On June 14th I attended the OFNC outing to Gatineau Park led by Justin Peter and Carlos Barberry. I had attended the same outing last year, and had so enjoyed the birds, bugs and scenery that I was not hesitant to attend this one.
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!
On May 10th I spent some time in the west end and had a fantastic day, adding 18 birds to my year list. I started the morning with a quick visit to the Eagleson storm water ponds, hoping to find some warblers lurking in the trees; instead I heard a couple of White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows, a single Swamp Sparrow, a single Chipping Sparrow, and the usual blackbirds and Song Sparrows. The best birds of my visit were a Killdeer investigating the large expanse of dirt where a new block of houses will soon be built, the Barn Swallows flitting beneath the bridge, and two Common Terns catching fish. The terns are a new species for this location.
From there I decided to spend some time along March Valley Road, where there are usually some ponds that attract dabbling ducks and watery fields that attract shorebirds. Last year I was lucky enough to spot a couple of Northern Shovelers, Dunlin, Semipalmated Sandpipers, Least Sandpipers, Semipalmated Plovers, and single White-rumped Sandpiper in May. I was hoping for a similar experience this year and was not disappointed.
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!
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.
Although it was supposed to rain on Saturday, I decided to go out birding when I saw that the rain hadn’t started yet. The sky was gray and overcast, and a strong, cold wind was gusting across the open fields, but I managed to spend three hours looking for new migrants before the wind drove me back inside. My first stop was Sarsaparilla Trail, where I heard my first Song Sparrow of the year singing from the edge of the woods. I also heard at least six Dark-eyed Juncos singing from various parts of the woods, though I wasn’t able to spot any. Four mallards had found a sliver of open water on the pond, while a single Purple Finch and several Red-winged Blackbirds called from the edges of the marsh. Three Common Grackles flew over as well. I checked the edges for Great Blue Herons tucked along the shore but came up empty.
Last Saturday I came across my second sign of spring….as well as my third, fourth and fifth! The day got off to a promising start when I spotted my first Common Grackle of the year in the tree across the street, puffing himself out and emitting a song that sounded like a squeaky hinge. He didn’t linger long, but flew off when the tree filled up with starlings. An even more interesting sight was that of an American Crow in the tree in my own yard, breaking off sticks to use as nesting material. The week before while waiting at the bus stop I had seen a crow fly into a nearby spruce with nesting material, so I wondered if it was the same one.
The weather does not look promising for an early spring. The forecast is calling for a cooler-than-average spring, and so far the month of March has reflected that. Usually by the second week of March Ottawa’s daytime temperatures consistently reach the freezing mark, with temperatures frequently soaring above 0°C. While the temperature did reach a balmy, sunny 0°C on Saturday, it didn’t climb above -3°C on Sunday and is about to plunge back down to -10°C by Thursday.