Sunday, April 23, 2017

Road Trip 2017 - Part 2

Leaving Kansas City we made our way east toward St. Louis then drive south along the Mississippi toward Snake Road in Shawnee National Forest.  We arrived late morning and the first thing that struck me was the lack of herper-types there...we had the place to ourselves.  This turned out to not be ideal as 2 sets of eyes spotting snakes is not nearly as effective as the perhaps 15 sets of eyes I had imagined.

Larue Road, otherwise known as Snake Road
Ken Burrell had mentioned I should listen for Louisiana Waterthrush, and moments after stepping out of the vehicle...

 This Red-bellied Snake was the first snake we spotted, no Timber Rattlesnake, but hey.



Cave Salamader was a new one for me, these little guys can be found in the crevices of damp caves.  They tended to be a little camera shy, receding back into the cracks when spotted.


The odonates, including this Common Baskettail were out in modest numbers.

I bounded down the road after this Zebra Swallowtail, a lifer and a nice looking butterfly.

It seemed like Fringed Phacelia (Phacelia fimbriata), the white flowers in this photo, was the plant getting all the pollinator attention that day.

Phlox and Phacelia
Try as I might to find Harbinger-of-spring (Erigenia bulbosa) in bloom, I could only spot a few vegetative plants.  The spiky brown fruit in this photo belongs to American Sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua), imagine stepping on one of those in your lawn!

Green Violet (Hybanthus concolor)

Walking Fern (Asplenium rhizophyllum) on the face of the bluff.

Wild Hops (Humulus lupulus)
 It became clear to me within 5 minutes of arriving that although being at a spot known for snakes, I was going to spend a lot of time looking at the plant life.  This picture shows a nice rocky embankment of Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) and Wood Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum)...not too shabby!

Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) in flower.  Large clonal populations grow along the roadside.
 I think the highlight of the day for me was spotting this budding flower which I recognized as Wild Hyacinth (Camassia scilloides) from my time spent on Pelee Island each May.

The plants on Pelee Island in May are typically clumps of basal leaves just beginning to send up a flowering stem.  I had never seen this species in flower before, so I was pretty excited to look up a slope and find a couple hundred of these!

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Road Trip 2017 - Part 1

Hey, let's take 14 days, drive 4500km, get a hike in almost every day, and see cool stuff!

That was pretty much the plan for a trip Alyssa and I executed a couple of weeks ago.  She had finished a contract in Medicine Hat, Alberta, the following week I had booked us into a week stay in the Great Smoky Mountains, we live in Kitchener...only one way to go about this!

Heading south from Regina we spotted many a raptor (and a Snowy Owl) on the endless telephone poles we passed.  We crossed the border at North Portal, SK.  North Dakota was, for the most part cropland and the odd coulee, but our intention was to put km's under the wheels.

We arrived at our first night stop, Sioux Falls, SD.  Checked into a Super 8 which may have been where Alyssa's credit card was compromised by a nice fellow with "LOCO" tattooed on his knuckles, oh well, those 2 charges of $200 to a Sioux Falls Walmart probably made someone happy.  Late in the evening we made our way to J.R. Beers where I was happy to try a 'Top 10 beers in America'.

The next morning I was eager to hit the road again...to Broken Kettle Grasslands we go!  This impressive site is managed by the NCC and is Iowa's largest prairie.  The 3000 acres of Leoss Hills beauty is home to a herd of about 175 Bison.


Not a bad view for a lunch break.

And hey, it's not everyday you see Bison droppings.


We proceeded to the nearby Five Ridge Prairie which has a few trails to hike.  The landscape was a continuation of Broken Kettle with slopes of tallgrass prairie interspersed with treed valleys.
 
Alyssa watching Bluebirds

Soapweed Yucca (Yucca glauca)
We passed a swampy area with a chorus of Boreal Chorus Frog calling.

Prairie Clover remnants, not much to look at plant-wise in early April!
Not much to look at except for Prairie Crocus (Pulsatilla patens), the one wildflower I wanted to see during our time in the Dakotas.  Hundreds of these stout wildflowers, also known as Pasqueflower, peek up from the grassy thatch.

We made it to Kansas City that night, had outstanding short rib at a BBQ spot, and prepared for our drive the next day to the famed Snake Road in Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Here they come!

Here in the Kitchener area we're moving into one of my favourite times of the year, the spring movement of amphibians.  Often starting out with a trickle (today's sightings limited to the photos below), in a week or two the wetlands will be busy with calling frogs, water bugs, and salamanders.

This morning I pulled my first of year Spring Peeper from a minnow trap at a study site near Guelph.  First of year visual that is, I had heard the call of one or two ambitious individuals weeks ago near Parkhill before things went cold again.  Typically a cross-like marking is visible but this one has a pretty solid pinkish colour to it, perhaps due to recent emergence (I'm not sure why this occurs).


My first Eastern Newt of the year brought a smile to my face.  These guys never look very impressed and are rather common in this part of Ontario but I always enjoy encountering them.

 An unexpected find in the trap was this Northern Redbelly Dace.  Having observed this study pond last fall as a bone dry mat of peat, seemingly disconnected from other waterbodies I wasn't expecting fish!

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Odds and Sods

Haven't had a tonne of material to post of late but I thought I'd share some interesting photos from the last couple of weeks.

The photo below is an amazing American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) growing in a woodlot near the Greenock Swamp between Walkerton and Kincardine.  It's by no means the largest Beech I've encountered, but look at that crown! Full points for good (albeit not typical?) form. 

Last weekend I was visiting my parents in Thorndale.  Checking out a planted Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) in the yard dangling structures caught my eye.  I'm just starting to get more into moth identification and the best I can come up with is that these cocoons belong to either Promethea Silkmoth (Callosamia promethea) or Tulip Tree Silkmoth (C. angulifera).  The larvae of each species will apparently forage on Tulip Tree so no leads there per se.  There were a total of 8 cocoons on a tree that's only about 7-8m in height.  I'll have to check back in on these.  The moth book I recently purchased is the Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America by David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie.  So far looks to be a very comprehensive resource.

An ambitious mission to Parkhill Conservation Area to search for the uncommon Harbinger-of-spring (Erigenia bulbosa) (a forb in the carrot family) didn't yield results (I was going on the very slight chance I could find a population I know of, perhaps poking through the leaves).  A very nice spot nonetheless with some interesting shrubs like Leatherwood (Dirca palustris), calling Spring Peepers, and 80 cents in beer can revenue!

Monday, February 20, 2017

Botany at 35,000 feet

A few months ago I was out for a hike along the Thames River near Thorndale.  Venturing through a rather boring expanse of Reed Canary Grass and Manitoba Maple, I got to the edge of the river and spotted a patch of Lizard's Tail (Saururus cernuus).  The common name for this plant is in reference to the long, showy white flowers which taper and look like a bushy tail...I'm not sure why lizard...it was probably a coin flip between Lizard's Tail or Unicorn's Tail.

This species inhabits river and pond edges, muddy shores and sometimes swamps.  It has a distribution in Ontario which roughly aligns with what is considered to be the northern extent of the Carolinian Zone.  It is considered vulnerable in Ontario but as the rest of my post indicates, it can be quite common on certain lengths of a watercourse, such as the Thames.

Here is a small stand along the Grand River in Cambridge.





What is interesting is that in fall, when the leaves and stems die back for the winter, they dry a deep reddish-brown hue in colour.  This reddish-brown, when viewed from Google Earth creates a very distinct colour signature.  The photo below shows the stark contrast between red and the greenish colour of what is predominantly Reed Canary Grass.

Having encountered one of these patches while out for a hike, then extrapolating that reddish brown colour up the river for a few kilometres, it quickly becomes apparent that the Thames River between Thorndale and St. Marys is packed with Lizard's Tail.
People joke about botany at 70km/hr while scanning roadsides for interesting plants, but this desktop botany, or botany at 35,000 feet is a whole other level of fun!



Thursday, January 19, 2017

Niagara Birding

Nathan and I were in Niagara Region the past couple days and got to do a bit of Niagara River birding in the down time.  Working on my gull ID Nathan pointed out Iceland, Thayer's, Glaucous and a Little Gull today.  We were chasing the Slaty-backed Gull...with inconclusive results (see Nathan's blog post).

While at Dufferin Islands Natural Area we did spot this female Pine Warbler.  Checking out the ebird sightings for January 2017 she (and he) seem content to hang around!



Monday, December 12, 2016

Snow Geese, and lots of 'em.

I was in Eastern Ontario for work last week and had the pleasure of pausing throughout the day to watch flocks of (noisy) Snow Geese flying over.  My high count for a given flyover of a bunch of loosely-formed flocks was 3000 geese!  Here's a shot and a video I took.