Birders love it when the Easter long weekend falls in April. The weather is usually nice, and the early migrants have already begun to arrive. If it’s warm enough, the first frogs, butterflies and snakes will have emerged. Easter fell on the first weekend of April this year, and although winter and spring are still battling for supremacy, I was still able to find plenty of birds for my year list.
I started Good Friday with a walk at the Beaver Trail where I unknowingly flushed six ducks hidden in the marsh at the back, at least two of which were Wood Ducks. A few more Red-winged Blackbirds had arrived, and I heard a single Common Grackle call near the Wild Bird Care Centre. Blackbirds flew over several times while I was there, but the day was overcast and I didn’t get a good look at them. The best bird was a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets in the woods near the meadow – this species was a year bird for me.
I usually don’t go out for walks in the late afternoon, but decided to spend some time before dinner at one of my favourite trails on the last day of May. I thought I might hear or catch a glimpse of some of the more secretive marsh birds at Jack Pine Trail; while I did hear two Virginia Rails, I wasn’t able to see either. I also heard four Eastern Wood-pewees and four Ovenbirds in the woods, and didn’t see those either, although it was good to hear their songs. Other warblers still singing at 4:00 in the afternoon included a Pine Warbler, a Black-throated Green Warbler, a Nashville Warbler, and several Common Yellowthroats.
After my success in finding the first dragonflies of the season at the Beaver Trail five days earlier, I was eager to find some more and spent the last day of May on the trails of the South March Highlands where I’d had some luck before. I stopped at the Nortel Marsh first, hoping to find the Willow Flycatcher that I missed on my previous visit as well as a colony of Sedge Wrens that had taken up residence in the large sedge meadow north of the bike trail. I didn’t hear any Sedge Wrens singing, but I did find 27 species during my visit, including two Willow Flycatchers calling in the cattail marsh at the back, a Wilson’s Snipe perching on a stump, two female Purple Finches, two Brown Thrashers, one Marsh Wren, an Alder Flycatcher, three Bobolinks in the Equestrian Park, and two Savannah Sparrows in the same field as the Bobolinks.
The end of May and beginning of June is a great time for seeing babies of various wildlife species. A few days after I observed the Eastern Gray Squirrel carrying its offspring up a tree at the Beaver Trail I saw a few more baby squirrels – in my own backyard. I am used to having squirrels and chipmunks come to visit me, as I often give them peanuts to keep them out of my feeders (not that that stops them!); however, it was quite something to see Momma Squirrel visit with four babies in tow!
Young Eastern Gray Squirrel
The babies were about three-quarters of the size of mom, with long, sleek bodies and and thinner tails. Although Momma Squirrel wasn’t phased when I opened the door to throw out some peanuts, all of the babies scampered back toward the fence. One of the babies climbed to the top of the fence, so I grabbed my camera and took some photos.
Young Eastern Gray Squirrel
Young Eastern Gray Squirrel
When at last the squirrels realized I wasn’t going to step outside, they hesitantly joined mom on the patio to grab some peanuts. Mom is the largest squirrel at the bottom left.
Family of Eastern Gray Squirrels – May 30, 2014
When they visited me again the following day, Mom only had three babies with her. Hopefully the fourth was exploring somewhere close by, or had found a cozy spot in a tree to while away the afternoon. I am not sure how long young squirrels stay with their mother once they are weaned, which occurs at around 8-12 weeks; they are fully independent after 12 weeks. I saw one attempting to suckle, though the mother wasn’t interested, so I am guessing they are about 8 or 10 weeks old.
They were fun to watch, though they didn’t stay long. I hope they learn to avoid cars and outdoor cats as successfully as their mother has!
During the warmer months Ontario’s wetlands come alive with the music of nature. Birds are not the only creatures that sing or call in order to attract a mate; frogs do, too! In the spring and early summer large numbers of frogs migrate to bodies of water to find a mate. Some frogs, such as the Wood Frog and Spring Peeper, prefer temporary woodland pools, while others, such as the Green Frog, use any permanent water body from lakes to ponds to streams. Western Chorus Frogs breed in fishless pools of water that are at least 10 centimetres deep, such as rain-flooded meadows and ditches, while Bullfrogs prefer large, permanent bodies of water.
There are three general types of frogs and toads in Ontario: true toads, treefrogs and true frogs. Most people are familiar with true frogs such as Bullfrogs, Green Frogs and Leopard Frogs. These are the ones that can be seen sunning themselves on logs and lily pads or lurking among the emergent vegetation along the shore with just their eyes visible above the water’s surface. These frogs are large and conspicuous and impossible not to notice if you spend any time near the water during the summer.
After we returned from Florida I was itching to get out and catch up with what remained of migration in Ottawa. I didn’t get out until late in the afternoon on Monday (the last day of my vacation) and spent an hour at the Beaver Trail around the corner from where I live. This was a great decision as I not only picked up two new birds for my year list, but also a few butterflies and my first dragonflies and damselflies of the season!
I arrived shortly before 3:00 pm, and to my surprise a lot of birds were still singing. I heard one Eastern Wood-pewee and a pair of Scarlet Tanagers singing near the Wild Bird Care Center; the Scarlet Tanager was a year bird for me. My second year bird was Alder Flycatcher, which I heard at the first opening onto the marsh traveling counterclockwise. The Alder Flycatcher was a new species for me at this trail, as were the half-dozen Bank Swallows that flew overhead, giving their characteristic harsh chatter as they flew.
After returning from Naples we cooled off in the pool, and then I spent some time photographing the birds and dragonflies around the property. The Common Grackles and Northern Mockingbirds were around, as usual, and when I walked over the marina I saw a few Purple Martins flying over the water. There are a couple of Purple Martin houses on the opposite shore of the marina where they nest; we saw them bringing food to their young.
I was quite taken with the pretty blue dragonflies perching on the vegetation. The Seaside Dragonlet is the only dragonfly in North America that breeds in salt water, spending the larval stage of its life in the tropical mangrove swamps, saltwater marshes, and some brackish areas further inland.
After leaving Corey Billie’s we drove west to Naples, where we easily found the beach. It was crowded with people, which wasn’t surprising given how hot it was. Even so, there were quite a few birds around, including a pair of Snowy Egrets foraging along the water’s edge and several immature Laughing Gulls looking for food scraps amongst the sunbathers. As the gulls were the closest to us, I spent the first couple of minutes watching them. All of them appeared to be immature gulls, as none had the black hood of breeding adults; as best as I can tell, they are second-winter gulls with a gray back, smudgy grayish wash along the sides of the breast, and a long, black, rectangular spot behind the eye.
The next morning Doran and I decided to look into taking a couple of boat rides. There was a boat tour right in the marina that guaranteed manatees; while not the same as the two-hour boat tour that had so enticed us at Flamingo, it seemed an interesting way to spend an hour and a half. Doran also wanted to go on an air boat ride, so we asked the lady at the front desk of our hotel for recommendations. She recommended Corey Billie’s Airboat Rides a couple of minutes down the highway. In the end we decided to do both, and walked down to the marina to see if we could book seats on a manatee tour that same morning. Fortunately there was a boat leaving in 20 minutes, so we made reservations.
We left Everglades National Park and the Homestead area to travel to our next destination, the Port of the Islands Everglades Adventure Resort located on the Tamiami Trail about 15 minutes east of Naples. Upon entering the Tamiami Trail we noticed a canal running parallel to the north side of the road bordered by a large dyke; because of the number of egrets, Anhingas and other waterbirds flying in and out of the area, we assumed there was a large wetland just out of view. Indeed, there is a large water conservation area to the north of the highway, which historically provided the Everglades with a steady supply of fresh water.
When the Tamiami Trail was built in the 1920s, it created an enormous dam across the shallow, 70-mile-wide River of Grass and blocked the main corridor of fresh-flowing water into Everglades National Park. Although 19 culverts built beneath the Tamiami Trail permit some flow of water, the amount of water entering the Everglades is much diminished. Unnaturally low water levels for over 90 years have significantly damaged sawgrass marshes, tree islands, fish reproduction, wading-bird nesting sites, and the habitats of many endangered species unique to the Everglades. The southerly-flowing fresh water no longer counterbalances the seepage of salt water inland, upsetting the delicate balance of nature. In order to increase the water’s flow, one bridge has already been built to replace a mile of the old road, but it will take years for the remaining 5.5 miles’ worth of bridges to be built and assist in the restoration of the Everglades.