The Annual January Thaw

Great Horned Owl

For the past three days I’ve been listening to the sound of the steady drip of water from the snow melting on my roof. Almost every year we get a warm spell where the temperature climbs a few degrees above zero for a couple of days. While it is usually called the “January thaw”, sometimes it occurs in February, usually right in the middle of Winterlude. It is a welcome break from the bitterly cold days that remain well within the negative double digits. Not only does this weather make birding more pleasant – despite the heavy gray skies that usually accompany these warm spells – but birds and animals become more active, moving around instead of hunkering down against the cold.

I was hoping that this would happen on Saturday, and started my morning at the Trail Road landfill where I hoped to find at least a couple of different species of gull. Once again I found only Herring Gulls, and the only other birds present were two Red-tailed Hawks, crows and starlings. Even these seemed down in numbers.
Continue reading


Spring’s Progress

Song Sparrow

Song Sparrow

The weather for the past few weeks has remained mostly below seasonable. It has been slow to reach the freezing mark during the day, but I think we’ve finally reached the point where the daily high is now above 0°C. The Ottawa River is still frozen except for the rapids at Mud Lake and Bate Island, and a couple of centimeters of frozen snow still blanket the woods. At least the Rideau River has finally begun to open up on both sides of the 417 bridge. The City usually starts blasting the river open in March to prevent flooding, and although I read that the City would be blasting the ice throughout the month of March, as of the last time I visited Hurdman Park (March 31st) there was no evidence of any workers on the river in that area.

Continue reading

Easter Rarities

Yellow-headed Blackbird

Yellow-headed Blackbird

The Easter long weekend is a great time for birding, particularly when it falls toward the end of April. The weather is nicer, migration is well under way, and there is a greater variety of wildlife to be found. I spent Good Friday visiting the various trails of Stony Swamp: first an early start at the Beaver Trail, followed by a lengthy walk at Jack Pine Trail, and finishing up with a quick scan of the pond at Sarsaparilla Trail.

When I arrived at the Beaver Trail, I spent a good ten minutes just watching a flock of sparrows feeding on the ground just beyond the parking lot. Most of them were American Tree Sparrows heading back north to their breeding grounds at the edge of the Canadian Tundra; however, a couple of juncos and Song Sparrows were feeding with them, and I thought I might see my first Fox Sparrow. I didn’t have any luck with the Fox Sparrow, either there or with the large flock of juncos near the Wild Bird Care Centre.

Continue reading

Northern Birds

Last weekend was a great one for seeing a variety of northern birds moving through – though, for various reasons, not for photography. Earlier in the week, a Northern Hawk Owl had been discovered near the Ottawa airport. This northern species only appears in southern Ontario during the winter when food becomes scarce in its normal range; I last saw this species in January 2011 when one set up a winter territory near Brennan’s Hill, Quebec. I drove out to Bowesville Road just south of the airport early Saturday morning but had no luck finding the Hawk Owl (apparently it waited until after I left to put in an appearance). I did, however, see a group of Common Redpolls, a Snowy Owl resting in the middle of a green field, and a Rough-legged Hawk in the same area. The Rough-legged Hawk appeared to be keeping an eye on a group of Wild Turkeys feeding right below the tree in which it was sitting; both the hawk and the Snowy Owl were season firsts for me.

Snowy Owl
Ottawa, January 2007

Continue reading

Ottawa: The most “wildlife unfriendly” city in Canada

The City of Ottawa hates wildlife. It seems to me that Canada’s capital city would prefer to live under a plastic bubble where no pesky rodents, Canada Geese, insects, amphibians, and other wildlife can enter rather than find ways to live in harmony with the fauna we share our land with. The City of Ottawa has shown time and time again that when it comes to dealing with wildlife conflicts, it believes there is only one solution: to kill the “pest” that is causing the problem. Whether it is gassing groundhogs, killing moose, encouraging the senseless slaughter of coyotes by refusing to end the coyote-killing contests, or actively live-trapping (i.e. KILLING) beavers and destroying their lodges, the City of Ottawa resorts to barbaric measures each time a conflict arises instead of considering progressive and humane alternatives.

Continue reading

Three Mammals and Two Wrens

Carolina Wren in the snow

Carolina Wren

On Saturday I went out by myself to follow up on a few sightings in the west end. I started off with a tour of the back roads near Richmond, hoping to find some Horned Larks to add to my Ottawa year list; however, these birds, as well as the Snow Buntings and Lapland Longspurs they often associate with, were absent. On Rushmore Road I noticed a canine standing at the back of a snow-covered field, so I pulled over to check it out. It wasn’t a domestic dog as I had first thought but a coyote! He just stood there looking at me, and I just stood there looking at him, and neither of us made any move. Then he lay down in the snow, still watching me, so I got out my scope for a better look. I was surprised he didn’t turn his tail and run away!

Continue reading

Boxing Day Beavers

On Boxing Day I got up early to check out a report of an American Coot at Billings Bridge along the Rideau River. This species has eluded me all year, and the idea of adding it to both my year and winter lists was just too tempting to resist. I parked in the large parking lot at Billings Bridge mall (despite my aversion to being anywhere near a shopping mall on Boxing Day), then crossed Riverside Drive to get to the park.

Although the water was still open along this section of the river, I saw no ducks along the shore. A couple of years ago it was not unusual to see about 100 mallards and American Black Ducks in this area during the winter, but I think people have stopped feeding them here and now feed them at Linda Thom Park on the other side of the bridge. I recall finding a Green-winged Teal and a couple of female Wood Ducks here a couple of times in winters past; today there were no ducks whatsoever. Continue reading