The Golden-faced Charmer

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Eastern Gray Squirrel

On the first Friday of December Anouk and I made plans to drive down to Kingston together to see a regionally rare Thick-billed Murre. Those plans fell through as an early morning report indicated that the bird was not present in the same spot it had been seen the previous two days; indeed, to my knowledge it was never seen subsequently again. We decided to remain in Ottawa instead, and had a pleasant day birding the city’s west end.

We started at Britannia Point to check the rapids for two male Harlequin Ducks. We found them fairly quickly, along with several Common Goldeneyes, some mallards, a Red-breasted Merganser, and some distant Common Mergansers hugging the Quebec shore.

Some other good birds included at least one Ring-billed Gull which flew over the point above us, and one robin, a couple of juncos, and a couple of House Finches on the ridge. We checked the woods and found a female Pileated Woodpecker, a couple of Brown Creepers, and several squirrels. Anouk pointed out this fellow which had a golden-brown face, large golden ears, and a gold band around his middle. His plump belly indicated that he has spent a lot of time building up his fat reserves for the winter, and when he walked right up to us it was clear where most of his food came from. I obliged him by tossing out some sunflower seeds and peanuts.

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Eastern Gray Squirrel

We left the squirrel after hearing a strange call in the woods south of the lake, but as we only heard it once we weren’t able to identify or locate the caller. We were a little surprised when, on turning around to head back to the car, we found that the golden-faced squirrel had followed us.

On our way back we followed the western-most trail along the fence line back to Cassels Street. In an open area I noticed a small insect fly by and land on a stem. When I tried to get closer for a photo, it flew off a short distance and landed on the snow. It looks like a Winter Crane Fly (Trichocera sp.), an insect that flies primarily during the fall and spring, although it may also sometimes be found outdoors on warm winter days. It wasn’t particularly warm or sunny, so I was surprised to see him. This may very well be my last flying insect until the spring.

Winter Crane Fly

Winter Crane Fly

A little further along we stopped to listen for the Carolina Wren and noticed the golden-faced squirrel had followed us again! I tossed him some more peanuts, and just as he was about to walk up to me a loud noise scared him up into the tree. He didn’t seem to want to come down, so Anouk and I spent some time photographing him.

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Eastern Gray Squirrel

In this photo you can see the golden-brown band around his middle contrasting with his soft gray fur.

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Two different colour variations of Eastern Gray Squirrel exist in Ontario, gray and black; the black form results from a condition called melanism, or an increased amount of dark pigment. Gray squirrels themselves are variable, as individuals may have varying amounts of gold, brown, or even red.

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Eastern Gray Squirrel

I don’t often photograph squirrels, but this one was quite charming. I tried to coax him down from the tree so he could eat some peanuts; however, he was having none of it.

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Eastern Gray Squirrel

After leaving Mud Lake Anouk and I drove out to March Valley Road, where we found three female Purple Finches in the trees across the road from the Duck Club feeders; we didn’t see the Green-winged Teal that had been reported in the creek. A drive to the Trail Road Landfill produced a dozen Wild Turkeys on Cambrian Road, one Red-tailed Hawk, at least one Great Black-backed Gull circling above the road with a group of unidentifiable gulls (likely Herring), and a single American Tree Sparrow. I saw my first Northern Shrike on Barnsdale Road, and a nice walk at Jack Pine Trail produced two more Purple Finches and at least three Golden-crowned Kinglets calling from the trees above the feeders and at the end of the first boardwalk.

We ended our outing after that, at about 3:50 pm. Although it wasn’t the trip to Kingston we had hoped for, it was still an enjoyable day – the Northern Shrike, Purple Finches and Harlequin Ducks made it a worthwhile outing!

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