It’s been a great year for mammals. Actually, no, check that: it’s been an AMAZING year for mammals, considering I’ve been able to get great photographs of so many species – including those that are not only hard to find, but rarely stay out in the open long enough to snap a picture. It’s been a while since I’ve done a “Year in Review” post, but since I ended up with so many great mammal photos this year I thought I would dedicate one to this subject.
Ottawa is home to a great many mammal species, and we are fortunate that this city has a large variety of green spaces in which they live. Still, they can be difficult to find, as many are nocturnal or crepuscular (active around dusk and dawn), and those that are active during the day may vanish as trails get busy with people. The best times for seeing mammals, I find, are very early in the morning or late in the afternoon in less busy areas. In any case, being in the right place at the right time is often a matter of luck, and I seem to have had more than my share of that this year!
Deer and Moose
I haven’t seen a moose in Ottawa in many years, and didn’t see any in 2021. However, there are many deer within the city limits, and while I didn’t see as many deer as I usually do this past year, they continue to be most easily found in Stony Swamp. On January 11th I saw three on the ice at Sarsaparilla Trail near the skating rink someone had cleared beside the boardwalk, and later in the year I saw them at the Rideau and Beaver Trails nearby. People still leave out food for them at Old Quarry Trail, but I don’t see them there as often as I used to…possibly because this trail has become very popular during the pandemic. Still, I had one unusual encounter in June, when a doe started walking right up to me, no matter how many times I tried to move away from her. One of the individuals who leaves food for them was there, and told me it was likely she had hidden a fawn nearby and was trying to lure me away from it. I took no chances and turned around rather than proceeding; after talking with the person, I found it fascinating how well they knew the deer in those woods – not only could they recognize them individually, they knew how old they were and whether they had bred. In this case, the doe was two years old and this was her first fawn!
Coyotes and Foxes
I had two fox encounters this year, though I didn’t take any photos as both involved a fox running across the road in front of me (still several metres away so I wasn’t at risk of hitting it). The first was a rather mangy individual running across Carling between the DND and Shirley’s Bay, while the second was a healthier looking animal running across Moodie Drive toward the Jack Pine Trail system. Similarly, I only saw two coyotes this year – one standing in a field in the Ottawa Greenbelt Pathway West system, and the other standing in a field on Old Richmond Road. They are also present in Marlborough Forest; I’ve heard a pack howling and yipping several times on my early morning walks at the E6 parking lot trail, and can’t say I was eager to encounter them!
Skunks and Raccoons
I was fortunate enough to have at least two skunks visit my backyard between September 19 and October 8th, although I only saw two that first time when I noticed my cats staring at something outside after dark.
Raccoons were harder to find, although I see their tracks everywhere (including the Eagleson ponds). I woke up at 3:00 am one night in May to hear one raiding my bird feeder, and saw one across the pond at Sarsaparilla Trail in May and then again in September. My favourite encounter was watching a family of five climbing a huge tree one morning at Monaghan Forest:
Hares and Rabbits
Although it took me until March 1st to see my first Snowshoe Hare, after that I started seeing them a lot more regularly…maybe they are just easier to find when they are in their brown summer coats instead of their white winter pelage. Sarsaparilla Trail, Jack Pine Trail, Marlborough Forest and Shirley’s Bay have all been repeat sites; I was happy to see one at Steeple Hill Park on two occasions as well.
Eastern Cottontails are easily found in the city, especially at places like the Eagleson Ponds and Mud Lake, although I was surprised to see at least five on a March visit to the Britannia Conservation Area. They visit my backyard occasionally as well. I was surprised to see one at Stony Swamp in May this year next to the Rideau Trail parking lot on Old Richmond Road. Normally I only see Snowshoe Hares in Stony Swamp, and I suspect this rabbit arrived here from the Bridlewood subdivision nearby via the hydro cut.
Rodents: Beavers and Muskrats
I think this is the first year that I’ve seen more beavers than muskrats…in fact, muskrats were incredibly difficult to find this year for me. The only place I saw any muskrats was at the Eagleson ponds, which is not the safest place for them with predatory Snapping Turtles and mink also living there! I saw one in June and another less than a month later in July, this time carrying branches through the water.
In comparison, I saw beavers in five different places this year: Old Quarry Trail, Beaver Trail (twice), the Eagleson ponds, Sarsaparilla Trail, and two in the creek at Bruce Pit. Both the beavers at Sarsaparilla Trail and Old Quarry Trail were feeding in the reeds right next to the boardwalk. I couldn’t manage a clear shot of the one at Sarsaparilla due to all the vegetation in the way (I heard it munching away before I stood on the rail to see what it was), but the one at Old Quarry Trail was right next to the boardwalk in the open.
Rodents: Porcupines and Groundhogs
Groundhogs were also somewhat uncommon this year, with only one seen at the Eagleson ponds. However, as I was still working from home I did not see any along Moodie Drive near the new Moodie station the way I used to on my daily bus trips. Porcupines, however, were a little easier to find, especially in trees at various trails in Stony Swamp and Marlborough Forest. The only one I saw on the ground was an individual walking over the rocks along the rim of the quarry at Monaghan Forest! This one from Old Quarry Trail is from a particularly long walk there in April:
Ottawa has two species of squirrel (Eastern Grey and American Red) and one chipmunk, all of which are so abundant and common that I usually don’t spend a lot of time photographing them. Eastern Grey Squirrels visit my backyard daily, and one is using the drey in the tree outside my front window. Chipmunks, too are seasonal visitors, with my first one of the year seen on March 8, 2021 (a bit early) and the last one seen in mid-November.
For small rodents, I have seen a few mice under my feeder this year after dark though I am not sure whether they are White-footed or Deer Mice. They have come up onto the back deck a few times as well, amusing the cats. I have not been able to identify any voles this year, though a few times I have seen small mammals scurrying into the vegetation at different trails (including one at Cape Split Trail in Nova Scotia).
Although not a rodent, I should mention I did see one dead shrew this year at Bruce Pit. The iNaturalist link is here in case anyone wants to try to identify it (it was fully intact so I am not sure how it died).
Mustelids: The Weasel Family
Weasels are often difficult for casual observers to find, and I was lucky to see four different species this year. Not only that, I saw each species at least twice. Not only THAT, I got photos of all of them! The mink is probably the species that most people encounter. They live near water with thick vegetation nearby, and are frequently seen running along rocky shorelines. I saw the Eagleson pond mink three different times, but got my best views (and best photos) of one at the creek at Bruce Pit.
The small white patch beneath the chin is characteristic of this species:
The weasel, also known as an ermine or stoat, is probably the next most frequently encountered member of this family. Ottawa is home to two common species, the Long-tailed and Short-tailed Weasel, although the much rarer Least Weasel is theoretically possible as well. I saw a Short-tailed Weasel at the Beaver Trail in March as well as this adorable unidentified species at the Eagleson ponds in November:
The next most likely species to be encountered is the Northern River Otter, although even as an avid naturalist I do not see them every year. This year, however, I saw this species three times! One was swimming in the pond at Bruce Pit on June 17th. The other two sightings were at Sarsaparilla Trail – one on the eBird Global Big Day on May 8th, and the other on the eBird Global Big Day on October 9th! There were at least two there each time, most likely three on the second visit. Fortunately in October I had my Nikon Coolpix P900 with its 83x zoom and managed this distant photo:
The most elusive of the common mustelids in our area is the Fisher. They prefer thick, unbroken forest with extensive canopy and plenty of brush and downed trees. Although they are widespread in our region, they are adept at remaining hidden as they are mainly nocturnal. I was lucky enough to see two this year: one in late April at Old Quarry Trail when a flock of agitated crows led me to it winding its way through the bare tree branches overhead, and again in late June when one slithered through the marsh at Jack Pine Trail and appeared on the boardwalk in front of me. Both sightings took place early in the morning; I got a poor picture of the first and some fabulous pictures of the second.
Both sightings left me feeling amazingly thrilled, as the only other time I’d seen a Fisher was from a moving car as it emerged from the vegetation in Stony Swamp along Old Richmond Road several years ago. Very few naturalists are lucky enough to see one of these magnificent predators up close and personal; I was doubly lucky that it stayed on the boardwalk long enough to photograph it!
Looking back, I am amazed by all the wonderful encounters I’ve had with so many special creatures this past year. I was incredibly lucky to be in the right place so many times, and a large factor in this is that I was able to get out many mornings before work due to the ongoing pandemic. I am also fortunate to live so close to Stony Swamp where such wildlife is abundant, but almost any green space or park in our area can be home to a wide variety of creatures, especially those with water. Hopefully 2022 will be equally as amazing, with many delightful encounters yet to come!
Great pictures hun. You make your Dad proud with your love of nature! Keep up the good (work???)
Thanks Dad! Going out for walks and looking for creatures to photograph isn’t work….writing a blog, however, is!
That’s why I bracketed the word -(Work), lol. Dad.
Nice review. That Fisher encounter is one you will never forget. To have it pose on the boardwalk like that…just incredible.
Thanks Chris. It was the definitely biggest highlight of the year for me.
Thank You for all these great posts and Happy New Year. I have archived every post for years. Number One nature blog in the city.
Thanks David, I appreciate it! Happy New Year to you too!
Virtually positive your Sorex is cinereus. Definitely not palustrs or a Mi resort and am guite sure not fumeus,fumes, most similar to cinereus, esp. In non-winter pelagic color.
Don Miller Vt,
Thanks Don! I know nothing about shrews other than the fact they are usually identified by counting teeth and taking various measurements (according to my field guide, anyway)! I have only seen two live ones – one in my own backyard, and one in Gatineau Park. I wish they weren’t so difficult to see!