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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 Sparrows of Fall

Fox Sparrow

Fox Sparrow

By mid-October sparrows are moving through our region in good numbers. Breeding residents such as Chipping Sparrow, Swamp Sparrow, Song Sparrow and Field Sparrow are just getting ready to leave, while winter residents such as American Tree Sparrow and Dark-eyed Junco are just beginning to arrive. Other species, such as the White-crowned Sparrow and Fox Sparrow which spend neither the summer nor winter here, are now passing through. White-throated Sparrows are also found in large numbers this time of year, although any remaining summer residents have been joined by numerous individuals from the north on their way to their winter grounds. It is a marvelous time of year to look for mixed flocks in scrubby fields and forest edges; sometimes you might get lucky and find something completely unexpected!

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Late Summer in Stony Swamp

Snowshoe Hare (juvenile)

A few years ago I wrote a post about the winter wildlife of Stony Swamp. However, it’s a great place to see wildlife in late summer as well. Many birds are done raising their young and are leaving their nesting areas in a phenomenon known as post-breeding dispersal. By late August, the first songbirds have started migrating through our area as well. Many mammals, too, are moving around, fattening up for the winter ahead and looking for safe places to spend the winter. While there are fewer insect species around, many late-season insects are still breeding and laying eggs to ensure their species’ survival for another generation. Stony Swamp is a great place to see all of these, as the variety of habitats within its boundaries provide food and shelter for a variety of different creatures. And the one thing I like about the trails here is that I never know what’s going to turn up on an early morning or late afternoon walk!

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The end of June

Eastern Cottontail

Eastern Cottontail

On Sunday June 28th I started my day at Sarsaparilla Trail. One of the birds I still needed for my year list was Least Bittern, and I’d been lucky to hear it in the marsh here last year. In fact, I got a great view of it as it flew from the southern shore toward me and landed in the reeds close to the boardwalk before it started calling. I didn’t expect to actually see one again – they are quite elusive and prefer to hunt within the reeds rather than stalk fish out in the open the way Green Herons and Black-crowned Night Herons do – but I knew if I arrived early enough I might have a chance to hear its mournful call. I’d checked a few times earlier this season to no avail, and with June almost over there wasn’t much time left in the breeding season to track down those birds best found by their songs, as many birds stop singing by late July.

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The Hawks of Stony Swamp

Northern Goshawk

Stony Swamp in Ottawa’s west end is home to a variety of different flora and fauna. The trails are popular among families for hand-feeding the chickadees and among birders for finding Black-backed Woodpeckers and finches such as Pine Siskins in the winter. There are many different ecosystems within the conservation area – such as rocky alvars, ponds, marshes, streams, deciduous and coniferous forests – which makes this one of the most biodiverse conservation areas within the city.

Despite the large number of birds that breed, overwinter, or migrate through Stony Swamp each year, it is relatively under-birded. The closest trail is only five minutes from my home in Kanata South, so I spend a lot of time within the conservation area – particularly in the warmer months. However, I very rarely come across other birders or photographers on the weekends, probably because it’s not a migrant trap like Mud Lake – the birds are spread out more, making them more difficult to find. Still, the trails are worth checking for pockets of warblers in the spring or flocks of finches in the winter, in addition to all the birds that breed here in the summer: Virginia Rails, Pied-Billed Grebes, Eastern Towhees, Field Sparrows, Swamp Sparrows, Black-throated Green Warblers, Black-and-white Warblers, Eastern Phoebes, and so much more.

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Birds of Early Fall

Winter Wren

By the end of September there is a change in the air. There are fewer warbler species and more sparrows and thrushes and kinglets as the temperature starts to fall and the nights grow longer than the days. On the last Saturday in September I started my day with a walk at the Eagleson ponds, where only a few Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs remained after the recent rains caused the water levels to rise. The Great Black-backed Gull, three heron species, and a single kingfisher were still present as well. About 150 Canada Geese were swimming throughout the ponds; these were new, as only one or two families had stayed the summer. The only Red-winged Blackbirds I saw were all in a single flock of about two dozen birds flying over, and while Song Sparrows were still numerous, the first Dark-eyed Junco had arrived. A single Ruby-crowned Kinglet, two Yellow-rumped Warblers, and two Blackpoll Warblers were signs that the season was changing.

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Watersnakes and Warbler-hunting

Philadelphia Vireo

I had hoped to find more migrants at Sarsaparilla Trail, but saw no warblers whatsoever. I did have two species of flycatcher – Great Crested Flycatcher and Eastern Wood-Pewee – a Red-breasted Nuthatch, and a Pied-billed Grebe, but nothing out of the ordinary.

However, my visit was redeemed by snakes – five Northern Watersnakes altogether! Two of them were curled up on the boardwalk, although I didn’t notice them until the first – and closest – slithered off of the boardwalk and into the water. I stopped where I was, took a look around, and noticed another one curled up at the very end of the boardwalk. Two more were resting on logs in the water, and the one I scared was swimming in the water toward a different log. A fifth was barely visible through my binoculars on a log near the beaver lodge.
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A Monarch and other mid-summer finds

Monarch

It’s been a fantastic week both in terms of weather and finding wildlife. Last Saturday I visited Andrew Haydon Park to check out the developing mudflats in the western bay. Unfortunately the water was rising again, so the expanse of sand has diminished. Several swallows were flying out over the river (species unknown), and I realized a small bird flying with them was not a swallow but something else – a good look revealed a small shorebird being chased by one of the swallows! The shorebird headed toward Ottawa Beach before circling back and landing on the small muddy area in the western bay, where I was able to identify it as Semipalmated Sandpiper – my first of the year!

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Mini-update: Wildlife Close to Home

I’ve seen a few interesting things in my own backyard and in conservation areas close to home these days, but haven’t taken enough photos for a full blog post; here are a few photos from the past couple of weeks.

On July 10th I visited the Eagleson storm water ponds for an hour in the afternoon. Even though this was much later in the day than I usually visit, I still found 21 species including a Green Heron, an Osprey and a Belted Kingfisher. I also counted three Spotted Sandpipers around the pond. It seems odd that I haven’t seen any tiny precocial sandpiper chicks running around here at this point in the breeding season; either they aren’t breeding here, or they are keeping their young well-hidden. This adult kept a wary eye on me as I photographed it from a respectful distance.

Spotted Sandpiper

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Birding in late April means…

Ring-necked Duck

Usually the first two weeks of April are a slog to get through – it still looks and feels like March, cold north winds and long spells of rain manage to out-compete the longed-for southerly winds and warm, sunny days, and although migration should be well under way, it takes forever for the next spate of migrants to arrive. Then one day it happens: you realize the snow is finally all gone, the ponds are ice-free, the buds on the trees look ready to burst open, and your neighbourhood Chipping Sparrows are back and singing right outside your window. The temperatures are finally reaching double-digits on a daily basis, and there are new birds moving in! The second half (well, the last third, really) of April is when the birding really picks up and it really begins to feel like spring. This truly is the beginning of my favourite time of year; here are a few of the things that make birding in late April so wonderful.

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