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04 March 2010 @ 09:29 pm
Signs of Life  

I can't believe it's only the fourth day of March and already signs of spring are everywhere! It seems that only a week ago I was yearning for the quiet of winter to end, impatient for life to return to the woods and fields and conservation areas...how things have changed in only a few short days!

On Sunday I heard my first Brown Creepers singing; then, on Tuesday, a Mourning Dove returned to my yard for the first time in months, feeding on the seeds on the ground below my feeder. I haven't seen any Mourning Doves in my subdivision in a long time, so this was a particularly welcome sign of things to come.

Eastern Chipmunk

He came back on Wednesday, feeding on the ground with the resident House Sparrows; this is another species which I haven't seen at my feeder in months. However, I do hear the sparrows chirping away in the evergreens in the yard behind me almost every day, so their presence wasn't as much of a surprise. Two House Finches were with them, a male and female, and later I saw about half a dozen goldfinches on the feeder itself! This was the most activity I'd had in my yard all winter, as I'd only seen the occasional pair of chickadees and the usual squirrels during the last three months. I can't even remember the last time I've heard or seen a goldfinch in our subdivision!

This morning the sparrows and Mourning Dove were back at the feeder when I got up. I later heard the dove cooing from the top of the roof of the house behind me (another spring first!) and when I checked the yard later there were two doves present! They spent some time sitting on the fence together, something I see them frequently do in the summer. The finches didn't return.

One interesting thing that I noticed in my yard earlier this week was the pair of tunnels in the grass beneath the fence where the feeder hangs. I had seen a shrew gathering seeds beneath the feeder regularly last fall, but haven't seen him all winter. I wondered if the shrew had created these tunnels, and was still using them to visit my feeder. It would be neat to see him again, and try to get some better photos.

Possible shrew tunnels?

Yesterday was a great day for seeing mammals emerge from their winter hibernation. I saw a groundhog in a field on Richmond Road while on my way to work, and a chipmunk running around the rocks at the edge of Strathcona Park at lunch! I had decided to visit the park at lunch to see if I could find some gulls roosting on the ice, the white-winged species in particular. Before I had even reached the river I saw this little fella sitting on a rock and had to stop and take his picture!

Eastern Chipmunk

The chipmunk seemed skittish, scampering off whenever I tried to get closer to it. Then, when two dogs started barking at me from the sidewalk above the park and attempted to run down the steep slope to where we were, the chipmunk ran halfway up the trunk of the tree!


Eventually the dogs' owner managed to get them under control, and they walked off. I spent some more time photographing the chipmunk, although I wasn't able to get too close.

I think this marks the earliest date (March 3rd) that I have seen either a chipmunk or groundhog in the spring, although I do not keep extensive lists for mammals (or reptiles and amphibians for that matter!) the way I do for birds and butterflies. Another goal for the future!

Eventually the chipmunk disappeared into a tunnel in the rocks, so I left to take a walk along the river. There is a long stretch of open water running almost the entire length of the park, and the usual goldeneyes and Common Mergansers were swimming about in the middle. Four or five gulls were standing along the edge of the ice, but they were all grey with black wing-tips. I thought they were Herring Gulls, but when I took a closer look at them with my binoculars I discovered that they were Ring-billed Gulls instead! These gulls are here year-round except for the winter months when the rivers have frozen over, so it was nice to see them back in town. However, I was disappointed that I didn't see the Glaucous or Iceland Gulls that I was hoping to find.

Mallards and black ducks were also abundant, and when I saw this black duck swimming close to the river's edge I had to oblige him by taking his photo.

American Black Duck

I walked the length of the park without seeing any more new species. At the far end, a few mallards and pigeons were feeding on the ground near the parking lot. I found the iridescent colours of the pigeons quite beautiful, and stopped to take a few pictures.

Rock Pigeons

Walking back to Laurier Avenue I noticed that the Common Goldeneyes were swimming in an area quite close to the shore. Normally they spend their time out in the middle of the river or on the side opposite from where I am!

Common Goldeneye (female)

I am not sure if the posturing in this photo is part of a mating display; the males didn't throw their heads all the way onto their backs as they normally do when trying to attract a female's attention, and the female has her head thrown back too!

Common Goldeneyes

I didn't stay too long since I was on my lunch break, but it was nice to get out and see what else has changed in the past couple of weeks. Although the temperature was a few degrees above zero, the light wind coming from the north was still cold, and I was eager to go back inside.

I didn't have time to go out at lunch today, but I continued to check for signs of life on the way to and from work. There were still no Red-winged Blackbirds in the marsh on Richmond Road, but I did see another groundhog in a different spot near Baseline Road. It's so thrilling to see these signs of life, but I'm still hesitant to believe that spring has actually arrived. It's only the fourth day of March, and Ottawa has been known to have snowstorms as late as April. Still, the forecast for the next two weeks looks promising. Once I see the first Red-winged Blackbird, then I'll know it's spring!

Xray Is As Xray Doesxraytheenforcer on March 5th, 2010 02:33 am (UTC)
I love the photo of the goldeneyes!
(Anonymous) on March 6th, 2010 05:17 am (UTC)
I don't get it. People to the south of us are having spring. And you are too. We still have feet of snow on the ground and the guys are still ice fishing. I love these photos because there is hope. I never heard of a black duck! It's gorgeous. Now, those chipmunks? I dread when they wake up. I have a cat who specializes in chipmunk hunting. He is just about insane to get one by now. Great work!
(Anonymous) on March 6th, 2010 03:13 pm (UTC)
Chipmunks are great but they're no squirrels!
Hey Gillian!
I love your pics! However, as my subject suggests, I'd like to request more squirrel content!
Hope you are doing well.
Tina (formerly of VV)