Saturday, April 16, 2011

Urban ducks

I grew up in the Ottawa Valley, a mere half hour to our nation's capital, and yet, I don't think I really explored the city much until quite recently.  It has a surprisingly large amount of green space, and the bike trails that connect them all are pretty awesome.

Last week I went for a 22km bike ride through the city, using almost exclusively the multi-use pathways.  I started in Vanier, following the Rideau River south to Lees avenue, where I crossed the river and found my way to the Rideau Canal.  I toured the canal to Dow's Lake and looped through the Arboretum before returning to Vanier.  After my tour, I felt like I knew the city better, like all that time spent travelling around it in a car only skimmed the surface.  I encountered many people biking, jogging, and walking.  It felt so good to be outside in the sunshine and appreciating the urban wildlife. 

Mallard couple and Wood duck couple on a double date

Along my travels I spotted lots of ducks, particularly along the Rideau River.  Mallards (Anas platyrhynchosi), Wood ducks (Aix sponsa), and even a merganser were seen cruising through the city.

Female merganser - Hooded I think?
I think this was a female Hooded Merganser (Lophodytes cucullatus), and I really really hope I'm right, because if there are female hooded mergansers around, the males can't be far behind, and in my opinion, male hooded mergansers are the silliest looking creatures we have here in Canada.  You be the judge. Go on, I dare you to show me a more absurd Canadian animal!

Lady Wood Duck

Male Wood Duck - he knows he's good looking
The wood ducks were pretty cool to see since I haven't seen them very often before.  I guess I was looking in all the wrong places, since there were several pairs along the Rideau River last week. Wood ducks nest in tree hollows or man-made nest boxes.  You may remember this scene from Planet Earth when the Mandarin Ducklings (the European relative of the Wood Duck) take their leap of faith from their nest way up in the trees.  Habitat loss (including loss of suitable trees for nesting) and over-harvesting drove this once abundant species to near extinction in the early 20th century.  Protection by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (1918) and the construction of man-made nest boxes allowed wood duck populations to rebound and they are no longer a species at risk.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

New beginnings

Spring is all about renewal and new beginnings.  It's the time of year when seedlings sprout, new leaves are made, and birds return from their winter getaways to start new families.  This fresh start feeling is felt by us.  Chances are many of you are starting seeds indoors, eying a new summer wardrobe, opening up the windows and doing spring cleaning.

Every spring feels like a fresh start to me.  Many people make their New Year's resolutions in January, but for me, the springtime feels like a much more appropriate time for this.  If one of your resolutions is to get fitter, don't you think that's easier to accomplish when you're just dying to get outside for a run or a bike ride on those first warm sunny days, rather than trying to trudge your way to the gym in the dead of winter?

I'm full of energy, enthusiasm, excitement and hope.  I shake off the cobwebs from a winter of hibernation, get outside, and go exploring.  I fill with anticipation, anxiously awaiting the summer, like a kid waiting for Christmas morning.  My head is swimming with summer daydreams of sandals, sundresses, beaches, roadside fruit stands.  I can't wait for meadows to be in full bloom, abuzz with butterflies, bees, and insects of all kinds.  Soon I will be hearing choruses of spring peepers, american toads, and grey treefrogs.  I can't wait to happen upon snakes sunning themselves on hiking trails.  The birds are already singing the praises of sunshine and April showers.  Yes folks, spring is here, and it's time for a fresh start.

I have another blog, a food blog, and I used to be quite dedicated to it.  My vagabond lifestyle and other poor excuses have kept me from my food blog lately.  While I have no intention of abandoning my other blog, this year I feel it's time for something new. This spring I've decided is the perfect time to start what I ought to have started a long time ago: a nature blog.  I am, after all, an ecologist.  And what a perfect time to start a Canadian nature blog than springtime - this is when all the action starts. This blog will be where I share with you my adventures in nature, and the creatures I encounter along the way.