Back when the lockdown started in March and the provincial parks, national parks, and local conservation areas started closing, I thought I would be spending the summer in my own backyard. It’s a nice enough yard, but it’s quite small and doesn’t boast the number of fauna of the even the small urban parks nearby. If I had known when we bought our little townhouse in 2003 that one day in the not-too-distant future I would consider myself a naturalist, I would have looked for a house with green space behind it or at least a park next door to increase the number of species that visit my yard. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.
When the local lockdown restrictions finally lifted in late May, I was able to enjoy my summer visiting new and well-loved places beyond the boundaries of my neighbourhood and seeing the amazing wildlife of the Ottawa region. As such, I didn’t spend as much time at home as I thought I would. This is in part due to the fact that I spent the summer working from home – perhaps if I had been going to the office downtown every day I wouldn’t have felt the desperate need for escape on the weekends, looking for a much-needed change of scenery. I was able to watch the birds and squirrels from my office window, but didn’t spend much time getting up-close-and-personal with the bugs and other critters. Still, I was able to eat lunch outside on occasion, and spent some of the nicer weekend afternoons working on the garden. Even just walking out to the car sometimes I found a few things of interest!
After my vacation ended and I returned to work, memories of Marlborough Forest continued to distract me. This was by far the best new place I had discovered during the pandemic and I couldn’t wait to return. Even with another hot weekend in store and deer flies and mosquitoes at their peak I dreamed of going back and finding interesting new birds and wildlife in this amazingly diverse place. I returned on Sunday, June 28th after a successful morning birding in Stony Swamp – I got Least Bittern for the year when I saw one fly across the pond at Sarsaparilla Trail, heard a Virginia Rail, and heard a vireo singing just off the parking lot which initially sounded like a Yellow-throated Vireo, but turned out to be a Blue-headed Vireo when I used a Yellow-throated Vireo call to call it in. I normally only see these vireos as migrants at this trail; I’ve never heard one singing here in the summer before, so this was a good bird to find at the trail in late June!
We spent the first day on our vacation catching up on sleep and getting acquainted with the services the resort has to offer. We booked reservations at each of the specialty restaurants (Mexican, Italian, seafood, Oriental, and steakhouse) and arranged a non-birding excursion to Catalina Island. On our second day we spent more time exploring the resort. My goal was to get up early and hit the beach at sunrise to see if I could find some beach birds (gulls, terns, shorebirds, pelicans, frigatebirds) before the beach crowd arrived. Doran decided to come with me, and we did get to see the sunrise. Unfortunately there were still no birds present, and enough people up and walking around to make getting a clear photo of the beach difficult. Continue reading →
June is one of my favourite months. Normally the weather is hot and sunny by the time the solstice rolls around, the birds are all in full song, and butterflies and dragonflies are emerging in woodlands, fields and wetlands. However, the weather this month has not been great. The rain from May continued on and off this month, keeping water levels of the rivers and ponds higher than normal, and likely delaying the emergence of many insects. The weekends have been nice, at least; I’ve been able to get out early in the day in order to look for new birds for my year list and any butterflies and dragonflies that may have emerged. While my enthusiasm has certainly declined since our amazing trip to Costa Rica, I’ve found myself regaining interest in visiting trails and conservation areas close to home, hoping to find some species I haven’t seen since the previous summer.
The day after my trip to the Bill Mason Center, I made plans with Chris Lewis and Chris Traynor to head out to the Cedar Grove Nature Trail in Marlborough Forest to look for odes around Roger’s Pond. I would be co-leading an OFNC outing there the following weekend with Jakob Mueller, a reptiles and amphibians guy, and wanted to get an idea of the dragonflies and damselflies that were flying. As we weren’t meeting at the parking lot there until 8:30, I headed out to Sarsaparilla Trail first, then the Rideau Trail for a quick look around.
Birding wasn’t the only activity we did while we were in Costa Rica. For his excursion Doran chose a full-day outing to Miravalles Volcano, which included an 11-line zip-line down the volcano’s slope, a horse-back ride, a walk across a hanging bridge to visit Llanos de Cortez waterfall in the rainforest, and a visit to an active crater for a mud bath and a dip in the hot springs. Our meeting time was 7:30, which gave us a chance to sleep in after the previous day’s 12-hour birding extravaganza. We met Larry just outside the resort gate along with five other guests, a family of three and a couple on their honeymoon. We bundled into the van – the same type we had driven around in with Ollie – for the hour’s drive to Miravalles Volcano near Bagaces.
My goal on Sunday was to visit the Eagleson Ponds briefly before heading out to the woods, but once again I had such a fantastic time there that I couldn’t bring myself to leave. I spent almost 3.5 hours there, completely circled the ponds on the south side of Emerald Meadows Drive only once (but backtracked multiple times), and found 32 bird species together. I also saw two odes – a Common Green Darner and a couple of bluets – and four or five butterfly species. It still amazes me how terrific these little man-made ponds have been these past two and a half months; and I don’t even need to drive there!
On the Friday before the Labour Day long weekend we got to leave work early. It was a beautiful day, so I decided to bring my birding gear and head out to Mud Lake after lunch. Migration is well under way now, and there’s no better place in the city to take it all in than Mud Lake – particularly since it’s one of the few places I can get by bus during the week. I knew I had plenty of time to wander around before my express bus to Kanata started running, so instead of going straight to Mud Lake, I took the 87 to the base of Woodroffe Avenue and walked across the parkway to the Deschenes Rapids lookout. Only four days ago I’d spotted an adult Bald Eagle perching in a tree above the small inlet here during my morning bus ride – an awesome bird for my bus list, and the main reason why I decided to start my afternoon adventure here.
Chris Lewis and I had such a great time dragon-hunting in Gatineau last weekend that on June 25th we decided to hit several spots west of Ottawa to search for several local and unique species. On our list of locations were the Quyon Ferry Dock near Fitzroy to look for big river species, Morris Island for clubtails and skimmers, and Pakenham, Blakeney and Almonte for Rapids Clubtail. Before heading out to the Quyon Ferry Dock we stopped in at the fields near Constance Bay to look for Upland Sandpipers. We got lucky and found four. Not only did we see a couple of them flying over the fields, giving their distinctive call, we found one standing right on the shoulder of the road! Unfortunately we caused it to flush before I could get a photo of this bird; I still have yet to photograph this speices. Indeed, this was the closest I’ve ever come to one of an Upland Sandpiper, which are difficult to find as they breed and feed in dry grasslands rather than muddy shorelines.
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.
The Beaver Trail is one of my favourite trails to visit in mid-spring: spring ephemerals such as violets, Trilliums and Hepatica are in bloom, a good variety of butterflies – including various anglewings, Mustard Whites, elfins and azures – are on the wing, and both breeding birds and migrants alike can be found along the edge habitat surrounding the ponds. Although one of the shorter trails in Stony Swamp, the variety of wildlife that can be found here makes it worth visiting in any season. Spring, however, is my favourite season for visiting. On May 7th I arrived at the parking lot just before 8:00 am, and found only a few chickadees and Song Sparrows. It wasn’t until I reached the first marsh that I heard my first good bird of the day – an American Bittern. This was a year bird for me, and not a bird I hear very often in Stony Swamp, making it a great find.