21 March 2020 – Early morning on the third day of spring felt like winter redux with an air temperature of -10C and a wind chill of -20C due to the icy blast from the northwest. But the sun was too bright and too high on the horizon for winter. Sunlight sparkled on the open water of the Carp River’s spring freshet flowing through the restoration site in Kanata. Despite the cold and patches of snow, could signs of spring be found?
Honking. Quacking. Conk-la-ree! Early spring migrants blared a cacophony of bird calls. Canada Geese and Mallards rested in the open water of the river and its wetlands. Although some will stay through the summer, these birds are likely just passing through on their way north. However, other birds have arrived from the south to make a home here. A pair of male Red-winged Blackbirds wheeled over the marsh in a territorial battle, while another male nearby perched on a cattail and proclaimed his ownership of a plot of flattened rushes by the river.
The large flocks all looked like Canada Geese, but close examination can sometimes reveal different species that travel with them like Brant Geese and Snow Geese. Among all the black, brown, and white geese a leucistic individual was found. Leucism is a genetic condition that affects the goose’s ability to produce the dark Melanim pigment so it appears white, light brown, or grey.
Learn more about what birds have been observed at the Restoration Site here: eBird hotspot
Yellow, red, orange, chartreuse. Willow twigs retain their colour in winter, but the colour brightens as sap begins to flow and buds swell. Willows are one of the first woody plants to bloom in the spring, providing much-needed nectar for early pollinators. Thirteen native species of willows grow in Ottawa, some as trees and some as shrubs. Common shrub willows at the restoration area include native Bebb’s Willow and Sandbar Willow. The large trees that grow on the site are non-native Hybrid Crack Willows, so called because their branches easily break.
Red Osier Dogwood’s pinkish-red twigs also brighten marshes and shorelines during winter, but these shrubs bloom and leaf out much later. Its white berries (bitter and mildly nauseating to humans) are eaten by a large variety of birds and provide a valuable source of energy for fall migrants.
Both willows and dogwoods stabilize shorelines to prevent erosion and sedimentation of the river. They provide food and habitat for many species.
Learn more about willows in Ottawa here: Treescanadensis Willows.
Don’t run away! “Scat” is a term biologists use for animal poop. Piles of scat, some quite substantial, were deposited at intervals along the pathways. Close examination revealed these were from coyotes, not dogs. Coyotes are omnivorous. Their scat looks dog-like, but it consists of seeds, hair, and bones, and it tapers to a long tail. Coyotes will use scat piles repeatedly to mark territory, hence the size of the piles. Red fox scat is similar, but smaller. Coyotes inhabit the area all year round, but these scat piles were recently deposited on the bare pathway pavement.
Pack your binoculars and camera and visit the Carp River Conservation Area to see what you can discover. Find out more about its pathways and how to access it here: Carp River Conservation Area.