September is not the best month to find a great variety of insects in most of Canada, but the weather in Edmonton was still warm enough that I saw four butterfly species, five dragonfly species, and two damselfly species. There were quite a few individuals flying, too, so there was no shortage of insects to photograph whenever I went out. The best spots were the gravel path that runs along the edge of the urban forest and the vegetation around Lake Crystallina. The day I’d visited the large lake to photograph the three Swainson’s Hawks was too cold and windy for many insects to be out, but I suspect due to the untouched wilderness surrounding it – no manicured lawns there! – it would be even more productive for bugs, especially in June or July when insects are at the height of diversity. The last site I’d visited was Poplar Lake, another protected storm water pond on the other side of 82nd Street in Klarvatten. My sister dropped me off there to check it out on our way home one afternoon, however, I soon discovered that the pond was entirely fenced with no trails or access to the wetland whatsoever. This was too bad because I always saw lots of waterfowl on the pond, and I was hoping to find a good spot for shorebirds and grebes.
It’s difficult to plan a mammal-watching excursion here in Ottawa. Most of my mammal sightings are random occurrences; they are much more secretive than birds, and do not conveniently give away their location with boisterous song in the summer or quiet chip notes in the non-breeding season. Diurnal mammals such as squirrels and chipmunks are the exception – both are quick to voice their displeasure with or fear of intruders in their territory. However, most other mammals are silent and prefer not to be noticed.
Stony Swamp is home to a large number of mammals, from the tiny Southern Red-backed Vole to the large White-tailed Deer and fierce coyote. By spending a lot of time on the trails – particularly in the evening or first thing in the morning, before it gets fully light or too crowded – you can see many of these mammals over the course of a year, but it’s difficult to tally more than a couple of species in a single outing. I find the Old Quarry Trail is one of the most reliable trails for seeing mammals such as Snowshoe Hare and porcupine, so I decided to spend some time there this morning.
By the end of March temperatures were back to seasonal again, with daily highs between 6 and 8°C. Then it got cold again in early April, with snow in the first week. The birds were coming back, though, and with a long Easter weekend right at the beginning of the month, I was able to get out and spend some time looking for migrants.
On Good Friday (March 30th) I counted 20 species at the Eagleson ponds, including at least five Song Sparrows, two American Tree Sparrows, one Dark-eyed Junco, and eight robins. Blackbirds were back in good numbers; I observed at least five male Red-winged Blackbirds and 15 Common Grackles! In the water, a male Common Merganser had joined the five Hooded Mergansers – two males and a female were swimming in the northern pond while a male and female were swimming together in the southern pond.
It’s been a fantastic week both in terms of weather and finding wildlife. Last Saturday I visited Andrew Haydon Park to check out the developing mudflats in the western bay. Unfortunately the water was rising again, so the expanse of sand has diminished. Several swallows were flying out over the river (species unknown), and I realized a small bird flying with them was not a swallow but something else – a good look revealed a small shorebird being chased by one of the swallows! The shorebird headed toward Ottawa Beach before circling back and landing on the small muddy area in the western bay, where I was able to identify it as Semipalmated Sandpiper – my first of the year!
By late July nesting season is over for many species and the newly fledged young are beginning to learn how to make their way in the world. Although the young birds are rapidly gaining their independence, their parents are still present, seeking out food sources and teaching their offspring how to forage on their own while avoiding predators and other dangers. I headed out to Stony Swamp one morning in late July and was surprised by how many different fledglings I found – sparrows, mainly, but also robins, Blue Jays and even a Downy Woodpecker.
I started the morning with a walk at the Beaver Trail, where I observed 25 species in total. A Ruby-throated Hummingbird was present in the parking lot, and I heard a pair of Alder Flycatchers in the marsh – this isn’t a species I hear often here anymore. I also heard a Common Gallinule in the marsh close to where a Belted Kingfisher was hanging out, though the kingfisher didn’t stay long when I arrived at the observation dock.
When I got back from Costa Rica I didn’t much feel like doing any birding back here in Ottawa. I’d been spoiled by all the colourful, tropical birds and exotic species that I’d seen – Costa Rica was a dream come true for me, and it was hard to return to reality. As soon as I got back I started thinking about a return trip there, wanting to spend more time in the rainforest so I could see birds such as Cotingas, Jacamars and Bellbirds. And oh, the hummingbirds and tanagers there!
It was difficult to get excited about birding in Ottawa, and the weather didn’t help. It was cold and rainy when we left and still cold (only 16°C) when I returned. The thought of going dragon-hunting stirred my interest somewhat, and when the weather warmed up the weekend after we got back, I decided it was time to take my net out of hibernation. Continue reading →
After I got back from Nova Scotia I was looking forward to doing some birding and dragon-hunting at home. As I had a full work week I wasn’t able to get out until Saturday, July 18th. It was an overcast morning, not great for bug-hunting, so I made Andrew Haydon Park my first stop. It was too early for any songbird migrants to have shown up, but an adult Brant had been seen in the park several times over the past two weeks, and I was hoping that post-breeding dispersal had resulted in some other new arrivals.
I spent an enjoyable hour there, seeing 27 species in total. One of my highlights was watching four Caspian Terns hunting in the western bay along with two Common Terns. The size difference was amazing – the Common Terns appeared small and slender, while the Caspian Terns were larger and heftier. Several Purple Martins from the Dick Bell colony hunted insects in the sky, while one Great Blue Heron, two Great Egrets and three Hooded Mergansers hunted for fish in the river close to shore. A Lesser Yellowlegs and a Least Sandpiper had joined the resident Killdeer and Spotted Sandpipers in the developing mudflats in the western bay.
Jack Pine Trail in Stony Swamp is one of my favourite trails. I got a lifer there the first time I ever visited the trail back in June 2006 – a Virginia Rail – and many more since. Because of its mix of habitats, it is a good spot to view wildlife all year round; the trails cross several marshes, coniferous and deciduous forest, and even an open alvar-like area that hosts Field Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows in the summer. In the winter, the OFNC maintains a large bird feeder along the northern part of the trail, though this doesn’t prevent chickadees from approaching people for handouts. This is one of the best places in Ottawa to feed chickadees and nuthatches right from your hand.
After leaving the Valley of the Five Lakes, Doran and I drove south until we reached the turnoff for Athabasca Falls. Although my family had visited these falls when I was a kid, I didn’t remember them at all; it would be like seeing them for the first time. The falls are only 23 metres high, but the large volume of water that funnels into the waterfall makes the Athabasca Falls one of the most powerful falls in the mountain parks. The Athabasca River, which is fed by the Columbia Glacier about 70 kilometres south, thunders into a narrow gorge, where the quartzite and limestone walls have been worn away and potholes have been created by the force of the rushing water.