A Winter Walk

Porcupine Den

On Saturday I was left without the car, so if I wanted to go out (which of course I did as soon as the sun began to break through the clouds!) I would have to depend on my own two feet. Fortunately it wasn’t that cold out, only -4°C when I left, although by the time I got home the temperature had warmed up to a mild, sunny -1°C.

When I left the house I wasn’t planning to go very far. There is a school close by which has an ornamental tree out front that is full of berries, and I’ve seen Bohemian Waxwings in that tree three times in the last week on my way to work in the morning. Since I haven’t photographed any of these lovely winter wanderers yet this season, I decided to stake out the tree and see if I could get any decent photos. When I arrived I saw them flying around above the tree, but they headed off in a southeasterly direction before I could even take my camera out of the bag.


The waxwings didn’t appear to be returning any time soon, so it was time to formulate a new plan. I know there are a couple of trails in the area that join up with the Rideau Trail, so I decided to try one of these. It didn’t take me long to leave the subdivision behind and enter the greenbelt; across from one of the last houses on my route I saw a nest box on a utility pole and wondered if any birds had used it this past spring. I will have to check it out next May and see who uses it….perhaps a House Wren, an Eastern Bluebird, or a Tree Swallow? While all of these birds use nest boxes, House Sparrow is the most likely species in this neighbourhood.

Nesting Box

It didn’t take long before the trail led me to the hydro cut that joins up with the Rideau Trail parking lot on Richmond Road. I didn’t follow the hydro cut, but instead turned into the woods. Almost right away I heard a White-breasted Nuthatch calling, and found him (or her) investigating a small hole in a tree branch. He disappeared inside for a bit, and when he came out there was something small and pale in his beak. I am not sure whether he found a bit of food in there or was checking out a potential nesting site for the spring.

White-breasted Nuthatch

As I continued on my way I noticed several small black specks in depressions formed by boot prints and other tracks in the snow. This was the first time I had seen snow fleas this season; a species of springtail (order Collembola), they are often seen on mild, sunny winter days. They were also plentiful in the snow at the base of many tree trunks.

Snow Fleas

The woods were beautiful with the fresh fallen snow. In particular I liked the way the snow covered fallen trees and logs.

Winter scenery

I saw a fresh set of deer tracks leading into the woods and decided to the follow them. Away from the path I came across a couple of chickadees and Brown Creepers foraging for food. The Brown Creeper was a new addition to my winter list.

While watching the birds, I heard some crows making a fuss not too far away. Thinking they had cornered an owl, I followed another set of deer tracks deeper into the woods. When I found the crows they were buzz-bombing something at the top of a very tall evergreen. I couldn’t see the object of their attention, but then a few moments later a Red-tailed Hawk took off! He was very pale, but the red tail was unmistakable. I hadn’t expected to see this beautiful buteo in the middle of the woods!

As I made my way back to the main trail, I came across a pile of scat next to what looked like a small cave created by a partially uprooted tree. Enough of the ground had been torn away to create a cozy, dark pocket protected from the elements, and I was not entirely surprised to find that it was occupied.

Porcupine Den

I circled around the den to find a better angle to photograph it, and could see a porcupine’s tail peeking out.

No Vacancy

I crouched down, trying to get a good look at him, and that’s when I realized he was looking back at me! I quickly took this picture before backing away, knowing that an animal which feels cornered or threatened can be dangerous. I should note I was not as close as it seems from this photo…thank goodness my camera has a 20x zoom!

Porcupine

On my way back to the trail, a slight breeze stirred the snow-laden branches of the trees. The snow began to cascade down, and when I saw the way the sun lit up the falling snowflakes I had to take a couple of pictures. The light was almost magical.

Snow Shine

Winter Woods

On my way back home, I found a flock of about a dozen House Finches and a single goldfinch in the shrubs along the hydro cut. There were more ornamental crabapple trees along the path, too, although I didn’t see any birds feeding on them. I did see two American Robins fly over, though – another species to add to my winter list.

Altogether I walked over 7 km. It was fun exploring my own subdivision, and it’s good to know that the Stony Swamp trails are so accessible. I can’t wait till spring so I can start taking my bike out instead of driving!

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