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.
As migration progresses and the weather turns warmer, I find myself going into “birding withdrawal” during the work week. Fortunately I was able to visit Hurdman Park at lunch time a couple of times this month in order to keep the symptoms of withdrawal in check. On my visit of May 11th last week I decided to visit the western part of the park since my normal route along the “feeder path” is now blocked due to the construction of the LRT station. Today I started my visit on the western side, but when that proved relatively unproductive, I ended up walking beneath the transitway bridge to the eastern side in order to check the tangles along the feeder trail. Although I managed to find some good birds and other interesting wildlife on both days, my visit today was by far the more rewarding of the two.
Yesterday I headed out relatively late in the morning (8:45 am) as the gray skies, cold temperature, and strong winds did not seem conducive to a productive morning’s birding. The previous week’s temperatures of the low to mid-twenties were gone; yesterday the thermometer plummeted, struggling to reach a paltry high of 9°C. It was one of those mid-spring days where a scarf, gloves, and a winter coat were necessary. I had the scarf and gloves, but didn’t bring my winter coat, thinking that my layers of sweaters beneath my spring coat would be enough. They weren’t.
Yesterday was eBird’s Global Big Day 2016, a Cornell Lab project which tries to find out just how many birds can be recorded across the globe in a single day. During this project, eBird asks people to submit all their bird observations on May 14th into eBird, a global database used by scientists to study the distribution of birds all over the world. eBird is one of the largest biodiversity databases in the world, with more than 300 million records, and last year’s Global Big Day tallied a total of 6,158 species. As I already use eBird to track my bird sightings, I was eager to participate. However, I didn’t have the car, and had to make do with going somewhere reachable by bus. Unfortunately, OC Transpo’s weekend bus routes in Kanata South are not designed to get you any place efficiently except Hazeldean Mall, which severely limited my options – even places like Mud Lake and Andrew Haydon Park take two or three different buses to get there, and places like Shirley’s Bay and Jack Pine Trail are out of the question. Worse, the forecast called for rain later in the morning, so I wasn’t sure how long I would be able to stay out in the event I wanted to go to two or more areas. Because of these limitations, I decided to go to Old Quarry Trail right across from Hazeldean Mall, which is only about a 15-20 minute bus ride from my house and has enough trails in its extensive system to keep me occupied for a couple of hours.