by Roy John
Report of an Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club excursion on Sunday, 22 May 2016.
A dozen people went to Mud Lake to take advantage of the recent change from cold windy weather to lovely warm sunshine. This had brought in numerous, much delayed, migrants over the last few days.
As soon as we arrived at Mud Lake we were told that a rare Yellow-throated Vireo had been found in the woods. We plunged in and soon could hear it singing. It took a bit more effort to actually see it jumping around the tree tops, but we all eventually did. A little further in, the resident Screech Owl sat rigidly still for all to see. Dave Moore did his turkey call and pulled a Wild Turkey out of the woods.
We continued around Mud Lake, finding many new species. At the east fence we saw a Raccoon’s nose poking out the hole of a garbage skip, obviously trapped (the city were informed). So we had a beautiful morning with many good birds.
A number of species were strangely missing. Although we heard a Great Crested Flycatcher many times, we never could see it. We saw only a few Tree Swallows (a pair at a nest), but no others – very odd for Mud Lake. There were no Green Herons and only one Great Blue – yet Great Egrets were easy to find.
All in all, a warm, sunny day with 43 bird species seen (plus 4 heard).
DUCKS, GEESE, AND WATERFOWL
Wood Duck (photo above)
PHEASANTS, GROUSE, TURKEYS, ALLIES
CORMORANTS AND SHAGS
HERONS, EGRETS, AND BITTERNS
Great Blue Heron
GULLS, TERNS, AND SKIMMERS
Eastern Screech-Owl (photo at right)
Eastern Phoebe (heard only)
Great Crested Flycatcher (heard only)
CROWS, JAYS, AND MAGPIES
CHICKADEES AND TITS
THRUSHES AND ALLIES
Gray Catbird (photo at right)
Cedar Waxwing (photo below right)
NEW WORLD WARBLERS (11 species + 2 not seen or confirmed)
Common Yellowthroat (heard only)
(Magnolia Warbler – not confirmed)
Black-throated Blue Warbler
BUNTINGS AND NEW WORLD SPARROWS
CARDINALS AND ALLIES
TROUPIALS AND ALLIES
SISKINS, CROSSBILLS, AND ALLIES
Pine Siskin (very late)
Midland Painted Turtle
Spiny Baskettail (photo below)
By David Seburn
They say you can’t fight city hall. However, sometimes you can motivate the powers that be.For some time now, it has been known that hatchling Snapping Turtles (officially listed as a species at risk) are killed on the road to the water filtration plant at the Britannia Conservation Area, or Mud Lake. (See Hatchling Snapping Turtles on the move! and Mud Lake turtle rescue.)
Female Snapping Turtles emerge from the lake every June to find good spots to lay their eggs. Although they may head in any direction, many travel north from the lake and lay their eggs in the gardens and open areas around the filtration plant. Every fall the eggs hatch and the tiny hatchlings head for the lake – or sometimes away from it.
Baby turtles emerging from nests close to the lake may only have to trek a few metres. Others must cross the road to make it to the lake and some fall onto it going in the wrong direction. Being hit by a car, even on a low-traffic road, is always a risk, but a larger problem was the road’s curb. Hatchlings could easily get onto the road by tumbling down from the curb on the north side of the road. But those that crossed safely faced a big problem: they were trapped on the road.
The curb was only about 14 cm tall, but from the viewpoint of a 3-cm-long hatchling, it was an insurmountable cliff (see photo above). Hatchlings could follow the curb and, maybe, find a gap, but this might be 25 m away. Many died from dehydration under the hot sun on the road – or were eaten.
The OFNC Conservation Committee has been working with the city on this issue since early 2015, and a solution has now been put in place. This fall, the city removed the vertical curbs along the south side of the road and replaced them with sloped curbs. The gradual slope means that, come next fall, hatchling Snapping Turtles will be able to cross the road and continue their trek to Mud Lake.
We commend the city for taking this issue seriously and taking action, and we thank all those who made this solution possible!
by Dave Seburn
Snapping Turtles will never win any prizes for parenting. Females nest by digging a hole in the ground and depositing their eggs in it. They cover the hole and return to the wetland, maternal duties finished. Many of those nests will be dug up by Raccoons or Skunks looking for an easy meal. Some will beat the odds and the eggs will hatch in late summer (typically late August or September).
The hatchlings, little more than the size of a loonie, are on their own. First, they must dig their way to the surface. Then, they head out from the nest, seeking shelter and water. At Mud Lake, in the Britannia Conservation Area, the hatchlings usually head for the lake.
Many Snapping Turtles nest near the filtration plant at the north end of Mud Lake (photo below). Hatchlings from nests laid between the lake and the service road are usually safe if they head straight to the lake. However, when nests are north of the service road, hatchlings have an almost impossible trek ahead of them. When they head south toward the lake they encounter the road, which has steep curbs.
The tiny turtles can easily tumble down the curb onto the road. They may even survive the trek across the hot pavement to the far side. However, they can’t climb up the south curb to continue their journey to the lake. Typically those hatchlings die on the road. They may get run over by a car or die from dehydration on a hot day.Members of the OFNC’s Conservation Committee have met with city staff to discuss this ongoing threat to the Snapping Turtles at Mud Lake. The city is looking into possible solutions and, hopefully, by the fall 2016 the hatchling Snapping Turtles will have an easier trek to the lake.
But for this season, the fate of the hatchlings will depend on the good will of humans. If you happen to be at Mud Lake this month, take a few minutes to check out the road to the filtration plant. Hatchlings can often be found up against the curb on the south side of the road, although they may be anywhere on the road. They are dark in colour and stand out from the gray of the road, but their small size makes them hard to spot, especially if they are not moving. If you find a hatchling Snapping Turtle on the road, move it toward Mud Lake. Hatchlings will not bite and there is no danger in handling them. You can pick up a hatchling with your hand – just be careful not to drop it. Sunscreen on your hands is not likely a problem. Insect repellant may be absorbed by the hatchlings, but the risk from that is far less than certain death on the road.
There is no need to find the perfect spot to release a hatchling. Take it to the closest spot along Mud Lake that you can easily access. I usually release hatchlings 15 cm (6 inches) or more from water to give them a choice as to where they go. They may choose to hide under a small plant or scamper straight into the water.
If you rescue any hatchlings at Mud Lake, please report the number of turtles you moved and the date to davidseburn at sympatico.ca. On behalf of the turtles, a big thank you for any help you can provide.
September 3: The following photos were posted to our OFNC Facebook group by rescuers Elena Kreuzberg and Kevin O’Shaughnessy. Staff from the filtration plant are also monitoring the situation and moving tiny turtles toward the lake as they find them. Thanks, guys!!
September 5: More rescues, more people searching. Thanks, everyone!!
September 8: Four saved, three dead
September 20: OFNC excursion to Mud Lake. No turtles seen, but 2 successful nests located.
September 22: Over 30 guided to water by Tamara Bloom.
by Bev McBride
The Laid Back Birding event at Mud Lake went well this morning. About 15 people tolerated the cold wind to follow me around the trails (with Dave Moore bringing up the rear).
We encountered 34 species in a good mix of spring migrants, winter visitors, and year-round residents. Migrants included Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Eastern Phoebe and Song Sparrow along with Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles.
Ring-billed Gulls have returned in force, covering their nesting colonies on the north side of the Ottawa River. Turkey Vultures soared over later in the morning. As ever, the ornate Wood Ducks were a crowd-pleaser. The lone Great Blue Heron standing by the frozen pond looked annoyed. I realize I am just projecting my own feelings here.
For winter visitors, Two lingering Herring Gulls, an adult and subadult, posed on the ice for comparison. Some Common Goldeneye remain on the river. Two flocks of Bohemian Waxwings circulated around, even coming close enough for us to see identifying details (see Norbert’s photos elsewhere on this page).
Bruce di Labio who was there with his birding class alerted us to a Snowy Owl flying overhead and a few of us caught a glimpse. Downy Woodpeckers abounded, chasing each other and calling.
We heard good amounts of song as well, with American Robins, Song Sparrows, Dark-eyed Juncos, Northern Cardinals, American Goldfinches, House Finches and Red-winged Blackbirds all going at it. A few of us got a glimpse of a Sharp-shinned Hawk darting in behind the large shrubs near the bird feeders.
Thanks to all who came out and who agreed that, in spite of a long walk, the excursion still qualified as laid back birding.
By Lucy Patterson, member of the OFNC
On September 12-13th, 2014, Nature Canada held a fall BioBlitz event at Mud Lake. Its goal was to locate, identify, and photograph as many living things as possible within a 24-hour period. The event was part of a larger effort to learn about local biodiversity and catalogue changes over time in population patterns. Mud Lake is a key location to hold a Bioblitz because it lies within an Important Bird Area (IBA) and is a local patch of wilderness right in Ottawa’s west end.
The event included a series of walks guided by local naturalist experts that were open to the general public. Each walk focused on a different group of species: songbirds, waterbirds, vascular plants, mosses and lichens, reptiles and amphibians; and trees, shrubs and grasses.
I took part in the “reptiles and amphibians” walk on Saturday afternoon which was led by Bill Halliday and Julie Châteauvert. Dressed in full-out rain gear, the eager participants braved a steady downpour to look for turtles, frogs, and salamanders around Mud Lake. We flipped rocks and logs to look for salamanders and leopard frogs on the lake edge.
On the way back, we scanned the road near the filtration plant for baby snapping turtles. Next, we took the trail up the hill to look for garter snakes. We saw a number of old snapping turtle nests in the loose rock, complete with crumpled eggshells, but spotted no living creatures save a couple of black-capped chickadees. Due to the unfortunate weather conditions, we did not see very many reptiles or amphibians, but the walk was enjoyable nevertheless. Fingers crossed that the weather cooperates for the spring BioBlitz in 2015!
You can see what species have been surveyed during previous BioBlitz here.
During your next visit to Mud Lake if you spot a hatchling snapping turtle on a road please move turtles to the lake’s edge and contact Ian Whyte.
Photos: Lucy Patterson