The weather was a bit cooler this year; it was only about 14°C when I arrived at parking lot P8 along Meech Lake Road at 7:00 am. The sun was shining, and a few dragonflies were already flying – this time I brought my net in order to catch and identify them. Even better, this time I remembered to bring my camera’s memory card!
Migration finally started picking up toward the end of April, though the only interesting bird that showed up in my yard this year was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet on two occasions. Hurdman Park turned out to be great spot to take in migration this year. On one occasion I spotted 40 or 50 swallows flitting over the fields and river; they were probably mostly Tree Swallows, though I did spot a brown swallow and what was likely a Barn Swallow among them. On the first day of May I spotted a different flock of birds soaring over the area – a large kettle of Broad-winged Hawks! I had seen them fly over Hurdman before, though the most I had seen together was three. This time I spotted a large flock of over 20 birds, with another flock of 11 following behind it. As the birds were constantly moving in and out of the main group, I didn’t want to double-count any; it is likely that there were as many as 50 hawks altogether – the most I had ever seen at one time!
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.
I was really hoping to be blogging about spring by now: about open rivers and flooded fields, about groundhogs emerging from hibernation, about waterfowl and blackbirds and Killdeer and phoebes and warm sunny days. Although we are now over a week past the spring equinox, few signs of spring have appeared in the Ottawa region so far.
Winter has been slow to relinquish its grip this year. Normally we get a few days in mid-March where the temperatures rise to +8 or 10°C, bringing Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, Turkey Vultures, Song Sparrows and other early migrants. Sometimes we even see a few overwintering butterflies emerge. That didn’t happen this year. Instead it has remained very cold, with morning temperatures around -15°C or colder, and daytime highs rarely climbing above the freezing mark. We also haven’t had very many days with southerly winds to bring migrating birds north. Although a few migrants have begun to trickle in, only the Ring-billed Gulls seem to be back in good numbers. While I finally saw my first Canada Geese (4) in the half-frozen ponds on Eagleson Road on Monday, I still haven’t seen my first Red-winged Blackbird. Fortunately, the daytime temperatures are finally supposed to rise above 0°C now, so hopefully migration will begin in earnest soon.
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.