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13 July 2010 @ 08:45 pm
Mud Lake in the Summer  
Sunday was another beautiful summer's day - though not as hot - so I decided to spend the morning at Mud Lake. It had been a while since my last visit, and I was hoping to find a few interesting bird and dragonfly species there. In the January-March 2010 volume of Trail and Landscape, Chris Lewis and Bob Bracken published an Annotated List of the odonata of the Britannia Conservation Area. They state in their article that 58 species have been found there, or 48% of the 121 species in the Ottawa circle! I was hoping to find some of these species, in particular some spreadwing damselflies (which I have not had much success in finding this season) and the Horned Clubtails which Chris and Bob found at Mud Lake last summer. I left at 8:30 in the morning, eager to see what I could find.

I took a walk up to the Ridge when I arrived, and found the usual breeding birds as well as a male Common Merganser in the western part of the channel behind the ridge. The river looked so smooth and still beneath the gorgeous blue sky that I couldn't resist taking a picture of it. This photo is of the Ottawa River, looking west along the channel. The water level is still really low; there are actually several Canada Geese sitting on the rocks in the middle of the water!

The Ottawa River behind the Ridge

I returned to Cassels Street after that, keeping an eye out for any dragonflies buzzing around. I was hoping to find the Horned Clubtails Chris and Bob had seen last year along the northeast shore of Mud Lake, south of the filtration plant, so I cut across the lawn and headed there next. Along the way I came across a beautiful male Common Green Darner sitting in the grass. If it weren't for all the water droplets glistening on his wings I would have stepped on him; luckily I noticed him just in time to avoid crushing him. He was sitting in an area close the vegetation, and the grass here was completely in shade. I knew it would take a long time for him to warm up and dry off where he was, so I picked him up and carried him over to a sunnier spot. I took a few pictures of him in my hand, first.

Common Green Darner

I put him on a leaf in the sunshine and snapped a few more photos of him with the water droplets still coating his wings.

Common Green Darner

I don't think he liked the sunlight, for soon after he attempted to fly off. It was difficult to fly with the water still coating his wings, and he crash-landed in the shady grass again. Once again I picked him up, photographed him, and put him in a sunny spot. Then I left him to his own devices, hoping he'd at least wait until the water dried before flying off this time!

Common Green Darner close-up

When I reached the northeast shore of Mud Lake, I began searching the area for the clubtails. These dragonflies are usually black and yellow, and spend much of their time resting on the ground while they wait for prey to fly within reach. I did end up seeing a new species of dragonfly in my search, a clubtail in fact, but that is a story which deserves its own entry. While there were tons of odonates flying about the water's edge, I never did see any of the Horned Clubtails I hoped to find.

There was a lot of activity around this part of the shore. In addition to the dragonflies, a couple of bullfrogs were sitting quietly in the sun, including this fellow on a lily pad. As it is not often that I come across frogs basking on lily pads I decided to take a few pictures.


Wood Ducks were everywhere! I have never seen so many Wood Ducks in my life; there must have been between sixty and one hundred individuals. I didn't see any males in breeding plumage; likely they were all molting. However, there were many females present, and numerous juveniles. While most of the youngsters appeared to be almost the size of adults, I was surprised to see a number of small, fuzzy babies around too.

Adult Wood Duck


Red-winged Blackbirds were still present, and possibly still raising their young. This handsome male kept chipping at me the entire time he was there. He looked so handsome against the red and green of the sumacs that I couldn't resist photographing him.

Red-winged Blackbird

Red-winged Blackbird

A Red Admiral flew by and landed on a leaf next to the trail; even though a few have been around this summer, I haven't managed to take any pictures I was completely happy with until today. The blue on the edges of his wings looks so vibrant!

Red Admiral

While absorbing the activity around me, I noticed a bird diving below the water across the lake and took a peek through my binoculars. I thought it might be a Pied-billed Grebe (indeed, I heard one calling twice while I was there, though I never did see it); instead it was a female Hooded Merganser with three tiny babies! This was the first time I'd seen Hooded Mergansers that small; I wasn't aware that they nested in the Mud Lake area and wasn't completely sure that they had. This was another great find for me.

And, continuing on with the "baby" theme, there were a number of heavily-speckled baby robins in the grass near the filtration plant fence. A man walking along the trail pointed this one out to me dozing beneath the bushes.

Baby Robin

When I finally left that small corner, I walked back along Cassels Street toward the entrance into the woods. My intention was to take a walk to the observation dock, but I got side-tracked when I noticed this Black-crowned Night Heron fishing in a small area right beside the road. Although he was well-screened from the road by the shrubs that line the shore, I decided to sit down next to the small opening through which I could see him and have my own snack.

Black-crowned Night Heron

We sat there in companionable silence for about ten minutes before he finally flew off. I too, got up, gathered my things and set off into the woods. At the first opening onto the lake I stopped to take a look around. There was a Wood Duck family on the shore immediately opposite the opening, and a small spreadwing damselfly in the small bushes at the lake's edge. I didn't have my net with me and couldn't get a picture of him, so its identity will remain a mystery. It's one of the few spreadwings I've seen this summer, which is why it caught my attention. It was likely a Northern Spreadwing, which according to Chris and Bob's checklist is common here; the only other common spreadwing species in the conservation area is the Slender Spreadwing which is quite distinctive with its long abdomen and short wings.

Near the observation dock I began hearing some strange cries issuing from the treetops. There was more than one bird calling, and I wasn't sure what they were until someone pointed out a juvenile Cooper's Hawk sitting on a tree branch like a nighthawk! Eventually two other young hawks flew out of the woods and landed close by. Their calls sounded more like those of a Red-tailed Hawk than an accipiter, and I thought they were calling for their parents though I never did see either of the adults. I eventually photographed one eating a dead bird, which suggests they are no longer dependent on their parents to hunt for them.

Juvenile Cooper's Hawk

I checked out the southwestern corner of the pond next, where I saw a muskrat in the water and several large, brownish Canada Darners around the trees at the edge of the swamp. This is a common late summer species, and I was hoping to find one of the beautiful blue males.

The last surprise of the day was a Veery foraging close to the ground in one of the wetter areas close to the lake. Given that none of the spotted thrushes (i.e. Hermit Thrush, Swainson's Thrush, Wood Thrush, Veery) breed here, it was something of a surprise to see him there. His presence is likely explained by the post-breeding dispersal that occurs once the young birds have fledged and they (and their parents) begin to move out of the nesting area into the wider world.

When I set out for Mud Lake in the morning, I really wasn't expecting to find so many wonderful things. It was fantastic to see the young of so many different species, from the tiny Wood Ducks and Hooded Mergansers on the water to the large Cooper's Hawks roaming the woods. Mud Lake truly is one of Ottawa's birding gems, not just during migration but all summer long.

Next: Mud Lake Part II: The Dragonhunger

Soul Diasporasoul_diaspora on August 21st, 2010 02:11 am (UTC)
What a day! I would have been pretty surprised to see a Veery at Mud Lake in mid-July too, not to mention baby Hooded Mergansers. I did see young hoodies on the lake a few times back in 2007, but they were fledged juveniles, I think, at least there was no adult with them. And it was in August/September not July.

Love the close-up on the Common Green Darner.