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04 October 2009 @ 08:46 pm
Wildlife at the Back Door  

The weather has turned gray and rainy again, and I've been busy at work so I haven't been able to get out much during the week. However, Friday was supposed to be nice, with the sun peeping through the clouds and a high of about 13°C, so I decided to bring my birding gear and head out to Hurdman at lunch. I was glad I had my binoculars that morning, for while walking down Elgin Street to work I noticed a falcon flying overhead! It landed on the roof of the building next to where I work, so I rushed up to my office on the 26th floor and looked down at the roof next door. The bird was still there, preening and looking around, and I was able to confirm it as a merlin! It was an awesome way to start the day, and I couldn't wait to get out at lunch to see what else might be around.

Rusty Blackbird

I managed to get to Hurdman at lunch, and the warmth of the day and the intermittent sunshine made it feel like summer again. I was not the only who thought so, for I heard a Song Sparrow singing somewhere off the bike path. Hearing this lovely, familiar song made me realize I hadn't heard one singing in a long time.

On my way to the woods I stopped to inspect the wildflowers. A few bees were around, and I found this interesting bug on some Tansy.

Plant Bug (Miridae sp.)

While updating my new Bees & Wasps gallery, I noticed that I didn't have any decent bumblebee pictures. I tried to remedy that by photographing this relatively cooperative fella:


Further along the path I noticed a couple of hoverflies hovering about a patch of asters. This one intrigued me with its reddish eyes and unique black and yellow markings. These little flies are still common and quite active this time of year.

Hoverfly (Toxomerus geminatus)

I decided not to go back to the bike path, but instead followed the trail through the woods to an open area where it rambles before entering the woods again and then finally coming out to the bike path. This area is usually good for insects, warblers, and flycatchers (in season) and I hadn't been there in a while. I didn't expect to see much, but almost right away I found a couple of blackbirds which were feeding on some buckthorn berries. When I entered the clearing, they flew to another shrub and disappeared from view. I cautiously made my way forward, and was startled - and delighted - when I realized that they were Rusty Blackbirds, a species I hadn't seen in almost two years!

Rusty Blackbird

There were three of them altogether, and only one was feeding high enough for me to photograph him. They made "chucking" sounds just like Red-winged Blackbirds, and I stood as still as possible, watching and photographing them. I was unable to believe my luck; not only did I finally find these relatively uncommon migrants, but I had superb views of them as well. This sighting alone was enough to make my day!

Rusty Blackbird

Rusty Blackbird close-up

I must have scared them off while proceeding down the path, for they flew into a large tree upon seeing me. I left them to their own devices and followed the trail into the woods, not expecting to find much else - a merlin and three Rusty Blackbirds in one day surely must have used up my quota of luck for the day, if not the week! However, to my surprise I found a Common Grackle (not all that common this time of year, and typically seen only deep in the woods rather than on the lawns), a male Black-throated Blue Warbler, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, and two unidentified warblers which, typical of warblers, kept flitting behind leaves where I was unable to get a good look at them. One was plain and whitish below, the other quite streaky, and that's about all I could see.

I checked the river briefly, then turned around and took a different route through the woods. In the woods, I found this interesting insect sitting on a leaf:


These are the insects that leave small balls of white, frothy foam on various plants. These balls of foam, which bear a strong resemblance to spittle, are produced by the nymphs of spittlebugs when the nymph excretes excess sap and mixes it with air. The foam serves a number of purposes. It protects the nymph from predators, provides insulation from temperature extremes, and prevents the nymph from drying out.

Then, further along the trail, I saw a small bird fluttering in a tree like a kinglet. It was trying to hover while picking insects off the leaf above it, but when I located the bird in my binoculars I realized it wasn't a kinglet but another warbler. This one was slightly more cooperative (i.e. it stayed in the same tree and emerged in the open several times), so I pulled out my camera and started taking pictures, hoping to get a clear enough shot to identify it. It was pretty unremarkable, for a warbler, and I suspected it might be an Orange-crowned Warbler. Sure enough, when I checked my photos at home, all the field marks were there: the broken eye-ring, thin dark eyeline, faint streaks along the sides, and yellowish underparts. Not only is this another uncommon migrant in Ottawa, it was also another bird I hadn't seen in two years!

Orange-crowned Warbler

Thrilled with the day's adventures, I went back to work, not dreaming that my adventures weren't over yet. Much later that day, I was reading in bed at about 10:30 p.m. when my fiancé told me there were two raccoons on our back deck! Our deck is tiny, and it only takes about three steps to reach the stairs; when I looked out I saw two young raccoons right next to the glass doors tussling with each other! When they realized they had an audience they came up to the doors and put their little paws on the glass and looked right back at us! They seemed quite friendly and quite interested in us, and when I put my fingers on the glass they started scratching at the door. My cats had also joined us at the back door, and while one was staring intently at the raccoons, the other one started hissing. The raccoons didn't even seem to notice them. A third raccoon was on the ground...it seemed smaller than the others, and when it attempted to climb the steps the two larger ones drove it away. We watched them for about 15 minutes before they went back down the stairs and scrounged for seeds under the bird feeder.

It was the most awesome, thrilling experience ever. I hope they come back to visit us, but then I also hope they find someplace safe to stay. I am not sure where they came from, if they had a den under somebody's step or shed, or if they came from the woods on Stonehaven which have recently been demolished to make room for new townhouses. Hopefully they will find their way to the conservation area on the other side of Richmond Road, but if they want to visit me again that's all right too!