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Coyote vs. Goose

Coyote (2018)

Coyote (2018)

On March 6, 2022 I blogged about seeing a coyote in my own subdivision. As mentioned in that post, I only see coyotes a few times each year, so I didn’t expect to see another one for a while… especially since I am not getting out as much as I used to. However, now that the weather is warmer and my health is (slowly) improving, I have been getting out for short walks when the weather is good. I missed so much of last fall’s migration that I’ve been eager to get out this spring; although I’ve been sticking close to home, I’ve got a great variety of birding habitats in my 5MR (5-mile-radius centered on home, a birding concept that gained popularity during the 2020 pandemic lockdowns), with a lifetime list of 217 species.

I’ve seen 145 species at Sarsaparilla Trail alone, a short circular trail in Stony Swamp that has occasionally yielded such uncommon species such as Golden-winged Warbler, Ross’s Goose, and Golden Eagle. When I stopped there on April 12th I was hoping to find a few common birds for my year list, and it did not disappoint.

Canada Goose on nest (2012)

Canada Goose on nest (2012)

My first new year bird was a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets. I heard at least two calling in the conifers next to the parking lot and saw one of them flitting around 20 feet up. My second was a Fox Sparrow feeding on the trail with some juncos, immediately standing out due to its larger size and rusty red colouring. It didn’t stay in view very long, and flew off when I tried to get close enough for a photo. I heard a singing Purple Finch and Brown Creeper on my way to the boardwalk, and once I reached the pond and started scanning the area I found a couple of Ring-necked Ducks (year bird #3) diving in the deep southern part of the pond and the newly-arrived resident Tree Swallows (year bird #4) flying around.

I still had my binoculars raised when I heard the resident Canada Geese honking vigorously about something. I figured it was just a typical goose dispute…until I scanned the beaver lodge where they usually nest and saw a coyote standing on top! I was so startled it took me a moment to react and turn my camera on. By that time the coyote had seen me as well, and started making its way off the beaver lodge. I hastily tried to focus my camera on the animal to shoot a few pictures while it was still out in the open.

The geese nest on top of the lodge every year, and my immediate thought was that the coyote was attempting to raid the nest. Both adults were in the water, protesting loudly enough to disturb the other waterfowl nearby, although the coyote seemed unaffected. In fact, it seemed more disturbed by my presence on the boardwalk, even though I was too far away to be a threat. It looked right at me while it crossed the small channel of water, then used the fallen trees to get to the shore. I managed to get a few photos, but the distance was just a bit too far and there was enough of a heat shimmer to prevent my photos from being as sharp as I would have liked. It wasn’t until I got home and reviewed my photos and realized that the coyote had been successful, carrying a large goose egg in its jaws to the shore. I decided to post them anyway, as this behaviour is not something people see every day (thanks to my photographer friend Stephen J. Stephen for sharpening a few of these images)! Click on any photo below to enlarge and cycle through them:

While I felt bad for the geese, I didn’t begrudge the coyote its meal, especially when I saw how thin it was…its legs looked like twigs that can barely support its body. It stood at the edge of the water with its back to me for a long time, presumably eating the egg, then disappeared into the reeds. The geese returned to the top of the beaver lodge to tend to the rest of the eggs. This is the second time I’ve seen a coyote at the edge of the pond; however, my previous observation occurred back in 2013!

Interestingly, even though I didn’t see the nest or the geese incubating its eggs, the photo of the coyote with egg in its mouth counts as breeding evidence for the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas (NE = “nest with eggs”), which is now in its second year of data collection. Eggs cannot, however, be counted as birds for eBird. Geese typically lay between 2 and 8 eggs in a clutch, and incubate them for about a month. The first young are usually seen in our area around Mother’s Day. Hopefully the coyote won’t eat them all and we’ll see some fluffy yellow goslings swimming on the water with their parents later this spring!

The Ducks are Back in Town

Bufflehead (male)

Bufflehead (male)

By the second half of March our region has seen enough warm days for the local ponds to start opening up again, especially those with water running through them. The Eagleson storm water ponds are the first ponds to show open water in the spring, usually in the middle of March after a few days of temperatures above zero. Other local ponds, such as Bruce Pit, the Moodie Drive quarry, Sarsaparilla Trail, and the Richmond Conservation Area, tend to take longer to open up, likely because they do not have a stream of water flowing through them. I usually can tell when the water of the Eagleson ponds open up by the sudden appearance of chains of Canada Geese flying over my house, but this year I saw my first geese of the year while driving by the ponds on March 14th and saw seven of them flying around, looking for a place to land. When I visited the ponds two days later, there was a bit of open water in the central pond and about 100 Canada Geese and 150 mallards were present.

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The White Winter Weasel

Weasel sp.

On November 30th I spent some time at the Eagleson Ponds looking for migrants. I haven’t been able to get out as much as I would have liked these past few weeks, and with the days getting colder (some days have not even reached as high as 0°C recently) I have felt even less inclined to go out – my tolerance for cold has plummeted these past few winters, leaving me with no desire to get out first thing in the morning when it is well below zero. When it warmed up to -1°C after four subzero days in a row, I decided to take advantage of the nice weather to head out to the ponds in the afternoon just to see what was around. It was a cloudy day with no wind, perfect for scanning the flocks of geese still around.

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An Early Spring

Eastern Chipmunk

Eastern Chipmunk

It’s been a while since we’ve had an early spring in Ottawa. In recent years it seems that the snow hasn’t melted until late April, it hasn’t really warmed up until May, and while the first couple of waves of migrants arrived on time, migration slowed down for a few weeks sometime in April when the north wind started blowing out of the Arctic again. Insect-eating birds were delayed, the butterflies and dragonflies emerged late, and then the Victoria Day long weekend hit and suddenly summer has arrived with temperatures in the mid to high twenties.

This year, however, it warmed up early and stayed warm. Our last subzero day was March 16th, and we regularly started reaching double-digit temperatures on the first day of spring, with nine days at 10°C or higher during the rest of the month. Our total snowfall in March was only 6.8 cm, below the normal range of 11 to 84 cm, and it was the windiest March since 1974. It was the 10th warmest March on record; our highest temperature reached 19.8°C, above the normal range of 8.3 to 19.2°C. I kept waiting with dread for one last cold spell or dump of snow, but so far April has been even nicer, with the first two days reaching only 3°C and the rest (to date) ranging from 10 to 24°C. As the snow disappeared quite quickly last month, plants are emerging from the ground early, buds on trees are starting to leaf out early, and butterflies are emerging early. It’s been great for my mental health to see so many signs of new life and renewal.

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Goose-watching in Kanata

Ross’s Goose

November is goose season here in Ottawa. While flocks of local Canada Geese start gathering together in late September, geese from much further north begin arriving throughout October, once the lakes and rivers on their breeding grounds in the territories and along Hudson’s Bay freeze over, until their numbers peak in November. Ottawa is an important staging area for many different waterfowl species, as the Ottawa River and numerous small lakes and ponds in the area often remain open well into December; the geese rest on these bodies of water during the night, then go feed in the numerous agricultural fields just outside the city during the day. This is the time to look for Snow Geese and the diminutive Cackling Geese among them; if you are lucky you will find a Greater White-fronted Goose hiding within the flock – or something much rarer.

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A Barnacle Goose in Ottawa

Barnacle Goose

A Barnacle Goose showed up in Ottawa earlier this year, although at first I didn’t pay much attention to the reports. It was observed along the Rideau River between Hurdman and Billings Bridge on May 28th and 29th, and if I had been working downtown at the time – only a short train ride from Hurdman – I might have gone to chase it, despite the concerns about the bird’s lineage. The thought at the time was that it might have had some Canada Goose ancestry, and Billings Bridge was too far out of my way to chase a bird that might or might be countable on a work day. The bird disappeared for a while, then showed up again in the west end on June 23rd – this time at Nortel Marsh – before spending the first week of July at Wesley Clover Parks just off of Corkstown Road.

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Spring Arrives in midst of the Pandemic

Mourning Cloak

It’s been another slow spring; although the snow was quick to melt this year without any flooding, it took until the last week of April before temperatures reached a daily high of more than 10°C, and not once did Ottawa reach 20°C – in fact our highest temperature last month was 16.8°C (normally the highest temperature falls in between 20.7°C and 28.5°C). This is only the eighth time since records began in 1870 that April temperatures stayed below 17°C. Migrants have been slow to trickle in, however, this may be a reflection of the greatly reduced number of trails and habitats I visit rather than the actual number of birds passing through, as eBird sightings have been steady despite the cooler temperatures and persistent north winds. Despite the weather and the smaller area in which I’ve been birding, I’ve had some good mammal sightings in the past few weeks, and have seen my first butterflies of the season.

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Birding in the Time of the Coronavirus

Blue-winged Teal (male)

The COVID-19 pandemic caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is going to be the largest global crisis in modern times. The outbreak started in Wuhan, Hubei, China, in December 2019, and was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020. Coincidentally, Ottawa’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was identified on March 11, 2020 when a Ciena employee returning from a trip overseas fell ill immediately after returning home. A second case also related to travel was made public on March 12, 2020, and our Prime Minister’s wife Sophie Gregoire Trudeau was confirmed to have a mild case the same day. As a precaution Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also went into a 14-day isolation at home, and as he never developed any symptoms, that isolation ended today. By March 13, 2020, the Canadian Tire Center had cancelled all events, the City of Ottawa had closed all of its facilities, a new screening center had been set up at Brewer Arena, and post-secondary schools had moved to online classes. March Break was just beginning for elementary and secondary schools, though they’d been advised that they, too, would be shutting down for a few weeks afterward.
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November Summary

Snow x Canada Goose hybrid

As expected, November turned out to be a dark, cold and dismal month. Temperatures fell to zero or below every single night, we had our first snowstorm on Remembrance Day (November 11th), and temperatures dropped to a frigid -10°C for a week in the middle of the month. Weather records indicate that this was the coldest November since 1995 with an average temperature of -1.87°C; the normal range usually falls between between -1.08°C and 4.20°C. Only six days were above average, with four days below the minimum temperature ever recorded. Fortunately warmer temperatures caused all the snow to melt in the last week of the month, but as a result of these below-seasonal temperatures, I saw no butterflies or dragonflies this month, and my backyard chipmunks disappeared early for their winter hibernation.

Birding in November means watching the feeders, the landfill (the Trail Road Landfill can be thought of as a giant feeder for gulls, crows and blackbirds) and the river. Driving through farmland and open fields can also be productive as the first returning winter residents, such as Rough-legged Hawks, Snow Buntings, Northern Shrikes, and Snowy Owls, look for suitable habitats to spend the winter. Ponds can be productive early in the month, but once the water freezes any lingering waterfowl or shorebirds will disappear.

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December Sun Dog

On December 2nd I was returning home from shopping late in the afternoon. It was getting close to dusk, and the dark clouds in the west had already swallowed up the sun. As I turned down one road, heading west, I saw a brilliant rainbow-hued light in the sky: a sun dog. It was so bright I knew I had to photograph it, but needed a good spot with an open view of the sky. I was close to the Eagleson ponds so I figured I might as well stop in there before it disappeared. I pulled up to the entrance on Meadowbreeze Drive, got out, and started shooting.

Sun dogs are very common, but are seldom noticed. They appear twice a week in North America, on average, no matter what time of year it is. They are best seen when the sun is low in the sky, and since the sun rises and sets later in the winter than in the summer, most people tend to see them only in the winter months and associate them with cold weather. Sometimes they are so bright it appears as if there are three suns in the sky; at other times, only a smudge of colour is visible.
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