In Ottawa there is an amazing place called Mud Lake. Mud Lake is located not far from the central part of the city, close to the Ottawa River. This area is truly unusually rich in a variety of all kinds of animals: from amphibians, snakes and turtles to a remarkable diversity of mammals. The lake is also part of a protected area called the Britannia Conservation Area. It is managed by National Capital Commission (NCC).
But this territory has become special fame as a transit corridor for a great number of birds that make regular migrations from their breeding habitats in the northern forests to wintering sites in the southern hemisphere. Mud Lake is part of the Lac-Deschenes – Ottawa River Important Bird Area (IBA). This important bird area is really exceptional because it serves as a stopover place for a very intensive migration of birds nesting in the Canadian taiga, both in spring and autumn.
Great Blue Heron
Black-crowned Night Heron
Many waterbirds nest or occur on the Mud Lake during migration
Throughout the year, naturalists love to visit the Mud Lake area as a place to observe many types of wildlife in a city setting. But especially many people – naturalists, birdwatchers and photographers – gather here during the periods of bird migration: in spring – from April to early June, and in autumn from mid-August to October. Thousands of naturalists come to Mud Lake to watch one of the most amazing natural phenomena – the seasonal bird migration.
Black-throated Blue Warbler (female)
Cape May Warbler
Spring migrants are very distinctive with their bright plumage
Now one of the migration peaks of small passerine birds is observed – when long-distant neotropical migrants which fly from the northern forests into the jungles of Central and South America to spend time there, when the northern forests will be covered with winter frosts and sheltered with dense snowdrifts. Migratory birds have not yet molted and wear unsightly faded plumage, but some of them are already sporting mating attire.
Black-throated Green Warbler
Cape May Warbler
The most abundant migrants are passerines, breeding in Canadian boreal forests.
The small ridge separating the lake from the Ottawa River is exactly where many waves of migrating birds stop. For an hour of observation, on some days, you can see from 30-40 to 70-90 bird species. The birds hide and feed in the bushes growing on the slopes of the ridge that rolling to the banks of the Ottawa River, in the crowns of tall trees, as well as among the needles of pines, firs and spruce trees growing around the lake. There are especially many birds after rains and winds, when harsh weather push brave migrants wait out the bad conditions in the bushes. Birds are not only wait they inspect all vegetation around searching for diverse insects and other invertebrates hidden in the branches and under the bark of trees.
Common inhabitants and rare visitors might be observed in the same day
Every naturalist will be “rewarded” with unique moments of observation of migratory species, gathered in one place… Hurry up to say goodbye to the brave passengers flying away for the winter and wish them all to come back to their breeding grounds in spring …
If you are driving from Ottawa to the west in the direction of Almonte, Ontario, taking March Rd. (Regional Road #49), you will spot the sign of Burnt Land Road at right side along the highway and fence along the road, surrounding a large piece of land, mostly empty, which is unusual in the forested areas around Ottawa. This is the Burnt Land Provincial Park with area of 516 hectares, which supports unique alvar vegetation community. Alvars have been recognized as globally vanishing ecosystems.
Scanty moss on bedrock
Burnt Land landscape and vegetation
The Park’s name – “Burnt Lands” – is originated from old forest fires during the time of first European settlers. However, the large patches of area with scanty vegetation formed by limestone bedrock, black in the hot summer season, could also initiate the name of the area. The Burnt Lands consists of a mosaic diverse habitats, represented by wetland and swampy area, mixed and coniferous forests and grassland meadow. The area is surrounded by developed agricultural fields and forest concessions. In spite of development around, the small patch of the open landscape can support the diversity of prairie species, including many plants and animals. The land of Burnt Provincial Park is owned by Nature Conservancy Canada and managed by Ontario Parks under a lease agreement (Brdar, 2000). It is one of protected areas identified as a Nature Reserve provincial park since 2003.
The use of the area of the Park is limited, due to fragile nature of unique habitat. There are no special facilities in the Park; it is closed for visit by large groups. There is no special parking and rare visitors usually park on the road-sides. Although some limited activities are allowed. The park is attractive for birdwatching and plant-watching by small groups of naturalists. Hikes and excursions have been sometimes organized by Ottawa Field Naturalist Club. There are no official trails in the Park, although there are some incidental trails. The information about alvar is presented in several nature-guides (Brunton, 1996; Wake, 1997). It also can be found in internet with direction link: https://www.alltrails.com/trail/canada/ontario/burnt-lands-provincial-park-trail
The Park provides various opportunities for nature watch
Alvar plant community is distinguished from surrounding landscape. It is rich with many unique species of open plains, including some rare plants. The Park provides habitat for many vascular plants, including one Globally Threatened species, three provincially rare and around 20 regionally rare species. Since spring until end of summer, the Park is attractive for plant-watchers who can find many interesting species in the area. Some of them are common in Ontario, but infrequent in Ottawa area. Others are typical only for calcareous areas or prairies. The visitors should pay attention to presence of Eastern Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans). This plant actively colonizes all appropriate habitats. It can be found abundant on the alvar and on openings in the forest areas. The Eastern Poison Ivy can burn the skin even after visit of Burnt Lands. It is recommended to change clothes after visit of the area, especially in wet morning, and thoroughly wash hands with soap. It is not recommended to visit the area with open legs to avoid severe burns.
Blooming Eastern Poison Ivy on the alvar
In the end of May, the site provides opportunity to see two blooming species of lady slippers: Yellow Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum) and Rum’s head Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium arietinum) as well as other spring flowers. Later, in June and July plant-watchers can find blue eyed grass (Sisyrinchium albium), columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), hairy beardtongue (Penstomen hirsutus), spotted knapweed (Centaurea maculosa), milkweed (Asclepias syriaca), yellow goat’s beard (Tragopogon dubius), wood lily (Lilium phyladelphicum) and many-many others.
White-tailed deer, coyotes, skunks, American red squirrels often visit alvar grasslands and marshy forest in the Burnt Land area. However, the area is mostly settled by diversity of bird species typical for open and forest landscapes. Birdwatchers will find in the area upland sandpiper (Bartramia longicaudata) and killdeer (Charadrius vociferus), brown thrasher (Toxostoma rufum) and eastern kingbird (Tyrannus tyrannus). Several “sparrow” species nest in the area including clay-colored (Spizella pallida), grasshopper (Ammodramus svannarum), savannah (Passerculus sandwichensis) and most abundant field sparrow (Spizella pusilla). The black-billed cuckoo (Coccyzus erhytropthalmus) usually arrives later than other birds, when hairy caterpillars attack trees. The cedar waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) is one of the common and abundant due to good harvest of creeping juniper and many other berries. More than 50 birds can be found in the area during spring morning with good conditions for bird observation.
Bird species found on Burnt Lands
The best time to visit park is from the end of April until October. This time is good for naturalist hikes to observe diversity of plants and animals, which typical for alvar communities and surrounding landscapes.
These days the parking places to most trails in Greenbelt of Ottawa are closed due to pandemics of COVID-19. But we hope that with summer time the normal life will return and all interested people may enjoy the beauty of nature in the National Capital Region…
The unique Ottawa Greenbelt creates specific atmosphere in the Canadian capital and makes it one of the greenest, “environmentally friendly” and attractive city in North America. The Greenbelt idea was proposed by Jacques Gréber (1882-1962), architect specialized in landscape architecture and urban design, as a part of his master plan for Ottawa in 1950. The land for greenbelt was partly expropriated, partly bought and partly donated by owners of farms located in this area. At present, the Greenbelt covers about 204 square kilometers of lands within the present boundaries of Ottawa from Shirley’s Bay in the west to Green’s Creek in the east. Most part of the area (149 square kilometers) is owned and managed by the National Capital Commission (NCC); other land belongs to federal government. The purpose of greenbelt establishment directed to prevent urban sprawl and provide open space for development of farms, natural areas and government campuses. Greenbelt surrounded Ottawa in the time of its establishment; however, after joining of several urban and rural municipalities and formation of city Ottawa in its current boundaries the greenbelt “moved” inside of the city, where it forms the green arc with numerous recreation areas. It is considered currently as one of the largest urban parks in the world. And, who knows? Perhaps, it serves as a model for future landscape architecture of the environmentally friendly urban settlements under scenarios of adaptive management development of human societies, where highly industrialized civilization neighboring with green spaces and caring about wildlife…
Ottawa Greenbelt: Source: NCC, 2019
More information about Greenbelt and places of interest you can find here
At present, the greenbelt area comprised by forests, wetlands and traditional fields, provides immense opportunities for recreational activity within a city. This area is used for farming, forestry, research and conservation. Successful location of greenbelt creates the “green” islands for the dispersal of wildlife, providing the connecting corridors for large number of wildlife species during migration and ensuring normal population dynamics. This belt supports also northern bird visitors during wintering, which can stay near feeders established by Ottawa Field Naturalist Club, other environmental groups and citizens. The greenbelt provides the presence of breeding sites not only for “edge” species, but also for typical representatives of many forest and wetland ecosystems from different ecozones.
Even now, with human population of Ottawa about 900,000 people, it is difficult to find an empty trail in the greenbelt in any time of the year. With projected increase of population and its doubling after 30-40 years, the role of greenbelt for recreation will grow dramatically. Several new centers growing in Kanata, Barrhaven, Orleans, Stittsville are located beyond the greenbelt boundaries. Their infrastructure and especially new roads present the new barriers and increase isolation of wildlife habitats in the greenbelt. The further careful planning and development are very important that to keep the current level of wildlife diversity and abundance in the urban conditions. Ottawa can pioneer developing and designing the urban park concept in North America as well as in the world. Current projects of the City of Ottawa, National Capital Commission and Nature Conservancy Canada on evaluation and analysis of the links between core natural areas provides the real base for the development of conservation plan, and, probably, for the development of urban park in Ottawa. It is difficult to predict what we can expect after next 50 years and what kind of wildlife will survive in the urban conditions. However, it is clear that the presence of greenbelt will secure the adaptation of species to the changing environmental conditions in the process of development. The greenbelt represents the real natural and historical heritage, important not only for city, but for whole country and many Ottawa visitors. It is important to remain this land without development. Its current role as a green space will provide much more benefits to the city and citizens at present and in the future than any modern constructions, new streets and buildings. Ecological integrity is more significant that visible current economic benefits. So, we just need to think beyond the boundaries of our current believing, standards and imagination.
What you can do in the Ottawa Greenbelt?
The area of Greenbelt is designed for all kinds of recreation activities. Each designated place has the special facilities, such as comfortable outhouses, maintained trails with wooden bridges and passages in the marshy areas. Guiding maps on wooden boards at the entrance provide information about the trails, as well as about the permitted activities. If in this place you cannot walk with the dog, then a corresponding sign will be put (crossed dog sign, etc.). In places where the trails diverge, signs are usually put showing the number of the trail and where it goes. Each path has its own name. Read them carefully to avoid getting lost. Signs also show directions to parking lots and sometimes even distance to them. In each particular place of the Greenbelt there are special skiing, snowshoeing, hiking and cycling routes. Some areas are open to visitors with dogs. Some areas are open for visitors with dogs.
All sites are attractive for nature watch in different seasons and many naturalists and photographers visit sites during a year that to look for the “chronicles of nature”, inspire by beauty of changing environment or just rest observing natural things.
What is not allowed in Ottawa Greenbelt?
Any activity that can be harmful for wildlife and can damage the integrity of the Greenbelt is not allowed. It is not allowed to cut a forest, leave garbage and wastes, camp in the greenbelt, start fire, collect flowers, plants and firewood, pick up mushrooms, catch insects, hunt or capture wild animals, damage trail infrastructure, disturb animals, destroy their habitats, talk loudly or shout in the animal breeding places.
What is the best season for visit of Ottawa Greenbelt?
There is no “best” season in the Greenbelt. This area is open for recreation activity in any season and weather. However, some areas in Greenbelt are more attractive in winter. Other areas gather more visitors in spring or summer. The autumn is adorable everywhere.
 About the National Capital Greenbelt. The National Capital Commission. 2013.04.26
Golden-crowned kinglets arrive one of the first from winter mgrants
Yesterday it seemed that this winter would never end … The beginning of April in Ottawa, capital of Canada (known as one of the coldest capitals in the World) was accompanied by severe frosts and not only at night. Frosts were changed by heavy snowfalls. However, the first thawed patches appeared in the first decade of April. Woodpeckers drummed on dry trees, notifying everyone that spring and a time of nature rebirth were on the verge … The first skunks woke up, checking at night the availability of foodstuffs in garbage cans next to a residential houses. Those of them who live far away in the forest, do not hesitate to appear during the day, checking rodents’ holes, dug under the snow in winter, these winter pathways still kept among the old grass, and what if any of these moves leads to a living hole? The Snowshoe Hare began shedding, replacing the winter white coats on the summer brownish pelt. Mammals after a long harsh winter are not very shy; for them the cold and especially hunger are much worse than the proximity to humans. Flocks of bird migrants stretched from south to north. Canadian and snow geese arrived to the open fields and water-reservoirs among the first, some northern ducks followed them on migratory routes. With the warming other migrants will begin to arrive: migratory woodpeckers – Northern Flicker and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Belted Kingfisher, passerines – wrens, swallows, vireo, sparrows, thrushes, warblers and many others…
Canada is one of the few countries where the diversity of wild species is quite large, thanks to significant little-developed areas located mainly in the north and thanks to laws that ensure the protection and sustainable use of rich wildlife resources. However, in many other countries, especially in developing countries, the situation with the protection of biological diversity is critical. Therefore, this year the International Earth Day is held under the slogan “We don’t have time”, denoting that measures to conserve wildlife should be taken now, and not in the distant future…
Striped Skunk just woke up and looking for food
In a defensive pose
On a safe distance
Snowshoe Hares after winter
In guard posture
Starting our blog in April, we hope to be able to talk about Ottawa Greenbelt and other natural areas around us… We also hope to talk about biodiversity and wildlife in other countries, discussing and sharing the experience of wildlife conservation and management …