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.
Usually the first two weeks of April are a slog to get through – it still looks and feels like March, cold north winds and long spells of rain manage to out-compete the longed-for southerly winds and warm, sunny days, and although migration should be well under way, it takes forever for the next spate of migrants to arrive. Then one day it happens: you realize the snow is finally all gone, the ponds are ice-free, the buds on the trees look ready to burst open, and your neighbourhood Chipping Sparrows are back and singing right outside your window. The temperatures are finally reaching double-digits on a daily basis, and there are new birds moving in! The second half (well, the last third, really) of April is when the birding really picks up and it really begins to feel like spring. This truly is the beginning of my favourite time of year; here are a few of the things that make birding in late April so wonderful.
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.
The weather was supposed to be warm and sunny yesterday, so I headed out to the Bill Mason Center to look for marsh birds and dragonflies. Chris T. had found a Crimson-ringed Whiteface at the sand pit early in the season last year, and as I’ve never seen this species in Ottawa, I was curious to find out if his dragonfly was a chance visitor or if they were common there in the late spring. While this species has a flight season from late May to early August, I have never seen it there during any of my summer visits to the Bill Mason Center. I was also hoping to find a few marsh birds such as bitterns, Sora and Virigina Rail, so it seemed like a great idea to stop there after checking out the Carp Ridge and some of the roads in Dunrobin for other species.
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 Victoria Day I returned to Mud Lake to look for migrants and dragonflies. I arrived early – before 7:00am – in order to beat the crowds, but even at that time there were a few people wandering around. I started at the ridge and worked my way around the conservation area in a clockwise direction; I hoped that by exploring the quieter side trails I would come up with a decent list for the morning. Well, I did finish my outing with a good number of bird species – 43 total – but most of them were found along the northern and western sides, which is where I usually bird anyway, especially when I am short on time.
By the third week of May the weather finally warmed up enough to do some dragon-hunting, so on May 21st I made plans with Chris L. and Jakob M. to go to Roger’s Pond in Marlborough Forest to look for birds, bugs and herps. We had great luck with all three, though mammals were sadly lacking. I’m not sure why I don’t see many mammals at this trail; the only one I can remember seeing with any certainty was a Snowshoe Hare right on the gravel trail as it ran by me.