Friday, June 8, 2012

Blacklegged Ticks in Ottawa!

Last weekend I decided to explore the Mer Bleue Conservation Area.  We hit up trail 50/51, starting at P20 and looped around counter-clockwise towards P23.  This section of trail wasn't too challenging, and would be suitable for an easy mountain biking excursion.  Once we crossed over Dolman Ridge rd the trail heads down a steep slope.  A sign warned us that the path ahead could be "seasonally wet", but since we hadn't had much rain in a while it didn't concern me.  Apparently I was wrong.  After decending the slope we found ourselves in serious muck, and there didn't appear to be much of a maintained trail - the area was totally overgrown.  If it weren't for the little trail marker signs I would have believed we had strayed off the path somehow.  With no sign of improved conditions ahead, we decided to return up the hill and doubled back the way we came, in spite of my preference for hiking loops.

We stopped for a snack at P23, at which point I discovered that I had acquired a friend while navigating the long grasses at the bottom of the ridge.  I first learned about deer ticks while I was doing an internship in Missouri.  After hiking in the woods the lady I was staying with insisted that we conduct a tick check.  "Tick check?" I puzzled.  Ticks are arachnids, the same class that spiders belong to.  They have eight legs, and two distinct body sections: a tiny head, and a large, flat, shiny abdomen. Blacklegged Ticks, Ixodes scapularis, are endemic to Eastern North America. They have a limited range in Canada, and are found in only the southern most regions of the country.  Or so I thought.  I had never heard of them until I went to Missouri.  When I started doing field work in the Long Point area of Ontario, I was reacquainted with them, as there are many in that area.  They were abundant in St. Lawrence Islands National Park as well.  Although the Public Health Agency of Canada doesn't list Ottawa as an established tick population, I can assure you, they're here!

So why do I care that blacklegged ticks have found their way to the Ottawa area?  Ticks are parasites, and these ticks in particular carry Lyme disease.  Lyme disease is caused by the bacterium Borellia burgdorferi.  Not all ticks carry the disease, and not all tick bites will result in transmission if the tick is carrying the bacterium.  The likelihood of disease transmission increases with the length of time the tick remains attached, which is why prompt and thorough tick checks (of yourself and your pets!) are advisable after returning from the field in areas where ticks are known or suspected to occur.  If you do find an attached tick, the safest removal method is to pull it out using tweezers as close to the skin as possible, without twisting or crushing the body of the tick.

Ironically, we chose to explore this trail in particular because the bog trail sounded too buggy.  In addition to my new eight-legged travel companion, this well  shaded trail was full of mosquitoes, so if you're bothered by that sort of thing, bug repellent is advisable if you are headed this way.  In addition to the biting insects, we came across a creek where it was sunny and warm, attracting many dragonflies and a number of six-spotted tiger beetles (Cicindela sexguttata)!

Where there are bugs, there are critters around to eat them.  Check out this little cutie we crossed paths with!  Even baby American Toads (Bufo americanus) look old and disgruntled :)

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Opening Weekend Tulips

This weekend was beautiful and sunny, and tons of people flocked to the capital for the opening weekend of the tulip festival.  Most of the tulip beds are in full bloom now!  Here are a few shots from May 6th.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ottawa in Bloom

This spring has been unseasonably warm in the nation's capital.  On March 20th, the first day of spring, it was 25 degrees Celsius here in Ottawa.  Average monthly temperature for March? Minus 2.5 degrees.  On this glorious summery day, I celebrated by dusting off my bike and taking a tour around my favourite bike paths.  This, naturally, lead me to Dow's Lake, where I decided to check on the progress of the tulips that are the star of the Canadian Tulip Festival.  Sure enough the tulips were getting an early start.
Tulip shoots stretch out towards the sun on the first day of spring 
One month later, on a similarly beautiful day, I again visited the tulips.  There's still two weeks until the start of the festival, but the tulips are well on their way.  Some of the beds of early bloomers are 80% in bloom, while other beds are bursting with buds, waiting for their moment to shine.  I'm sure by the opening weekend, they'll be in full swing.  If you're planning on visiting this year, plan to go sooner rather than later.  As you can see, there are already many beautiful blooms to appreciate.  I find the best way to enjoy the festival, for those who live in the area, is to visit more than once throughout the month so that you catch the early, mid, and late blooming varieties. Here are a few of the early risers:
This bed of soft flamingo pink tulips were in full bloom.

The unique shape and tangerine colour of these tulips made them my favourite of the day

A sea of buttery yellow double daffodils, punctuated by fiery red tulips, overlook Dow's Lake
Tulips and daffodils aren't the only flowers strutting their stuff in April.  The Arboretum is located on the western shore of Dow's lake, and displays a wide variety of trees and shrubs.  It's essentially a tree museum.  It includes a collection of Kobushi (Magnolia kobus) and Star Magnolias (Magnolia stellata), which are native to Japan, but ornamental varieties are grown in North America and Europe.  The flowers bloom before the trees leaf out, making them one of the earliest flowering trees in the area.  Their elegant, creamy, white and pink blooms have a delicate, sweet fragrance that attract humans and insects alike.

The petals of these magnolia blossoms are so thick and creamy, they look like they have been molded out of fondant 
One of the visitors enjoying these blossoms is also enjoying just about every corner of the city.  The mild spring has brought a record high number of migrating Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) butterflies to the area. Here is a situation where global warming has been beneficial - warmer temperatures mean a successful breeding season, and lower mortality rates during their migration[1].  The result is a city awash in fluttering red and brown wings, and plenty of photo ops for nature enthusiasts like me.

A Red Admiral indulging in the sweetness of the  magnolia blossoms