I was fortunate to spend a few days in Ontario’s magnificent Algonquin Park recently and we had some wonderful wildlife sightings. The highlight was a close encounter with a female moose as we canoed up the Amable du Fond river from North Tea Lake back to the put-in. We knew we were in for a treat when, rounding a bend, our companions in the canoe ahead waved at us and mouthed the word “moose!” Sure enough, as we rounded the corner, a beautiful full-size female loomed into view just a few feet away. She was contentedly munching on lily roots. She glanced at us only briefly (not long enough to get a good picture), then continued her meal. The kids laughed when she started peeing in the water. Moose eat up to 66 lb of plants a day, including water lilies, pondweed, ferns, horsetail, asters, jewelweed, grass, sedges and deciduous leaves (in summer). There are about 110,000 moose in Ontario in midwinter. Our specimen looked very healthy, and we passed another one on the drive out of the park.
Doug in his favourite conveyance, here on North Tea Lake
Our friendly female moose on the Amable du Fond river in Algonquin
Disney, in the movie Bambi, had a great word for it: Twitterpated (before the days of social media, of course). With melting snow and warm weather comes natural desires among many species to start the cycle of life over again. Among red squirrels in the trees above, formerly hostile male and female neighbours react to the mid-March glow by suddenly, but briefly, becoming the objects of each other’s desire. Flying squirrels mate around the same time. In remote areas of thick brush, lynx eager to meet and mate beckon with chilling caterwauls in late winter.
In March and April nights, the unmistakable hooting of the barred owl — “Who cooks for you, who cooks for you all?” — is augmented by screams, barks, hisses and cackles, as owls get down to the serious business of courtship.
Listen for downy woodpeckers, among many other species, also calling out for love.
I know it’s not exactly up north, but a recent drive by Pearson Airport on the 401 reminded me again of nature’s resilience. In addition to the red-tailed hawk posed majestically on the airport sign (the hawks are common along highway corridors), I was surprised to see a couple of white-tailed deer grazing on a field not far from the end of a runway, by the Dixie exit. Jets, tractor-trailers, cars, deer and hawks… nature is everywhere.
Fox and coyote breeding season comes in late January and early February. Competing male foxes go nose to nose in screaming matches until one backs down. Mates remain together to raise their young born in March or April. The family stays together until the fall. Foxes typically live up to 12 years in the wild, or 19 years in captivity. Coyotes mate for live, but those lives may be short, with few living more than four years in the wild.
The cold weather we’re currently having can help deer. Mild weather followed by a freeze can leave a crust on the snow thick enough to support deer, who take the opportunity to browse on previously unreachable vegetation. A thinner crust may make progress difficult for them but support the wolves at their heels.
In January or February, when females are in estrus, beaver couples exit their lodgings — which may also be occupied by the previous year’s offspring — and swim attentively together. Without further preliminaries, the male clasps his partner, moves aside her paddled tail and slides around her so that they are both turned slightly sideways. They mate for anywhere from 30 seconds to four minutes. After catching a breath of air, grabbing a bite, perhaps making small talk and resting for 20 to 60 minutes, they may repeat their love plunge three or four times.
Moose ring in the new year by dropping their antlers around this time, in late December and early January. Deer may keep their horns till February. Discarded antlers are gnawed by mice, hares, porcupines and other vegetarians to obtain calcium and salt, in short supply during winter.