One day in late August, I got off the bus after work and found a black squirrel sitting at the edge of the lawn a few feet away from the bus stop. He was just a baby, with a tiny body and a long tail, and seemed to be taking in the world around him for the very first time. He didn’t react when I started walking toward him, so I crouched down and, for some reason, held out my hand for him to sniff as if he were a dog or a cat. He showed no fear, and I was utterly charmed when he rested his paw on my finger. I was worried that he might dash out into the road – it’s not a very busy road, being residential, but buses do go by and there is a fair amount of traffic during rush hour – and since he seemed so trusting, I scooped my hand beneath him and carried him a few feet to a nearby tree. He seemed perfectly content to sit in my hand as I brought him to the tree (which did in fact have a leafy squirrel nest at the top) and held him up to the trunk so he could climb up it. While he was hanging onto the tree for dear life, I took this picture with my cell phone.
Baby Eastern Gray Squirrel
The squirrel showed no interest in remaining in the tree. No, he climbed right back down to the lawn and parked himself at the edge of the sidewalk, much more interested in exploring the big new world. The thought of leaving such a small, defenseless baby there alone made my heart ache. I know that all baby birds and mammals eventually have to leave the nest and make their way in the world, but he seemed so small and trusting that I had to go back and attempt to move him to a safer place one more time. I bent down again and scooped him up, and again he allowed me to carry him to the tree. The lowest horizontal branch was just above my head, but I reached up and managed to place him on the branch.
He ran down the tree again, and this time he decided to run across the lawn toward a small evergreen. I decided it was time to go, even though I could have spent the rest of the day hanging out with him. I’ve never attempted to hold a squirrel before, let alone carried one around, and I doubt I will ever hold a baby squirrel in my hand again. Hopefully he will quickly learn to avoid the cars on the road and the neighbourhood cats and survive to a ripe old age.
Maybe he will even visit my yard sometime and raid my feeder.
The weekend after we got back from Grundy Lake, Chris Lewis invited me to go dragon-hunting. We were just heading out to the Bill Mason Center when we got a call from Bob Cermak and Bernie Ladouceur, who were doing a Seedathon that day in order to raise funds to keep the OFNC birdfeeders stocked over the winter. The goal of a Seedathon is to find as many species as possible within 24 hours, and ask sponsors to donate either a lump sum or on a per-species basis. They had just received a tip about an Eastern Screech-Owl sitting in a relatively accessible area and thought we might be interested. Chris and I delayed our plans to go to the Bill Mason Center long enough to get directions to the owl, and then set out to find it.
Although Grundy Lake Provincial Park is beautiful, I didn’t see as much wildlife as I has hoped. I am not sure whether this is due to the time of the year, the weather, or the time of the day we were out. Altogether I saw 29 birds, 4 mammals, 7 reptiles and amphibians, 5 butterflies, and 12 odonate species.
On our last day at Grundy Lake, Dad and I decided to get up early and try the Beaver Dams Trail on our own. We figured that the earlier we left, the better chance we would have of seeing some wildlife. The 3.6 km loop trail passes through dense forest and wetlands, and according to the information guide, “moose, deer, fisher, Ruffed Grouse, and many other species of birds and mammals may be seen. The highlight of the trail is the Great Blue Heron rookery, identified as large bunches of branches at the tops of swamp-killed trees. In the spring a few of these nests are active; but bring your binoculars! Finally, you will also see the dammed rock fracture which controls the water level in Bucke Lake and affects Grundy and Gut Lakes as well as Nisbet Creek. Beavers are amazing engineers”.
By the second day of our camping trip at Grundy Lake Provincial Park we had become aware of just how BUSY a park it was. The roads were filled with people walking dogs, people strolling to the bathrooms or the lake, people driving cars or trailers, people on bikes, and kids on bikes from sun-up to sun-down and even after that. There also were lots of people hanging out at the sandy beaches on Grundy Lake every time we drove by. Fortunately we had booked a site in a radio-free campground, so we weren’t disturbed by people noise at night. Instead, we often heard the loons calling on the lake and the horn of a train that passed by so frequently that we wondered if it was just driving back and forth through the same intersection all day and all night long.
My fiancé and I spent the week of August 19-23 camping at Grundy Lake Provincial Park with my dad, his girlfriend Sharon, and Sharon’s daughter Ashley. Grundy Lake is a six-hour drive from Ottawa, and is located west of Algonquin Provincial Park about half way between Sudbury and Parry Sound. I couldn’t find any wildlife checklists for the park online, and presumed that it would have many of the same species as Algonquin. Indeed, Grundy Lake is included in the “surrounding area” of my dragonfly field guide The Dragonflies and Damselflies of Algonquin Park and the Surrounding Area, so I knew that this guide at least would be useful.
I was off work during the second-last week of August, and on the first day of my vacation I went up to Ottawa Beach to look for Bonaparte’s Gulls and shorebirds. I arrived early, as I wanted to get there before any dog-walkers or joggers or windsurfers scared any birds away; it wasn’t even 7:00 a.m by the time I arrived, and the sun was just beginning to rise above the trees. I didn’t see another soul as I walked out to the spit, where I found a few birds including three juvenile Bonaparte’s Gulls and three Lesser Yellowlegs. The wet puddle in front of the sand spit was much larger and deeper than it had been the week before, and this time I got my feet wet as I walked through it. I wasn’t pleased to see that the Ottawa River had gotten higher, as this means less habitat for any shorebirds passing through.
On Sunday I left the house early to visit Ottawa Beach before it got too crowded. I arrived at 9:00 am and saw only two people on the beach, one of whom was leaving. Although there were some nice mudflats developing beyond the sandy spit, I still had to walk through a large, shallow puddle in front of the spit that I couldn’t navigate without getting my shoes wet. I headed east from there, checking out the gulls (no Bonaparte’s today), and then spotted six tiny shorebirds walking along the edge of the water. They were walking toward me, so I found a rock to sit on and waited for them to come closer.
On Saturday I decided to spend some time at the river. I planned to go to Ottawa Beach to look for the Bonaparte’s Gulls and shorebirds that had been mentioned in the weekly OFNC report, with a stop at Sarsaparilla Trail along the way to look for water birds and odonates. In the large, grassy clearing at Sarsaparilla Trail I found the usual Autumn and White-faced Meadowhawks hunting conspicuously from tall perches and chasing each other with wings that flashed gold in the sunlight. I looked for Band-winged Meadowhawks (this was the first place I’d ever seen this species) but had no luck.
On the Friday before the August long weekend I spent half an hour of my lunch break at Hurdman. I would have stayed longer but several dark, threatening clouds began moving in and I got caught in a brief shower. I didn’t expect to see many migrant birds yet, but at least three Eastern Kingbirds were around, and when I started pishing in the woods two American Redstarts, two Red-eyed Vireos, a Gray Catbird, and a Yellow Warbler all popped into view. All of these guys will be leaving in another month or so, though some (such as the Yellow Warbler and Eastern Kingbirds) will be leaving sooner rather than later. There weren’t many butterflies around, but I saw an Eastern Tailed Blue along the path between the bus station and the bird feeders (all of which are empty in the summer) as well as a couple of Ambush Bugs. These tiny predators sit motionlessly in flowers such as Queen Anne’s Lace and wait for unsuspecting insects to land on the colourful flowers.