Our key criterion for labelling a species as one of our cottage favourites is its identifiability; that is, once we have learned to identify a species, it stands a better chance of becoming a favourite. Another criterion is uniqueness. Yet another is familiarity.
Perhaps one of our most familiar and loved species at the cottage is the whitetail deer. What a joy it is each spring to see our first deer, but especially to see a spotted fawn in mid-July, following their May or June birth. Female whitetail deer typically give birth to one or two fawns after approximately seven months of gestation. Rarely, a healthy female may give birth to three. Several years ago, two years in a row, a particularly healthy female often brought her triplets to the green area between our cottage and shore. She ate while the fawns romped. This year, we did not see as many deer as in previous years, hence fewer fawns. But we saw a few. By mid-August this fawn was nearing its adult size while still sporting spots.
One of the first dragonflies we learned to identify is the common whitetail which we see primarily in June. It is a favourite because the wings of the male have large, dark patches halfway along their length and smaller ones at the wings’ base, making the male easy to identify. As the male matures, its abdomen turns white, as this one from June this year was starting to do.
Almost meeting our identifiability criterion is the broad-winged hawk, and it gets extra points as the first raptor we ever saw at the cottage, even before the bald eagle. Most years we see a broad-winged hawk or two, and usually we can identify them, but we are not confident enough to go without a confirmation from others. This hawk was confirmed by friends on both the Ontario Birds Facebook page as well as experts on iNaturalist.com. Numerous throughout North America, the broad-winged hawk is a small, stocky hawk, measuring only 33 to 43 centimeters in length. It sits on an elevated height watching for small mammals, amphibians, reptiles, and even insects, as this one was doing in September this year.
A childhood favourite is the American toad. Every year, these toads are abundant throughout our little piece of paradise. Early in the summer, we see tiny, young toads (toadlets), which are perfect versions of the adults but are smaller than Carolyn’s thumb nail. Many will fall prey to our local snakes and raptors, but a few make it to the size of this one, approximately 7 centimetres. The nooks and crannies of our deck and the picnic tables on it seem to be alluring. Whether or not the same toad comes back each year, we cannot say, but toads can live for many years. Each year ‘tank-the-toad’ is a welcome visitor as it feeds on insects and spiders.
A few of our friends will think we are crazy to suggest a spider could be a favourite species at the cottage (or anywhere), but we have favourite spiders too. Last year, an arabesque orbweaver spider made its home in the potted hibiscus on the deck. This year, one chose to take up residence in the front window where it spun an impressive web and feasted on wee flies. We checked it out several times a day for a while, until one day, one of our chickadees fed on it. Nature is relentless.
Sitting firmly at the pinnacle of our 2021 favourites is the North American River Otter. We see them every year, basking on a log in the marsh, diving for food in the bay, or playing on the dock. Truly, they do seem to play, sliding off and returning to the dock surface for no apparent reason other than to have fun. Carnivores, we often see an otter sitting up on a log chewing on a turtle, or surfacing in the lake with a crayfish in its mouth. Nature is harsh. This mother and pup posed briefly for our intrepid photographer in September.
Each year our list of favourite species at White Lake changes partly due to the population dynamics of the species. In addition, our list of favourites is influenced by our success in taking quality photographs and our knowing and learning about what we are looking at. We are delighted to share these with you.
We referred to several books to check our facts for this article; Tamara Elder’s Mammals of Ontario; Colin D Jones’s Dragonflies and Damselflies of Algonquin Park; Ross MacCulloch’s Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario; and, Larry Weber’s Spiders of the North Woods.