Weather in April can be described in only one way: changeable. It can turn from spring to summer to winter in the matter of hours, making it difficult to know how to dress any given day – you may need a hat and gloves in the morning, then be wearing shorts in the afternoon. Even the weather toward the end of the month can be variable. Last Thursday (April 27th) Ottawa’s temperature reached a sunny, humid high of 26°C; yesterday (April 30th) the rain clouds moved in and temperatures barely reached 5°C.
Migrants have been returning in large numbers despite the inconstant weather. On Friday I woke up to see two White-crowned Sparrows on my backyard, and they were there again Sunday morning. This was a year bird for me, and the earliest date I’ve recorded them in my yard; normally they arrive during the first week of May, with my previous early date being May 4th.
Stony Swamp is one of my favourite spots to go birding – not only is it close to home, but there are multiple trails to choose from, with plenty of interesting habitats. While Stony Swamp is dominated by mixed deciduous/coniferous forest, there are a few streams, beaver ponds, alvars and marshes which provide habitat for a good mix of birds. As it was supposed to start raining around 9:00 this morning, I wasn’t sure how long I’d be able to stay out birding today. However, the bright sun and reasonable temperature (only -2°C when I left at 7:30) made me long for a walk in the woods. I decided to go to Sarsaparilla Trail first to check on the pond, and then to the Beaver Trail to look for additional woodland birds. I figured that would keep me occupied until the rain began.
After seeing my first Red-winged Blackbirds from the bus on Wednesday, March 9th, I was eager to get out on the weekend and look for more. Saturday morning was mild but gloomy; not a terrific day for photography, but a good day for getting out and seeing what was around. I stopped by the ponds on Eagleson first to look for ducks, and was surprised to hear not one, but two Song Sparrows singing as soon as I got out of the car. It was only March 12th; although it seemed early for them to be back on territory, I enjoyed hearing their jubilant songs after the long, silent winter. Red-winged Blackbirds were back as well, calling from the tops of the trees and adding to the spring chorus. There were no new ducks on the pond, just the usual mallards and Canada Geese.
I’ve had some interesting visitors to my yard so far this summer. I haven’t added any new birds or mammals, though I did see one new species of hover fly and one new lady beetle! The usual squirrels (many!) and chipmunks (up to three) visit me daily, looking to steal the peanuts out of my bird feeder. Two of the black squirrels are recognizable; one has only half its tail, while the other has a broken paw. The one with the broken paw has been visiting me over a year now, although she doesn’t come very often any more. I have also seen up to three rabbits in the neighbourhood, two large adults and one smaller one that I presume is a juvenile. I’ve seen the two adults in my backyard on a couple of occasions, usually early in the morning or at dusk when they come to feed on the weeds (this makes me wish they lived there full-time!). One morning while I was heading out to go birding I saw one of the rabbits sitting on my front lawn. Instead of eating weeds I was dismayed when he started nibbling on my Coral Bells.
Birders love it when the Easter long weekend falls in April. The weather is usually nice, and the early migrants have already begun to arrive. If it’s warm enough, the first frogs, butterflies and snakes will have emerged. Easter fell on the first weekend of April this year, and although winter and spring are still battling for supremacy, I was still able to find plenty of birds for my year list.
I started Good Friday with a walk at the Beaver Trail where I unknowingly flushed six ducks hidden in the marsh at the back, at least two of which were Wood Ducks. A few more Red-winged Blackbirds had arrived, and I heard a single Common Grackle call near the Wild Bird Care Centre. Blackbirds flew over several times while I was there, but the day was overcast and I didn’t get a good look at them. The best bird was a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets in the woods near the meadow – this species was a year bird for me.
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.
Although I haven’t been spending much time in my backyard this summer, I have spotted some interesting wildlife around. My flower garden this year seems to be a dismal failure at attracting butterflies or hummingbirds; most of the Cabbage Whites I observe keep flying over the yard rather than nectaring on any flowers, and the only other species I’ve seen lately were a Clouded Sulphur and a dark butterfly that might have been a White Admiral (I was looking out into the bright sunshine and couldn’t see it very well). Both of these were fly-overs, and spent no time investigating any of the flowers. I haven’t seen any odonates around since I noticed a female Common Whitetail in my neighbour’s front yard one day about a month ago while we were chatting.