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I've been to Ontario a few times. During my first visit I spent 12 hours in Ottawa before flying up to Baffin (details below). In July 2012 I spent a weekend with Fiona Reid at her place in Milton, just south-west of Toronto for a weekend's mammaling. And at the end of March, 2013, I went to Algonquin Provincial Park for the weekend.
Toronto: I'd corresponded a bit with Fiona Reid, mammalogist, artist and author of several field guides, over the years. So I jumped at the chance of a weekend's escape from the oppresive Manhattan heat when she invited me and my kids to stay and look for some of the local fauna.
The night we arrived Fiona was catching bats with a few local biologists at Hilton Falls Conservation Area, a few minutes from her home in the forest outside of Milton. I didn't get there til gone 11pm and was delighted to arrive to find Fiona clutching my first confirmed Eastern Small-footed Myotis.
and also my first look at a Northern Myotis in the hand.
Other captures that night included a wonderful Eastern Red Bat and a few Big Browns.
Fiona lives on a nice slab of forest, and the small mammals there were thriving. Over the course of the weekend we caught lots of White-footed Deer Mice, Meadow Voles and a few Northern Short-tailed Shrews and some disgruntled Eastern Chipmunks and Red Squirrels.
More exciting for me were my first Woodland jumping Mouse. I'd no idea this was such a pretty animal, the white tip to its long tail is not shared by its meadowland cousin.
We also found a couple of Smoky Shrews, another lifer for me.
Most exciting of all though was an American Water Shrew: the first live specimen any of us had ever seen.
Both Meadow Jumping Mice and Masked Shrews are also both fairly common in the area but we didn't find any. We did see numerous frogs, salamanders, moths, deer flies and mosquitoes.
On our last evening we went out for a couple of hours with a spotlight and found a dozen Raccoons (many in trees), an Eastern Cottontail and a few bats on the bat detector. The low frequency call and views in the spotlight of the coloured wing, confirming at least one was a Hoary Bat, another lifer for me.
Many thanks to Fiona for a really great weekend, which the kids enjoyed as much as I did. If this is an indication of how good her trips are then I'm looking forward to taking one soon!
Ottawa it turns out, is the Groundhog (Woodchuck) capital of the world, or at least it was in June 2006 when I first visited. They are everywhere, from the Parliament outwards. I saw several along the grass of Colonel By drive (a road that leads from the airport side of town to the city), the university campus and in the lovely Gatineau Park (just over the river in Quebec).
The local Grey Squirrels seem mainly to be a melanistic form, so don't get too excited (or at least as excited as I got when I saw one ... hey I need to get out more). And I caught a couple of Deer Mice in the grounds of my hotel near the airport.
Algonquin Provincial Park
Algonquin Provincial Park, about 4 hours north of Toronto, is one of only two places where one can see wild Red Wolves. The genetics of the Red (or Eastern) Wolf is something of a mystery to me. The IUCN Redlist entry claims that the Red Wolf only exists in the wild near Alligator River in North Carolina and then that there are “suspected Red Wolf-type Wolves” in Algonquin. The people are Algonquin don’t seem to harbour many doubts though, even if the wolves have a little Coyote in them, they seem to be the real deal and unlike wolves elsewhere in the eastern half of north America have stayed genetically pure.
I only went up for a couple of nights at the end of March, 2013and though I didn’t see a Wolf, I came closer than I’d expected to. Ian Shanahan, one of the park’s naturalists, was extremely helpful before I arrived. He told me some areas of the park where wolves had recently been seen. And when I got there, Rick Stonks, the senior naturalist, was also super helpful. Canadians it seems, really are as friendly as the movies make out.
In a nutshell, the best way to see a Wolf would be to visit during the height of winter if and when the park put out a deer carcass in front of the visitors centre. This seems certain to attract wolves and in early March a road-killed moose carcass saw wolves visiting every day for about 3 weeks (though most of these visits were at night, or early in the morning it seems). They do not put out carcasses in the summer (they would attract bears an animal Algonquin boasts a healthy population of). There was no carcass when I was there so my best bet was to patrol the park road and hope to get lucky. The road is a natural boundary between several packs’ territories and lone animals will often stay close to the road as they prefer to travel in between the territories of others. I arrived on Friday evening and apparently just missed a very rare sight: a wolf had been sleeping all afternoon out on the ice of Lake at Two Rivers, in the middle of the park. Many had seen it. Damn. The next morning I patrolled the road at dawn and somehow missed a wolf that had been spotted at 8.20 about a kilometre from where I was driving. These two near misses were close enough for me to want to visit again!
The other mammal in Algonquin I was keen to see was a Fisher. Again, they are not uncommon but are quite rarely seen, though one had been on the bird feeder at the visitor centre a few days before I arrived. A Marten was a more regular visitor to the same feeder. I wasn’t lucky. Though in 36 hours I saw a Woodchuck (an uncommon sighting), a Beaver and what might have been an Otter crossing the road, along with several Red Squirrels and Eastern Chipmunks.