The second trail I started visiting after moving to Kanata South was the Beaver Trail around the corner on Moodie Drive just south of West Hunt Club. It, too, is part of the Stony Swamp Conservation Area, which consists of almost 2,000 hectares of woodland, wetland and regenerating old field within the National Capital Greenbelt. Although the Beaver Trail is only 2.6 km long, it features all three of these unique habitats within its boundaries.
However, to describe it as just one trail is misleading; there are actually two trails here, with a few short interconnecting pathways. The inner trail, called the Chipmunk Trail, passes through forest and a small wildflower meadow; the outer trail, called the Beaver Trail, passes through both as well, but also has two observation platforms overlooking the wetland, each of which features a beaver lodge. I always take the outer trail as it has a greater diversity of wildlife. In addition, just inside the woods near the parking lot is a large building housing the Wild Bird Care Center. There is an informal feeding station on the east side of the building, which attracts its share of chipmunks, squirrels and birds.
I usually don’t start visiting the Beaver Trail regularly until mid-spring, once I begin looking for the first Song Sparrows and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers of the year, both of which can be found here around early April. It is also a good place to look for the first butterflies, such as the cream-edged Mourning Cloaks and small blue Spring Azures once the weather warms up.
Dark-eyed Juncos, White-throated Sparrows, Fox Sparrows, Golden-crowned Kinglets, and Ruby-crowned Kinglets are all very common at the Beaver Trail during migration. However, I’ve had better luck with species such as Baltimore Oriole, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Winter Wren, and Scarlet Tanager in the spring here than I have at Sarsaparilla Trail. Wood-warblers, too, are more varied, and I’ve observed Yellow, Black-throated Blue, Black-throated Green, Magnolia, Black-and-white, and once even a Blackpoll Warbler (heard during the spring of 2009). Purple Finches begin singing in the spring, and I’ve had a few here over the years. Thrushes, too, stop here occasionally during migration, including Hermit Thrush, a singing Wood Thrush, and even a Veery (May 12, 2009).
I seem to have more mammal encounters in the spring than any other time of year. White-tailed Deer are common all year round, but my only two raccoon encounters at the Beaver Trail have been during the spring. I came across one foraging among the leaf litter one evening in May 2009 (photo above); the other was seen only as pair of glowing eyes climbing the Wild Bird Care Center during the OFNC’s Insect Night in May 2010. Porcupines are fairly common as well, and if you look up you can often see them sleeping in trees. Despite the trail’s name, beavers are not commonly encountered here unless you visit very early in the morning or at dusk. They are crepuscular animals, meaning they are most active around dusk and dawn. There is a large lodge at the boardwalk; the one at the observation platform has fallen into disuse. I have only seen this wonderful, aquatic mammal here twice, in mid-spring each time.
Summer is my favourite time to visit the Beaver Trail. This is when the insects are most abundant, and I have found a greater variety of butterflies and dragonflies at the Beaver Trail than I have at Sarsaparilla Trail. In fact, it is chiefly because of the insects that I come here in the summer. Dragonflies seen here include Canada Darner, Lance-tipped Darner, Beaverpond Baskettail, Racket-tailed Emerald, Common Pondhawk, Dot-tailed Whiteface, Chalk-fronted Corporal, Twelve-spotted Skimmer, Four-spotted Skimmer, Common Whitetail, White-faced Meadowhawk, Autumn Meadowhawk, and something that may have been a Cherry-faced Meadowhawk (see photo below). I haven’t observed as many damselfly species at this trail, and have only identified Taiga Bluet and Fragile Forktail to date. The majority of damselflies that I recall seeing at the Beaver Trail are bluets, which can only be identified through a close look with a a magnifying lens.
I have observed a variety of butterflies at the Beaver Trail as well, including Harvester, Spring Azure, Silvery Blue, Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (once, on July 25, 2009), Great-spangled Fritillary, Northern Crescent, Mourning Cloak, Red Admiral, White Admiral, Little Wood Satyr, Common Ringlet, Common Wood Nymph and Monarch. It is a good trail to find skippers, and I have seen Juvenal’s Duskywing, Arctic Skipper, European Skipper, Tawny-edged Skipper, Hobomok Skipper and Dun Skipper to date.
Reptiles and amphibians are a little more accessible at the Beaver Trail than the Sarsaparilla Trail due to the design of the boardwalk, which juts out into the smaller beaver pond in a “V” shape. Amphibians I’ve seen around this trail to date include American Toad, Green Frog and Northern Leopard Frog. I’ve had good luck with snakes here as well, finding not only the extremely common garter snake, but also Northern Water Snakes and once (on June 21, 2008) a Redbelly Snake! Painted Turtles are a common sight in the summer, basking on the numerous logs in the pond by the lookout.
In the summer, Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Yellowthroats and Swamp Sparrows call the marsh home, and Tree Swallows show up from time to time. Four species of flycatcher – Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Wood-pewee, Eastern Kingbird, and Great-crested Flycatcher – breed here as well, and at least one or two can be heard on any summer walk, as can the ringing song of the Ovenbird. Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and Northern Flickers join the resident Hairy, Downy and Pileated Woodpeckers in the breeding season. Scarlet Tanagers can sometimes be heard singing their raspy, robin-like songs, and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds come to sip nectar from the abundant Spotted Jewelweed flowers which grow near the observation platform in late summer.
Birds of prey show up from time to time, though I’ve only managed to identify three species: Red-tailed and Broad-winged Hawks soaring above Stony Swamp, and a pair of Merlins at the boardwalk on September 12, 2009. One of the Merlins was perching on the beaver lodge in the autumn sunshine.
In the ponds, mallards and Canada Geese raise their young. Great Blue Herons, Green Herons, Kingfishers, Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers and Pied-billed Grebes show up from time to time as well, though I’ve seen the Wood Ducks perching in trees in the woods more often than I’ve seen them in the water! I’ve only observed one member of the rail family at the Beaver Trail to date, a Common Moorhen in the large pond on May 30, 2009.
Fall and Winter
Most of the same birds which appear here in the spring stop by again during fall migration. One surprise autumn visitor was a Brown Thrasher in the conifers right at the edge of the observation platform last year on September 12, 2009…the same date the Merlins appeared in the marsh.
By the time winter comes, only the year-round and winter residents such as the American Tree Sparrow remain. The chickadees here are just as friendly as they are at the other Stony Swamp trails, and this is one of the best trails for seeing Brown Creepers. Red-breasted Nuthatches are not as common here as they are at Sarsaparilla Trail, but the White-breasted Nuthatches – and even the Hairy Woodpeckers! – will join the chickadees if you put sunflower seeds and nuts on the boardwalk rails for them to enjoy.
I find the trail rather quiet during the winter, but by early April you can find me here looking for the first garter snakes, Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers and Mourning Cloaks of the year.
Although I haven’t been keeping formal records of the species I’ve seen at my favourite trails to date, most of my observations are posted in my blog and now in eBird. I hope to keep more detailed lists of the mammals, insects, reptiles and amphibians this year to give me a better idea of the number I’ve seen. With eBird, keeping track of bird species is much easier…so far I’ve recorded about 60 bird species at the Beaver Trail, and hope to find more this year!
Author’s Note (December 12, 2012): An updated list of all the birds recorded at Sarsaparilla Trail and the Beaver Trail can now be found here.