Sunday, February 22, 2015

On the Rocks

I grew up near London Ontario where you're pretty hard pressed to find any exposed rock substrate.  In recent years I've been making regular trips north and have found that I love botanizing a good rock barren, ridge or rocky rivershore.  Let's just say camp meals cooking over the stove have been bonded to pots while I get sidetracked by some plants growing in a rock crevice.

The first photo is Three-toothed Cinquefoil (Sibbaldiopsis tridentata), previously a Potentilla.  Considered a shrub, this species often forms dense mats among rock crevices.  The foliage has a dark green shine to it and kind of resembles Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana).  This patch was growing on a ridge in the Nor-Wester Mountains near Thunder Bay.

Pink Corydalis (Capnoides sempervirens) adds a splash of colour to rocky or gravelly habitats with it's pink and yellow blooms.  It's found in every province and territory in Canada.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Fooled and Schooled

Back at Long Point a couple weeks back my co-worker Andrew and I noticed strange looking plants in the backdune-marsh interphase along Hastings Drive.  I'd be lying if I said we didn't think we had something really cool at first glance; but as it turns out, it's just a deformed willow (I don't actually know what species).

Have you ever seen the movie Willow?  Before it's time.  Kind of weird though, just like willow galls.  

You see galls on all sorts of vascular plants, a common one being the pinecone willow gall.  In fact, the Salix genus is particularly susceptible to the formation of galls.  This willow stem from Big Creek Marsh shows a willow rosette gall which is formed by the aptly-named willow rosette gall midge (Rabdophaga salicisbrassicoides).  Actually, the name willow cabbage gall midge is also used and perhaps more appropriate given the species epithet.

The larvae will make use of these protective galls, overwintering in them, until a 5mm midge emerges in the spring to fly away, mate, and find another willow to lays eggs upon.  Chemicals released by the egg/larvae will then cause the willow to form galls.

The day after freezing rain last week made for an interesting horizon of Narrow-leaved Cattail (Typha angustifolia) all bent over and reflecting the sunlight.

Andrew likes Argos (when they don't fall apart in -25°C weather) THIS much.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Persistent Oak Leaves

I went down to Cambridge today, the rare Charitable Research Reserve to be exact.  I wanted to see what waterfowl might be hunkering down in the few areas of open water on the Grand; alas the open water I remembered seeing last week has been reduced to a few very small strips and the day's bird sightings were limited.

During my stroll along the Walter Bean Trail I noticed that many, perhaps most, of the Red Oak (Quercus rubra) had maintained much of their foliage into the winter.  This phenomenon, known as  marcescence, occurs to a few species in the beech family including several species of oak and American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), as well as Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana).

So why does this happen?  Normally, as cooler temperatures set in throughout the fall, an abscission layer will form at the base of each leaf (where the petiole adjoins the branch) which produces a fragile 'break-point'.  In the following weeks, this break point will give way and the curbs in the 'burbs will be lined with Home Depot leaf bags (and I'll be making the rounds picking them up to supplement the leaf litter in my woodland garden - people just give this stuff away!).  In marcescent trees this fragile layer fails to form and the leaves persist into the winter, often only disappearing come spring with new growth.  There is alot of speculation as to why this occurs, often in young trees or on lower brances.  Is it an advantage?  Is it some sort of evolutionary trait?  This short article provides some interesting insight.
To shed the leaf, an abscission layer forms at the base of the leaf stem or petiole. In marcescent trees, this abscission layer fails to form.

Read more :
abscission layer forms at the base of the leaf stem or petiole. In marcescent trees, this abscission layer fails to form.

Read more :
abscission layer forms at the base of the leaf stem or petiole. In marcescent trees, this abscission layer fails to form.

Read more :

Enough about marcescence, check out this walnut poorly/temporarily cached 10m up a tree.

This Downy Woodpecker (Picoides pubescens) was busy working on the dead ash along the trail.

The limestones cliffs adjacent to the Grand are always neat to explore.
 Some of the cracks are home to the regionally rare fern Maidenhair Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes).  There are two subspecies, subsp. quadrivalens and subsp. trichomanes.  The earlier prefers calcareous substrates while the latter prefers acidic substrates.

"Marc sucks" "DANTE is the MAN" and "Tree frogs are cool".  One of these Cambridge youth is going somewhere!  Tree Frogs (Hyla versicolor) are pretty cool.  They produce glycerol which allows them to tolerate a freeze-thaw cycle.  What can you do Dante?

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Dinner with the Butterflies

Alyssa and I went for dinner last night at the Cambridge Butterfly Conservatory.  The event included unlimited access to the tropical greenhouse area which we made a few rounds through, both before and after dinner.  Within 5 minutes I think we went from 25°C and very humid to getting blasted by -25°C with a windchill much worse on our way to the car.  

I had never been to the Conservatory before but it was pretty neat.  They even have a Green-cheeked Conure (Pyrrhura molinae) named Cheecho and a gang of Common Quail (Coturnix coturnix) that scurry throughout the vegetation and at your feet.  The butterfly larvae are commercially grown, shipped in weekly and reared on site which was reassuring to know that these weren't just being pilfered from the wild.  

Part of the proceeds from the dinner went toward the Kossuth Bog Foundation which is working to restore one of the last spruce bogs in Waterloo Region (part of the bog exists on the Conservatory property).  I once heard somebody joke about stuffing a soccer ball into the farm tiling but I think the process might be a little more involved than that.

Here are a few butterfly highlights.

An Owl Butterfly (Caligo species), this crepuscular species is native to Central and South America and is one of the few species that occasionally lays eggs at the conservatory.  This one had a wingspan of about 15cm.

Rice Paper (Idea leuconoe), these were the most abundant, most were hanging from foliage for the night by the time we got there.  This species is native to Malaysia, Taiwan and the Philippines where it can be found in lowland rainforest or coastal mangrove forests. 

The Blue Morpho (Morpho peleides).  On our second round through these had become more active and we were able to admire the iridescent blue on the dorsal side; really stunning to watch.  Native to Central and South America this is one of the largest butterfly species in the world with a wingspan upwards of 20cm.

 A couple shots of Asian Swallowtail (Papilio lowi), native to southeast Asia.  The first photo is the male, the second the female.

A female Common Mormon (Papilio polytes).  This species is native to Southern Asia.  I thought it kind of looked like the butterfly equivalent of an Eastern Towhee.
If you're ever visiting the area, especially during the winter, it's a cool spot to check out!

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Phragmites Mapping at Long Point

Enjoying a day of rest before I return to Long Point for work tomorrow, I thought I'd post a few photos from the past week.  Myself and co-worker Andrew Dean have been mapping populations of Phragmites (Phragmites australis) in Big Creek N.W.A., if you enjoy solitude (and being stuck elbow deep in snowdrifts), the middle of the marsh at Big Creek in mid-February is a place you really have to check out! 

Equipped with snowshoes and GPS units, Gerry and Andrew pose for a shot at the Causeway viewing platform.

Each day we were seeing a few Northern Harrier (Circus cyaneus) flying low over the marsh.  On Wednesday at the western end of Hastings Drive a Harrier landed on the road in front of our vehicle and proceeded to feast on a squirrel.

Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) flying in a snowstorm.

But for the most part really quiet on the wildlife front.  A few small flocks of Snow Buntings (Plectrophenax nivalis) and a pair of Eastern Bluebirds (Sialia sialis) made things interesting.  Also a Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) frequenting the feeder at the LPBO.

We saw alot of this, well the one on the right.  This photo shows a stand of the native Phragmites (subspecies americanus) on the left, with the non-native (subspecies australis) on the right.

While our work is intended to map out the non-native Phragmites, we were seeing populations here and there of the native subspecies.  A few identification traits that I find easily recognizable, the native Phragmites has purplish stem internodes (versus yellow-brown), largely in the lower half of the stem, the stems are often thinner, smooth (versus thick, papery), the plume inflorescence is dainty or 'thin' (versus the dense, thick plume of the mature non-native stems), and overall the native subspecies grows patchier (versus some of the populations of the non-native which comprised acres of impenetrable thicket).  The Ontario Phragmites Working Group lays out the comparison well here.

Subspecies americanus left, australis right for the following two photos.

Here Andrew walks one of the dykes.  Managing Phragmites is by no means an easy task, it's aggressive root system and abundant seed production have allowed it to spread far and wide, not to mention the spread via mowing equipment, fishing boats and ditch dredging equipment, etc..  The challenge is especially great at a spot like Long Point where Species at Risk regulations also come into play.  The effective herbicides are known to negatively affect aquatic life (Phragmites tends to grow in or around aquatic/wetland habitats), SAR and their habitat must be considered.  At the same time we are faced with the potential that the better part of 750ha of coastal meadow marsh be replaced with a monoculture of non-native Phragmites which would leave the area comparatively dead in terms of species diversity.  A conundrum to say the least.  

A few other interesting plants that could be identified amongst the snow.  A dead stem/inflorescence of Northern Wild Rice (Zizania palustris).

We encountered some impressive swaths of Whorled Loosestrife (Decodon verticillatus).  The sea of pink blooms in season would be very impressive.

Just beyond the dunes at the end of Hastings Drive I spotted the seed pods of Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus moscheutos), a Species of Conservation Concern provincially.  It's not exactly hard to spot the dark pods on a background of snow.

Snowshoeing across on of the frozen areas we spotted a dark lump on the horizon.  Upon closer inspection it was just a stump, but clearly the Coyote (Canis latrans) had the same interest in it as we did.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Fun with Wildlife Cameras

It's actually a pretty nice day out today.  Sure the snow plough has filled my shoveled driveway in a handful of times and I had to dig out a 2 foot deep trench to the birdfeeders to top them up, but a short day at work is nice once in a while.  Plans to head to Long Point this morning got postponed until tomorrow; hopefully I can get some good blog material over the next two weeks down there.

Doing a little house cleaning today I found a massive email full of a bunch of photos that were captured by a wildlife camera I had set up in 2011 to monitor a possible American Badger den on the north end of Brantford.  We didn't have any luck but did manage to capture a few fun wildlife shots.

Raccoon (Procyon lotor)  

Striped Skunk (Mephitis mephitis)

Unidentified mouse or vole.

White-tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus)

Killer of songbirds (Felis catus)

Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes)

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Breakfast Table Birding

I went home to my folks place in Thorndale for the weekend and as per usual the bird feeder outside of the dining room was very active.  At one point this morning we had 24 Northern Cardinals simultaneously; it makes my feeders at home in Kitchener look pretty tame.  Here's this morning's ebird list.

You may recall a post from January 6th about the Eastern Towhee my mom spotted.  Well I was pleased to see that 1 male and 1 female have stuck around.

A hike Saturday evening at Fanshawe Lake yielded only a handful of Mallards hunkered down in some open water at the mouth of Wye Creek, a tributary to Fanshawe Lake that starts 10km upstream near parents' place.  It's funny how a degraded watercourse with the odd Crack Willow along the banks (which the farmer then cut down and planted with soybeans right up to the water) and which scored D for both water quality and forest conditions played such a role in getting me interested in nature at a young age.