Shifting feeding grounds bring shorebirds closer

Bruce Di Labio photo Our largest swallow, the purple martin is a cavity nester and is famous for using multi-dwelling birdhouses. During a banding session on July 6, purple martins were feeding their young dragon flies.

Bruce Di Labio photo Our largest swallow, the purple martin is a cavity nester and is famous for using multi-dwelling birdhouses. During a banding session on July 6, purple martins were feeding their young dragon flies.

Water levels continue to be high along the Ottawa River and, as a result, many shorebirds have been forced inland to more suitable feeding habitat. A case in point being the Carp River, where water levels have been receding and exposing highly desirable mudflats. As a result, four species of southbound shorebirds took advantage of this rich feeding area along the river in Carp early this week. On July 7, two lesser yellowlegs, one greater yellowlegs, two solitary sandpipers and two least sandpipers were found as they fed in the flooded farm fields along the edge of the river. The Carp River has also attracted a number of wetlands species including Virginia rail, sora, common gallinule, marsh wren and the rare least bittern. A visit on July 10 produced nine great blue heron, two green heron, one great egret and two upland sandpiper flying over the field. I’d recommend checking any recently flooded areas as shorebirds will be looking for good feeding grounds.

Locally, the birding has been picking up with a number of interesting observations. A flock of three adult sandhill cranes were found on July 7 by David Hinks. These cranes were feeding in a field in the Marathon Village area. Along Upper Dwyer Hill Road near Panmure Road, two upland sandpipers were observed along with a small number of bobolink and eastern meadowlarks. On July 2, Dan Brunton found a singing male cerulean warbler and a yellow-throated vireo near Ferguson Lake north of Calabogie. These birds were still present on July 9 and observed by Ray Holland. Outside of the Chaffey’s lock area, the cerulean warbler is rare in eastern Ontario.

We are now in the “overlap” season where birders can witness both breeding season as well as signs of the beginning of fall migration. While some shorebirds have started their southbound migration, the cedar waxwing and American goldfinch for example, are just beginning to nest whereas other species like the American robin and eastern bluebird are finishing up with their second brood. In another week, the first warblers will start migrating including the yellow warbler and northern waterthrush. Watch for swallows flocking on hydro or fence lines as they prepare for migration. You will notice this behaviour along back roads where barn swallows, tree swallows and bank swallows have typically been nesting.

One of the most unusual stories reported this past week was from Christine Chesterman. While sailing from Toronto to Kingston, a tiny owl landed on the riggings just before sunrise on July 4. Since the ship was well off the shores of Port Hope, it was obvious this bird was lost and desperate for a parking spot to rest. Christine determined it was juvenile plumaged northern saw-whet owl. Amazingly, this tiny owl spent the next 12 hours aboard the 110-ft-tall ship perched on the riggings. During its stay, the saw-whet sat quietly and was not phased by the activity on board. Once docked in Kingston, the owl finally ‘jumped’ ship at nightfall. The northern saw-whet owl is a scarce breeder in eastern Ontario. The juvenile plumage is only retained for a short period of time after the bird has left the nest. The juvenile plumage is very striking with chocolate-brown on its head and back and under parts a pale brownish or cinnamon-buff. The eyebrows, forehead and lore’s are white, forming a pale “X” on its dark face. Christine definitely had a rare sighting of this unique plumage. In more than 45 years of birding, I have only seen the northern saw-whet owl in juvenile plumage once.

Another interesting report this past week came from Lee Harper of Massena, N.Y., who has been monitoring and banding common terns along the St. Lawrence River for the past 24 years. Between Cornwall and Morrisburg, he has noticed a significant decline this summer in the nesting population of common terns from 920+ nests in 2012 to 720+ nests in 2013. Harper reports that the peregrine falcon and great horned owl are depleting the population and has captured this on video. There has been a recent increase in the peregrine falcon nesting population in eastern Ontario and peregrines are nesting along the St. Lawrence River. The once endangered peregrine falcon has recovered well since the days of DDT in the ’60s and early ’70s.

I received a number of emails from readers after last weekend’s inquiry regarding ruby-throated hummingbirds. Reports were received from Chelsea, PQ, St. Albert, Eganville, North Gower and Ottawa. Most reported that their ruby-throated hummingbirds were doing well and have been regulars at the feeders since mid May.

The first session of purple martin banding was well attended and 59 babies were successfully banded. This is down from previous years when usually 100 to 200 babies are banded on the first day. With the population of adults remaining constant, it appears some animal may be preying on the nestlings. For those interested in bird banding, the second session for banding purple martins will take place Saturday, July 13, starting at 9:30 a.m. at the Nepean Sailing Club, 3259 Carling Ave. Join Peter Huszcz for this interactive and educational experience, especially for youngsters.

Send bird observations and/or photographs to with subject line: “Ottawa Citizen Birds.” Please provide date, location and photographer’s name. The birding Code of Ethics and guidelines of the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club can be found at and to reach the Wild Bird Care Centre for orphaned and injured birds, call 613-828-2849. Report bird bands to


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