Winter has taken its sweet time in leaving. We’re now a week past the Spring Equinox and the temperature has still been below normal. Even worse, last Wednesday the temperature dipped to -17°C (-28°C with the windchill when we woke up) and then Ottawa received another 10cm of heavy, wet snow on Friday. Once again all the lawns were covered beneath a heavy blanket of snow and the open water in the ponds and rivers began to freeze, reversing all the progress we’ve made to date. I suspect either Mother Nature is being held hostage somewhere against her will, or else she is hiding out in the Mexican Riviera, too afraid to come back to Canada because of the way Old Man Winter has taken over the country. Old Man Winter is now talking about building a wall to keep her out; the snow we received on Friday will become his building materials.
February is my least favourite month of the year, and the weather we’ve had so far has not given me any reason to change my opinion. First we had the bitter cold of the Family Day long weekend. Then on February 16th, Ottawa set a new record for the amount of snowfall in one day: 50 cm. Of course, that was a work day, and even downtown the plows had trouble keeping up with the accumulation on the roads – the snow was falling in a heavy downpour, and both the roads and the sidewalks were a mess throughout the evening commute. A week later, the city received a significant amount of rain followed by a sudden drop in temperature which turned the sidewalks into ice. Another brief rise in temperatures forced the Rideau Canal skateway to officially close for the season on February 25th after one of its shortest season in 46 years – 34 days with only 18 skating days. I have never felt less like birding since this obsession started about nine years ago.
Last Saturday I came across my second sign of spring….as well as my third, fourth and fifth! The day got off to a promising start when I spotted my first Common Grackle of the year in the tree across the street, puffing himself out and emitting a song that sounded like a squeaky hinge. He didn’t linger long, but flew off when the tree filled up with starlings. An even more interesting sight was that of an American Crow in the tree in my own yard, breaking off sticks to use as nesting material. The week before while waiting at the bus stop I had seen a crow fly into a nearby spruce with nesting material, so I wondered if it was the same one.
Jack Pine Trail in Stony Swamp is one of my favourite trails. I got a lifer there the first time I ever visited the trail back in June 2006 – a Virginia Rail – and many more since. Because of its mix of habitats, it is a good spot to view wildlife all year round; the trails cross several marshes, coniferous and deciduous forest, and even an open alvar-like area that hosts Field Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows in the summer. In the winter, the OFNC maintains a large bird feeder along the northern part of the trail, though this doesn’t prevent chickadees from approaching people for handouts. This is one of the best places in Ottawa to feed chickadees and nuthatches right from your hand.
The first day of 2014 dawned bright and sunny, with a faint pink and peach hue to the pale blue morning sky. It was cold, too – bitterly cold. I left the house at 8:00 am with the temperature fluctuating between -24°C and -21°C, and although I was out until close to noon, it never really got any warmer.