Weather in April can be described in only one way: changeable. It can turn from spring to summer to winter in the matter of hours, making it difficult to know how to dress any given day – you may need a hat and gloves in the morning, then be wearing shorts in the afternoon. Even the weather toward the end of the month can be variable. Last Thursday (April 27th) Ottawa’s temperature reached a sunny, humid high of 26°C; yesterday (April 30th) the rain clouds moved in and temperatures barely reached 5°C.
Migrants have been returning in large numbers despite the inconstant weather. On Friday I woke up to see two White-crowned Sparrows on my backyard, and they were there again Sunday morning. This was a year bird for me, and the earliest date I’ve recorded them in my yard; normally they arrive during the first week of May, with my previous early date being May 4th.
I was off on Friday and had to go downtown for an appointment first thing in the morning; it was a gorgeous day, so after I was finished I headed to Mud Lake to do some birding. I entered via the southwest corner on Howe Street and found a Gray Catbird sitting silently in a shrub. Not long after that I encountered my first flock of birds foraging in the woods; pishing brought out an Ovenbird, a couple of Tennessee Warblers, and a beautiful male Black-throated Blue Warbler. A little further along I saw a Nashville Warbler foraging close to the ground and heard the brief, sweet trill of a Pine Warbler issuing from the trees near the observation dock.
During the third week of August I spent some time at my Dad’s trailer in the Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area near Glen Morris, Ontario. Although more of a campground/recreation area than a conservation area, it is nevertheless a great spot to spend a few days and see some “southern” wildlife. The last time I was here (August 2014) I was treated to the antics of a couple of juvenile Broad-winged Hawks, found a small pond where female Black-tipped Darners laid their eggs in the late afternoon, observed a Blue-winged Warbler on a morning walk, saw my first Red-spotted Purple butterfly, and even saw a bat near one of the washroom lights after dark. I didn’t see any Broad-winged Hawks or cool southern bird species this time, but I still ended up with 28 species over three days – the same number I saw in 2014. Here are some of the interesting creatures that I saw on my trip.
February is my least favourite month of the year, and the weather we’ve had so far has not given me any reason to change my opinion. First we had the bitter cold of the Family Day long weekend. Then on February 16th, Ottawa set a new record for the amount of snowfall in one day: 50 cm. Of course, that was a work day, and even downtown the plows had trouble keeping up with the accumulation on the roads – the snow was falling in a heavy downpour, and both the roads and the sidewalks were a mess throughout the evening commute. A week later, the city received a significant amount of rain followed by a sudden drop in temperature which turned the sidewalks into ice. Another brief rise in temperatures forced the Rideau Canal skateway to officially close for the season on February 25th after one of its shortest season in 46 years – 34 days with only 18 skating days. I have never felt less like birding since this obsession started about nine years ago.
One particular Eastern Gray Squirrel has been visiting my yard for about two years now – perhaps more. I recognize her by the way her damaged front left paw is curled up against her wrist, immobile, and because of this I call her (with great affection) Little Miss Broken Paw. It looks as though her wrist got broken at some point and healed permanently in this position. While such an injury would be devastating to a human, it has not affected her in any way that I can see; I have long admired how she is able to climb the fence and scamper along the top of it without so much as a limp.
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.
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!