Tagged: migration

The changing world of birds in the Ottawa Gatineau District – a 50-year perspective

by Richard Singhroy

Richard Singhroy is a student at the University of Ottawa. As part of the university’s Community Service Learning program, he has volunteered to report on several OFNC outings and meetings.

On Tuesday November 10, the monthly OFNC meeting started with a few announcements from Mark Brenchey. After drawing our attention to the sale of lens wipes by the Education and Publicity Committee, Mark went on to talk about the Youth Summit, now in its eight year, and the OFNC’s role in sponsoring young people to attend this event. This year, Sophie Roy was chosen, and she was at the meeting to give us a presentation on her experience.


Sophie Roy at the 2015 Youth Summit. She says, “We were doing something called blanket toss. Like First Nations did. You lie in the middle of the blanket, then get thrown into the air by people who pull on the blanket all at once. I believe the blanket toss was originally used to see across icy flat landscapes, but now it’s an event in the northern games.”

Sophie, who is a birder, spoke about how on the first day of the camp she got a chance to interact with threatened species such as the Hognose Snake. There were also a variety of outings including hiking, canoeing, and camping. They even got a chance to look at the stars at night with a telescope. The summit was held near Lake Couchiching, and it sounded like Sophie had a lot of fun.

Mark also talked about coming events and how the Events Committee needs new members.

The main presentation of the evening was given by Bruce Di Labio. Bruce is a well known among birders of the Ottawa region as a journalist, speakers, but most of all as an avid birder. He told us about how he started birding at an early age, when he and his friends would go out on their bikes to take photos of birds.


Long-time OFNC member, Bruce Di Labio

Bruce explained how Ottawa is in the path of a major migratory route because of its location south of Hudson and James Bays. According to Bruce, you can find around 361 species in the 50-km radius circle around Ottawa, 406 in eastern Ontario, 493 in all of Ontario, and 672 in Canada. Almost half of the birds in Canada can be found close to Ottawa!

Bruce talked about the history of birding in Ottawa from 1881 to 1969. Some recent additions to the Ottawa bird population are the Razorbill, Cave Swallow, and Violet Green Swallow. We also looked at species that have been threatened by habitat loss, such as the Henslow’s Sparrow, Bobolink, and Meadowlark. There were also many introduced species, such as the Grasshopper Sparrow and Eastern Towhee.

Chimney Swift in nest built inside a tall chimney. Photo by Bruce Di Labio

Chimney Swift in nest built inside a tall chimney. Photo by Bruce Di Labio

Unfortunately the Great Horned Owl has dropped in numbers. There were quite a few declines in bird species in the last five decades. For example, because of the change in style of chimneys, the Chimney Swift has seen a loss in nesting areas and, therefore, a drop in population. The Whip-poor-will is another species that has seen a recent decline.

Bird feeding has caused an increase in some populations, such as the Northern Cardinal and Carolina Wren. Bird feeding can give birds a foothold in an area. For example, if a bird is migrating in search of seeds, then it might not need to go south if there is enough bird feeding in the Ottawa area. One thing I found surprising was the Wild Turkey is an invasive species.

Bruce talked about records since 1954, where the Barrow’s Goldeneye has seen a rise. Although still rare, the Arctic Tern remains a regular migrant. Red Knots have seen a rise from the 70s to the 80s, but their population has been falling since. Hunting caused the Great Egret population to fall, but since 1972 it has been recovering. Finally, Bruce talked about the effects of DDT and how bird populations have risen since it was banned. The best example of one of these species is the Bald Eagle.

All in all, the presentation was informative and interesting.


Late fall birding


by Richard Singhroy

Richard Singhroy is a student at the University of Ottawa. As part of the university’s Community Service Learning program, he has volunteered to report on several OFNC outings and meetings.

On Sunday, November 1 at 8 am, a group of Ottawa Field-Naturalist Club members met at Andrew Haydon Park to do some birding. Birding is the act of cataloguing local birds. It is great for getting fresh air and learning about the different types of birds. Mark Gawn, who was leading the outing, has vast knowledge of birds and their migrating patterns. I learned a lot about birds and how to identify them.

A few tips on birding, it is a good idea to bring along a field guide to help you identify the birds and know ahead of time what birds you might find in an area. Because many birds migrate through our area, fall is a great time to find a large variety. It is also a good idea to bring a pair of binoculars.

DSCN0735We saw a number of migratory fall birds, probably the best known being the Canada Geese. We also saw Common Goldeneyes, which can be identified by their protruding forehead and the white spots under their eyes; they also have black and white feathers. We also spotted Red-necked Grebes, which can be identified by their red neck and needle-like beak. Depending on time of year the colour of the feathers can change.

At Ottawa Beach, we saw a few other birds, including a Bonaparte’s Gull. This bird lives in the boreal forest and can be identified by the white edges on its wings. Surf Scoters were also seen – a beautiful black and white bird.

After a hike in the forest and a stop to listen to the singing of American Tree Sparrows and other birds, we arrived at another site where we were hoping to see a King Eider. Unfortunately, we did not find one, although we DID spot a Black-bellied Plover, a Bald Eagle and its nest, a Northern Shoveler, and a Northern Pintail, just to name a few. There were large flocks of maybe 70 or more individuals. Most were White-winged Scoters and Black Scoters, but there where also Redheads, American Wigeons, Long-tailed Ducks, Gadwalls, and Barrow’s Goldeneyes.

In the end, I learned a lot about birds and how to recognize them. It was lots of fun; I would definitely recommend birding and will be doing it whenever I get the chance. All of the results were posted to eBird, a popular database that you can report your own results to.

A visit to Long Point and its bird observatory

The Slanty Shanty on Long Point offers excellent protection from the wind and sun, an excellent view of tip birds, and a place to sit - photo by Rob Alvo

The Slanty Shanty on Long Point offers excellent protection from the wind and sun, an excellent view of tip birds, and a place to sit – photo by Rob Alvo

by Rob Alvo, Bob Manson and Peter Manson

What serious birder wouldn’t take flight at the chance for a week at an isolated prime  location during the peak of spring migration? An announcement in Bird Studies Canada’s e-newsletter read, “Are you interested in experiencing spring migration at the Tip of Long Point, in southern Ontario?” Rob immediately contacted  the Long Point Bird Observatory (LPBO) to find out more.

Since 1960, LPBO has been operating a research station at the extreme eastern tip of Long Point, where scientists study migration (bird, bat, insect) and other aspects of natural history. It opportunistically opens some of its accommodations to members interested in being  immersed in the research, education, and training programs. The point itself is the longest (about 40 km) freshwater sand spit in the world, is the most remote wilderness location in southern Ontario, and is a Globally Important Bird Area (395 species).

A beautiful male Hooded Warbler, recently banded and awaiting release - photo by Peter Manson

A beautiful male Hooded Warbler, recently banded and awaiting release – photo by Peter Manson

We were able to join LPBO at the tip for the minimum 5-night stay from 15 to 20 May, but an additional 1-2 days had to be reserved on either end because of weather-based uncertainty. The tip is accessible only by a 1.5-hour boat trip with a probability of travel on any given day around 40%.

We spent our initial 2 days birding the 700-km2 Long Point area, for which there is an excellent bird-finding guide (Ridout 2010), and covered about a third of its 45 sites. We spent the following 6 days at the tip of Long Point immersed in life at LPBO. Our group total for the trip was 137 species, with another 24 species recorded by LPBO researchers during our stay, likely a good indication of how rapidly some birds pass through the area.

Trip highlights included a Harris’s Sparrow that many other birders saw at Long Point Provincial Park, and a Cerulean Warbler at the tip. The banders later caught and banded this bird and allowed us to release it. We had 22 warbler species on the trip, and Peter, a quick-learning novice, picked up 51 lifers.

The Tip Cabin as seen from the air - photo by Gary Walsh

The Tip Cabin as seen from the air – photo by Gary Walsh

One of Ontario’s first bird-banding stations was founded at Point Pelee, but it was later moved to Long Point (McNicholl and Cranmer-Byng 1994). LPBO, the oldest  bird observatory in the western hemisphere, is one of more than 30 stations that comprise the Canadian Migration Monitoring Network (Crewe et al. 2008). LPBO has three research stations: Old Cut, at the base of the peninsula and accessible by car; Breakwater, about halfway out to the tip and accessible only by boat; and, the tip, also accessible only by boat. “Old Cut” is a small forest that is excellent for birding. It is very close to a large marsh and the Long Point Provincial Park. A store, open daily from 0900 to noon (in season), is run by volunteers and sells the Ridout (2010) guide and other birding goodies.

The other parts of Long Point proper include Long Point Provincial Park, Long Point Crown Marsh, Long Point National Wildlife Area, Nature Conservancy of Canada land, and a world-famous waterfowl hunting club, The Long Point Company.  The tip comprises Transport Canada land and a provincial conservation reserve.

The Tip Cabin sleeps six people in four single beds and one double. Our only neighbours were 10 researchers housed at the Tip House (the old Lighthouse keeper’s house), about 500 m away. We also had a visit from a private float plane from Brantford, whose pilot turned out to be an old high school mate of Bob’s and took him on a flight over the tip, giving him an excellent view of our “study area.”

The sandy tip itself, like Point Pelee’s, was good for gulls, terns, shorebirds, and waterfowl. A small viewing shelter facing the point, the “Slanty Shanty,” seated the three of us tightly and required a scope. Walking west from the tip, we noticed that as the north and south beaches got farther apart, they became separated by dunes sheltered from the wind by sand ridges that were much steeper on the south beach than on the north beach. In the vegetated dunes close to the tip were placed 12 mist nets and the huge funnel-shaped Heligoland Trap, first used in Ontario at Point Pelee before the use of mist nets (O’Neill 2006). The Tip House was always worth checking because it was alive with occupied Purple Martin “apartments,” Barn Swallows nesting under the eaves, and well-maintained busy feeders. This area had some of the first tall deciduous trees that incoming migrants encounter.

The funnel-shaped Heligoland trap - photo by Peter Manson

The funnel-shaped Heligoland trap – photo by Peter Manson

The inter-beach portions of the peninsula had scattered cedar trees and ponds, the latter mostly overgrown by the invasive emergent plant Phragmites australis. On the west side of the study area adjacent to the Tip Cabin was an extensive grid of Tree Swallow nest boxes that has been studied by LPBO for over 35 years. The water levels in the tip’s wetlands varied from no water to about a metre deep. One, directly north of the Tip Cabin and swallow grid, had a muddy area that attracted shorebirds. However, it was a poor spring for shorebirds there, and we found only eight species on the entire trip, despite having checked numerous shorebird sites on the peninsula and mainland. The pond just south of the Tip House had Virginia Rails, and a rarely seen Yellow Rail was spotted there earlier this year. The small wetlands also housed an American Bittern and had likely been good for waterfowl earlier in the spring.

Mixed forests of cedar and deciduous trees were among the first dense forest encountered by birds moving west up the peninsula, providing wind protection. We had 11 species in one cottonwood tree. Both beaches would have been excellent for observing waterfowl in early spring, but the only species seen were White-winged and Surf Scoters, the always-late Redbreasted Merganser, and a flock o f seven, normally-early, Common Mergansers.

We maintained the two feeders at the Tip Cabin, which were visited by 17 species, providing excellent views of Tufted Titmouse, Red-headed Woodpecker and Redbellied Woodpecker. An amazingly tame companion was a lost competition Rock Pigeon, according to its yellow leg band.

A volunteer bander untangling a bird from a mist net - photo by Rob Alvo

A volunteer bander untangling a bird from a mist net – photo by Rob Alvo

We met some volunteer banders from central England, where each village hosts a different, though always strong, accent. We learned that a certain Dave, who had invited them to do some banding at his place in southern Ontario, was a “cracking bloke” (a fine fellow), that Britain has many more bird banders per capita than North America, that most British banders are male, and that many have their own banding sites over and above those that are officially recognized. The highlight for them are the beautiful North American warblers, which they told us don’t sing nearly as well as their drab Old World counterparts. All the researchers were very friendly and engaged us in their research activities, answered our questions about banding and migration monitoring, and gave us updates on the day’s birds they had banded or spotted, though we were careful to respect their time given the high intensity of their work.

The Fowler’s Toad is endangered in Canada - photo by Peter Manson

The Fowler’s Toad is endangered in Canada – photo by Peter Manson

Recognizing amphibian calls can help you avoid wasting time trying to identify something that turns out not to be a bird. The calling season extends from early spring to late summer, with each species having its own calling period and distinct sound (www.carcnet.ca). Thus it was strange to hear five species calling on the same day, from the early Western Chorus Frog and Spring Peeper, through the mid-season Fowler’s Toad (a lifer for all three of us) and Northern Leopard Frog, to the late-season Bullfrog. Salamanders don’t call.

No biting insects were active during our trip, but we checked ourselves every night for ticks: tiny deer ticks and larger wood ticks, both of which can carry diseases such as Lyme disease.

Birding the Long Point area during spring migration got us much the same birds as has Point Pelee, but was a totally different experience: the wilderness, greater time commitment, smaller area to bird once at the tip, banding activities, and the dearth of other birders.

Many thanks to Stuart Mackenzie for facilitating our trip and reviewing this article. For more information about the Long Point Bird Observatory visit: www.birdscanada.org/lpbo.


  • Crewe, T.L., J.D. McCracken, P.D. Taylor, D. Lepage, and A.E. Heagy. 2008. The Canadian Migration Monitoring Network: ten-year report on monitoring landbird population change. CMMN-RCSM Scientific Technical Report #1. Produced by Bird Studies Canada, Port Rowan, Ontario. 69 pp.
  • McNicholl, M .K. and J.L. Cranmer-Byng. 1994. Ornithology in Ontario. Special Publication No. 1, O ntario Field Ornithologists. Hawk Owl Publishing, Whitby. 400 pp.
  • O’Neill, H.T . 2006. Birding at Point Pelee. James Lorimer and Company Ltd., Publishers, Toronto. 224 pp.
  • Ridout, R. 20 10. A birding guide to the Long Point area. Bird Studies Canada and Long Point Bird Observatory, Port Rowan. 146 pp.

Rob Alvo is a member of the OFNC and currently sits on the Events Committee. He and his birding buddy Bob Manson are co-authoring a book entitled, Being a Bird in North America, North of Mexico (www.babina.ca), due to be published in late 2014. Peter is Bob’s brother.

This article is reproduced with permission from Trail & Landscape 2014;48(1):36-39.

Birds of a feather, flock away together from noise pollution

By Natalie Sopinka


Don Valley Parkway, Toronto. Photo: Google

Each morning on my walk to the University of Ottawa campus, I am surrounded by a mosaic of noises. From the quiet thoughts in my head to the crisp crunching of leaves (now snow) beneath my boots. But perhaps the most extraordinary sounds that surround me emanate from the road: the blaring honk of a truck backing up, the squealing of a van’s tires spinning forward through a puddle, and the constant, humming din of cars flowing into the downtown.

But my ears aren’t the only ones exposed to such noise. I look up from the sidewalk and spot a house sparrow. Does he hear the noises too?

As the number of cars and roads increases, so does the evidence that traffic and urban noises can change the behaviour and physiology of birds.


Yellow warbler.
Photo: Christine Hanrahan

A recent study led by David McClure at Boise State University found that migratory birds are sensitive to the sounds of traffic too. The research team played recorded traffic noises through speakers set up in the Idaho Bird Observatory field site, a stopover spot for migratory birds. Over 8000 observations confirmed that birds, including species familiar to the OFNC (e.g., American robin, red-breasted nuthatch, yellow warbler, cedar waxwing), avoided areas when traffic noise was being emitted from the speakers. Replenishing energy supplies and resting are critical during lengthy migrations. If there is ample noise pollution surrounding stopover habitat, birds may forgo stopping which could compromise successful migration.

Other work has shown that passerine bird densities are reduced in areas of Alberta’s boreal forests impacted by oil and gas infrastructure, particularly when noisy compressor stations are in operation. Great tits living along noisy highways in the Netherlands produce clutches with fewer eggs. When exposed to urban noises before sunrise, spotless starlings and house sparrows start their dawn chorus earlier in the morning, perhaps because they were woken early from their slumber.


Northern green-striped grasshopper. Photo: Christine Hanrahan

Noise pollution also affects other animals and insects. Boat propellers, submarine sonar, and underwater mining, gas, and oil exploration can all disturb aquatic wildlife that use sound to feed, flee from predators, and find mates. Even grasshoppers change the frequency of their calls when living along busy roads.

Understanding how animals respond to noise pollution can help us determine which factors may be driving declines in wild populations, and why. The research can also inform conservation managers about which habitats are important to protect from urban noise, and how we can ensure that noise pollution doesn’t reduce the quality of already protected areas.