My office building downtown doesn’t provide many opportunities for encounters of the natural kind. In the warmer months, coworkers sometimes call me to their office to ask about the Turkey Vultures flying by our 26th-floor windows. Once, on a fall morning several years ago, someone noticed a bat sleeping on the side of the building through his office window, and boy did I wish I had brought my camera with me that day! On another occasion, I was walking back to the office after lunch and watched as a Merlin landed on the roof of the building next to ours, and spent some time watching it through my binoculars when I got back up to my floor. Other than that, I am pretty much limited to watching the crows, pigeons, Ring-billed Gulls and occasional ravens fly by as they live their own lives in downtown Ottawa.
On Wednesday, though, as soon as I entered my building my attention was attracted by two men looking down at something on the ground asking, “Is it a mouse? Or maybe some kind of vole?”
I glanced down and was surprised (and more than a bit thrilled) to see a small mouse scurrying along the wall looking for cover. It was either a White-footed Mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) or a Deer Mouse (Peromyscus maniculatus), two species that look quite similar but can only be identified in the hand by taking measurements. I immediately began to worry that someone not as tolerant of rodents as I am would see it and kill it before it could get into the hidden spaces of the building.
I quickly walked over to Green Rebel, the closest food vendor, and asked for a cup with a lid. They were happy to oblige, so I set about catching the mouse before it could come to harm. This wasn’t as hard as I expected; the mouse actually paused in front of me to investigate a bit of food on the floor, and so I quickly brought the cup down over top of it and scooped it up. I then began carrying it outside.
And then I realized I had my camera with me.
I rarely see these mice, and when I do it’s usually after dark when it’s impossible to photograph them. There I was, actually carrying one in my hand, so of course I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to take a few photos! Now, if only I had had a taxonomic key with me (and some time to review it) I might have actually been able to identify this fellow to the species level instead of calling it a “Peromyscus sp.”
As I did have a job I needed to get to, I took the wee fellow across the street and released him beneath some shrubs where I hoped he would find ample cover until nightfall.
Later that day I went to Green Rebel for lunch and told the guy who had given me the cup about the mouse rescue. He actually thanked me for not killing it, and for that I am giving him a shout-out here – it always surprises me when I meet someone not affiliated with any of my nature groups who agrees with my view that all creatures, no matter how small or inconvenient to humans, are important to the ecosystem in which they live – even one as urban as the one in which I work.
The whole mouse rescue really brightened my morning, and made me glad I had brought my camera to work that morning. You just never know when something interesting might cross your path!
The Wild Turkeys of Hurdman Park
On Wednesday, February 25th I headed out to Hurdman at lunch. It had warmed up to -10°C but a strong, icy wind made it feel much colder. I was still looking for Bohemian Waxwings, and was hoping the plentiful Buckthorn berries at Hurdman had attracted some of these winter wanderers – in winters where they are present, Hurdman is a good spot to find them. Perhaps it was the cold, but there were very few birds around. I counted only 4 species, all of which were right along the feeder path. The extremely cold winter has caused this section of the Rideau River to freeze over completely, so I didn’t see any ducks. This is the first time I haven’t seen any open water on either side of the 417 bridge, so it isn’t a surprise that the usual ducks and Common Goldeneyes have had to go elsewhere.
A Winter Lifer
We haven’t received many heavy snowstorms since the new year, but the few that have occurred on the weekend have started early in the day. Twice I went out birding first thing in the morning and only managed to spend an hour outdoors before a curtain of snow descended. Ottawa actually hasn’t received a lot of snow this winter, but since we haven’t had any significant thaws either, the snow cover is fairly deep.
A Northern Shoveler in January
After the Snow
On Sunday I didn’t go out birding as the weather was awful – first we got about six inches of snow, then freezing rain for most of the afternoon, and then back to snow. The rest of the week was cold, hovering below -20°C during the day, so I didn’t get out until it “warmed up” on Friday to the point where the air no longer felt like a mask of ice against my face. Even better, the sun was shining! I’d been itching to get out to the Rideau River where late-lingering waterfowl such as Northern Pintail, Wood Duck and Pied-billed Grebe were all being seen between Strathcona Park and the Hurdman Bridge. I chose to spend my lunch hour at Hurdman Park, as I was also hoping also to see some robins or waxwings feeding on the berries there in addition to the ducks in the river.
A Brand New Year List
The Wildlife of Stony Swamp
No Buntings like Snow Buntings…
Even though the winter solstice is still two weeks away, there’s no use in denying it: winter is here. It doesn’t seem fair that we had a late spring this year, and now we’re having an early winter. There are thin, crusty patches of snow on the ground in places, and we’ve had some really cold days lately – so cold, that on Sunday I didn’t want to go out birding.
Astronomical winter begins on December 21st this year, the shortest day of the year. However, when it comes to birding, there’s something to be said for defining the seasons meteorologically. Meteorological seasons occur in three-month blocks, just like astronomical seasons, but they start on the 1st day of March, June, September and December. In this case, winter begins on December 1st and ends on February 28th, the coldest three-month period of the year in the northern hemisphere. This corresponds to the “winter birding season”, when the fewest number of species are typically present in our area; and the number of species keeps dropping throughout this period, until late February when the birding doldrums hit and it seems as though spring migration will never begin.