I went out on Saturday to look for the first Red-winged Blackbirds of spring. My average date of first sightings of these birds for the past five years has been March 10; the earliest date I’ve seen them in that time period is March 7, when I found four males singing along Trail Road in 2009. Last year, I found several males along Trail Road on March 10th, which made it a logical spot to look for them this year. Although I found a single Red-tailed Hawk and the usual crows and starlings, there were no other species to be seen.
There were no blackbirds in the fields near Richmond and Kanata, though a pair of Horned Larks on Rushmore Road was nice to see. A stop in at Sarsaparilla Trail produced 8 species, including a Golden-crowned Kinglet calling in the trees above the bench, a Mourning Dove near the parking lot, and a Hairy Woodpecker drumming in the woods.
I was beginning to think that my search for new spring arrivals was going to be fruitless. I headed over to the Beaver Trail for my last stop of the day and found only four species: crows, chickadees, two White-breasted Nuthatches, and a pair of American Tree Sparrows near the pond. These are the first ones I’ve seen there since last winter, and I wondered where they’d been all this winter. As I left the boardwalk, I noticed movement in the snow. A small mammal was eating seeds someone had left on the trail, and I was surprised to discover that it was a chipmunk rather than a red squirrel!
I approached the chipmunk for some pictures, but it scampered up on top of a stump where it continued eating.
For the past two years my first Ottawa chipmunks of the season were both seen on March 17th, one at Jack Pine Trail, the other at Sarsaparilla Trail. As chipmunks are not true hibernators, however, the first date is not very reliable; they do not have the fat stores to hibernate through a whole season, but instead wake up from a state of torpor periodically to feed on the cache they have built up in their underground burrows. If they wake during a period of mild weather they will often emerge from their burrows regardless of the date.
A little further along I came across a second chipmunk sitting on the snow. There was no pile of seeds nearby, so I slowly approached and tossed him some peanuts. The chipmunk darted into a hole in the snow, then poked his head out.
The chipmunk is my favourite squirrel species, and I was quite happy to find two of them on my walk. They are the first “spring species” of 2014, and I am looking forward to seeing my own backyard “chippy” one of these days, sitting at my back door waiting for peanuts.