Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Holy Smokies Part I

I just got back last night from my first trip to the Smoky Mountains; wow, what a spot!  In speaking with a friend last summer that has been a number of times I knew I had to experience the spring wildflowers at their peak.  I'm going through a tonne of photos but thought I'd share a few tonight.

Here's a view looking south over North Carolina from Newfound Gap.  After running a bit late trying to get to our first scheduled hike of the 65th annual Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage (realizing we had missed our meeting point in the central part of the park only when we had driven well into North Carolina), Alyssa and I spent the first day exploring on our own.  Newfound Gap is one of the higher elevations in the park making for significantly cooler temperatures.

The following days were spent at lower elevations among rich mature forests filled with all sorts of species new to me including 2 species of Rhododendron which you see growing in profusion along the banks of this stream.  The park has great Wood Turtle habitat and they are known to be present in stable numbers.

The trip was certainly plant-heavy, fuelled by the diverse greenery (which changed it's composition every hundred yards) and my co-worker and fellow field botanist Andrew who also came down for the trip.  I was hoping to see at least one of the 30 salamander species known from the park but came up empty handed (that's what you get searching leaf piles at seeps for a total of 10 generous minutes over the course of 3 days!).  Anyways, this Eastern Gartersnake was basking contently in the 20-28°C sun we had all week long.

One trail yielded a flurry of a dozen or so Eastern Tiger Swallowtail.  So much fun to have a bunch of these flitting around you as you walk along.

I spotted an interesting mix of bees, butterflies and moths all puddling together on some damp soil, busy spot.

At our rented cabin we had some interesting wildlife including this Azalea Sphinx moth (and a tonna of Stink Bugs - Tennessee apparently has a bit of an infestation).

A pair of Scarlet Tanagers sang and perched among the trees 25m off the porch, I've got to say I'm happy with this little point and shoot I've had for about a year now.  It was awesome having a beer or three on the balcony and each night we had a single Whip-poor-will calling down to the left and further out approximately 4-6 Chuck Will's-widow calling late into the night.  I've been listening to the call to take me right back to relaxing on that porch.

I got a decent shot of this Blue-headed Vireo

Silver-spotted Skipper

And this I swear had the makings of a West Virginia White, it flew off before I got a decent shot but from what I saw (and the endless carpets of toothwort - it's host plant), I think it may very well have been one.

Stay tuned for more updates from the Smokies as well as Mammoth Cave National Park in Kentucky!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Spring Ephemerals, Spring Peepers

I don't know if I've ever been so happy to see Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) as this year.  Such a refreshing spring ephemeral with it's varied blooms ranging from white to pink to mauve.  It's one of the first flowers to poke up through the leaf litter.  The genus Hepatica makes reference to the liver-shaped leaves.

May-apple (Podophyllum peltatum) is just beginning to emerge with a few starting to unfurl their leaves.

The few Spring-beauty (Claytonia virginica) I have seen this week were in bloom.  Michigan Flora distinguishes this species from Carolina Spring-beauty (C. caroliniana) by the breadth of the leaf (skinny, no petiole for C. virginica, more broad and with a petiole for C. caroliniana).
 Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum) dapple the forest floor with their bright lime green foliage.  The similar (and less common) A. burdickii lacks red bases on the leaves and has more elongated leaves.

An early Cut-leaved Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata), the toothworts are the host plant for the rare West Virginia White butterfly.

One of my favourite sedges, Plantain-leaved Sedge (Carex plantaginea) is in flower right now.  I purchased a few from a native plant sale last year and they have added a nice touch to my backyard (neighbours peer through window, "Harold, he's planting more weeds!").  Speaking of native plant sales, and if you weren't on the mailing list getting slammed with promo emails already, Carolinian Canada is hosting their Go Wild Grow Wild event at the Western Fair Agriplex on Saturday.  I'm planning to check it out, sounds like they've got a wide variety of events, vendors, talks.

Late yesterday I turned a corner walking a forest edge and was delighted to see a large expanse of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) in bloom.  I had seen others earlier in the week still 5-7 warm days before bloom; I think the south-facing bank of sandy Thedford soils had encouraged this population to get rolling early.

I didn't get a photo of the 2 Snapping Turtles mating out in the middle of this pond, but did manage to spot this biggun' basking contently along a stream.

And oh the herps!  Here we've got a Spotted Salamander egg mass.  Lots of Western Chorus Frog and Wood Frog masses, a limited number of Spring Peeper masses, all of these species calling in good numbers right now.  A dark blob hopping across a driveway last night turned out to be my first Green Frog on the year and American Toad was also calling at an irrigation pond.

 This Western Chorus Frog blends well with the leaf litter.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

First of year butterfly

I was tinkering in the garage 15 minutes ago and heard something flitting against the window.  To my pleasant surprise, a Milbert's Tortoiseshell and my first butterfly of the year!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Salamander Pandemonium!

The weather two nights ago was great for a couple of reasons.  The insane boom and flash lightning show, and the second rainy/warm night for amphibian movement (at least where I am).  Thursday night's rain made for a busy Friday at work.

While I lied in bed listening to the pounding of rain on the rooftop and thunder claps, these Spotted Salamander were trudging through the woods to their pond of choice.  These were counted up and returned to their pond, all 200 and something of them yesterday.

The Waterloo Region Record recently ran an article about Jefferson Salamander and stated in the opening paragraph "They aren't much to look at".  In a time when this happens, the comment kind of made me shake my head.  This one's a beauty.  

A few Eastern Red-backed Salamander which quickly scurried away into the leaf litter.

Any day now the ponds will be singing with Wood Frogs.

Nice to spot my first-of-the-year Eastern Gartersnake.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Chinese Hemlock-parsley

Last year I found myself in a White Cedar swamp along Doon Creek in Kitchener, the site was somewhat hummocky with groundwater seepage areas, but with a closed canopy and patchy herbaceous layer.  Every once in a while areas of Sensitive Fern, Beggars Ticks, Purple-stemmed Aster, Wild Sarsparilla, Swamp Goldenrod and Fowl Manna Grass kept things interesting.  The photo below shows the habitat; typical organic cedar swamp (real fun to traipse through with all the deadfall!).

 I was delighted to look down at one of these patches and spot Apiacea foliage (the carrot/parsley family).  These leaves were a little more delicate looking than Spotted Water-hemlock (Cicuta maculata) but not quite as dainty as Bulb-bearing Water-hemlock (Cicuta bulbifera).  I had seen Chinese Hemlock-parsley (Conioselinum chinense) at a cedar swamp at rare Charitable Research Reserve (approximately 5km south of this spot) a few years prior and sure enough that's what we had here. 

The species is listed as S2 provincially (5-20 occurrences), so I was excited to take lots of pictures of the basal leaves at my feet.  Oldham & Brinker (2009) list county occurrences as Brant, Waterloo, Wellington, Haldimand, Huron, Lambton, historical record from Middlesex and all the way up in Cochrane District.  So it's pretty widespread.

A few more steps and a few more mature plants.

This was in July so I didn't manage to find any in bloom.  The photo below shows a plant maybe 75cm in height and soon-to-bloom.  Overall I think there were about 50-60 plants.