Last weekend Deb and I spent the morning birding the Old Quarry Trail in Kanata. We were hoping to find some deer, porcupines or other mammals as well as some woodland birds for our year list. 2011, at least for me, has been relatively devoid of mammals; so far all I’ve seen are squirrels and deer, and I was looking forward to seeing something different.
It wasn’t too cold, but the sun never came out as promised. Because of all the fresh snow there were many skiers and snowshoers on the trails already. Unfortunately a noisy pair of cross-country skiers startled the first deer we saw near the “Deer John” feeders. Although the doe bounded off into the woods, the birds were not as skittish and remained close to the elaborate feeding area just off the main trail. Species present included a Brown Creeper, a pair of White-breasted Nuthatches, a Red-breasted Nuthatch and, of course, chickadees. A small flock of finches flew over – redpolls, perhaps – and kept heading north without stopping.
Deb and I spent some time feeding and photographing the birds. I wanted to get a picture of the Brown Creeper, but this individual was – like all members of its species – most uncooperative, quickly scrambling up the tree trunk to the upper reaches of the tree limbs. The Red-breasted Nuthatch was too quick to photograph, but the White-breasted Nuthatches took their time, lingering on the tree trunks while they surveyed the offerings.
These birds are common and widespread in deciduous areas across southern Canada. It is the largest nuthatch species, and distinctive with its blue, white and black colouration. They are agile birds, comfortable creeping up and down tree trunks and winding their way around horizontal limbs in their search for insects. In the winter they readily come to feeders looking for sunflower seeds and nuts.
After enjoying the antics of the nuthatches and chickadees we left the birds to fend for themselves and proceeded deeper into the woods. We encountered fewer people here and fewer birds. At one point, while moving off the trail to allow another skier to pass, I turned my head to the right and stopped when I saw a buck standing there watching us. After a moment, I realized a second one was standing behind the first one. He was hard to see, as he was almost hidden among the trees.
Male White-tailed Deer
For a long time the two deer just stood there. Another skier glided by on the snow, and at first we thought they were going turn and run. However, both of them stood their ground, and seemed to relax once the skier passed out of sight. I think they realized that neither Deb nor I were going to come any closer, and the closest buck began to use his antlers to scratch his back.
Eventually they started walking toward us, and then turned down the path and calmly walked away.
Further along the trail, despite searching the snow for tracks, we found no sign of the Ruffed Grouse from last winter. The only birds we saw were a few more nuthatches, chickadees and a couple of Downy Woodpeckers. Then we noticed a deer walking along the trail behind us. She was going the same way we were, and when I brought out my baggie of seed and began tossing the food onto the ground she actually started running toward us! This doe had the lightest-coloured eyes of any deer I’d seen, and she eagerly began lapping up the peanuts and sunflowers on the ground.
Just then a woman on skis came from the other direction. She had a bag of sliced apples and threw a couple toward the deer as well. Then I noticed three more deer approaching from the same direction as the first doe! One was quite small, and Deb and I figured it was one of last year’s fawns. They, too, came to feed on the apples while the first doe started walking into the deep snow beyond the path.
You can see how deep the snow is off-trail in this photo:
Once the apples were gone the deer began to leave. The baby followed the doe with the light eyes off-trail toward some shrubs. We watched as the doe turned to sniff noses with the baby, and we all thought, “How cute!”
However, a millisecond after this photo was taken the doe lashed out at the fawn with her front hoof, telling him quite clearly to back off! We didn’t think it such a tender moment after that! The baby turned away and began munching on some dried leaves instead. It looks like he is watching us to see if we have anything better-tasting!
He doesn’t seem to be enjoying the leaves in this image!
We left shortly after that, having enjoyed the experience immensely. After seeing so few bird species around it was amazing and awe-inspiring to watch these majestic animals from only mere feet away. As it turns out, they were the last deer we saw on the trail that day. We encountered two more bird species on our way back to the parking lot, a raven flying over and a Pileated Woodpecker tapping on a tree trunk only about a foot above the ground. I was a little disappointed that we didn’t see a single porcupine or snowshoe hare, even though we saw evidence of both.
While I enjoyed the walk in the woods, I find I am becoming tired of winter. I’m beginning to yearn for spring, and to see some different species and hear the songs of our resident breeders on territory. In another month or so the first spring migrants, the Red-winged Blackbirds will be back; after that, the floodgates will open and new species will arrive practically every week until June. In the meantime, I’ll just have to keep going out and looking for whatever wildlife chooses to cross paths with me.