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18 March 2010 @ 11:44 pm
More Signs of Spring!  

Although the equinox isn't for another two days, it's safe to say that spring has arrived. Ring-billed Gulls are everywhere, chains of Canada Geese fill the morning and evening skies, and the weather has been unseasonably warm with temperatures reaching an unbelievable 16°C for the past couple of days. I spent my lunch hours this week searching for signs of spring at Hurdman and in the green space downtown along the canal and at Major's Hill Park. Already a few butterflies have been reported, and I was hoping to find one while the weather was still cooperative. The earliest-flying butterflies in Ottawa - such as the Mourning Cloak, Eastern Comma, Milbert's Tortoiseshell and Compton Tortoiseshell - all overwinter here as adults. These butterflies hibernate in tree cavities, beneath loose tree bark, piles of debris or in unheated buildings in a state of "suspended animation". The butterflies produce large amounts of natural antifreezes when temperatures begin to drop in the fall, which prevents the formation of ice crystals in their bodies and allows them to survive the frigid winter temperatures. When temperatures rise again in the early spring, these butterflies emerge on warm, sunny days.

Overwintering as adults greatly extends their life spans. While a period of about two weeks is a typical life span for most adult butterflies, these species spend several months in the adult stage.

Common Grackle

At Hurdman I found a couple of Red-winged Blackbirds near the bird feeders in the woods. I also found a Woolly Bear caterpillar on the ground beside the trail. It didn't look like it was doing too well, but it was still alive.

Woolly Bear Caterpillar

The Rideau River is now completely open, and all the goldeneyes and mergansers had left for somewhere else. A few mallards were near the shore by the transitway bridge; no other ducks were on this section at all.

Rideau River

The only other thing of interest I found on my walk was this dark fungus attached to the end of a log. I think it may be a slime mould, although I am not certain.

Unknown Fungus

My outing yesterday was more productive. I decided to walk along the canal toward the Ottawa River, then over to Major's Hill Park. While I was cutting through Confederation Park on Elgin Street, I heard a familiar, grating call and saw several grackles! Two were probing the ground for food, while the rest were sitting in the trees. These grackles appeared to be trying to impress each other with how large they could fluff themselves out before emitting an unmusical squeak reminiscent of a hinge in need of oil. None of them seemed to be in the mood to have their picture taken, but in the area next to the wall along Slater Street I was able to follow one for a short while. He flew up onto the fence before flying down and foraging at the base of the wall.

Common Grackle

Though not the most endearing of birds, I find the colours of the grackle quite beautiful when the sun is shining directly on them.

Common Grackle

A few starlings were also probing the grass. They appear to be transitioning from non-breeding to breeding plumage; they will appear much darker later in the spring.

European Starling

I left Confederation Park and walked over to Major's Hill Park, which is larger and has a lot of open space. While entering from Sussex Street, I was surprised to find this Red Squirrel sitting on the fence. First, I have never seen a Red Squirrel downtown before, and second, I don't think I've ever seen one "perching" like this!

Red Squirrel

I also came across two robins, both high up in the trees, and a crow sitting on a branch at eye level. The crow looked so beautifully glossy and black, and as the light was nice I took a few pictures. It's often difficult to capture the black of the crows with any kind of detail, which is why I don't often get very many decent photos of them. This one, however, turned out nicely.

American Crow

Finally, while walking back toward Rideau Street, I saw this chipmunk sitting in the grass next to a manhole cover. When I approached him, he quickly scurried toward the manhole and disappeared through one of the tiny holes!

Eastern Chipmunk

Now, I've heard of sewer rats before, but not sewer chipmunks! There must have been a handle or a latch beneath the cover that the chipmunk was standing on, for he popped his head out a few minutes later, then re-emerged into the world of sunlight. This little chipmunk made me smile all the way back to work.

Eastern Chipmunk

It's been a gorgeous week, and even though I didn't see any butterflies, it was great to see the grackles again. If this warm weather continues, it won't be long before the rest of the early migrants appear - there have already been reports of Killdeer and Turkey Vultures in Ontario, and it won't be long before they show up in Ottawa along with the Great Blue Herons, Song Sparrows and phoebes. I love this time of year, when every day seems to bring something new!

Soul Diasporasoul_diaspora on March 20th, 2010 02:34 am (UTC)
That "sewer chipmunk" is adorable! :-D
(Anonymous) on March 20th, 2010 08:32 am (UTC)
Gotta love that chipmunk. That's one cute photo of it peeking out from the sewer grate.

Xray Is As Xray Does: ethelclosexraytheenforcer on March 20th, 2010 01:30 pm (UTC)
Love grackles. starlings? *shakes fist* EV000000L.