Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Few Highlights from Today

22 October 2014
York County, ON

     What should have been a great shot today turned out to be impossible. I saw two wonderful rufous Fox Sparrows Passerella iliaca, one of which was out in the open on a bare branch, begging for a picture to be taken. But, by the time I got camera the focused on it, it dropped to the ground and scurried into some dense tangles to join the second bird. I never could get a clear shot and it was not long before they flew away. Such is the nature of photographing birds I guess.
     Dark-eyed Juncos Junco hyemalis have arrived here for the winter and seemed to be everywhere today. These are two so-so photographs of a female, in frontal and dorsal view.

     I parked at a shopping plaza which has a storm water management pond which has been named, rather grandiosely, Melville Pond. Often, however, it contains a variety of species and from time to time something quite unexpected. Such was the case today when I observed ten Hooded Mergansers Lophodytes cucullatus swimming there and diving frequently. What kind of prey they might have been capturing in such a location is hard to imagine, although the Great Blue Heron shown in the picture below the mergansers is frequently in attendance so perhaps fish have somehow migrated through the culverts and provide a ready source of food.
     These ducks were all in female type plumage and I suspect that they represent one family.

     As might be expected in a shopping centre with fast food restaurants gulls hang around, and in fact, some people feed them regularly, buying day-old bread I suspect, from the bakery. 
     These Ring-billed Gulls Larus delawarensis provide a gull enthusiast with a great opportunity to examine them closely, and try his hand at aging alchemy, an art or science depending on your viewpoint, rife with the possibility of error.

     My car provided a perfect perch for this individual.

      Although autumnal splendour has passed its apex, there is still a good deal of colour to evoke appreciative review.

     This large assemblage of gulls seemed totally oblivious to the glory all around.

     Fall brings with it a greater concentration of nocturnal animals foraging and the following picture reveals the dangers they face. I cannot even imagine the extent of anthropogenic road kill.
     This Striped Skunk Mephitis mephitis may well have had its revenge against
the driver of the car by releasing its spray at the moment of impact. The smell seems to get into the very paint of the vehicle and is extremely difficult to get rid of.

        American Crows Corvus brachyrynchos were already congregating nearby. waiting to begin the banquet. Urban crows truly have become well adapted to feeding on road kill; they wait until the very last minute before lifting off to avoid being hit by oncoming vehicles. I cannot recall ever seeing a crow that had been killed by traffic. No doubt the highways and roads provide a rich and easily procured source of protein.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Founders Property - Kitchener-Waterloo Field Naturalists

A Morning Ramble
18 October 2014

     In 1968 the Hallman property in the Roseville swamp was purchased by the KWFN, and named the Founders Property in 1984 at the time of the club's 50th anniversary. Perhaps no individual founder was deemed sufficiently auspicious to have the honour conferred on him or her, and this mildly ignominious name continues to this day.
     This is a wild property, little known and seldom visited by most members of the club, and Fraser Gibson, a two-time past president and distinguished member offered to escort members of the current board of directors on a hike through the property. Only three of us took up the challenge, Paul Bigelow, our treasurer, Josh Shea our vice-president and myself, the sitting president.
     There are no trails of any kind, tangles to fight through, creeks to cross and boggy, swampy ground to trek through. It is hard going!
     Fraser knows this property better than anyone and we followed him as he led us through, trusting a good deal in his GPS, which was not receiving a good signal, and was therefore not entirely reliable.
     He was well prepared to cross a creek, where a primitive "bridge" consisted of a few logs straddling the water. They were slippery, wet, partly rotten and not engendering any confidence as to their stability. Fraser, intrepid soul that he is, had brought a rope to help us across and, having secured one end to a tree, went across the logs with a staff, to tie off the rope on the other side.

     Next across was Josh, who at about half the age of the rest of us, walked across with jocular confidence.

     Sorry the rope is bisecting your face, Josh!

     Paul followed while I stayed until last to take the photographs.

     The birding in the tract was quite good and we saw several species, but all high in the trees, or behind vegetation - none in any situation permitting photographs.
     Obviously in times past, bird enthusiasts had cared for the property since we found this long broken Wood Duck Aix sponsa box, now rotting on the ground.

     This is a general view through the woods which varied from being fairly open in spots to barely penetrable in others. We had a little dry ground to walk on but for the most part it was boggy and wet.

     This plant is Horsetail, in the family Equisetum. There are several species, and sometimes Mare's Tail is also thrown into the mix, confusing things even more so I will not attempt specific identification.

     Here is an interesting example of new trees emerging from a rotting stump, a classic example of recycling on an undisturbed forest floor.

     We saw numerous ferns and I am grateful to Fraser for identifying them. I have not a single reference on ferns on my shelf, an omission which needs to be rectified soon!

Spinulose Wood Fern Dryopteris carthusiana

Clinton's Wood Fern Dryopteris clintoniana
     As you might expect, moss was everywhere.

    We observed Partridgeberry Mitchella repens in several locations and this one still had a berry shining bright red on the forest floor.

     Given the time of the year, fallen leaves were everywhere, in all shapes, sizes, colours and hues.

     Here is another general view, taken as we bushwhacked through the undergrowth.

     It was very interesting to come across this old kiln. No one knew precisely what type of kiln it was, but I suspect that it may have been a charcoal kiln, and it appears that the oven type opening at the front may have been used for baking or roasting, drawing heat from the charcoal buried beneath debris behind it.

     This Oak Fern Gymnocarpium dryopteris has taken on its fall colour and will be buried in snow within a few months.

     Just before leaving the property I photographed this fungus and I am awaiting identification assistance on it. I will add the name as soon as I know it.

     It was a really enjoyable walk and both a pleasure and a privilege to visit this property which our club owns and has managed to preserve in a natural state. Thank you so much, Fraser for organizing it, and being such a competent and genial leader.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Maple Leaf Forever

Canada's National Flag

     Several years ago we planted a Sugar Maple Acer saccharum in our back yard and it has progressed from a spindly sapling to a magnificent medium sized tree. This is what we see from our bedroom window.

     If anyone has ever wondered about the origin of the leaf on our national flag, this is it. 

     Although I am not given to overly patriotic feelings I am always stirred a little when I see the flag. Its simple image portrays an alliance with nature, and both our flag and our national anthem are free from jingoism and calls to arms, or statements that our country is superior to others. It is a peaceful symbol of a peaceful nation and one that evokes a great deal of resonance with its citizens.
     The flag will be fifty years old in February 2015 and it is quite remarkable the degree of opposition to it when it was first proposed by one of Canada's greatest sons, Lester Bowles Pearson, winner (very fittingly) of the Nobel Prize for Peace. Now, it is most ardently embraced by the very factions who fought so hard to prevent its adoption. It really has become a much loved symbol to all who live here, native born and immigrant alike. And long may it continue to be so.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Local Monday Meanderings

Waterloo County
13 October 2014

     It was quite warm for the time of year when I left the house this morning, albeit heavily overcast, to do a little birding at several local patches.
     The fruit of Staghorn Sumac Rhus typhina is already well developed and different species of birds are already starting to feed on it. I was able to capture a picture of this American Robin Turdus migratorius atop a tree where it had been feeding with other robins and Red-winged Blackbirds Agelaius phoeniceus.
During the winter months ahead this fruit will provide a rich source of food for many birds, also to White-tailed Deer Odocoileus virginianus.

     A Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis was feeding on berries and judging from the picture seems already to have consumed quite a few!

     Just based on my personal observations, Great Blue Herons Ardea herodias appear to have had a very successful breeding season and young birds seem to be everywhere. This juvenile was having great luck stalking its prey and seemed to snag a fish with every strike.

     Along the Mill Race Trail we located this nest of a Paper Wasp Polistes sp.
It was quite large as these nests go, and by this time of the year would be empty. Queens of this species hibernate and survive the winter. In the spring they begin construction of a new nest which is completed by others. It is made of dead wood and plant stems, chewed by the wasp and mixed with saliva. Inside is a network of chambers which provide living quarters for the larvae which are nurtured and fed by the colony. This wasp is generally not aggressive to humans if left undisturbed and provides beneficial control of undesirable garden pests.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Nature at Thanksgiving

A Lovely Day's Birding
in Southern Ontario
12 October 2014

     This is Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada, and yesterday we had the children and grandchildren at our house for dinner. It was a fine affair, but as is always the case at a holiday feast, we ate too much, so we decided that today we would get out and walk off at least a little of yesterday's excess.
     It was a picture perfect autumn day with bright sunshine, little wind and by early afternoon the temperature had climbed to about 15 degrees. It was quite wonderful to be outside enjoying nature.
     The day started well with a family of Wild Turkeys Meleagris gallopavo before we even left Waterloo. They crossed the road in front of us but before they disappeared into the bush we were able to get a couple of pictures.

     We had decided that we would go into Toronto and bird along the shore of Lake Ontario where one might reasonably expect at least some movement of migratory species - and we were not disappointed. Among the highlights we saw at least three Swainson's Thrushes Catharus ustulatus,  one of which was very cooperative in terms of having a photograph taken.

     This is a close up of the berries upon which the thrushes were feeding.

     It was especially pleasant to be at the water's edge and this is one of the many coves and inlets we covered.

     People were picknicking, no doubt motivated by the pleasant weather, and the thought that the winter months will soon be upon us. Some were even swimming, taking their last plunge of the season perhaps, although as we watched them enter the water it was easy to see from their reaction that the water was frigid.
     A Ring-billed Gull Larus delawarensis had grabbed what appears to be a circular pretzel and it was comical watching the bird try to swallow it whole, to no avail of course. Finally it seemed to realize that it needed to be broken up and it started to drop the pretzel onto a rock. But the gull outsmarted itself apparently, because the prize slipped between two rocks, out of reach of the bird's bill and was lost completely.

     This lady beetle is, I believe, a Multicoloured Asian Lady Beetle Harmonia axyridis, a species that has become one of our most common Coccinellidae since the mid 1990s.

     Regular readers will recall that I recently blogged about White-crowned Sparrow Zonotrichia leucophrys and had a picture of a juvenile only. This species was very common today and there follows a picture of an adult bird and a second image showing adult and juvenile together.

     The colours of autumn for which this area is justifiably renowned are probably a little past their prime, but there are still many glorious hues to satisfy everyone's aesthetic. 
     Take a look at the deep scarlet of this Staghorn Sumac Rhus typhina.

    And this Eastern Black Oak Quercus velutina.

     It was a wonderful day's outing and we returned home happy and well satisfied, secure in the knowledge that we will do this again together many times over.