Thursday, December 31, 2015

Prairies in the Ford of Brant

With the week off I decided to head down to Brantford yesterday to check on a few prairie sites where I've helped with brush clearing and prescribed burns over the past 5 or 6 years.  First stop was the Brantford Rail Trail (S.C. Johnson Trail).  I enjoy walking and biking this trail in the summer and fall; you get nice views of the river and there are numerous little prairie glades along the way (I tend to hop off my bike alot and so if you've got some place to be don't wait for me!).

The photo below is taken from the tee blocks of hole #3 with Brant Conservation Area off in the distance.

The well-drained slopes support some good stands of Side-oats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), a rare prairie grass, ranked provincially as S2 (5-20 occurrences in the province).  50-60 Common Goldeneye provided the soundtrack for the afternoon; despite being right in among a residential area the tracks in the snow suggested the trail hadn't seen alot of use in the last few days.

It's no blanket of spring ephemerals, but the tree in the foreground is Dwarf Chinquapin Oak (Quercus prinoides), another S2-ranked species.  As the name implies, this species doesn't grow to towering heights like our other 9 native oak species (with the exception of a 10th, Bear Oak (Quercus ilicifolia), which is also takes on a stout form and was first documented in the mid-1990's in Lennox and Addington County).

A few prairie forbs are still identifiable including Flowering Spurge (Euphorbia corollata).

Round-headed Buch-clover (Lespedeza capitata).

The photo below shows the last seeds hanging onto a stem of Side-oats Grama.  I'm sure the Caddy-driving, turtle neck-wearing group in the Golf and County Club was wondering what the guy was doing down in the weeds with his camera.  I can't knock the Golf and Country Club, they've been very supportive of prairie management activities for some years.

I took a drive down to Mohawk Park, I spotted 31 Great Black-back Gulls and almost 300 Ring-billed but not a whole lot else going on on the bird front.

Despite some regrowth of European Buckthorn and Autumn Olive, this savannah slope at the park is loaded up with a crisp layer of oak leaves which should make for a hot fire when the time comes.  I spotted a few stems of Smooth Aster and Woodland Sunflower here and there, it's a nice little spot.

Thanks for following my blog in 2015 and all the best for 2016!

Monday, December 28, 2015

2012 Ivanhoe River Tour

Back in July 2012 I did a canoe trip down the Ivanhoe River to the confluence with the Groundhog River.  While there were a fair number of portages along the way, these spots make for scenic views while having a rest and the sand spits and rocky river shore habitats are fun to explore.

You get an appreciation for the hardiness and tolerance of some plants like this Spotted Joe-pye-weed (Eupatorium maculatum) hanging on in a rock crevice.  The roaring spring freshet flows

Shrubby Cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa) and Poverty Oats Grass (Danthonia spicata).

Blueflag Iris (Iris versicolor), seemingly out of place but with roots deep enough to reach the moist soils it requires.

Kalm's Lobelia (Lobelia kalmii) does well in the gravelly wet depressions.

Orange-belted or Tricoloured Bumble Bee (Bombus ternarius) were spotted throughout the beaver meadows and especially on the Joe-pye-weed.

One sandy spit had an abundance of interesting-looking driftwood.

With a canoe over your head and a few back and forth trips down the portage trail I spotted this Ladies' Tresses orchid.  Similar to the driftwood in the last photo, the flowers of species in the Spiranthes genus tend to curl around the stem.  Identification to species usually requires the flower to look at length, shape and colour of various parts.
Groups of Common Goldeneye ducklings on the river would scurry off into small channels for shelter.  The trip also included an encounter with a family of River Otter; chirping us from a distance, one got brave, swam rapidly at our canoe and greeted us with a thump.

Northern Yellow-eyed-grass (Xyris montana) grows along the sandy shorelines among the dense stands of Water Horsetail (Equisetum fluviatile).  We have 2 Yellow-eyed-grass species in Ontario, the other, Two-formed Yellow-eyed-grass (Xyris difformis) appears similar, but has differences in the bract colouration and toothed/fringed edges of the sepals.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

A Misty Morning Surprise

I spent this morning doing some surveys for work at a site in Kitchener.  I've read of a few recent herp sightings and we're still getting Spring Peeper calling here, I also saw a group of about 20 Northern Leopard Frogs jumping about in a seep pool, crazy!  In about 24 hours I'll be leaving cookies and milk out for Santa!

While my maps and notes haven't fared well with the on and off rain the last few days, today was just misty, calm and made for an enjoyable day outside for my last day at work before the break.  Here are a few photos.

Beaver definitely have a stronghold on this tributary, one dam was about 50m across and 1-2m high, pretty impressive by southern Ontario standards.

A nice patch of what is probably Eastern Star Sedge (Carex radiata).

Passing through a dense stand of conifers I heard a chirpy barking coming form the adjacent agricultural field, I popped my head out and low and behold this Coyote was giving us a stare.  I say Coyote, but I know there is much debate on Coyote-Wolf hybridity (Canis latrans x Canis lupus), maybe even add domestic dogs.  The Nature of Things did an episode on the matter, you can watch it here.  If David Suzuki documentaries aren't your thing, there's always the 1991 Hollywood hit starring Ethan Hawke White Fang based on the book of the same title by Jack London.

Frozen for a moment, it soon sat down and scratched itself, cleaned itself and was pretty content to just hang out in the field watching us.  After 5 minutes we went back into the trees and heard it continue it's chattering barks and yips.  A real unexpected treat here in Kitchener.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

82nd Kitchener CBC

Yesterday I was out for the 82nd Kitchener Christmas Bird Count; the first cold and snowy day after this long stretch of mild weather.  With highs of 12°C forecast for Wednesday and Thursday, Waterloo Region is on track to have the warmest December in 135 years and the least amount of snowfall in over a century.

Generally I end up doing a route by foot somewhere in an around Homer Watson Park which provides a good assortment of habitat: river corridor, deciduous and mixed forest, swamp, marsh, meadow, golf course, bird feeders. 

My day started with a walk down the Doon Golf Course fairway, just north of the 401.

Joining up with the western bank of the Grand River I made my way north keeping an eye on the water.  My duck list was limited to Mallard, Common Merganser, Common Goldeneye and a few American Black Duck.  Locally notable sightings by other participants in our circle included Gadwall, American Wigeon and Northern Pintail.

Before too long I had spotted my first Belted Kingfisher of the day.  As I walked up the Grand Trunk Trail (below) it cackled and darted along the shore.

Just below the new pedestrian bridge a few shallow, rocky spots in the river yielded good numbers of gulls, but no notable species to be found.

Along the river edge I spotted a clump of Tall Cord Grass (Spartina pectinata); regionally rare.

Walking along the river flats I spotted a Bald Eagle, which had pulled up a fish and was being harassed by a pair of Red-tailed Hawks.

After walking up Old Mill Road where I had plenty of bird feeders to scope out and Cedar Waxwings feeding on Red Cedar berries, I cut into the Schneider Creek trail.  As the road name suggests, there was once a mill here at the confluence of the creek and the Grand.

While I checked out some Tree Sparrows on the grassy banks this Muskrat chewed away on some vegetation.

Further upriver, near the waste water treatment plant I spotted another Kingfisher.  I don't know what kind of range or territory they would have but this one seemed far enough from the last to be a second individual.  My total walking length for the morning was 6.75km one way (plus the walk back to my vehicle).  One notable trend I saw was the density of waterfowl on the river below the treatment plant versus the near-desolate waters upriver.

Passing by the lone residential lot at 44 Mill Park Drive (which backs onto the ravine) I noticed it was for sale!  It's long been one of those houses I've thought of as the ultimate naturalist's home.  $545,000 if you've got that change kicking around.  I made my way into the south end of Homer Watson Park, the first Eastern Hemlock yielded a pair of Golden-crowned Kinglets.  These slope forests are rich with mature hardwoods and an interesting ground layer flora (seeps, bluffs, rivershore).  

A view form the bluff.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Manitoba Prairie Escapades

I've been to Manitoba a few times, most recently for the 2012 North American Prairie Conference.  Every time that I go, I've always made a point of visiting an area of tallgrass prairie in the extreme southeast of Manitoba.  Near the towns of Tolstoi, Gardenton and Vita, the Manitoba Tallgrass Prairie Preserve invites visitors to explore and appreciate this rare grassland habitat.  Aside from the superb habitat, the wildlife (including tonnes of Red-sided Gartersnakes), the solitude is something else.  No cellphone signal, nobody around, just the swishing of the grass and plenty of trails to enjoy.  The area was settled by Ukranian immigrants in the 1890s, you can visit St. Michael's Ukrainian Greek Orthodox church which is set among aspen woodland and prairie.  An annual prairie day happens in August, with food and guided tours.  A few botanical highlights include Western Prairie Fringed Orchid (Platanthera praeclara) and Small White Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium candidum).  On the butterfly front, the preserve is home to a good population of Poweshiek Skippers.

The property parcels are owned by a number of groups including the NCC, Nature Manitoba, Manitoba Conservation, Environment Canada and the Manitoba Habitat Heritage Corporation.  It;s really great to see a critical mass of conservation effort with so many partners working toward a shared goal.

I thought I would post a few photos from my visit in 2012.  Going through some of the more landscape-style shots, what still amazes me is scrolling in to the foreground the diversity of species you can pick out.

A few stems of Blue Giant-hyssop (Agastache foeniculum).  The calyx (a portion of the flower) stays bluish even after the flowering period has passed.  The '-stache' in the genus comes from the Greek  st├íchys meaning an ear or head of grain.

Speaking of stachys, in some of the wetter areas the non-native Hedge-nettle (Stachys palustris) is present here and there.

This leafy shot includes Upland White Aster (Solidago ptarmicoides), Thimbleweed (Anemone cylindrica), Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) and Prairie (Allium stellatum).

I've flirted with the idea of adding Field Thistle (Cirsium discolor) to my front yard garden (Harold, call by-law!), the one in the photo below is pretty impressive.  This species is a biennial, that is, grows, reproduces and dies (for the most part) in two year cycles.

American Goldfinches love 'em!

The first year basal rosettes are pretty gnarly looking.

The plant below is the lesser encountered of the ragweeds, Perennial Ragweed (Ambrosia psilostachya).  Like Common Ragweed (A. artemisiifolia), it grows rhizomatously (via agressive underground roots); both can be found in areas of drier, sandy soils.
Purple Prairie-clover (Dalea purpurea) is listed as an S1 in Ontario, to my knowledge based upon a single, possibly extirpated populations somewhere near Sarnia.  The plant in the photo has finished blooming but these are quite something when they dot a rolling landscape with purple.

Some areas of the preserve are rich in diversity, while others are limited to a few dominant grasses and sedges, and in this case, the odd Shrubby Cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa).

A western Canada wildflower, this short tuft of flowers is Tufted Fleabane (Erigeron caespitosus).  The flowering stems reach 15-20cm.

The abundance of damp thickets turns up lots of Bottle Gentian (Gentiana andrewsii), the species epithet named after the English botanical artist Henry C. Andrews.

Prairie Gentian (Gentiana puberula) has to rank among my personal favourite wildflowers.  It almost reminds me of a gas stove element.

Moving north toward Winnipeg, the prairie below occurs near Grosse Isle and was likely spared the plough due to it's location in the middle of a triangle of rail lines which converge near the town.  I screen-capped a Google Earth image of the area (below), the relationship between prairie and rail lines is an interesting one.

Manitoba is home to 7 species of sunflower including Maximilian's Sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani) which is easy to spot with it's drooping leaves.

Prairie Sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus)

False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides).  Have you ever seen Forrest Gump...the scene where Bubba talks about shrimp?

Another vista, this time Meadow Blazingstar (Liatris ligulistylis), Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida) and Yarrow (Achillea sp.)

Similar to the above, but with Grass-of-parnassus (Parnassia glauca) and Wild Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota) throughout.

The silver-coloured plants are a fairly common site throughout the prairie provinces, these are Silverleaf Psoralea (Pediomelum argophyllum), otherwise known as Silverleaf Indian Breadroot..

For one evening, the conference included a drinks and appetizers event at The Manitoba Museum.  It was a great way to meet all sorts of people from across Canada and the US, and check out the diorama!

Another interesting exhibit, the root mass of a carefully excavated prairie grass.  It's no wonder these plants can sustain long droughts, grazing and scorching fires.

John Morgan of Prairie Habitats Inc. gave a tour of a few sites including some of his urban powerline trials with Manitoba Hydro.

The Living Prairie Museum is another neat spot within Winnipeg.  It is a sizable prairie remnant within the city with a network of trails and a great interpretive centre.  They had a small greenhouse outside, I took a few blueprint shots for my next project.

Somebody had taken the artistic liberty of seeding Compass Plant (Silphium laciniatum) and Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) into the prairie at the Living Prairie Museum.  Out of their range (1) (2) but still pretty interesting to see.

One of the most memorable excursions was the train ride on a heritage steam locomotive, the Prairie Dog Central.

This heritage attraction runs 1-2 hours rides to the west of the City (toward that prairie remnant framed by rail lines near Grosse Isle).  The perk for our group, we could ask the conductor to stop at any time to get pretty prairie photos, super cool.

I laugh at this photo because there is a type of train fanatic known as a 'foamer', they get really excited by rare and unusual trains.  What is so funny is that the volunteers running the train are probably looking at all the botanists scouring about in the weeds thinking "What a bunch of geeks!".  To each their own.

Superman stops trains, Larry Lamb just holds them up.

Locomotive Number 3, built for C.P.R. in 1882.

A view form above, Swamp Lousewort (Pedicularis lanceolata).

Prairie Rose (Rosa arkansana)