Adopting a Cat in the time of Covid


The year 2020 was a lousy year. Not only did the Covid pandemic keep us locked down for most of it, my fiancé and I also lost both of our elderly cats due to illness. I could have borne the year in lockdown with my two felines two by my side, but when our second cat Jango died at the end of October, the silence in the house grew too much to bear. As the winter dragged on, and the worst of my grief passed, I began thinking of adopting another cat – in particular, a pair of bonded cats, preferably a year or two old, as we would like a pair of cats that actually get along and have outgrown the energetic kitten stage. Unfortunately, we found out that trying to adopt a pet was just one more frustrating experience during the pandemic.

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In Honour of the Squirrel

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January 21st is squirrel appreciation day. It was founded in 2001 by Christy Hargrove, a wildlife rehabilitator in North Carolina with an affinity for and a dedication to squirrels. Squirrel Appreciation Day can be celebrated in different ways: from watching documentaries about squirrels and researching them online to watching them in your own backyard or putting out a special feeder for them. This winter, if it weren’t for the squirrels, I would only get the occasional cardinal or roving band of chickadees in my yard as all my overwintering sparrows have gone elsewhere. It’s nice to have their company and watch them eat the food I put out for them in these quiet, lifeless, cold winter days.

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January Song Sparrows

Song Sparrow

The Song Sparrow is one of the most common sparrows across much of North America – even if you can’t say for certain whether you’ve ever seen one, you’ve almost certainly heard one at some point, even if you didn’t recognize its song. Song Sparrows are the exact opposite of the “habitat specialist” – they live in a wide variety of open habitats, including marshes, open grasslands, desert scrub, agricultural fields, overgrown pastures, alvars and old fields, lake edges, forest edges, and not-so-quiet suburbs. It is a rare day when I go out birding between late March and mid-November when I don’t at least hear one of these birds singing in the background or chipping at me from a dense thicket next to the walking path.

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The Eagleson Pond Mink

American Mink

The American Mink is a relatively new addition to the list of fauna found at the Eagleson storm water ponds. I had first heard that there was one there in 2019, but had never seen it for myself. Then when Sophie found one killed on the road later that year I figured my chances of seeing one there had vanished. Fortunately Sophie saw another one there in March 2020, very much alive. It took me until May 2nd to see it for the first time, running along the rocks near the footbridge. I managed to get ahead of it, and got one photo for my iNaturalist project when it popped its head up while trying to find a way to get by me (I didn’t mean to block its path; I hadn’t realized it had swum across the channel beneath the bridge to the side where I was standing).

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Boxing Day Frugivores

Cedar Waxwing

Recently I’ve noticed a small flock of waxwings flying outside my house from time to time. Because of the distance I haven’t been able to determine which species of waxwing, and again this morning I noticed a flock while putting the garbage out. I stopped to watch them while they circled the street before flying off. There is a small crabapple tree in the yard across the street from mine, and I’ve been waiting for the last month for either the Bohemian Waxwings or Pine Grosbeaks to discover it. However, the waxwings didn’t land in the tree, so I went back to gathering my green bin and recycling box from the garage. It wasn’t until I made a second trip out to the curb that I realized I could hear a few Cedar Waxwings calling. I looked up, and in the tall deciduous tree next to the crabapple tree I saw about 25 Cedar Waxwings perching.

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My first Christmas Bird Count

Pine Grosbeak

This year the Audubon Christmas Bird Count celebrates its 121st year. Counting birds at Christmas became a tradition in the year 1900 when ornithologist Frank M. Chapman proposed it as an alternative to the annual Christmas side hunt, a competition in which two different teams killed “practically everything in fur or feathers that crossed their path”. The idea of wildlife conservation was just beginning to take hold around the turn of the 20th century, and Chapman seemed optimistic that burgeoning criticism of the side hunt was a sign that the unnecessary slaughter of hundreds of non-game birds was coming to an end. Chapman asked readers of the journal Bird Lore (the predecessor of Audubon Magazine) to spend some of their time on Christmas Day conducting a census of the birds in their area and send the results to him for publication in February. During that first Christmas Bird Count, 27 enthusiastic birders from two provinces and thirteen states tallied 90 species. Counts took place in New Brunswick, Ontario, a handful of northeastern states, Missouri, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Colorado, and California. In most cases, there was only one observer per count!

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Northern Visitors

Iceland Gull

This November has witnessed one of the most dramatic battles between the seasons I have ever seen: the battle between Winter and Summer. Autumn has been watching from the sidelines as first Summer forced its way back onto the stage with temperatures ranging from 19°C to 23°C between November 5th and November 11th; birds were singing and butterflies were flying again on Remembrance Day. Winter fought back on November 18th with the first sub-zero day of the season and a high of -3°C, but Summer regained the upper hand when the thermometer rose to 15°C two days later. Winter’s next strategy involved dumping almost 8 cm of snow on our region on November 22nd, with another 2 cm two days later. We haven’t seen this much snow on the ground since March 9th, and normally don’t get this much until about December 11th. Summer has since retaliated by raising temperatures to almost 5°C the past two days, and 7°C today. The snow is melting, and although it looks like Summer is finally weakening, I’m dreading to see what Winter has in store next. Fortunately it looks as though Autumn has had enough of these two fighting over its territory, and has sent them both packing as temperatures are supposed remain in the single digits next week with more rain than snow in the forecast.

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The Sparrows of Fall

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

By mid-October sparrows are moving through our region in good numbers. Breeding residents such as Chipping Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Song Sparrow and Field Sparrow are just getting ready to leave, while winter residents such as American Tree Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco are just beginning to arrive. Other species, such as the White-crowned Sparrow and Fox Sparrow which spend neither the summer nor winter here, are now passing through. White-throated Sparrows are also found in large numbers this time of year, although any remaining summer residents have been joined by numerous individuals from the north on their way to their winter grounds. It is a marvelous time of year to look for mixed flocks in scrubby fields and forest edges; sometimes you might get lucky and find something completely unexpected!

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Goose-watching in Kanata

Ross’s Goose

November is goose season here in Ottawa. While flocks of local Canada Geese start gathering together in late September, geese from much further north begin arriving throughout October, once the lakes and rivers on their breeding grounds in the territories and along Hudson’s Bay freeze over, until their numbers peak in November. Ottawa is an important staging area for many different waterfowl species, as the Ottawa River and numerous small lakes and ponds in the area often remain open well into December; the geese rest on these bodies of water during the night, then go feed in the numerous agricultural fields just outside the city during the day. This is the time to look for Snow Geese and the diminutive Cackling Geese among them; if you are lucky you will find a Greater White-fronted Goose hiding within the flock – or something much rarer.

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In Memory of Jango (2002-2020)

Jango, 2014

I really didn’t want to write another memorial this year. It has only been eight months since we had to put our beloved Phaedra to sleep, and even though we knew Jango was declining as well, he seemed to be doing as well as an 18-year-old cat with stage 3 kidney disease and an abdominal tumour could be. He was diagnosed with the kidney disease on his annual visit in November 2018 – then, in stage 2, he showed no other signs other than drinking more water than usual, though he’s always been a cat who loved his water. On his annual visit last year, not only had the disease progressed to stage 3, the vet also noticed a firm, abnormal mass in his abdomen. This was about the time Phaedra started going blind after her stroke in August. My greatest fear was that I would lose my pets at the same time, but when Phaedra passed at the end of February Jango still seemed to be doing well. If it weren’t for the fact that he had kidney disease and cancer I think he probably would have lived until his twenties!

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