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The Sights and Sounds of May on the Rideau

posted May 20, 2016, 5:13 AM by Hector Carranco   [ updated May 20, 2016, 5:17 AM ]
The water is finally up to summer levels. It is great to finally be able to paddle beyond the 1000 metre mark all the way to Black Rapids.  Everyone is focussed on training for the upcoming competitions. But it is good to take a break now and then to look and listen (but don’t let your coach think you are slacking off!).  There is a lot going on along the river this time of year. 

The bow of your canoe or kayak cleaves calm water, leaving the traffic noise and concrete of the RCC dock and the Parks Canada
locks, and the Canada Geese (who already have families) and mallard ducks, in your wake. Let your gaze be unfocused, and you can imagine you are paddling from the urban world into the world of nature...and indeed, you are. Barely five minutes have passed, and you are close to the 1000 metre mark. On your left side is the artificial beach and manicured lawns of Mooney’s Bay, but on your right, on the west side of the river, there are logs where you can see painted turtles catching a few rays. After a winter spent buried in the mud breathing through their butts, it must feel great. Keep your eyes peeled for the head of a snapping turtle poking out of the water like a gnarly floating stick. They are here, but I haven’t seen any sunning on logs yet. Often there are Spotted Sandpipers, small brown birds poking around the water’s edge with their long thin beaks, bobbing their butts up and down, and then they take off, skimming over the water, wings (credit: Brian E. Small; www.audubon.org)                   flashing white. High in the trees, you might hear a clear musical whistle, the call of the Baltimore Oriole. Look for a flash of brilliant orange and black in the branches of the deciduous trees.  These birds look like they are right out of a Costa Rican rain forest. 

You should also hear the calls of the Yellow Warbler (“sweet-sweet-sweet-I’m so sweet”), a tiny brilliant dandelion-yellow bird with red streaks on its breast.  Look for these little guys in the low shrubs along the river. 
credit: Charles Francis,  Canadian Wildlife Service

Often there are Great Blue Herons stalking the shore here, fishing for frogs and minnows. I’ve seen their smaller cousin, the Green Heron, patiently waiting for an unsuspecting frog (I imagine that the last thought of many frogs is: “Hey..look at those two funny-looking sticks!) Green Herons usually hang out in the branches of trees close to the water. 
credit: Gerry herd, Bird Forum

Where the stalks of last year’s bull rushes form a band of light brown between the water and the forest, you can hear the trilling of American Toads. Yes, the same toad you see in your garden. The male toads each trill at a different pitch, looking for the perfect pitch to attract a mate, combining to make a musical chorus. Toads lay their eggs in pools near the river that dry up in the summer, so it’s a ‘race’ whether the small black tadpoles will turn into little toads before the water dries up. You would think they would lay their eggs in the river, but clearly there are too many critters there that will eat up baby toads.  

As you paddle farther up river, you will hear more toads calling near the dog-beach, on the east side of the river just before the hydro lines. You will also hear lots of Red-Winged Black Birds here, calling from the bull rushes. They can make quite a racket (Conka-a-REEE!).You might also see a large black bird silhouetted on the water that looks like a loon. If its head and beak pointed slightly upwards, it’s a Double-Crested Cormorant. These fish-eating birds are relative newcomers to the Rideau. They used to live mainly on the east coast of Canada. 

As you paddle past the railway bridge (Are you getting tired yet?) towards Hunt Club Bridge, on the east side of the river there is a large area of bull rushes and several dead trees in the water. There are always Painted Turtles sunning here. In the evening, you can hear the ‘snoring’ calls of Leopard Frogs, and later in the summer, the deep grunting of Bull Frogs. There are several trees close to the water that the bark has been stripped by beavers. I don’t know where their lodge is. If you see it, let me know. Other mammals that live here include mink, a small dark brown ‘weasel-like’ critter seen running along the water’s edge, slipping in and out of the water, equally at home in both). 

As you paddle back to the club, watch for swallows flying low over the river. There are several different species, but all are sparrow- sized birds with pointed wings and all are very acrobatic flyers. They catch insects ‘on the wing’ as they swoop and dive over the water.  Sadly, all species of swallow are decreasing alarmingly in Canada. If you want to know why, ask Connie. 
If you see or hear anything unusual, let me or Connie know and we will try to identify it. 
Next blog, I’ll be talking about why the RCC is not a slalom racing club. Seriously.