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.
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.
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.
On Saturday, April 30th I took the train to Kitchener to visit my mother and step-father, and on Sunday, May 1st we drove down to Point Pelee. We weren’t able to check in at the Best Western just outside of the park until the afternoon, so we headed to the Tip as soon as we arrived at 11:00. The weather was not cooperative – it was cold and overcast, with the same north winds I’d experienced in Ottawa. North winds in May are never good for migration; birds trying to fly across the Great Lakes will stay on the south side of the lakes until the winds shift from out of the south, giving them a boost across the water. Of course, north winds could also mean that any birds already in the park would likely stick around before continuing north, but this did not seem to be the case.
Changing the calendar page from August to September is often a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, songbird migration is just starting to hit its peak, with all sorts of colourful warblers, vireos, grosbeaks, orioles and tanagers moving through the region. It is an exciting time for birding, which will be excellent from the beginning of September through to the end of November – and perhaps beyond. On the other hand, the warm summer days are definitely numbered, with hints of fall showing in the changing colour of the leaves and cooler mornings. Insect diversity is much lower, and by the end of the month perhaps only a couple of odonate species will be left. Autumn is in the air, and even though birding is now my main focus, I still take the opportunity to photograph the colourful and interesting non-avian species that cross my path, as each sighting could be my last until next season. Here are some of the critters that I’ve seen in my travels lately.
On Friday, June 26 I took the day off work to go dragon-hunting at Morris Island. First, however, I stopped in at the Deschenes Rapids parking lot at the end of Woodroffe Avenue to go searching for not one, but two rare birds. The Little Egret was back after having spent some time wandering along the Jock River near Manotick, the ponds along Eagleson Road, the pond near Palladium Drive in Kanata, and however many unknown places in between. The egret has finally found a spot to its liking along the Ottawa River, spending the past few days at the mouth of Pinecrest Creek on the east side of Mud Lake or along the shore of Andrew Haydon Park in the mornings before flying off to spend the day elsewhere. In the evenings, it has been seen flying in to roost on Conroy Island, presumably because it feels at home with the colony of Great Egrets, Black-crowned Night Herons and Ring-billed Gulls that nest there. This pattern has become somewhat predictable, so that many people who missed it elsewhere have been able to see it.