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30 May 2010 @ 08:04 am
Birding behind the Airport  

On Victoria Day I met a new acquaintance of mine, fellow birder, blogger and OFNC member Suzanne (you can see her blog under the name soul_diaspora) at the airport to show her around the trails and hopefully find a couple of airport specialties that she needed for her life list. We started our walk at the parking lot on Bowesville Road where we saw a couple of Tree Swallows and a Northern Flicker right away. I could also hear an Alder Flycatcher, Field Sparrow and Eastern Meadowlark singing from the fields across the road from the parking area, so we headed there first.

The Alder Flycatcher was fairly easy to track down, singing at the very top of tree a little ways away from the path. This was a year bird for both me and Suzanne, and finding him at the beginning of our outing seemed a good omen. It took a little more persistence to see the Field Sparrow, since he kept flying away, but eventually we succeeded. By then I had heard another sparrow singing close by: the low, drawn out buzzy notes of a Clay-coloured Sparrow. This was one of the birds Suzanne had hoped to see, and she was quite pleased when we managed to locate him in a small tree.

American Toad

I only managed one decent picture before he flew away, but I was happy that Suzanne got a great look at this handsome sparrow for her life list before disappearing into the shrubs.

Clay-coloured Sparrow

We weren't able to find the Eastern Meadowlark; no matter how far we walked, we never seemed to get any closer to it. So we turned around and tried the trails on the other side of the road - which are easier to walk along anyway.

The second bird she needed for her life list was the Grasshopper Sparrow, which is easier to find in May than in April. I heard one singing just beyond the dirt-bike loop and pointed it out to Suzanne, who immediately commented that if she hadn't known it was a bird, she would have assumed it was an insect calling. The Grasshopper Sparrow gives two soft, quick "ticks" and then a long insect-like zzzzzzzzzzzeeeeeeee which is easily overlooked among all the other crickets, grasshoppers, and other insects which sing in the open, grassy habitat preferred by this species. Fortunately, these sparrows like to sing from exposed perches, and we found this one singing on a post. When we got too close, he flew to the top of a tall, dry milkweed stem and continued singing. Suzanne was quite taken with this sparrow, and I was happy to have found her other target species so quickly.

I showed her the route I usually take, and we saw and heard the usual species such as Vesper Sparrow, Song Sparrow, Savannah Sparrow, and Red-tailed Hawk; we also came across a Common Yellowthroat and a Chestnut-sided Warbler in the same shrubby area very close to the path. Although it was only 8:30 in the morning, we also saw a couple of butterflies; the temperature was already in the mid-twenties. This Northern Cloudywing, a member of the skipper family, was my first one this year.

Northern Cloudywing

Not much further down the trail, I noticed a medium-sized dragonfly buzzing above the path. When it landed, I edged closer to it to get a photo. It appeared similar to the Lancet Clubtail that I photographed last year, though I wasn't quite sure if it was the same species or a different one. A pair of dogs came along (with their owner!) and startled the dragonfly away before I could get a good look at it, so I had to examine my photos later at home.

Dusky Clubtail

The yellow dashes along the abdomen appear to fade away at the eighth segment (S8) rather than continuing all the way to last segment (S10). This indicated that it was a Dusky Clubtail, and my identification was confirmed by Chris Lewis. This was my first new dragonfly species of the year, and only my second clubtail ever; this was one of my best finds of the day.

Dusky Clubtail

I also saw my first Hobomok Skippers of the year along the trail; as we weren't seeing too many birds by then (unless you count a group of birders), we decided to leave that trail and try the one at the end of High Road.

Hobomok Skipper

Suzanne had never birded Earl Armstrong Road, or visited High Road, so it was a pleasure to stop and show her the big pond. We saw a pair of Great Blue Herons, two Spotted Sandpipers, and some mallards, but the birds that intrigued us both were the swallows flitting above the water and landing along the muddy banks of the shore. Along with a couple of Barn Swallows, the majority appeared to be Cliff and Bank Swallows, making this a four-swallow day (we were missing were Northern Rough-winged Swallow and Purple Martin to complete the set of Ottawa breeding swallows). A few even landed on the telephone wires to give us better views.

After spending an enjoyable half hour watching the birds, we continued on our way to High Road. Here we found many Bobolinks, a couple of Eastern Bluebirds, several Tree Swallows, and more singing Eastern Meadowlarks which we heard but could not see. We also heard several House Wrens singing during the course of the morning, but couldn't spot a single one of them!

We did find a large, conspicuous toad sitting right on the dirt path on the path beyond the parking area. This was my first of the year, and I was happy to find him sitting completely in the open.

American Toad

Again I showed Suzanne my favourite spots along this trail. We saw lots of butterflies, including a couple of bright yellow Canadian Tiger Swallowtails, a few sulphurs, a few Cabbage Whites, and several Silvery Blues. This was the only one that was interested in having its picture taken!

Silvery Blue

In an open area away from the main trail we found another Alder Flycatcher singing. I also began to see a couple of American Coppers fluttering along near the ground. An eastern species, this member of the gossamer-wing butterflies frequents disturbed places such as pastures, old fields, landfills, vacant lots, and roadside edges. I had first seen this species last September, so I was surprised to find a group of them in late May. This is because the American Copper has two generations in our area, and can be found throughout the summer, with numbers peaking in June and August when the new adults emerge.

American Copper

This time I was able to get a photo of the American Copper in profile, where the red zigzag line along the outer edge of the hindwing is visible.

American Copper

We were close to the woods bordering the fields, and Suzanne told me she could hear the song of a Wood Thrush coming from the trees. We decided to see if we could track it down, but as we reached the edge of the trees we realized we weren't any closer to the thrush. However, we could hear another song coming from the wooded area, this one more intriguing. I could tell it was a warbler, but it wasn't until I checked the Audubon Field Guide app on my iPod that I realized it was a Mourning Warbler! This was the second time I'd heard one in Ottawa this spring; however, when I was at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden earlier this month I didn't realize what it was! Since I had never seen one, we decided to walk into the woods to see if we could locate it.

There was no trail, so we had to make our own. Mosquitoes quickly found us, and so I ended up with both bites and scratches on my arms and legs from bush-whacking into the woods to find the bird. We did reach him, but as he was singing from the canopy, we weren't able to see him. Then he stopped singing and flew a little bit further away, so we gave up the search. This would have been a lifer for me; as such, he will join the Sora on my list of birds that I've heard but never actually seen.

The day was beastly hot, so we headed back to the cars after that even though it was barely noon. We heard two cuckoos calling from somewhere off the main trail, but they, too stopped singing when we tried to find them.

Still, it was a great outing, and great fun showing Suzanne around the airport trails. It's alway nice to have someone to go birding with, and as she had only been there once or twice before, I wanted to find the two sparrows she was missing from her life list and show her the best places to find the airport specialties. Happily, I succeeded, and managed to find a new dragonfly for myself and hear the cuckoos and Mourning Warbler singing where I had never heard either before. I'll definitely have to return there in the future to see if I can find them!