It’s been a great year for mammals. Actually, no, check that: it’s been an AMAZING year for mammals, considering I’ve been able to get great photographs of so many species – including those that are not only hard to find, but rarely stay out in the open long enough to snap a picture. It’s been a while since I’ve done a “Year in Review” post, but since I ended up with so many great mammal photos this year I thought I would dedicate one to this subject.
Ottawa is home to a great many mammal species, and we are fortunate that this city has a large variety of green spaces in which they live. Still, they can be difficult to find, as many are nocturnal or crepuscular (active around dusk and dawn), and those that are active during the day may vanish as trails get busy with people. The best times for seeing mammals, I find, are very early in the morning or late in the afternoon in less busy areas. In any case, being in the right place at the right time is often a matter of luck, and I seem to have had more than my share of that this year!
The American Mink is a relatively new addition to the list of fauna found at the Eagleson storm water ponds. I had first heard that there was one there in 2019, but had never seen it for myself. Then when Sophie found one killed on the road later that year I figured my chances of seeing one there had vanished. Fortunately Sophie saw another one there in March 2020, very much alive. It took me until May 2nd to see it for the first time, running along the rocks near the footbridge. I managed to get ahead of it, and got one photo for my iNaturalist project when it popped its head up while trying to find a way to get by me (I didn’t mean to block its path; I hadn’t realized it had swum across the channel beneath the bridge to the side where I was standing).
It’s been another slow spring; although the snow was quick to melt this year without any flooding, it took until the last week of April before temperatures reached a daily high of more than 10°C, and not once did Ottawa reach 20°C – in fact our highest temperature last month was 16.8°C (normally the highest temperature falls in between 20.7°C and 28.5°C). This is only the eighth time since records began in 1870 that April temperatures stayed below 17°C. Migrants have been slow to trickle in, however, this may be a reflection of the greatly reduced number of trails and habitats I visit rather than the actual number of birds passing through, as eBird sightings have been steady despite the cooler temperatures and persistent north winds. Despite the weather and the smaller area in which I’ve been birding, I’ve had some good mammal sightings in the past few weeks, and have seen my first butterflies of the season.
I went back to Petrie Island the following day, July 3, 2011, to look for Blue Dashers and conduct a count. I started at the marshy area along the west side of the causeway where I observed two male Blue Dashers perching on vegetation above the water, occasionally flying out to chase another insect. I also heard a pair of Virginia Rails calling from among the cattails, and managed to coax one out into the open by playing a recording of its song. I wish that all of the rails were so easy to see! A Great Blue Heron and a single Wood Duck were also present, and again I saw a Green Heron flying to the back of the marsh. There was no sign of the Black Tern I had seen the previous day.
On Easter Sunday I started the day at Sarsaparilla Trail to look for the Pied-billed Grebes that had been reported there. There wasn’t much activity in the woods – no chickadees came to greet me at the trail entrance, and I didn’t hear or see a single nuthatch – but I could hear plenty of juncos and the occasional Golden-crowned Kinglet singing in the woods beyond the trail.
The large pond at the back of the trail was a different story. A half-dozen Tree Swallows were hunting over the water, Song Sparrows, Swamp Sparrows and Red-winged Blackbirds were singing in the reeds at the water’s edge, and there were plenty of waterfowl scattered across the pond. I counted about a dozen Canada Geese, a pair of Hooded Mergansers, a few mallards, one Pied-billed Grebe, and almost 20 Ring-necked Ducks. Although not an uncommon species at Sarsaparilla Trail, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this many. A male Wood Duck also flew over while I was counting the ducks.
The weather has been terrible this month. Until Saturday, I had only been able to get out birdwatching once so far, back on March 1st when I spent a short lunch hour at Hurdman. Since then, two storms have dropped a combined total of about two and half feet of snow on Ottawa, and the most recent storm was followed by a day’s worth of rain which has left the city a soggy, sodden mess. Then I was hit with a sinus cold which left me without the energy to go anywhere even on the rare few days when the sun came out.
When I woke up on Saturday, the sky was still gray and gloomy, but I was tired of being cooped up inside and wanted to get out and work on my March list, which stood at a paltry 19 species. Since I still wasn’t completely over my cold, I figured I would stay out just long enough to add another 10 common species to my month list. If I could find a few of the Red-winged Blackbirds that had been reported, so much the better, but I was sure I could come up with at least 10 birds in the agricultural area between Kanata and Richmond, with a stop at Jack Pine Trail as necessary.