January 21st is squirrel appreciation day. It was founded in 2001 by Christy Hargrove, a wildlife rehabilitator in North Carolina with an affinity for and a dedication to squirrels. Squirrel Appreciation Day can be celebrated in different ways: from watching documentaries about squirrels and researching them online to watching them in your own backyard or putting out a special feeder for them. This winter, if it weren’t for the squirrels, I would only get the occasional cardinal or roving band of chickadees in my yard as all my overwintering sparrows have gone elsewhere. It’s nice to have their company and watch them eat the food I put out for them in these quiet, lifeless, cold winter days.
Back when the lockdown started in March and the provincial parks, national parks, and local conservation areas started closing, I thought I would be spending the summer in my own backyard. It’s a nice enough yard, but it’s quite small and doesn’t boast the number of fauna of the even the small urban parks nearby. If I had known when we bought our little townhouse in 2003 that one day in the not-too-distant future I would consider myself a naturalist, I would have looked for a house with green space behind it or at least a park next door to increase the number of species that visit my yard. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.
When the local lockdown restrictions finally lifted in late May, I was able to enjoy my summer visiting new and well-loved places beyond the boundaries of my neighbourhood and seeing the amazing wildlife of the Ottawa region. As such, I didn’t spend as much time at home as I thought I would. This is in part due to the fact that I spent the summer working from home – perhaps if I had been going to the office downtown every day I wouldn’t have felt the desperate need for escape on the weekends, looking for a much-needed change of scenery. I was able to watch the birds and squirrels from my office window, but didn’t spend much time getting up-close-and-personal with the bugs and other critters. Still, I was able to eat lunch outside on occasion, and spent some of the nicer weekend afternoons working on the garden. Even just walking out to the car sometimes I found a few things of interest!
On Sunday, February 2nd Doran and I went birding with Bird Las Vegas in order to see some new places and fill in some gaps in my life list after our first trip to Las Vegas in 2017. It was not only Groundhog Day, but Super Bowl Sunday, although any dedicated birder recognizes this day as Superb Owl Sunday instead. When I booked the day-long excursion with Justin Streit, I told him there were two species I really wanted to see: Steller’s Jay and Burrowing Owl. We had already found the Steller’s Jay; the owl was number 16 on my list of target birds, having been reported on 1.0% of all complete checklists in February. The low number bears little correlation to the actual likelihood of the owls being found, however; Justin told me most birders visit them in January to tick them for their year list. Continue reading →
Doran and I flew to Las Vegas on Saturday, February 1st for a week in the desert. This was our second time there, but our flights did not go smoothly. Our 7:00 am flight was supposed to land in Toronto at 8:15, then our second flight was supposed to leave Toronto at 9:30. However our plane in Ottawa had been sitting at the gate all night, and we needed to some time to de-ice it. This took about 20 minutes. Then, when we arrived in Toronto we needed to wait a another 20 minutes on the tarmac as another plane had taken our gate because of a medical emergency. We worried about not having time to clear customs before our second flight boarded, but as it turns out this plane was late, too, due to a “mechanical issue.” Then that plane, too, needed de-icing, so it wasn’t until after 12:00 that we got airborne. The strangest part was, after we showed our passports and boarding passes to the flight attendants at the gate, we were quizzed by US security people before entering the jet bridge – where were we going? Did we know the limits on how much cash we could bring into the country? How much were we bringing? When did we book our flights? We hadn’t encountered anything like this before; even my boss who had recently traveled to the U.S. thought it was weird. In any event, this is the third Air Canada trip in a row where we’ve had annoying delays, so I don’t think I will book with them again anytime soon.
As anyone who has followed this blog for a while knows (or who has picked me up to go birding!) I live in a townhouse in the sterile suburban wastelands of Kanata on the southwestern edge of Ottawa. My backyard is the size of a postage stamp, and my front yard is half the size of that as the driveway takes up the rest. We used to have two mature trees on the front lawn we share with our neighbours, until the one closest to the road came down suddenly in a windstorm. Thankfully no people were injured or property was damaged, but this was the same tree I’d seen a Pine Warbler in during the spring of 2017 and I was looking forward to seeing what else might turn up during migration. The tree closest to the house is right outside my computer room, and in recent years the Eastern Gray Squirrels have built leafy dreys right outside my window. Sometimes the squirrel sits on the branch outside its nest of leaves and twigs and stares at me while I’m working; I usually wave to it, but it just stares back at me. I always wondered if they realized that I’m the one who fills the feeders out back and tosses peanuts to them when they visit. Continue reading →
On our first morning in Las Vegas we woke up nice and early to meet the Red Rock Audubon Club at the Pine Creek Canyon Trail in Red Rock Canyon. I wanted to make the most of our trip, and since we had never been to the desert before, we wanted to go out with an experienced guide. I’d been eyeing the outings on the Red Rock Audubon Club website for a while, and this trip was exactly what I was looking for. It cost $7 to enter the park for the day, and the Pine Creek Canyon Trail is described as a three-mile, two-hour loop that crosses the open desert, vists an old homestead, and passes through a meadow before heading up into the canyon.
We ended up getting to the meeting point a couple of minutes late, as the road through the park is a one-way, 35 mph scenic loop with multiple look-outs and hiking trails branching off of it, and the one we wanted was – of course – near the end of the loop. In this it reminded me of Algonquin Park’s Highway 60 corridor, except the view was drastically different – I wished we had time to stop and take pictures of the dramatic Spring Mountains rising up from the floor of the Mojave Desert.
The Eagleson storm water ponds continue to be a great place to look for birds and other wildlife, and this under-birded gem can be fantastic during migration. I like to spend my mornings here in order to add new species to the hotspot list and new photographs to the illustrated list on eBird. As of July 29, 2017, the list stood at 125 species when I added Rose-breasted Grosbeak to the list. In the past few weeks, I’ve added four new species while others have added two, bringing the list to 131 species to date!
On August 26th I added two new bird species here: Red-eyed Vireo and Red-breasted Nuthatch. There’s just enough of a woodlot here to attract some forest birds, though they are few and far between. I heard a Red-eyed Vireo singing and was happy to add it to my list. I was even happier when I saw a Red-breasted Nuthatch in the tall pines in the same woodlot – nuthatches only show up occasionally, as do woodpeckers. Interestingly, I heard a White-breasted Nuthatch the same day, and I saw a Hairy Woodpecker fly into a tree across Meadowbreeze Drive.
All too soon Friday arrived, and I was finally able to sleep in until 5:00 am instead of waking up at 3:30 am. I was up and birding 45 minutes later, taking pictures of everything I would miss once we returned to Canada – our flight was scheduled to leave at 1:30 pm the following day, and this was our last full day in the country. We hadn’t made any plans or booked any excursions, so I was able to get in a few hours of birding before breakfast. As usual it was humid when I set out, but not too hot yet; I headed out to the spot beneath the red-flowering trees first, curious as to which birds I would find there early in the morning.
On May 14, 2017 I received two interesting visitors to my yard. The first was a Nashville Warbler flitting around in the tree outside my computer room – I only got a brief glimpse of the yellow bird with the gray head and white eye-ring before it disappeared, but it was enough to add it to my yard list as bird species no. 66. The second visitor wasn’t a bird, but a mammal; when I saw the small red squirrel poking around the feeder area, I immediately ran for my camera as this was only the second red squirrel I’ve seen in my yard. Although I’m not too far from Stony Swamp where numerous red squirrels make their home, I am just deep enough inside the Emerald Meadows subdivision with its maze of roads and large, open lawns to make travelling a hazard, especially given how open the subdivision is – there are no tree-lined streets and no canopy of interlacing branches for the squirrels to travel along safely above the ground.
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.