Jackie Duffin and Bob Wolfe, neighbours on the Aragon Road, sent us early morning photos of water birds congregating on a thin sheet of ice that had formed overnight on Colonel By Lake

“On 22 Nov we woke up to find the lake had frozen with the extreme early cold….(the only year it happened earlier was 1995). But more amazing was the massive number of geese and some ducks that had flown in the evening before and remained there overnight. At first we couldn’t tell it they were floating in the water or sitting on top of the ice. As it got brighter we learned that it was the latter. They were huddled to keep warm — and to our amazement a lonely swan showed up too. By the end of the day they had all flown away.”

The photo below is especially beautiful with some of the birds in focus while others are resting in the early morning fog that hovers over the cold surface. To the right of the standing geese seems to be a little open water with two geese floating in the opening.

Why don’t their feet freeze to the ice? I looked it up on Google: Ducks, as well as many other birds, have a counter-current heat exchange system between the arteries and veins in their legs. Warm arterial blood flowing to the feet passes close to cold venous blood returning from the feet.”

That means the arterial blood flowing into the feet has given off its heat-energy to the the venous blood that is being returned to the body. And that means the cooled arterial blood flowing into the feet doesn’t lose much heat to the cold ice.  In this way only five percent of body heat is lost through the feet. In fact the feet are close enough to the temperature of the ice that they don’t freeze to it. A wonderful evolutionary heat exchange system.

Why don’t  waterfowl  that float and swim in ice-cold water not become hypothermic and die? Are the feathers and down so well organised in layers that the skin doesn’t get wet? And therefore the body doesn’t lose much heat? After all we would die from hypothermia in less than a few minutes if we were submerged in water at zero degree Celsius.

Google: “If you can watch some ducks for a while you might notice that they spend a lot of time nibbling their feathers with their beaks. This is called preening. While the duck is preening she is spreading oil all over her top layer of feathers. The oil comes from a special place near her tail called a gland and when she spreads the oil over her feathers it makes her feathers waterproof. The water can’t get through the first layer of oily feathers and so all of her feathers underneath stay dry and fluffy and keep her warm all over.”

A view from the Wolfe/Duffin property on Colonel By Lake, just north of Kingston Mills on the Rideau Canal between Ottawa and Kingston, Ontario.

Among the many geese there is one lonely swan.

This could be a mute swan, a trumpeter, or a tundra swan. It is difficult to see from a distance like this. It’s most likely a mute swan, the ones we see each spring and summer on Colonel By Lake and in the River Styx. These swans are an introduced species from Europe and Asia. They have an orange coloured beak and an elegantly curved neck while swimming. Tundra and trumpeter swans have a black beak with a straight neck and are more in groups. We saw them last week on our visit to the Opinican Resort at Chaffeys Locks on Lake Opinican about forty kilometers north of Kingston on the Rideau Canal.

We hope you like the photos of a very late fall migration on our doorsteps.

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Mid August later in the afternoon nature seems to take a break from the feeding frenzy and the fight between the species to survive. Cormorants rest on old tree stumps in Colonel By Lake left over from the flooding of the banks for the Little Cataraqui River to finish the Rideau Waterway at Kingston in 1832. Other waterbirds hide along the water’s edge protected by the dense shrubs, overhanging trees and dead branches. Here are some of those that I discovered with my binoculars and then tried to photograph.

A solitary wood duck resting in the curve of some old roots and stump that floats in the water partly stuck in the mud or the shallow bay that is  part of the Kingston Mills Marsh, a provincially significant wetland. Look good and there are two painted turtles sunning just in front of her.

A male wood duck swimming lazyly among the waterlilies and occasionally taking a nibble from the duck weed that floats on the surface of the clean water in the bay.

A green heron stands like a rigid sculpted figure on a log near shore and near our dock. It shares the space with a family of painted turtles unlikely company.

A solitary sandpiper visits our bay. I have seen flocks of these from our boat, feeding on the dense carpet of water lily leaves where there are many insects on the wet leaves and small critters in the water. These small hyperactive birds are irregular visitors on Colonel By Lake. They breed in the northern part of Canada but are migrant throughout the Great Lakes area in Canada and the US. They winter around the Gulf of Mexico. When the conditions are good they gladly seem to take advantage of the food supply on our lake during their migration.

Wood ducks got the name because they like to perch in old dead trees near the water, these two seem to have found the ideal spot. They blend in with the tangle of branches and weeds, but obviously the area is good for their health, they are fat and plumb. This might be a pair because there were several younger looking ducks of the same family around in the water to just float of feed.

Can you spot mother duck sitting satisfied on a branch while her flock are busy to paddle around in the water and snack on the weeds?

New Wildlife on Colonel By Lake 2016


duck mother eight young may 2016

During the 2016 spring migration old acquaintances came back, first the Canada Geese, many of which never left or migrated just a short distance where open water provided food. They have already bred large groups of offspring that flock together in the lake and in the river.

The Mute Swans were back in numbers with up to a dozen hanging around Colonel By Lake and with some of them setting up home on the River Styx in the large marshland at the north-western end of the river.

Ospreys returned to their old nests, the couple that inhabits the federal land beside the Dickinsons have been breeding there since 2003. Other nests at Casey Island and at Keirstead are occupied, and one nest on a large tree stump in the River Styx has also a breeding couple.

A pair of Bald Eagles has set up residence in a tree in the north-west corner of the River Styx. Here are some photos that Mark Fleming took. Mark is a neighbour on our road who loves to be on the water in his kayak and with his camera at the ready.

mark fleming swans 2016 aHere are two mute swans side by side, Pa and Ma perfectly lined up except for their heads. Cygnets have a comfortable ride. End of May, 2016, River Styx.

mark fleming bald eagle bA Bald Eagle watching over its nest site. A little later his or her mate flies in with food.

mark fleming bald eagle aAnd to prove the point, here is the nest with at least two young.

mark fleming bald eagle dThank you Mark for sharing these photos with all your neighbours and friends who are interested in the natural history of the Aragon Road. 


The weedy areas of Colonel By Lake were the nursery for a few days last week, May 23-25 with lots of Carp mating. The entire day the sound of splashing and gurgling water whipped up by the large fish was overwhelming. Here are a few shots of the mating game. The carp are at least 75 cm to one metre in length.

spawning bass 8 may 19 10

carp spawning may 24 2016

carp spawning may 24 2016 dPhotos taken by Henk Wevers, from our dock in the shallow Draper Bay at the northwest end of Colonel By Lake. 


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floxes nice 2015


All this did not happen in one day but this is a story about wildlife on our road over a two week period; only a fragment but nevertheless an amazing slice…

One early morning, while picking up the newspaper at our roadside mailbox, a family of wild turkeys marched out of the field at Quintin’s place across the driveway and into their orchard. From there they disappeared in the protection of the dense woods on the limestone ledge on the north side of the road. This was not a nuclear family of mother, father and child, but an old fashioned twelve member family. Pa up front, or was it Ma? Ten clearly younger ones wedged in between in a neat spread out group.

I do not always have my camera at the ready, certainly not at seven in the morning, so I went to the internet to select an image closest to what I saw. Here it is.

wild turkey NWTF-WildTurkey-065-M

Wild turkeys have made a remarkable comeback since they were introduced, after hunted to extinction, and habitat loss on Ontario, in the 1980-s.

The loss of habitat was particularly challenging, as wild turkeys thrive in areas that are part deciduous forest and part grassland. When forests were cut down, much of the birds’ habitat was lost, including brood cover — a major breeding requirement. That’s the wooded area providing both overhead protection and easy ground movement for young turkeys, or poults. Brood cover is also dense with insects, poults’ main food source. See:



A few days later working around the house always brings some excitement, either a flock of Canada geese comes in low to land on the lake, their individual manoeuvring within the group is spectacular and when they are right overhead you can hear the slipstream of  air rushing over their wings.  The splashing noise of touching down on the water is drowned out by the squeaking and hooting of the flock.


The next day, we see a swarm of large black birds in the sky over the meadow across our road; these are turkey vultures, not one but twenty five! Their wings are partly transparent against the bright light of the sky, they soar on the updrafts of the wind coming from the lake and rising up the limestone ledge and forest near the boat ramp.

turkey vultures Cathartes aura 1a Withlacoochee

This photo is from the internet, but the one  below was taken by Kelly Joyce, a neighbour on our road. These turkey vultures perch on the fence of the Wolfe’s property, just east of the boat ramp and it is safe to assume that they were part of the flock we noticed that day in late July.

turkey vultures by kelly july 2015


Besided the birds, we saw on different occasions three deer eating from the apple tree on Grahams road side, and three young foxes that later were observed by the Tidmans at “the end of the road house”, Hogan’s farm.

Of course there is much more wildlife that we normally don’t see; this is just a sample of the animals that share our space and need our help with conserving their habitat.


In response to this post, Judith Quintin, our neighbour, shared some of her photos, taken through the kitchen window, looking out on their yard. First the regular guests: the turkey vultures, beautiful birds in flight and close up, if you forgive their naked heads.

judith quinting birds

judith quinting birds a

And a little raccoon, they are such charming nuisances.

judith raccoon

judith fox

The young fox looks very much part of the three we saw with their mother near her den not far from the Quintin’s farmhouse. Just a guess but better than fifty-fifty we are right.

Thanks Judy for these lovely nature pics.


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aragon road red tree oct 09

Swans on the Rideau

Our Colonel By Lake hosts at least two Mute Swans more or less permanently as reported in earlier posts. Later in early spring, we observed a flock of 10-15 adult and juvenile swans on the lake. Where would they reside we wondered?

Then, in the second week of June we saw five Tundra Swans, they were a little grey-white with characteristic black bills and straight necks. Adult Tundra swans are spotless white so these were juveniles from last years breeding season. They were way out of their regular territory which is north of the Great Lakes, where the tundra is. Being so far from home they were looking for friends among the Mute Swans, but these put up a show with their wings turned up like sails, swimming slowly and threateningly to the younger Tundra Swans, clearly indicating that they were not welcome.

swans april 2015

A Mute Swan displaying dominance…  Photo credit Henk Wevers.

© Marshall Faintich Beaver Creek Lake, Crozet, VA 2/10/13

© Marshall Faintich
Beaver Creek Lake, Crozet, VA

A juvenile Tundra Swan. Note straight neck, not fully black bill and less than pristine white colour. Photo from WWW at:


The question of where all these swans reside for the spring and summer season, came to light when I made a trip up the Rideau with a visiting friend from Holland. Travelling on the River Styx towards Lower Brewer’s Mills Lock we noticed several flocks of Mute Swans along the shore, where pasture and wetlands meet at the entrance to the canal leading past Joyceville Penitentiary towards the locks. Each flock had at least 10-15 members, and in addition there were several pairs leisurely swimming in different areas near shore. One pair of parents had four cygnets, one baby was sitting on top of her parent, the others were closely clustered together between Pa and Ma as our boat slowly drifted by. The photos I shot would have been stunning, except for some reason my camera was on manual focus which caused all of them to be out of focus, sorry. Here is one that looks alike but is on loan from the Encyclopedia Britannica at: cygnets

swan mute cygnets


In closing, Jackie Duffin and Bob Wolfe, neighbours on the road, canoed on the Lake and saw the Tundra Swans “hanging out” with a flock of Canada Geese.

Since all these swans and geese species are family one rejoices the fact that at least some of the family members seem to get along.


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swan mute kids


floxes nice 2015

 The phloxes are abundant along the Aragon Road and it is a sure sign of spring.

The Aragon Road is frequently used for recreational activities such as hiking, jogging, bicycle riding, horseback riding, boating and more. There is much to admire and we are lucky to live on a road that is bound by the Rideau Canal on the south and by extensive Class-one agricultural lands, many of which are used for pasture and offer wide vistas. When lucky one can see foxes, deer, sometimes a fisher, a raccoon family and on the water geese, ducks and lately several large white mute swans. In the air turkey vultures circle on the updrafts, and osprey are looking for fish to feed their young.

The damage to our road side trees and shrubs in early spring by a City road side clearing crew using a “flailing” machine, has been cleaned up by a two person private contractor with chainsaws and some common sense. Neighbours came in action and addressed the Rural Advisory Committee with City staff present. We were assured that in he future maintenance will be executed with more regard for the natural vegetation and be more selective.

More of our neighbours are bicycling on the road a refreshing exercise that allows for close-up experiences with wildlife.

We saw a mother fox with three young in tow ,a magnificent picture of family life, the young were bouncing along and playing abundantly showing no fear. We hope that they soon do develop some healthy scepticism and survival instincts.

Red foxes are nocturnal, but it’s not unusual for them to be spotted during the day. They also have exceptional sight, smell and hearing abilities which makes them excellent hunters. Unlike other mammals, the red fox is able to hear low-frequency sounds which help them hunt small animals, even when they’re underground!

For our younger readers: suggest to your teacher to do a project on the Red Fox in Ontario. We will publish your work on this site!

Start with this Canadian Geographic website for a great introduction to most common wild animals in this region, go to: Fact Sheets for the Red Fox and other animals, at:

Have a great spring and summer, enjoy the road.