Montreal Nature (formerly Ottawa Nature

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Location: Montreal, Quebec, Canada

I grew up in Ontario and Nunavut, and went to university in New Brunswick. For two years I lived in Ottawa, on the green belt. While I was there I wrote about nature. Then I moved to Montreal and I wrote nothing for a year. We've got nature here too, so I'm going to write about it.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Not dead, just sleeping.....

It's been a bit busy here lately, so I haven't posted anything. This changes now.

I've seen alot of Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) at the feeder lately. Specifically, there is what I assume to be a breeding pair, since they're always together, and are a male and a female (they could, I suppose, just be very good friends, but the third cardinal
belies that theory). the third, and to my mind, most interesting, is an immature male. For those who have never SEEN a Northern Cardinal, I suggest that you might be spending too much time on the internet, and should perhaps go for more walks outdoors. I also offer a description. The mature male of the species is a brilliant red, with a black face and some greyish wing feathers. The female is more drab... a kind of mottled, ashen colour with orangey patches on the wings and tale. The immature male....this being a male in it's first year of life.... looks rather like an adult male that has, for some obscure reason, decided to wear it's wife's coat. it has the red in patches, peeking out from under the more drab feathers of the female, and of the baby cardinal. Nowhere near as spectacular as his father, but interesting in his own way. He will have started out looking like his mother...okay, that's a lie. like most baby birds, he will have started out looking horrific and parboiled, but that changes quickly. He's just getting his adult feathers now, and that means that pretty soon I won't see him anymore...when he reaches maturity, his father will drive him off, and he'll have to find his own patch, and a mate. Cardinals are year round residents here, so at least I'll get to see his parents still.

Juncos, on the other hand, are not year round residents in Ottawa. So imagine my suprise when I saw a Dark-Eyed Junco (junco hyemalis) in the garden this morning. I saw a great many of them about two weeks ago, and I thought that was the last of them. I guess this little fellow was a straggler. They DO sometimes winter in southern Canada, but so far as I can determine, not in Ottawa, which probably isn't south enough.

The Canada Geese ( branta canadensis) are also leaving. Anybody who has ever been to Ottawa will know they're pretty common they are in alot of places. I've seen hundreds at a time in parks near the river, or at the Nortel building. Thousands in fields that have recently been harvested...the feed on grain that has fallen in the cultivation process. Now I only see them flying far overhead. That, though, is an awe inspiring sight. There's something about a flock of geese overhead that takes the breath away. And to see one in Ottawa....well, that just feels very, very Canadian. About as Canadian as one can feel without a beaver present, and a bottle of maple syrup.


Saturday, October 21, 2006

A walk on the Beaver Trail

I don't think i've ever walked the Beaver Trail myself....Ottawa has alot of nature trails, conservation areas and the like. The beaver trail is a nice one. Apparently it used to be farmland, which I personally can't see. It's a bit swampy, very rocky, and has about three centimeters of topsoil, but you can still see the signs. There's an old, now defunct well, moss clinging to it's sides. There are a few places where you can see the remains of a foundation, and an old fence. What the beaver trail IS good for growing is trees. It's a great place if you're fond of cedar, which I personally am. it's also one of the few places in Ottawa with an abundance of Red Oak, which are beautiful this time of year.

I was suprized to see that even with the cold, and the frost we've had, there are a few flowering plants that are still hanging on quite well. technically, I suppose, they're weeds, but frankly I don't care. I saw a few brave Chicory plants (chicorium intybus). Chicory is, apparently, an introduced species. It's root is a coffee substitute, so it makes sense that there would be some near where pioneers lived. If you've never seen it, it's quite pretty. A tall, slender, bristly plant that stands erect, with blue flowers, and hairy yellowish seeds. As a point of interest, for some odd reason, when photographed using film, chicory flowers show up as a pinkish purple. this isn't a problem with digital photography, as near as I can tell.

I also saw some Asters, though I'm not sure of the specific type. Pretty blue flowers as well, those are.

Herb Robert (Geranium robertianum) sounds like a used car salesman, but it is infact a small flowering plant. It has pink flowers, about one centimeter across. it's not native to Canada, but it's a hardy plant for gardeners, and as such occasionally pops up where it isn't supposed to be. It doesn't seem to have take over, and it's a nice little thing, so I'm happy to have seen it. Even the leaves are appealing....very fern like.

it was also a good day for birds. Firstoff, I saw more Robins (turdus migratorius) than I have ever seen in one place. Robins, of course, are extraordinarily common, particularly in ottawa, but even so, it's not normal to see that many at once. I suppose they are migrating now, so I won't get to see any more for quite some time. I had the opportunity to observe them nesting this summer. Quite the experience. They built a nest some 1.5 meters up in a cedar bush, and raised two clutches there before moving on to greener pastures. The eggs hatched pretty quickly. ....maybe after two weeks at most, and it took not much longer than that for the hatchlings to get big. They started off naked and hideous, as most of us do, but fledged so quickly you could almost see it happening. Fledgeling robins look alot like their parents, only instead of red breasts, they have white breasts spotted with black. The nest was something pretty special in and of itself. if somebody said to me "Fop, you have to pick a bird to build your house", I'd go for the robins. they do a stick-and-mud nest that looks like it could hold up against a nuclear explosion. the inside is plasterered with mud, to make for a smooth, and presumably comfortable incubator.

Robins aren't the only birds I saw migrating today. There were Juncos (Junco hyemalis) on the trail. You don't often see them in Ottawa. They don't breed here, they just pass through. I only caught a few glimpses of them, but they're easily recognized by their white tail feathers.

Ever present on any Ottawa trail are the Chickadees. These are Black-Capped chickadees ( parus atricapillus) of course. I don't think you get any other species in this neck of the woods. Chickadees are common as muck, but they are such cheerfull looking birds, you can't help but be happy to see them. Most of the birds around here are used to people, and so if you bring seeds, you can quite often feed them from your hand, which is an experience and a have something wild sitting in your hand, i mean. I had no seeds, but they got right close inspecting me, in case I had secreted some about my person and was trying not to share. You've got to watch these nature types...they're tricky.

I met some other people on the trail, who said that they had been looking for birds to feed, and hadn't seen any. I wonder if we were walking in the same woods, because the trees were alive....well, trees are always alive, except for the dead ones, but you know what I mean. we went on our ways quickly enough, which is fine by me. They seemed like nice people, but frankly I think the chickadees are better conversationalists. But I think birds are better conversationalists than alot of people, so it's nothing personal.

as a side note, I saw evidence of a few animals that I didn't actually see in person. There was a tree that had, pretty recently, been chewed halfway through by a beaver.....this in a patch of woods made up predominantly of maple trees. Very Canadian. I almost broke into a rousing chorus of the national anthem. There was also, at one point, a pile of woodchips that absolutely didn't come from a beaver. My guess would be a Pileated Woodpecker, which isn't an uncommon site in the woods around here. I see more evidence of them than I do actual birds. If you should see a rectangular hole pecked in a tree, you know who's to blame. Those holes are favoured by other birds, and some mammals, as nesting places. Amazing how things work out some times, isn't it?

Apparently the beaver trail is a good place for orchids in the you know where I'll be come the thaw.

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Friday, October 20, 2006

aThe tale of the tree frog.

This happened some monthes ago, but since I've only just started the blog, you're getting it now.

I was up watching some late night television, as I am wont to do on occasion, when I saw something moving in the kitchen. my first thought was "Oh, hell, we have mice", and I went to investigate more closely. Instead of a mouse, I saw a frog. Specifically, a saw a stunning example of the Greater Gray Treefrog (Hyla Versicolor). The greater and lesser gray treefrogs are pretty much indistinguishable, so I only know it was a greater because lessers don't generally get this far northeast. It was, however, far too big to be a Spring Peeper, the other species of treefrog that I know we get here. It was probably a recently metamorphosed adult, because it was green. As they age, they become gray, but as young 'uns they have really quite marvelous green hue. Moreover, the Gray Treefrog has a pretty quick maturation period...their eggs hatch, for example, in a matter of days, so it isn't out of the question to have seen a young one at that time of year. I can't be too sure about it now, but I seem to recall it having a light coloured throat, which indicates it was a female. I decided that the kitchen is no place for a frog, and we had a bit of a merry chase, which, had I been watched, probably would have had my audience in stitches. There I was, bearlike man that I am, trying, and failing, to catch this tiny amphibian. Eventually, she escaped into the philodendron, where her camouflage proved itself once and for all. I did see her, once or twice, after that, but I never managed to catch her. I imagine she's dead now, or possibly she managed to get out again. I hope it was the latter. Frogs need all the help they can get.

if you're interested in them, the wikipedia article has some pretty good pictures, and decent information . personally, my source is the Stokes Nature Guide to Reptiles and Amphibians by Thomas F. Tyning, which is alot more indepth.

on the subject of frogs, it is cold outside. We've had nast weather, with a couple of heavy frosts. However, in spite of this, the Northern Leopard Frog (Rana Pipiens) is still out and active. I nearly stepped on three of them yesterday, and I;ve seen scores along the roadside. They'll be with us another few weeks....usually they go into hibernation in november.


Hi, and welcome to my nature blog.

I'm going to be posting observations, annecdotes and information about plants and animals I encounter in the Ottawa Valley. At some point, I'll throw up some pictures as well. Enjoy.

First story:

A couple of weeks ago, I was moving some firewood for my grandmother. She's getting a gas fireplace installed, so she's sent all her firewood up to my mother's cottage. She had, for some reason or other, a great deal of the stuff, and so it was piled some five or six logs deep. What should I find, four levels in, but a little nest of some kind of cloth, and enough birdseed to fill the feeder. The nest looked to be old, and my grandmother assures me that she hasn't bought that specific type of seed in some years, so I was able to remove it without too much guilt. But what, I asked myself, had decided to make a home in the woodpile? A mouse, I assumed, but mice aren't one species, they're actually a pretty diverse group thereof. Of course, I didn't have the mouse itself handy. Now, my copy of The Mammals of the Eastern United States, is rather old, and probably outdated in terms of range maps, but it DOES go into exhaustive detail. From what I can determine, the most likely candidate is probably a white footed deermouse. It appears, however, to have gone on it's merry way, which is, I suppose, just as well.