Dear Readers, when we arrived in Canada on Saturday 28th April it was something of a shock – the temperature was just above freezing and it was trying to snow. The next morning when we took Charlie the wheaten schnoodle for a walk, the boardwalk was half-covered in ice and I needed every layer of clothing that I’d brought with me, plus a borrowed hat. But by Monday the sun was out, the ice was gone, and there was a sudden, almost instantaneous burst of spring. Coltsfoot had sprung up almost instantaneously, raising their hopeful yellow heads.
The red-winged blackbirds were calling from every tree.
And all this was somewhat expected. But this was not.
There were three large-ish bats flittering around in search of gnats at two o’clock in the afternoon. I was worried at first that they were victims of a fungal disease called white-nosed syndrome, which has destroyed the bat population in some areas such as New Brunswick. In some areas it has had a fatality rate of almost 99%. These bats looked healthy as far as I could see, and I sincerely hope that they were just roused to such unusual activity due to the late cold spell, and a need to get out and feed regardless of the time of the day. However, I have a call in to the local Batwatch team, so I will keep you posted.
I think that the bats are Hoary Bats (Lasiurus cinereus) – they have a kind of frosty tinge to their fur, and a white mark on their ‘wrist’ area which I think I can see in the photo below. It was such a pleasure to watch them, and I wasn’t the only one who was amazed – a young couple nearly fell off their bicycles when they stopped suddenly to see what I was looking at, and a dog walker came back to tell me that there were some more bats further along the path. People in Collingwood are very happy to stop and spend the time of day, and in that they remind me of the people in Mum and Dad’s Dorset village. It was a great start to my Canadian holiday to spend a bit of time in nature. It’s a bit harder to spot critters in downtown Toronto.
On the lake itself I was delighted to see several pairs of red-breasted mergansers. I had never had a good look at their beaks before, and was astonished to see how long they were.
Mergansers are members of the sawbill family of diving ducks (the Latin species name ‘serrator’ means ‘sawyer’) and they use that elegant long beak to catch fish, frogs and newts. They are also the fastest duck ever recorded, with one red-breasted merganser being timed at 100 m.p.h when ‘pursued by an airplane’. The mind boggles. What was an airplane doing chasing a duck? I also had no idea that planes could fly as slowly as 100 m.ph without stalling. If anyone out there is a pilot or the kind of person who studies duck speeds, do let me know.
What moves me most about the change of seasons in Collingwood is how quickly things move on. The violet leaves are springing back into life after being submerged in snow, and I suspect that the woods will soon be smelling sweetly of their perfume. The swan is incubating her eggs, and soon the cygnets will be peeping from the nest. I capture a moment and then things move on, and I’m not there to see what happens next. But how good it feels to know that this place exists, and that it is a haven to birds and turtles and invertebrates and frogs. Canada is a big country, but all over the world wetlands are under threat, which only makes this spot, with its reedbeds and shallows, all the more precious.
Those frosted cat tails are exquisite! Our town considered designating cat tails as our official town flower, partly because they used to grow wild in the marsh that is now a big park, and also because of the name. Our town is ‘Los Gatos’.
I thought they were absolutely gorgeous with the sun lighting them up like silver candles. I was there at the right time for once 🙂
I recently had a strange (but breathtaking!) bat experience. I’m writing about it now. Lovely photos. The red-winged blackbird is so beautiful. They’re supposed to be a common sight, but in 49 years I’ve never once saw one. It’s on my Must-Do/See List. I dream about them often. Your blog posts are like a good friend–cheer me up, inform me, and make me incredibly happy. Thank you:)
I shall keep my eyes open for the post, Cheryl! Yes, do try to see some red-winged blackbirds – whereabouts do you live? Their call is the sound of Ontario in spring for me now. And I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog – I am delighted that it makes you happy.
I live in central North Carolina. I’ve read that the RWB appears in all 100 of North Carolina’s counties all year long. I walk in many areas around me every day of the year and haven’t spotted or heard even one! I’ll keep looking, though.