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31 August 2010 @ 08:14 pm
A Once in a Lifetime Sighing  

Sunday was another beautiful day, and I couldn't wait to get out and see what new migrants had arrived. I started the day off with a quick stop at the Rideau Trail on Richmond Road, where I found a House Wren, a couple of Common Yellowthroats and a cooperative Gray Catbird which came within a few feet of me when I started making pishing and squeaking noises. Although it didn't come out right into the open for a photo opportunity, it was still great to see this normally shy species up close. A Common Yellowthroat, too, seemed curious, and responded by sticking around for a while instead of darting immediately into the thickets.

After leaving the Rideau Trail, it was off to Shirley's Bay to check out the shorebirds and search for an unusual mammal. My first stop was the Hilda Road feeders, where a rare melanistic chipmunk had been discovered a few weeks ago. Melanism occurs as a result of an increased amount of dark pigmentation in the skin, feathers, hair or fur of an organism. The chipmunk seen at Shirley's Bay is completely black, with no stripes or other markings.

Melanistic Eastern Chipmunk

At the feeders I saw the usual feeder birds plus a White-throated Sparrow, a Magnolia Warbler foraging for insects in the leaves above the feeders, and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird flying over. A Yellow-bellied Sapsucker was also tapping away at a tree across the street. Although there were quite a few chipmunks scurrying beneath the feeders and gathering seeds left out on the rocks, all of them appeared normal. Although I waited for half an hour, I only managed to catch a brief glimpse of the black chipmunk as it darted across the road to the shrubs surrounding the feeder. It didn't emerge beneath the feeders as I had expected; instead, an encounter with a black squirrel sent it bounding back across the road and into the vegetation.

After that unsatisfactory view I went for a short walk along the trails between Shirley Boulevard and the river. A Brown Thrasher flew across the path in front of me, and further along I came across this large Black-and-Yellow Argiope in the tall grass next to the path.

Black-and-Yellow Argiope

With nothing else of interest in the area, I grabbed my spotting scope from the car and walked out to the dyke next. This proved much more productive, as I saw four Great Egrets and several Great Blue Herons in the bay, together with a fairly large number of shorebirds. I identified several Semipalmated and Least Sandpipers, a Baird's Sandpiper, a handful of Greater Yellowlegs, and a Stilt Sandpiper foraging in an area fairly close to the dyke.

Stilt Sandpiper

A Northern Harrier was flying over the marsh, and a juvenile Bonaparte's Gull was wading in the bay about halfway between the marsh and the dyke. A male Belted Kingfisher flew in to a tree quite close to me, and I managed to snap one photo before he saw me and flew off again.

Belted Kingfisher

None of the birds were close to the dyke, and once I had seen all that there was to see in the bay, I turned around and walked back toward the woods. A large Leopard Frog sunning itself in the middle of the path hopped out of my way; because it did seem unusually large, I stooped down to photograph it.

Leopard Frog

The woods were much more productive for warblers on my way out than on my way in. I came across a pocket of warblers which included Chestnut-sided, Magnolia, Black-and-White, Wilson's and several Black-throated Greens.

Black-throated Green Warbler

Although I had seen many fantastic birds during my outing, I decided to stop by the Hilda Road feeders one last time to look for the black chipmunk. This time I found Wilson sitting by the side of the road opposite the feeders, and he was feeding the black chipmunk! I joined him on the grass and watched as the black chipmunk came out to grab a cheekful of peanuts before disappearing beneath the shrubs.

Melanistic Eastern Chipmunk

At first glance the chipmunk looked like a tiny black squirrel. However, the body shape and the thin black tail were definitely that of a chipmunk. According to the article that appeared in the Ottawa Citizen, seeing an all-black chipmunk is a once in a lifetime event. Melanism is rare in chipmunks, but more common in Eastern Gray Squirrels. It is the opposite of albinism, in which no melanin is present.

Eastern Chipmunk

It seemed a little more wary than most chipmunks, but still came up to me to take a peanut from my outstretched hand. I've heard that the normal chipmunks (and I counted 17 of them that day!) were aggressive toward it, and would often chase it away from the feeders. However, it was very protective of its own territory on the other side of the road, and I witnessed it chasing two chipmunks away which had ventured too close to its den.

Eastern Chipmunk

I was thrilled to see this special creature, and enjoyed tossing peanuts to him for half an hour or so. I thought he was just as cute as the regular chipmunks - perhaps cuter with all that glossy black fur - and definitely the most unusual mammal I've ever seen! It truly was a wonderful and awesome experience, one that I will never forget.