One day in late August, I got off the bus after work and found a black squirrel sitting at the edge of the lawn a few feet away from the bus stop. He was just a baby, with a tiny body and a long tail, and seemed to be taking in the world around him for the very first time. He didn’t react when I started walking toward him, so I crouched down and, for some reason, held out my hand for him to sniff as if he were a dog or a cat. He showed no fear, and I was utterly charmed when he rested his paw on my finger. I was worried that he might dash out into the road – it’s not a very busy road, being residential, but buses do go by and there is a fair amount of traffic during rush hour – and since he seemed so trusting, I scooped my hand beneath him and carried him a few feet to a nearby tree. He seemed perfectly content to sit in my hand as I brought him to the tree (which did in fact have a leafy squirrel nest at the top) and held him up to the trunk so he could climb up it. While he was hanging onto the tree for dear life, I took this picture with my cell phone.
Baby Eastern Gray Squirrel
The squirrel showed no interest in remaining in the tree. No, he climbed right back down to the lawn and parked himself at the edge of the sidewalk, much more interested in exploring the big new world. The thought of leaving such a small, defenseless baby there alone made my heart ache. I know that all baby birds and mammals eventually have to leave the nest and make their way in the world, but he seemed so small and trusting that I had to go back and attempt to move him to a safer place one more time. I bent down again and scooped him up, and again he allowed me to carry him to the tree. The lowest horizontal branch was just above my head, but I reached up and managed to place him on the branch.
He ran down the tree again, and this time he decided to run across the lawn toward a small evergreen. I decided it was time to go, even though I could have spent the rest of the day hanging out with him. I’ve never attempted to hold a squirrel before, let alone carried one around, and I doubt I will ever hold a baby squirrel in my hand again. Hopefully he will quickly learn to avoid the cars on the road and the neighbourhood cats and survive to a ripe old age.
Maybe he will even visit my yard sometime and raid my feeder.
The weekend after we got back from Grundy Lake, Chris Lewis invited me to go dragon-hunting. We were just heading out to the Bill Mason Center when we got a call from Bob Cermak and Bernie Ladouceur, who were doing a Seedathon that day in order to raise funds to keep the OFNC birdfeeders stocked over the winter. The goal of a Seedathon is to find as many species as possible within 24 hours, and ask sponsors to donate either a lump sum or on a per-species basis. They had just received a tip about an Eastern Screech-Owl sitting in a relatively accessible area and thought we might be interested. Chris and I delayed our plans to go to the Bill Mason Center long enough to get directions to the owl, and then set out to find it.
On our last day at Grundy Lake, Dad and I decided to get up early and try the Beaver Dams Trail on our own. We figured that the earlier we left, the better chance we would have of seeing some wildlife. The 3.6 km loop trail passes through dense forest and wetlands, and according to the information guide, “moose, deer, fisher, Ruffed Grouse, and many other species of birds and mammals may be seen. The highlight of the trail is the Great Blue Heron rookery, identified as large bunches of branches at the tops of swamp-killed trees. In the spring a few of these nests are active; but bring your binoculars! Finally, you will also see the dammed rock fracture which controls the water level in Bucke Lake and affects Grundy and Gut Lakes as well as Nisbet Creek. Beavers are amazing engineers”.
I was off work during the second-last week of August, and on the first day of my vacation I went up to Ottawa Beach to look for Bonaparte’s Gulls and shorebirds. I arrived early, as I wanted to get there before any dog-walkers or joggers or windsurfers scared any birds away; it wasn’t even 7:00 a.m by the time I arrived, and the sun was just beginning to rise above the trees. I didn’t see another soul as I walked out to the spit, where I found a few birds including three juvenile Bonaparte’s Gulls and three Lesser Yellowlegs. The wet puddle in front of the sand spit was much larger and deeper than it had been the week before, and this time I got my feet wet as I walked through it. I wasn’t pleased to see that the Ottawa River had gotten higher, as this means less habitat for any shorebirds passing through.
On Sunday I left the house early to visit Ottawa Beach before it got too crowded. I arrived at 9:00 am and saw only two people on the beach, one of whom was leaving. Although there were some nice mudflats developing beyond the sandy spit, I still had to walk through a large, shallow puddle in front of the spit that I couldn’t navigate without getting my shoes wet. I headed east from there, checking out the gulls (no Bonaparte’s today), and then spotted six tiny shorebirds walking along the edge of the water. They were walking toward me, so I found a rock to sit on and waited for them to come closer.
On the Friday before the August long weekend I spent half an hour of my lunch break at Hurdman. I would have stayed longer but several dark, threatening clouds began moving in and I got caught in a brief shower. I didn’t expect to see many migrant birds yet, but at least three Eastern Kingbirds were around, and when I started pishing in the woods two American Redstarts, two Red-eyed Vireos, a Gray Catbird, and a Yellow Warbler all popped into view. All of these guys will be leaving in another month or so, though some (such as the Yellow Warbler and Eastern Kingbirds) will be leaving sooner rather than later. There weren’t many butterflies around, but I saw an Eastern Tailed Blue along the path between the bus station and the bird feeders (all of which are empty in the summer) as well as a couple of Ambush Bugs. These tiny predators sit motionlessly in flowers such as Queen Anne’s Lace and wait for unsuspecting insects to land on the colourful flowers.
Summer’s a great time to see a variety of wildlife. Although the birding is usually slow up until about mid-August, there are lots of other creatures around to make any outing enjoyable. I’ve had some good luck at Sarsaparilla Trail over the years, encountering a variety of mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds and bugs. It’s a small trail, but the grassy clearing near the trail entrance, the mixture of deciduous and coniferous woods, and the large pond provide a number of interesting habitats where just about anything can be found.
On July 21st Chris Lewis and I led our second annual OFNC dragonfly outing at Mud Lake. Twenty keen participants of all ages joined us for a leisurely stroll along the northeastern corner of the lake and the shore of the Ottawa River to look for some of Britannia’s 71 odonate species. It was a beautiful day, sunny and warm without the humidity of last year, and not a raincloud in sight! While we were waiting for everyone to arrive someone pointed out a pair of Green Herons in the swampy area at the base of the ridge. I only saw one after the other disappeared into the vegetation; as we watched, it successfully caught a fish, gulped it down, then flew to another log to spend some time preening.
On the second Sunday of July I headed out to the Bill Mason Center to look for dragonflies. It was already sizzling hot when I arrived around 8:30, with the humidity in the “barely comfortable” range but not yet reaching “intolerable”. I didn’t intend to stay very long; just long enough to see if I could find some Calico Pennants, Azure Bluets, and perhaps some large darners or emeralds at the sand pit.
The first interesting bird that I saw was this Baltimore Oriole near the parking lot. It looks to be a first year bird, lacking the deep orange colour of adult orioles. Baltimore Orioles attain their adult plumage after reaching their second fall, which they then keep year-round with no breeding/non-breeding plumage differences typically seen in other songbirds.
The following weekend I decided to stick close to home. Shorebirds have already begun migrating from their breeding grounds in the Arctic, and I thought the Richmond Lagoons would be a good spot to look for some migrants. As I arrived I saw an American Bittern land in the tall, feathery grass of the first cell; it stuck its head up and pointed its bill at the sky in a characteristic pose. When I moved further along the path to get a better look, he vanished, swallowed up by the vegetation completely.
The first odonate I saw at the lagoons was a lovely Ebony Jewelwing just beyond the gate. The black, fluttering wings reminded me of a butterfly as it flew from perch to perch.