Ottawa weather can be very cold in winter, usually in January or Febrary, down to -20 to -30. Down there it's about the same in fahrenheit or celsius. Often the wind makes matters worse. Exposure of skin at these temperatures can cause frostbite. Hypothermia is a danger if insufficent clothing is worn. Roads can be snowy, icy or both. Driving during a storm can be dangerous, open areas are prone to drifting and whiteouts. When the temperature drops below freezing, what looks like water on the road may be black ice. Beware! In winter, it is wise to carry emergency foodstuff, blankets and candles in your car in case you have a breakdown or get stuck on a back road.
Summer presents different problems. Insects here can cause insanity! Mosquitoes are often ABUNDANT outside the city, especially around swamps and marshes. As cases of the West Nile Virus have begun to appear in this area, protective clothing and insect repellent are highly recommended. To get more information regarding the West Nile Virus, see either the Health Canada website or the US Center for Disease Control site. Black flies can be very aggresive and oppressive in May and June, especially in the Gatineau Hills. Insect repellant usually keeps both at bay. Deer flies, think of a house fly turned tiger, like to buzz aggressively around your head, burrow in your hair to bite your scalp. They are very persistant, ignore repellant and hurt you when they bite (but they have trouble detatching themselves and getting untangled from your hair in time to escape when you grab and crush them). Usually not numerous, wear a hat or kill them. There are no really dangerous spiders or snakes near Ottawa. Needless to say, treat stinging insects, such as bees and wasps, with respect, especially if you suffer from allergies.
Dangerous and annoying plants in the area are headed by poison-ivy, which is common and which has an oil that gives many people a severe rash. Learn to identify it and avoid it. It is a low shurb, with trios of shiny, dark green leaves that often droop; and stalks of white berry clusters in season. If you are exposed, wash it off as soon as possible to minimize the spread of the oil. Poison sumac is a special feature of the Lac Beauchamp shore. Give it the same respect you would poison-ivy. For more information on these two plants, check the Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada website or the Life Assist Poison Plants site. Another annoying plant is the prickly-ash, prevalent in certain sites, which is like a bush strung with barbed wire and can tear clothing to shreds if treated casually.
Ticks are now a potential hazard in the Ottawa area, though few cases of Lyme's Disease are reported here, and most of those acquired elsewhere. Still, precautions are recommended, especially during their most active period - May to July. To quote the City of Ottawa's website: "Ticks prefer wooded areas that have high grass and leaf litter therefore these areas should be avoided. Always stay on the trail especially in areas with high grass, leaf litter and brush. Use an insect repellent containing 20 to 30 per cent DEET; follow the manufacturer’s directions when applying the product. Wear long pants and long sleeve shirts; light coloured clothing will make it easier to see the ticks. Tuck your pant legs in your socks if you have to go across an area of high grass and leaf litter. Remove the ticks from your clothing before going inside and perform a tick check to ensure that a tick is not biting you. Remove ticks from the skin using tweezers then wash the area with soap and water."
Black bears are fairly common in the Gatineau Hills and can be dangerous, especially protective mothers. Normally, they will exit a scene before you enter, especially if you are making some noise. But if you're worried, carry some bear repellant.
Smaller animals which allow close approach, act strangely or look scruffy, should be avoided. Rabies is a distinct possibility. And, of course, skunks should be given a wide berth in any case to avoid their malodorous intentions.
The most dangerous animal in the area is, of course, the human being. This is especially true during hunting season, when anything that moves is considered fair game by the trigger-happy. Each year there are stories of cows being shot by mistake. Fortunately for others, most of the people injured or killed are hunters themselves, largely self-inflicted.
Sensitivity over loss of cultural and linguistic purity in Quebec has been the justification of Bill 101, the language law. Basically, it encourages signage to be in French only. This is potentially dangerous. If you come upon a highway sign and do not understand French, keep your wits about you, it may be an important warning. (And think about how the French-only person from Quebec feels driving in much of the rest of Canada or the USA.)
Return to Birding Ottawa Table of Contents.
Beautiful but Deadly
The Vicious Mosquito
Cute and Cuddly, but Where's Mom?
Ottawa's Most Fearsome Predator
Bi-lingual is Better