Archive | October 2013

Wild Coyote

I returned to Sarsaparilla Trail the following day. The Pied-billed Grebe and Ruddy Duck had disappeared, but the Hooded Mergansers were still there, swimming and diving in the middle of the pond. A female scaup had joined them, as had eight Green-winged Teal; I didn’t even notice the Green-winged Teal hiding near the reeds at the back of the pond until something startled them into flight, causing the green patches on their wings to flash in the sun. To my surprise, a Green Heron was also still present. When I first saw it, it was flying low over the water; I wasn’t sure what it was until it landed among the downed trees near the beaver lodge. Then I spotted the bright yellow legs and green back. It seems rather late for him to still be here.

I heard a couple of Red-winged Blackbirds calling from the marsh and saw a single Song Sparrow in the shrubs next to the boardwalk. Then I spotted a mammal walking along the water’s edge on the other side of the pond. It wasn’t a deer, which I’ve seen here many times before; it was a coyote! He walked along the shore right behind the Green Heron and then disappeared into the vegetation. A few minutes later, he reappeared at the water’s edge several meters to the right.

Coyote

Coyote

Coyotes are not well-liked in my area, and the hunting of them often crosses the line into persecution. Although coyote sightings are described as “commonplace” by the Ministry of Natural Resources, I rarely encounter them on my outings. Whenever I see one I am usually thrilled, especially when I find one in a conservation area where they are less likely to encounter humans and are therefore less likely to engender conflict.

Coyotes migrated to Ontario more than 100 years ago, when settlers began clearing the southern forests. Since then they have adapted well to both rural and urban environments. Rural coyotes prefer open, agricultural landscapes interspersed with woodlots and other brushy terrain. Urban coyotes typically inhabit green spaces and industrial areas within cities, where they avoid people whenever possible. They are able to coexist with humans by feeding primarily at night and resting in bushy or wooded areas during the day.

As with most wild animals, if you keep your distance upon encountering a coyote, it will most likely avoid you. I had a close call with one in Stony Swamp a few years ago when I rounded the corner of the trail and saw one walking along the path toward me. However, I was on part of a trail where dogs are allowed and thought it was a dog that had been let off its leash with its humans somewhere behind. I was surprised when it walked into the woods upon seeing me, and quickly vanished into the brush. When I rounded the corner, the trail was completely empty…..there were no humans in sight. Had I realized what it was when I first saw it, I could have gotten some awesome photos.

Coyote

Coyote

This one didn’t linger by the water, but instead walked back into the tall grasses at the edge of the water and disappeared. Hopefully he will stay deep in the woods on the other side of the pond, away from the trails and roads, and stay safe.

200 Year Birds

Red-necked Grebe

Red-necked Grebe

On Saturday I drove to Dow’s Lake at first light to look for the Surf Scoter that has been hanging out there since Thursday. It was supposed to rain later that afternoon, and indeed the sky was dark and ominous when I left. It was rather cold and damp, too, so I wore my winter coat for the first time this fall, even though the temperature was supposed to rise to 14°C.

When I arrived I heard a couple of Golden-crowned Kinglets in the trees near the parking area. I didn’t see much at the Arboretum, but in the marshy area at the edge of Dow’s Lake I saw six Red-winged Blackbirds perched in a large tree and heard a Song Sparrow singing. Another group of about 20 Red-winged Blackbirds flew by a little later but didn’t land. On the water, there were at least 1000 Canada Geese and perhaps half as many mallards swimming in the bay. A large number of American Black Ducks looked completely black in the poor light.

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Blue-spotted Salamander

Blue-spotted Salamander

Blue-spotted Salamander

After I left the Brant at Dick Bell Park I continued on to Shirley’s Bay. I spotted a pale bird gliding low over the field on the west side of Rifle Road and was thrilled to see a male Northern Harrier gracefully hunting for small mammals. I sometimes see these birds flying over the marshy spit on the bay; I think this was the first time I’d seen one flying over the nearby fields.

I parked at the boat launch, called to get permission to go out on the dyke, and then took the trail through the woods since the river was so high. Unlike the last time I had visited Shirley’s Bay, there were very few birds in the woods. I heard a couple of robins, saw a couple of chickadees, and had three Blue Jays fly over and that was it….there was nary a migrant to be seen.

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Thanksgiving Goose Chase

Brant

Brant

The Thanksgiving long weekend is one of my favourite holidays. The fall colours are at their peak here in Ottawa, and the days are usually still warm enough to wear T-shirts. Migration brings an interesting assortment of birds, while a few butterflies and dragonflies are still flying. If the afternoons are warm and sunny, you may even see some frogs or snakes enjoying the last of the nice weather.

On Friday I visited Hurdman at lunch and was happy to hear the loud, ringing song of a Carolina Wren. This is likely the same bird I saw back on September 13th; the habitat is good in this section of the park, with lots of dense thickets and thick, deciduous woods, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he stayed a while longer.

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Mid-Fall Birding

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

Ruby-crowned Kinglet

October is here, and that means migration has shifted from swallows, flycatchers, tanagers, and orioles to kinglets, sparrows, finches, and waterfowl. I had an incredible birding weekend, and saw many mid-season migrants that were either year birds or my first of the fall.

Saturday was not only beautiful in terms of weather (sunny, with temperatures rising to at least 17°C), but also because of the fall colours. There were birds everywhere, represented by a number of different species, and I don’t think I’ve ever had such an incredible day this time of year.

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Enjoying Algonquin’ s Fall Colours

Shadow Darner

Shadow Darner

Deb and I went to Algonquin Park last Sunday to enjoy some birds, fall colours, and late-season odonates. The fall colours were said to be at their peak, and with the temperature expected to reach a beautiful, sunny 20°C, we couldn’t have asked for a better day. Unfortunately the great weather enticed several other carloads and busloads of people to visit, so the park was the busiest we had ever seen it. Police were stopping people before they drove into the park to remind them of the speed limit (only 80 km/h in the park, and 50 km/h at the gate), and the parking lots along Highway 60 were full of cars – most even had a tour bus or two parked at the entrance. Some trails (such as the Lookout Trail and Peck Lake Trail) were so busy the cars had spilled out of the parking lot and were parked along the narrow shoulder of Highway 60.

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Porcupines and other mammals

Porcupine

Porcupine

On Saturday I stopped by Sarsaparilla Trail before heading to Mud Lake.  It was a cool, sunny morning, about 10°C, but I could tell it was going to warm up.  As soon as I got out of my car I heard some Golden-crowned Kinglets calling in the conifers.  I managed to spot one hovering at the end of a branch, as well as a Ruby-crowned Kinglet flitting among the trees.  Deeper in the woods, I found a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and heard another Ruby-crowned Kinglet singing.

On the pond I found lots of Canada Geese and a few mallards swimming around. A Green Heron flew by, and a Belted Kingfisher plunged into the water to catch a fish. I wasn’t surprised to hear both a Swamp Sparrow and a Red-winged Blackbird singing somewhere across the pond, and a few more Swamp Sparrows were chipping in the reeds near the boardwalk.

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