Archives

2021 Year in Review: Mammals

Canadian Beaver

Canadian Beaver

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!

Continue reading

A Lifer on on October Global Big Day 2021

Lesser Black-backed Gull

Lesser Black-backed Gull

On October 9, 2021 eBird celebrated its fourth annual October Global Big Day. I participated in this event last year and ended up with 50 species; I probably could have done better if I had planned for it properly instead of deciding halfway through the morning that I wanted to do a personal big day. This time I planned for it, but health issues limited my time outside in the field to the morning only.

I had a much better idea of where I wanted to go this time, and unlike the Global Big Day last May, which was limited due to COVID-19 lockdown restrictions then in place, planned to leave my 5-mile radius. After a great outing at Bruce Pit on Monday in which I tallied 40 species, the loop around the pond was sure to help me reach my goal of beating the 50 species I tallied last year. I also planned to hit a couple of trails in Stony Swamp (a short walk along the Rideau Trail at the P6 parking lot and Sarsaparilla Trail), the Ottawa River for diving birds, the Eagleson ponds for shorebirds, and the Moodie Quarry/Trail Road landfill for gulls and more waterfowl.

Continue reading

Encounter with a Fisher

DSCN9348-2

The fisher (Pekania pennanti) is the holy grail of mammals for many naturalists in eastern Ontario. Just as the Gyrfalcon is the most sought after species for local birders, or the Smooth Green Snake is the most sought after snake species for local herpers, the fisher is one of those near-mythical species that few naturalists claim to have actually seen, and seems to exist more in rumour than in fact. Although there seems to be a good number of them present in our region – particularly in Stony Swamp with its many trails giving access to the deeper parts of the forest – they are very elusive, preferring to hide themselves deep in the bush where trails don’t exist and few humans are curious enough to venture. Every now and then you hear of one showing up on a trail cam, or of someone finding a road-killed specimen, or – very rarely – of someone catching a brief glimpse of one before it disappears. A live encounter where the observer actually gets a prolonged look at one – or even photos! – might be even more rare than the impossible-to-find Gyrfalcon.

Continue reading

Algonquin Park Pine Martens

American (Pine) Marten

On March 16, 2019 I joined another Eastern Ontario Birding excursion to Algonquin Park. It was much colder than our previous visit in December (especially for mid-March!), and the goal of this tour was to visit Algonquin Park until mid-afternoon, and then do some driving around the farmland near Cobden to look for birds of prey before heading home. We started the day at the winter gate on Opeongo Road where we had our best bird of the park: a Boreal Chickadee feeding in the trees right above the parking area. Both nuthatches, some Black-capped Chickadees, and a Downy Woodpecker were also present; the Canada Jays and Blue Jays were noticeably absent. A walk down the road produced no finches, no Black-backed Woodpeckers, and no American Martens (also known as Pine Martens). It was a taste of things to come.

Continue reading

Algonquin Park: Return of the Canada Jay

Ruffed Grouse

On December 18th I accompanied Jon Ruddy’s Eastern Ontario Birding trip to Algonquin Park. This was an early Christmas present to myself as it’s one of my favourite parks in Ontario and I don’t get to go that often – it’s been almost two full years since the last time I’ve been. As usual, the goal was to find winter finches and Algonquin specialties such as Spruce Grouse, Black-backed Woodpecker, Boreal Chickadees and Canada Jays (formerly known as Gray Jays); we were excited when Jon told us just a few days earlier three Spruce Grouse had been photographed right in the parking lot of the Spruce Bog Boardwalk.

The drive down was pleasant; notable birds seen along the way included an American Kestrel perching on a wire near the town of Douglas and a juvenile Bald Eagle soaring above the car just past Barry’s Bay. When we got to the park and paid for our permits, the East Gate was quiet; we heard only a single chickadee calling in the trees.

Continue reading

Algonquin Park: Finches, Martens, and Canada’s National Bird

Gray Jay

Gray Jay

It’s been a while since I’ve been to Algonquin Park – over three and a half years! – and after having a camping trip with Dad last summer and a birding trip with Deb this winter both fall through, I wasn’t sure when I’d get to visit that beautiful park again. When Jon Ruddy announced an excursion to Algonquin this month, I jumped on the chance to go. The birding there this winter has been excellent, with not only the usual Boreal specialties being found on most visits (including Gray Jay, Evening Grosbeak, Boreal Chickadee, and Spruce Grouse), but also most of the winter finches as well. In addition, the park naturalists had put out a road-killed moose carcass in the valley below the Visitor Center, and foxes were being seen feeding on it. Pine Martens have also been observed at the suet feeders and Mew Lake garbage bins in the park on occasion.

Continue reading

Predator and Prey

2015-12-26 021 (260x195)

Meadow Vole

While a lot people like to get out early on Boxing Day to hit the stores, I like to get out early to hit the trails. It was very quiet and peaceful at the Beaver Trail this morning, and I had the place to myself for almost the entire 90 minutes I was there. I chose the Beaver Trail as I hadn’t been there since early October and was curious as to whether the new boardwalk was finished. Besides, you never know what might show up in Stony Swamp – my hopes were high for something fantastic, like Great Horned Owl, Northern Goshawk, Black-backed Woodpecker, American Three-toed Woodpecker, Pine Grosbeak or either crossbill species. My expectations were realistic, however, and I figured I would be lucky if I saw a Ruffed Grouse. The temperature was only -3°C, and although it felt cold after the 17°C weather we had on Christmas Eve, the day was gorgeous with the sun sparkling on the frost-coated trees and vegetation.

As expected for this time of year, the woods were quiet. At first the only birds I observed were a couple of chickadees, White-breasted Nuthatches and crows. I thought that the ponds might still be open, but both were frozen solid.

Continue reading

The Wildlife of Stony Swamp

Red Squirrel - Jack Pine Trail

Red Squirrel – Jack Pine Trail

I’ve been spending a lot of time in Stony Swamp over the holidays. It is a huge conservation area in western Ottawa, with several trails only a short drive from my house. Its location is the chief reason why I spend so much time there, but another reason is the abundance of wildlife. Some places I’ve visited in wintertime are absolutely desolate – for example, on a visit to the Cedar Grove Nature Trail in February 2013 I recorded only two bird species (Black-capped Chickadee and Pileated Woodpecker) and zero mammals, despite a variety of tracks visible in the snow. At Stony Swamp, the wildlife is used to being fed right along the trails and, accordingly, this is where many species gather, rather than dispersing deeper into the woods.

Continue reading

The Rarest Heron

Black-and-white Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler

On Sunday I had plans to meet up with Chris Lewis, Bev McBride, and two of their long-time birding friends Jean and Bev at Mud Lake for a morning of birding and scones. However, one of my best sightings of the day occurred before I even got there. I was driving on Old Richmond Road right where it passes through a marshy area of Stony Swamp when I noticed a mammal standing on the shoulder where the road. It was large, with a long, slender brown body. It stood there for a brief second, and when it turned and disappeared down the embankment into the cattails I realized it was a mustelid of some sort…and that it was far bigger than a mink. It appeared a uniform dark brown colour, and seemed heftier and darker than the Pine Marten I photographed in Algonquin last winter. My best guess is that it was a fisher, though I didn’t get a good enough or long enough look at it to note any pertinent field marks. I’ve never seen a fisher before, however, and thus have no experience with this species to call upon. Even so, seeing the mysterious mustelid was a fantastic way to start the day.

Continue reading

River Otters!

Northern River Otters

Northern River Otters

A few weeks ago Deb and I met at Billings Bridge to look for spring migrants. Even though it was a few days past the spring equinox, the weather was still quite cold; hardly any of the snow had melted, and was still too thick for any groundhogs to have emerged. While a pair of Common Mergansers and a dozen Canada Geese had joined the usual mallards, black ducks, and Common Goldeneyes on the river, we didn’t see any Wood Ducks, Pied-billed Grebes, or Hooded Mergansers. The Ring-billed Gulls had also returned, and one was giving a strange, incessant call that I’ve never heard before. I stopped to make sure that the call was in fact being made by a Ring-billed Gull, and then I heard the raspy call of a displeased crow. I turned around in time to see the crow dive-bombing a large bird perching in a tree next to the river, and I told Deb, “We just walked right by a hawk!” It was a juvenile Cooper’s Hawk, my first of the year. I wondered if the hawk was the reason why the gull was calling continuously from its place on the ice.

Continue reading