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   OTTAWA BIG YEAR MONTH BY MONTH HINTS

December         Though you will not be starting to count birds for your Big Year until they start singing Auld Lang Syne on January 1st, you must be ready. Of course, you will have done months of preparatory planning, including making sure you are either on the OFNC's Rare Bird Alert phone/email list, or, barring that, on the contact list of one of its members. Because you will be in the field so much, make sure you can be contacted via cellphone, so as not to miss time-sensitive alerts. However, it is in the December (especially in the last half of the month) prior to the Big Year that we can get down to specifics. Make sure all your birding friends and acquaintences know you are trying for a Big Year. You will be surprised how willing folks are to help. Take part in the local Christmas Bird Counts, and be sure to attend the tally gathering at the end of these days. You may learn details of where birds were seen that are giving only generally or go unreported elsewhere. Keep tabs on any rare or uncommon birds in the area by monitoring the usual sources: RBA's, listservs, birding friends and NeilyWorld's various aids. At the end of December, set your target lists for the first days of your Big Year. Target the rarest birds first, not worrying about more common birds until you've got the tough ones.
January         The top priority is to mop up any rare birds in the area. If there are more than can be handled in one day of birding, go for the rarest ones first. If forced to make choices, go first for the birds least likely to stay around. After you have dealt with the rarities, begin to target the harder to get winter species. Visit such boreal or forested areas as Kerwin (River) Road and Riddell Road, Ramsey Lake Road, Low-Poltimore Road, and the Larose Forest; and such agricultural areas as Shea & Akins Roads, Rushmore Road, Dunning and Regimbald Roads, Giroux & Dunning Roads, Frank Kenny and Wall Roads, Earl Armstrong Road and Limebank Road.
February         This is the slowest birding month in the Ottawa area. Use it to finish getting the difficult winter birds so far missed.
March         It is still possible in March to get those winter species you may have missed. Irruptives may even pass through in March and April, especially if they wandered farther south earlier in the winter. March is also a good time to begin serious owling. Good areas for this activity are Bleeks Road, Malakoff Road south of Richmond, the Luskville area, Old Carp Road and Riddell Road. The earliest migrants arrive this month with spring breakup in last week accompanied by thousands of waterfowl. Visit such spring flooding areas as Bear Brook at Milton Road, Cobbs Lake Creek at Russell Road (Bourget) and Riceville.
April         Waterfowl migration is in full swing. Continue visiting the flooding sites as long as they are productive and visit the top refueling spots along the Ottawa River, such as Marais aux Grenouillettes, Rivermead, Shirley's Bay, La Ferme Soleil, Baie Noire West and the Eastern Sewage Lagoons. Watch for birds of prey migrating along ridges like Dunrobin Ridge on Greenland Road. Few birds are more common in spring migration in Ottawa than in the fall passage, but they are often easier to identify by virtue of their spring finery and eubellant song. Watch for egrets visiting. Get your Fox Sparrow in Clyde Woods in late April.
May         The peak month for spring migration and birding in the Ottawa circle. An ambitious birder can seen over 200 species in May only. Spend a lot of time at the top migrant trips in the area. The best of these are Shirley's Bay, Britannia, Deschênes Rapids (QC), Petrie Islands and Lac Leamy. Past mid-month add sites like Champlain Lookout (Cerulean Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo), Huntmar Drive (Golden-winged Warbler), Leitrim Road West, Leitrim Road West (Grasshopper and Clay-colored Sparrow), Carp Ridge on Thomas Dolan Parkway (Eastern Towhee), Mer Bleue Boardwalk & Trail (Lincoln's Sparrow, Nashville & Palm Warblers), Lac Philippe and Richmond Fen via Kettles Road (Yellow Rail, Sedge Wren) to search for the harder to find breeding birds.
June         Late spring migrants, such as Olive-sided Flycatcher, can still be found in the first week of June. In fact, Arctic Tern is only found here in late May and early June. The best place to watch for this spring only migrant along the Ottawa River is at the Deschênes Rapids (QC) or Deschênes Rapids (ON). breeding birds easiest to find. Continue to mop up the rare and uncommon breeding birds. June is also a good time to watch for rare gulls, terns and jaegers along the Ottawa River. After the end of June, when the young leave their nests, most territorial birds stop singing and become much harder to find. The land of no second chances lies just ahead, so work extra hard to nail the birds that will be most difficult later.
July         Fall migrantion is beginning, as the adult shorbirds leave the arctic breeding grounds early. This is where regular visits to the Eastern Sewage Lagoons and places like Shirley's Bay, Ottawa Beach and the Moodie Drive Quarry Ponds will bear fruit. Keep watching for non- or post-breeding wanderers and continue to monitor the RBA's and Listservs for rare bird sightings. Respond quickly, this time of year is not usually one when rare birds stay put for more than a day or two.
August         Continue to concentrate on shorebird migration through most of the month. Continue to faithfully check the lagoons and watch for exposed mudflats along the Ottawa River. Remember throughout the month, especially toward the latter part, to watch for migrating warblers and to start to visit prime landbird migration sites like Britannia, Shirley's Bay and Lac Leamy again.
September         This is the best month for migrant fall warblers and also continues the extended passage of shorebirds. This may be the toughest month to decide where to go. You will need to cover all the places where you may get birds you still need. Check the checklist tables for timing of potential misses and target them ruthlessly.
October         Waterfowl migration will cause a small shift in focus, with perhaps more time spent along the Ottawa River. If you are on the river enough during October and Novemeber, you may have the good fortune to find the one of the rare species that occur only in this season. Perhaps an encounter with a Northern Gannet, or possibly a Pomarine Jaeger. October also sees flocks of sparrows and late shorebirds passing through. Nelson's Sharp-tailed Sparrow peaks in the first week of October, but is seldom found. Ottawa Beach is a repeat site for this tough bird. Rare flycatchers can appear late in the month. It should be very difficult to add to your list by now. In one way that makes it easier, for you will have only so many obvious targets. It is the need for constant exposure in the field, with a much reduced chance of adding to your list, that make this month a test of your commitment.
November         Late migrants, gulls and the odd rarity can occur this month. Purple Sandpiper peaks in the first week of November, and is seldom seen at other times. Rare or uncommon winter visitors, perhaps some that were not here last winter, can arrive in November.
December         A second chance to get those hard to find or irregular winter birds you may have missed at the beginning of your Big Year. You will know what the possibilities are. By now you will know what your chances of reaching 250 are and whether further effort is indicated. One or more new rarities may show up during the month. If the last winter produced no Great Gray Owls, for instance, one may show up this December.


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Copyright 2000 - 2009     Larry E. Neily
Last update:  September 10, 2005