasn’t the only birder who went over to Cambrian Road first thing Sunday morning, and while I was there I heard about the “unusual-looking oriole” oriole in Pakenham. A couple of friends were heading out there next to check out the bird, and they later sent out a rare bird alert stating that the oriole was not a Baltimore Oriole (the only species of oriole which breeds in our region) as had been surmised, but a drab female Bullock’s Oriole – a southwestern bird whose Canadian range extends only into southern BC, Alberta, and Saskatchewan. This was another mega-rarity for our region, and even made the CBC news.
The rare female Mountain Bluebird first discovered on November 28th on Cambrian Road went missing two days later. Just moments after its last sighting, a Sharp-shinned Hawk was seen carrying a thrush-sized bird in its talons, and as the bluebird was never seen on Cambrian Road again, it was presumed dead. This was the first time this western species has been recorded in Ottawa, and it appeared to be a sad ending for the long-distance wanderer.
Then, on December 11th, Peter Blancher – the same person who discovered the Mountain Bluebird on Cambrian Road east of Richmond – reported a female Mountain Bluebird on Century Road south of Richmond! It was too great a coincidence, and many people were happy to hear that the bluebird did not, in fact, become lunch for the hawk. As Century Road isn’t too far from me, I headed there first thing on Saturday morning just after the sun had risen. It was still hiding behind a thick bank of clouds lying on the eastern horizon when I arrived; the light was poor, but I had no problems finding the Mountain Bluebird perching on the fence right next to the road.
First there was the Yellow-crowned Night Heron west of Carp at the end of May. Then there was the Little Egret which appeared in Carp at the beginning of June and then spent some time along the Ottawa River in mid-July. These birds range from quite rare in Ottawa to MEGA-RARE!!! in Canada, and both birds were lifers for me. Although there are three previous records of Yellow-crowned Night-herons in Ottawa (in April 1970 at Rockcliffe Park, in May 1999 at Mud Lake, and in April 2007 in “Ottawa” – perhaps the bird that was seen briefly at Billings Bridge but never relocated?), this was the first time one had lingered long enough for me to see it. The Little Egret was not just a first record for Ottawa, but a first record for Ontario! I never thought I’d see more than one rare heron in a calendar year, let alone two rare herons in two days.
On Friday, June 26 I took the day off work to go dragon-hunting at Morris Island. First, however, I stopped in at the Deschenes Rapids parking lot at the end of Woodroffe Avenue to go searching for not one, but two rare birds. The Little Egret was back after having spent some time wandering along the Jock River near Manotick, the ponds along Eagleson Road, the pond near Palladium Drive in Kanata, and however many unknown places in between. The egret has finally found a spot to its liking along the Ottawa River, spending the past few days at the mouth of Pinecrest Creek on the east side of Mud Lake or along the shore of Andrew Haydon Park in the mornings before flying off to spend the day elsewhere. In the evenings, it has been seen flying in to roost on Conroy Island, presumably because it feels at home with the colony of Great Egrets, Black-crowned Night Herons and Ring-billed Gulls that nest there. This pattern has become somewhat predictable, so that many people who missed it elsewhere have been able to see it.
Ottawa was blessed with not one, but two rare birds in late May and early June. On May 25th I received word of a Yellow-crowned Night-Heron west of Carp. It was on private property, and while the homeowner didn’t want people wandering around her large property uninvited, she was gracious enough to escort interested birders around if we waited at the end of the driveway for her to come and get us.
I went out on the last day of May to try to see it, killing time along the Thomas Dolan Parkway as I didn’t want to show up too early. It was a miserable day – cold, overcast, and only 8°C. I didn’t feel like spending much time outside, but I did check a few spots for Golden-winged Warblers and Eastern Towhees without any luck. When I arrived at the property on Abbeywood Drive, one car was already there, but the driver appeared to be sleeping. Mary, the homeowner, came out about 10 minutes after I parked my car; by that time the other driver, Paul Lagasi, had awakened, and the three of us went around to her huge backyard together to search for the Yellow-crowned Night-Heron. Her property boasts a large pond which is home to three families of Canada Geese and many dragonfly species (though none were flying that day) and a creek at the back which attracts various herons (including nesting Green Herons and the Yellow-crowned Night-heron). We also observed Eastern Bluebirds, a few different warblers, and three different flycatchers (Eastern Kingbird, Eastern Phoebe, and Eastern Wood-pewee), all of which made me jealous of her yard list. Unfortunately Paul and I did not find the heron or the Mourning Warbler that others had heard the day before, so we both went home empty-handed.
We got up early on Monday, May 11th for our day at Point Pelee. While we were paying at the kiosk we were told there were two good birds present: a Prothonotary Warbler and a Kirtland’s Warbler. I had seen the rare bird alert for the Kirtland’s Warbler the day before, and was happy to hear it was still around. I had never seen one before (unlike the Prothonotary Warbler) so it would be a lifer for me if I found it. Fortunately, this was easy to do. We took the tram to the Tip and after we had gotten off the shuttle, I came across a group of people who said it was being seen along the footpath that parallels the western beach. I told my mother and step-father and off we went. After about a 10 minute hike with numerous people coming the other way assuring us “it was still there – just look for the crowd of people”, we found a huge throng of people gathered in a tight group. At the center of all the attention, no more than six feet away from the edge of the path, was the female Kirtland’s Warbler.