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20 March 2010 @ 06:48 pm
The First Garter Snake  

It's been a great week....the weather has been unseasonably warm, spring is in the air and the birds are singing. Each morning I hear Mourning Doves, a single robin and a single cardinal singing their hearts out, and on Wednesday and Thursday I had two Blue Jays visit my feeder for the first time since the late fall.

According to the forecast, Friday was going to be the last day of the warm, spring-like weather, so I took the afternoon off yesterday to enjoy it. I visited the Beaver Trail, hoping to find some butterflies, spring migrants, or other signs of the changing season. However, the temperature was only 13°C, and the sun was half-hidden beneath a thin veil of cloud. It felt much cooler than the previous couple of days, and given the lack of sun, I was not completely surprised that I didn't see any butterflies. However, I did find something even more unexpected - my first garter snake of the year!

Red Squirrel

The chickadees were busy feeding on some seed left on the ground at the trail entrance, and a Red Squirrel and a chipmunk were carefully nibbling on the bounty along the edges of the path. I left them with more seeds to satisfy their appetite, and set out into the woods.

The trail branches in two different directions just beyond the Wild Bird Care Center, and a few metres past the fork I came across a large puddle next to the path. Ripples on the water's surface made me stop for a closer look, and I was surprised to see several water striders skimming across the surface! I bent down to try to take a photo, but they all skittered off to the other side of the puddle. So I walked around the puddle to see if I could photograph them from there, and that's when I heard movement in the leaf litter behind me. I turned and saw a garter snake among the leaves, and as soon as I looked at him he stopped moving and stayed completely motionless, as though he didn't think I couldn't see him if he sat still.

Garter Snake

After taking a few pictures I moved on, wondering what else I might find in the woods. As it turned out, I didn't see very much until I reached the first boardwalk. Someone had scattered sunflower seeds all over the boardwalk and on top of the posts, and several chickadees, two Red Squirrels and a chipmunk were enjoying the banquet. In the pond, I counted five mallards - three males and two females - taking a leisurely swim.

One of the Red Squirrels looked brilliantly red in the soft sunlight, and I couldn't resist taking a few photos of him as he ate. The red seemed brightest on the tail, with a contrasting black tip.

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel - profile #2

This squirrel was the more aggressive of the two. He chased the other Red off the boardwalk a few times, and each time the other squirrel came slinking back, belly to the ground as though trying to make himself as flat as possible. The second squirrel's fur seemed paler in colour, and not as lustrous as that of the first squirrel. Half of his tail was missing, and he seemed thin, making me wonder if he was older or just had a bad winter.

Second Squirrel

I tossed more seed on the ground for the second squirrel, but as soon as I started walking toward him he flew off the boardwalk onto the ground and ran halfway up a small shrub.

Further along the trail I came across another chipmunk. He made a few quiet, hollow "chuck" calls from his spot on a fallen tree then fell silent. He froze in place when I took a few photos, only turning his head to watch me when I walked around the log to photograph him from a different angle.

Eastern Chipmunk

There were a few mallards on the second pond, and that was it. I was hoping to see a heron or maybe a Hooded Merganser or Wood Duck, but no such luck. Two other people were hanging out there, so I didn't stay at the observation dock long. Back in the woods, I heard two frogs calling back and forth, although I couldn't find them or identify the species. Their calls seemed squeaky to me, unlike the call of the Spring Peepers which I am familiar with. I tried to locate one of the frogs by walking toward the source of the sound while it was calling, then stopping when it fell silent. Unfortunately, after about two intervals it fell silent for good, though I waited for at least ten minutes for it to call again.

While I was waiting for the frog to start chirping again, I discovered this small cup-shaped fungus on a small log on the ground. I found it interesting with one hole in the top and another on the side. I think it's a sac fungus, but I'm not entirely sure of the species.

Unknown Sac Fungus

Unknown Sac Fungus

I couldn't believe the woods were so quiet on such a nice day, and left feeling a little disappointed. I did hear two woodpeckers, a Red-winged Blackbird, and a robin but saw none of them. The best part of my walk was definitely seeing the garter snake, although the water striders and sac fungus were neat too. Although the forecast doesn't look to promising for the next week (temperatures will be falling back to normal, around the freezing mark, and snow/rain showers are in the forecast), I am hoping that the weekend will bring more changes, and there will be more to see on my next outing.

Soul Diasporasoul_diaspora on March 22nd, 2010 07:17 pm (UTC)
My mother-in-law and I were at Beaver Trail the same day! Just missed you, I guess. We didn't see much either, there or at Jack Pine Trail. It seems like the birds are more or less following their own timing regardless of the weather. I've only listed five spring migrants so far.

BTW, I love that Ruffed Grouse picture by you at http://www.ofnc.ca/breports.php