Stories From Our Volunteers
…I only had one public encounter. That encounter occurred the first day I surveyed my urban plot. One of the residents couldn’t quite figure out what I was doing, so she approached me and asked and asked. She was very interested in your project and wanted to show her my results at the end of the field season. In my greenbelt plot, I ran into more deer than I did people. I barely missed getting sprayed by a skunk that I almost stepped on during my first visit.
On my second visit I found out why a job like this should not be done by someone with a heart condition because I got the scare of my life when a Ruffed Grouse burst off the ground and come running at me screaming with its tail feathers fanned out. The grouse stopped at my feet and then slowly walked away with its tail feathers still fanned out. When I saw 2 juvenile grouse hidden in the nearby bushes I realized that the adult grouse (which had to have been a female) was trying to lure me away from its young. I encountered this grouse and her young in the same place during my third and fourth visits. On my fifth visit I brought along my video camera, but sadly I didn’t see the grouse and her young again.
On my last visit to my greenbelt plot I came face to face with a a buck with a small set of antlers that wasn’t too happy to see me. Normally, the deer in my plot ran off whenever I cam near, but this buck didn’t. Instead he approached me in a rather aggressive fashion. Even as I backed away the buck still kept approaching. Fortunately, the buck stopped following me when I made it to one of the public trails in my plot. Once on the trail I noticed a female deer standing in the nearby bushes. When I encountered the buck I would have been between him and the female deer, so perhaps he was protecting his mate.
— Chris Bruce
Having missed out on the chance to take part in the Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, I welcomed this opportunity to cover two census plots for the Ottawa Bird Count. I confess that I had some misgivings when I learned that “my” plots were in very suburban east-end Ottawa & that House Sparrows (HOSP) & European Starlings (EUST) were omnipresent & very productive. A quick drive-around for a sneak preview did little to kindle my enthusiasm, even though Rock Pigeons (RODO but maybe ROPI one day) & Ring-billed Gulls (RBGU), both mostly flying through, were immediately added to the “plentiful” list.
However, over the course of five visits to the two plots, I got to know the areas quite well & felt almost sorry when it was time to complete the last maps. The HOSPs were by then old friends & I could comfortably predict where they would gather in big numbers, illustrating their full life cycle from mating, breeding, nesting, & feeding the young. Dying was no doubt also part of the scene although I was not witness to it. A female Merlin (MERL), seen twice, was testimony enough, & the cats didn’t look starved.
Odd things turn up & can throw you for a moment. An outdoor cage tucked away in a backyard with a dozen or more budgies in it was only discovered during my second visit but for a moment raised hopes of something new for the census. There wasn’t any evidence that their presence encouraged or discouraged other species. An artificial pond (the centrepiece of plot 24) also promised great things. Unfortunately, the two dozen or so Mallards (MALL) that frequented it were mostly rather bedraggled & bored-looking. So it was something of a surprise to find one juvenile amongst these decorative ducks & no sight of a nest.
Walking urban streets with binoculars, particularly at the weekend, is a sure way of attracting attention even though most human inhabitants are still blissfully asleep. Carrying a clipboard seems to provide some sort of official legitimacy & most people who did ask what I was up to were more than happy to talk about the birds they have in their gardens, almost always enthusing about the Northern Cardinals (NOCA) or the odd canary, aka American Goldfinch (AMGO). One rather disgruntled young father pushing a stroller (at 06h.30 on a Sunday morning, who wouldn’t be disgruntled), asked whether I was a birdwatcher or a private eye. I think he was disappointed at my reply.
Other people wanted to share their bird experiences. A young couple sitting on their front porch, looking as though they’d been there all night, blearily pointed out their home-made bird feeder inscribed “Bird Seed Café”. I never saw any birds around there but they proudly reported the Northern Cardinals that frequented the area. A dog-walker stopped to find out what I was looking at & apologized for having scared away the one Downy Woodpecker (DOWO) that I’d managed to find in the whole plot. He told me that friends living in one of the nearby highrises (part of plot 24) had planted a small evergreen in a pot on their 27th floor balcony in which a pair of House Finches (HOFI) had successfully raised a family. I was unable to check it out.
Some unexpected birds popped up to receive honourable mention in the census. A juvenile Red-breasted Nuthatch (RBNU), looking lost & tired, settled on a tree not far from the Mallards. A Killdeer (KILL) flew over calling briefly, three Great Blue Herons (GTBH) headed for the river passed lazily overhead, a single Blue Jay (BLJA) ventured momentarily into the area, a White-breasted Nuthatch (WBNU) called once from a backyard, half a dozen Chimney Swifts (CHSW) circled above & a Cedar Waxwing (CEDW) put in a brief appearance.
Other species seemed to be thriving, albeit in small numbers. House Finches were always around, as were American Goldfinches, Northern Cardinals, Song Sparrows (SOSP), Chipping Sparrows (CHSP), Black-capped Chickadees (BCCH), American Crows (AMCR), Common Grackles (COGR), Mourning Doves (MODO), & American Robins (AMRO). Now I know the two plots well & reckon that, of the 24 species seen during the season, at least 12 are breeding in the area, not even counting the Mallards.
— Roger Clark