Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bee Surveys at the Pinery

I volunteered to help conduct area searches for Rusty-patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis) at the Pinery this summer.  I'm looking to learn a bit more about bumble bees and this seemed a good fit. Spending a Saturday here and there scouring 14 targeted sites within the park sounds like my kind of fun.

Maybe I'm trying to make amends with bees, aside from appreciating them while out and about or sitting out back on the patio with a drink just observing, I can recall the day I hurled a green walnut at my sister which inadvertently landed directly in a ground-nesting bee colony at her feet (that didn't go well).  In more recent years, cutting buckthorn with a brushsaw only to see a cloud of angry bees rise up from a brush pile.  The 10 or so stings I received while bounding frantically through conifer plantation slash piles probably garnered some choice words, f-bombus's.

Yesterday an information session was held at the Visitor Centre to go over some of the details.  Alistair MacKenzie spoke to the park's significance as habitat to an estimated 200 significant species.  Sheila Colla provided some interesting background information on a variety of bumble bee species, both common and rare, and also outlined the most recent sightings of Rusty-patched at the Pinery (as well as 40 or so sightings in the last couple of years, mainly in Illinois and Wisconsin).  Victoria McPhail of Wildlife Preservation Canada also introduced the group to Bumble Bee Watch, a site the runs on the same platform as ebutterfly.  Very cool stuff. 

Pinned specimens of both Rusty-patched (pink label) and federally significant (soon-to-be provincially) Gypsy Cuckoo Bumble Bee (Bombus bohemicus) (white label) were on hand.  The Rusty-patched has the rust-coloured patch on the abdomen which is surrounded by yellow.  This is probably the easiest way to distinguish from a pile of other bees with orange/brown colouration on the abdomen. 

I didn't capture the Gypsy Cuckoo well in these photos, but the lower portion of the abdomen is white or off-white (the remainder black).  These bees are a social parasite on Rusty-patched, B. terricola and B. occidentalis).  Social parasitism in bumble bees involves the parasite species killing off the queen of a host species, laying their own eggs in the nest, and having the worker bees of that colony raise their young.

After the information session Alyssa and I went for a stroll on the Cedar Trail.  The feeders at the Visitor Centre were lively.

Probably 20-30 White-breasted Nuthatch

A half dozen or so Tufted Titmouse and a bunch of chatty Black-capped Chickadee

Along the Cedar Trail, near the Old Ausable Channel I found last year's stem of Rough Blazing-star (Liatris aspera).

This year's Balsam Ragwort (Packera paupercula).

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) in a clearing of Little Bluestem, Indian Grass and Balsam Ragwort.

The remains of Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis) flowers from 2014.

The remains of Cylindrical Blazing-star (Liatris cylindracea) below.  A funny side note, back at the Visitor Centre I was paging through the Sightings Book at the desk before leaving; I always like to browse these books/white boards to see what's been spotted recently.  The bird tab yielded a tonne of sightings from 2014 into early 2015, lots of herpetofauna, hog-nosed snake, turtles, frogs, good good, mammals, I had no idea there were chipmunks at the Pinery! haha just kidding, flying squirrels, dorito-eating raccoons, some observations of bear and moose written in crayon (I'll take with a grain of salt).  Plants (rubs hands together in anticipation), whadda we got?  Pat Deacon, June 6, 2014 "Liatris cylindracea on Cedar Trail"...followed by a measly 5 additional entries between June 6 and now!  I got a good chuckle.  On last count the park was home to 757 species of vascular flora.

We made a brief stop at the fields on Greenway Road to watch the 75 or so Tundra Swans.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Don't Call me Dodder

I really enjoy exploring the banks and floodplains of the Grand River, the habitat is so dynamic and you never know what you might find, well, aside from alot of Reed Canary Grass (Phalaris arundinacea) and an alarming amount of Yellow Iris (Iris pseudoacorus)...and a good chance of shopping carts and fish tackle.

One interesting species, Common Dodder (Cuscuta gronovii) occurs frequently in these floodplain habitats, it kind of looks like that neon orange silly string that comes in a can (have they outlawed that stuff yet?).  There are 7 species of Dodder known from Ontario.  According to the NHIC plant list C. umbrosa is listed as a historic occurrence and was last collected in 1958 on the Kaministiquia River near Thunder Bay (but may still be present in northwestern Ontario). The 2 species ranked as S1, C. coryli and C. polygonorum were recently documented in Windsor (Ojibway Prairie) and Niagara respectively.

This species is parasitic on a variety of plants and it's actually considered a major agricultural weed in some parts of the world.  Once established via a root system it will begin to spread; what's really cool is that it does this through chemosensory clues which guide it to grow toward suitable hosts.  Once wrapped around a stem, it will insert haustoria to connect into that plant's vascular system which will then support it.  Sounds like a bad horror movie plot!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Brantford Perched Prairie Fen

I took a couple of friends to see the Brantford Perched Prairie Fen last July.  This rich prairie site, about 1.3ha in size, is fed by calcium-rich groundwater which makes for some unique flora.  In fact, this community (ranked S1 in Ontario) has only 2 known occurrences in the province.  Literature prepared by the Michigan Natural Features Inventory provides further detail about this rare habitat.

A few highlights from our excursion included a healthy population of Ohio Goldenrod (Solidago ohioensis).  The succulent leaves of this goldenrod kind of resemble those of Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), an exotic species which is a halophyte, meaning it flourishes under saline conditions.  Where you would find Ohio Goldenrod in high quality habitats, Seaside Goldenrod is largely limited to the ditches of the 401 from Windsor through to Woodstock and continuing further east.  I've started to see it popping up away from the 401 along farm laneways and areas you wouldn't think are subject to a whole lot of salt.

Swamp Thistle (Cirsium muticum) with it's purple leaf midrib. 

Sticky False Asphodel (Tofieldia glutinosa ssp. brevistyla).  Homer's Odyssey speaks of  "indifferent and ordinary souls" being sent to  "asphodel meadows" in the afterlife.  As tempting as it is to imagine botanizing a perched prairie fen in the afterlife, the asphodel meadows Homer was referring to were in the Greek Underworld, so maybe not my first pick.

White Camas (Anticlea elegans) was nice to see in bloom.  I hope to make it back here this year, if not for some informal Dorca's Copper surveys, then maybe to track down some Yellow Stargrass (Hypoxis hirsuta).

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Whole lotta Redhead

I'm in Essex County this week for work and managed to do a bit of birding at the end of the day today.  First stop was the Cannery Lagoons north of Comber, lots of Tundra Swans mulling about; Ken had a couple of Cackling Goose in one of the back laggons earlier in the day but the gate was locked by the time I arrived so I stuck to the roadside (though not like the American Mink (Neovison vison) I saw earlier this morning south of Belle River, it had seen better days).

Redhead seem to be present in good numbers, both at the Cannery and a handful of sites around Pelee/Hillman Marsh.  I saw my first Turkey Vulture for the year, this morning, the first of a returning species always gets a double take before it registers...hey, they're back!  Other highlights included Ruddy Duck, a few Wood Duck, Canvasback and Lesser Scaup in and around the onion fields.  We'll be back out tomorrow hoping for a Ross's Goose or White-fronted Goose.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Lobelia's it is!

I was home this weekend for my mom's birthday.  After going out for lunch in London I suggested we make a brief stop at Springbank Park, hoping to catch a glimpse of the Harlequin Duck that has been hanging out for the last few weeks.  The most recent ebird post had reported it/one upriver in Gibbons Park.  After walking a few kilometers of trail with no duck left unturned, I had to bail.  I did however find out that it takes my point-and-shoot exactly the same length of time to pull a Long-tailed Duck into focus as it does for said duck to dive and force me to zoom out and try again, and again, alas not even a shot of a Long-tailed.

This morning we enjoyed having breakfast and watching the 8 Wild Turkey monopolize the sunflower seed spoils beneath the bird feeder.  The pair of Eastern Towhees which overwintered here made an appearance also.  Anyways, all this to say that I made a conscious effort to get more bird material up here and came up empty handed.

So a quick scan through some photos on my laptop and Lobelia's it is!

This patch of Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) caught my eye while on a camping trip to Massasauga PP.  It's really kind of strange to me why true red blooms are few and far between in Ontario's flora.  Cardinal Flower, Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea) and Royal Catchfly (Silene regia) make up the bulk of the reds (that I can think of off hand) and none are particular common on the landscape.  If I had to hazard a guess it might look to pollinator's having a preference for other colours but I really don't know.

A visit to Taylor Lake near Cambridge this past summer turned up a fair number of Pale-spiked Lobelia (Lobelia spicata). 

Here are a couple shots of Kalm's Lobelia (Lobelia kalmii), named for the Swedish botanist Pehr Kalm.  These are common along the rocky rivershore habitats of the Ivanhoe River, west of Timmins.  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Looking for Licorice

Ugggh, I seem to have come down with a head cold, I'm Sicyos.  Please excuse the pun, much like the focus in this photo, I'm not at my best.  The vine in the photo below is One-seeded Bur Cucumber (Sicyos angulatus), similar in some ways to Prickly Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata).  The obvious difference between the two is the fruits, Prickly Cucumber having the succulent, egg-sized fruits compared to the smaller, dense fruits of Sicyos.  There are differences in the leaf form as well that are easy enough to recognize. This shot was taken at Point Pelee, likely in an area with a bit of moisture, the preference for both of these species.

On another topic, I've been doing some investigation into historical plant records over the winter, mostly in Waterloo Region.  It's very interesting reading descriptions of where species were collected and trying to pinpoint locations (and of course follow up by looking for them in the field, the best part).  A friend recently directed me to a 1902 record for Wild Licorice (Glycyrrhiza lepidota) in Waterloo Region, based upon a thesis by the late Fred Montgomery who had come across the description from Harriet, an early naturalist in the area.  Wild Licorice is quite rare in Southern Ontario, known from Waterloo and Niagara, with more extensive populations in the area of Rainy River in Northern Ontario.  The BONAP website gives some idea of it's distribution continent-wide.  The description in Montgomery's thesis reads:

"Island in Grand R. 4 miles below Galt, July 4, 1902"

Loving Google Earth as much as I do, this was an easy case, and if Macoun had a Garmin GPS in his bag, well there would be no mystery in relocating these long lost records.  Reference of a specific linear distance and direction from the nearest post office was often used to provide geographical context, as well as well as other features such as bridges, waterbodies, rail lines.  Anyways, here are a couple of screen captures from Google Earth, this example wasn't too difficult given that all it required was extending the ruler function right down the Grand River from downtown Galt (I used the post office) which pretty much puts you right on a large island.  This isn't to say that there couldn't have been other islands in 1902, but I have a good feeling about this one.

Now the likelihood that the population remains may be slim, it is a major river afterall, subject to ice scour, inundation, erosion.  Also aggressive clonal species like Reed Canary Grass (Phalaris arundinacea) may have outcompeted the licorice long ago.  It's worth a shot though, I'm hoping to take a little canoe tour this summer and have a look.  Maybe I'll do a post all about the island foray.

Here's what I'm looking for, it's quite common in the Manitoba Tallgrass Prairie Preserve where I took these photos.  

The bur fruits kind of resemble Cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) and persist year round.

Just for good measure, referring to the NHIC online make-a-map function, there's the record coming up right on target.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Floodplain Forest Flora

The warm weather's on it's way and that means soon the river ice will break up, New Hamburg will be underwater and so too will the expanses of low-lying forest which line rivers and watercourses.

I'm really looking forward to exploring some floodplain forest sites in 2015.  A few oxbows on the Nith River near Paris, a property backing onto Big Creek near Walsingham, the good old Thames River between London and St. Marys, and who knows where else.  Floodplain forests are an interesting bottomland community, seasonally subject to flooding of an adjacent river or stream.  These areas are fun to explore in the spring and early summer when you can find all sorts of treasures that washed down stream (I found a circa 1990 Sea-Doo last year!).

Here are a few 'higher quality' species that one might find in a rich floodplain forest in Southern Ontario.

Green Dragon (Arisaema dracontium) resembles Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) but prefers wetter soils.  Look for this species in backwater sloughs and oxbows.  I remember the first time I found Green Dragon, for a brief moment I forgot all about the excruciating pain of traipsing through an endless grove of Stinging Nettle, one of the common hazards of floodplain botany.  This shot from along the Nith River captures the leaves unfurling early in the season

A different plant at the same location with a head start on the one in the first photo.

The sheathed flower will eventually unfurl but at this point it kind of looks like a garlic scape.

False Mermaid (Floerkea proserpinacoides) is a refreshing and often overlooked species.  It often forms carpets of delicate foliage early in the spring.  If you look closely you can see one or two of the simple white, three-petal/three sepal blooms.

I first saw Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) at the annual Newport Forest hike along the Thames River near Wardsville.  If you're looking for a great spring outing I highly recommend it.

I purchased a 1 gallon pot of bluebells last year only to see it slowly be defoliated by slugs.  I'm hoping it rebounds; it's a beautiful plant.  Perhaps a ring of copper pennies around the plant will keep the slugs at bay (I've heard).

Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) is by no means exclusive to floodplains but in my experience a watercourse is never far away.  I remember once my Dad returned from walking the dogs along the Thames and he described seeing this strange 2-leaved plant with white flowers, I went and checked it out and sure enough it was Twinleaf.  Much like the Virginia Bluebells, the leaves just have this soft green hue that catches the eye.

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Loosestrife, the good, the bad and...well none are that ugly.

5:30pm and there was still sunshine beaming into the kitchen, I should be standing in it getting my vitamin D fix, maybe tomorrow.

I was going through my photos and got to thinking about the diversity of Loosestrife species known to occur in Ontario.  It's a shame, to the average person familiar with Loosestrife, the initial image is probably a sea of the invasive Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria).  If you spend much time in Lake Erie coastal meadow marshes, you're probably familiar with matted thickets of Swamp Loosestrife (Decodon verticillatus), a few winter shots from a previous post here.  The Endangered Toothcup (Rotala ramosior) falls within the Loosestrife family as well.  There are a couple of populations in Lennox & Addington with about 6000 plants in total

Moving to the pseudo-Loosestrifes, the Lysimachias (which are actually in the Primrose family), the horticulturalist might be familiar with a couple of garden centre species, both known as Garden Loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata and Lysimachia vulgaris).  Okay, to the photos already.

Another Swamp Loosestrife otherwise known as Swamp Candles (Lysimachia terrestris) is always nice to catch in bloom, either in marsh habitat or at the edge of the Kapuskasing River like the plant in this shot.  What a beauty!  Species in the genus Lysimachia are kind of unique in that they produce a floral oil instead of a nectar.

Tufted Loosestrife (Lysimachia thyrsiflora) is also quite attractive.  Attractive enough for me to wade down the Ottawa River near Pembroke to get to a nice patch alongside some other neat shoreline species including Cordgrass (Spartina pectinata), Marsh Cinquefoil (Comarum palustre) and Sweetflag (Acorus americanus).


Marsh Cinquefoil

Let's get out of the marsh and head to the Pinery P.P. where you can find Prairie Loosestrife (Lysimachia quadriflora), not to be confused with Whorled Loosestrife (Lysimachia quadrifolia).

Picture if you will, 180 degrees from this plant, a lineup of a few of my good friends in flip flops, sunglasses, beach towels hung on their shoulders and a cooler in hand looking at their watch while I wade through a nice patch of open dune vegetation.  I'll catch up with you guys...maybe tomorrow. 

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Elfcups, Pinwheels and Mycenas

The last couple of years I've started making an effort to identify fungi.  When I was in university I met a professor, Greg Michalenko, who is considered a local expert in the mushroom world (I've heard Grand River Hospital contacts him when little Jimmy ate something he shouldn't have).  A few years back I paid Greg a visit to deliver the largest morel I had picked that spring.   Anyways, between Greg's love of fungi and their photogenic qualities, I've been trying a little harder to understand the toadstools and alien-like blobs emanating from fallen logs. 

This first shot is Orange Mycena (Mycena leaiana) growing from rotting wood at the Waterloo Region Nature-owned Montgomery Property.  Here's a short blurb on Mycena fungi including a key.

These Elfcup fungi belong to the Genus Sarcoscypha.  As far as I can tell the (only) way to distinguish S. austriaca from S. dudleyi is to have a look at spore shape through a microscope.  Geez, this stuff isn't easy!  More on Elfcups here.

This last shot is Pinwheel Mushroom (Marasmius rotula).  It grows on woody debris as opposed to the very similar M. capillaris which grows on leaf litter.  These two species are white-capped but other species with pink, orange and brown caps also exist.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Wild Plum Delicacy

My good friend Wayne Buck who operates Nith River Native Plants gave me a gift a few weeks back; a jar of Wild Plum (Prunus americana) jam.  I just cracked it open this morning and it is fantastic.

The photo below, taken on the Cambridge-to-Paris Rail Trail south of Glen Morris shows the typical glacous coating on the ripe fruits.  Lacking fruits I find it's easiest to identify this species by the leaves although it could be confused with a young Sweet Cherry (Prunus avium) - a non-native species that's fairly common on the landscape.  Mature Sweet Cherry have distinct bark with lateral 'lines' and grow to be trees much larger than Wild Plum.  A couple of differences which Michigan Flora notes: P. avium (sweet fruit, calyx lobes entire, leaves retain some pubescence especially along midrib beneath, glands on petiole near summit) P. americana (sour fruit, calyx lobes glandular toothed, leaves more or less glabrous beneath, glands on base of leaves rather then on petiole).  Wild Plum tends to grow on mesic soils in woodlands, forest edges, hedgerows, thickets, right-of-ways.