Sunday, June 21, 2015

Georgian Bay Snakes and Sedges!

I attended a herpetofauna workshop on Beausoleil Island (Georgian Bay) last weekend and had a blast.  Over the 3 days on the island, 2 involved a substantial amount of rainfall but what can you do?  Anyways, here are a bunch of photos to recap the trip.

Lot's of Eastern Massasauga among the rock barrens, this was the first of the weekend.  The haze on the eyes indicates that this one will soon shed it's skin.

A scan of the rocky islands often yielded good numbers of Map Turtles basking.

Common Mergansers, I didn't spot a tonne of waterfowl over the course of the weekend but it was nice to hear the recurring call of Black-throated Greens for hours on end.

A solitary female Little Brown Myotis was spotted in direct sunlight on the rocks, handled here by an MNRF bat biologist this one showed mild signs of wear on the base of the wings which is caused by white nose syndrome.

A favourite of many, Hog-nosed Snake.  This one flared it's neck out but didn't go all out with the 'play dead' display that the species is known to do to keep predators at bay.

This Foxsnake was spotted twice over the course of the weekend, unique as a reult of several scars and markings on it's body.

I bid my beloved (holed-filled and slick soled) hiking boots one last hurray wading chest deep into this lily pad marsh in search of Musk Turtles.

And yes, they live up to the name Musk Turtle or Stinkpot, hooo-wee.

In addition to Northern Leopard Frog, there were Wood Frog, Spring Peeper and American Bullfrog calling.

A nice spot to look for Blanding's Turtle.

This female opted for laying her eggs on the shoreline, check out that leech!

Ring-necked Snake was found taking shelter beneath a well-placed piece of sheet metal on a rock outcrop.

Red-backed Salamanders could be found beneath many of the rocks and logs throughout the deciduous forests and mixed swamps.

And just as my weekend started with a Massasauga, I spotted this one coiled up among a thicket of Leatherleaf during a rainstorm.

The skies were abuzz with Common Baskettail, at times maybe 20-30 swarming above my head (picking off some of the abundant mosquitoes).

Chalk-fronted Corporal

The exuviae of one of the recently transformed dragonflies, some were quite sluggish, pale and had likely 'hatched' hours or minutes before.

AGreen Rose Chafer beetle (Cetonia aurata) foraginf on Spirea
 Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule).  These were actually quite abundant and at the peak of their bloom.

Wavy Hairgrass (Deschampsia flexulosa) is common on the barrens.

I did well to keep my mind focused on herps, but the flora of the granitic barrens called out and on the last day of the course I spent my 10 minute lunch botanizing an area at the north end of the island while the group chatted away.  I got razzed upon my return, but as it turns out, I came up with a couple of really great sedges.

The first, Clustered Sedge (Carex cumulata) is regionally rare for the Frontenac Axis region.  Each time I delve into the Ovales group the trusty microscope makes things much much easier in working through keys.

 A few clumps of the more-familiar Inland Sedge (Carex interior)

This sedge stuck out, something about the drooping nature of it and the form of the lighter-coloured spikes ...

It wasn't until I was back home looking in closer detail that I confirmed it to be Emmons' Sedge (Carex albicans var. emmonsii)!  This species is ranked an S2 with only 2 or 3 records for the Georgian Bay area.  What a great spot!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Ellice Swamp, Perth County

I had a tip off last year about a rare species of fern growing in Ellice Swamp.  Ellice Swamp (along with Gad's Hill Swamp) exist as a massive wetland feature just north of Stratford; in fact, Ellice Swamp is nearly the size of Stratford!  It used to be known as the Ellice Huckleberry Swamp as this shrub was historically (but suspected to be no longer) present.  A large portion of the site is owned by the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority with the Grand River Conservation Authority managing a portion of the northern extent.

I was only able to stop in briefly on my way back from Goderich (last post), but certainly hope to go back again.  If you can brave the bugs and the tangles of shrub thicket, there are goodies to be had.

Walking along a trail which bisects nearly right through the middle of the swamp, I could feel my feet bouncing on the deep organic soils with every step.  Common fern species like Marsh Fern (Thelypteris palustris), Spinulose Wood Fern (Dryopteris carthusiana), Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) and Cinnamon Fern (Osmundastrum cinnamomeum), pictured below, could be found here and there along the trail.

A bog indicator, Few-seeded Sedge (Carex oligosperma) grows along the snowmobile trail, particularly in the disturbed and wet rut areas.

And there it was, a small patch maybe 1x3m in size,  Massachusetts Fern (Thelypteris simulata), a very rare species, ranked S1 provincially and known only from a few locations in Ontario and Quebec.  It is more common through the northeast U.S., check out this range map.  This population was discovered by Mike Oldham.  This species is best distinguished from Marsh Fern by the venation on the pinules which extends, unbranched right to the margin of the pinule.

When sori appear, the edges of the pinules do not curl around as Marsh Fern does.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

G'day Maitland River

A group of us visited the lower Maitland River yesterday for a Field Botanists of Ontario trip led by Mike Oldham and Tom Lobb.  The site we went to, Morris Tract Provincial Nature Reserve, which is owned by the NCC but managed by Ontario Parks, is just east of Goderich.  The property is a good mix of rich deciduous forest, ravines, flooplain forest, limestone cliffs and riverbank habitat.

Two notable recent disturbances the area has endured, the dying off of large swaths of Bitternut Hickory from the Hickory Bark Beetle and the scars left on the landscape from the 2011 tornado that passed through (check out the blowdown/deadfall disaster on the far bank, and I thought making a pass through a buckthorn thicket was bad!).

Down in the floodplain forests, the groundcover included patches ofCanada Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum canadense).

Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) was also present throughout the bottomlands.  You can see the small seed cup structures poking up through the foliage.

The grass in the front is Black-fruited Mountain Rice (Patis racemosa).  This species can be differentiated from White-fruited Mountain Rice (Oryzopsis asperifolia) by it's broader leaves, more robust growth (White-grained leaves are essentially basal with fruiting stems above).

The other Wild Licorice (Galium circaezans), not the old record of (Glycyrrhiza lepidota) I was searching for a couple of weeks back.

A non-native cherry that was new to me Mahaleb Cherry (Prunus mahaleb).  The leaves resemble a birch more than the typical native cherry species we tend to come across.  Apparently this species is expanding it's range and is becoming more common locally.

Among the Reed Canary Grass banks of the river a few stems of Giant St. Johns-wort (Hypericum ascyron) were spotted.  This species is listed as an S3?, so relatively uncommon.  I had only seen it once before along the Grand south of Glen Morris.

There was a good assortment of butterflies present yesterday, this Hobomok Skipper stopped briefly for a photo.

Clinton's Wood Fern (Dryopteris clintoniana) which can be distinguished from Marginal Wood Fern (Dryopteris marginalis) by the location/arrangement of the sori on the underside of the leaves (central within the pinnule versus marginal).

Another rarity for the day, Green Dragon (Arisaema dracontium) which is closely related to the common Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum).

This exotic species, Germander Speedwell (Veronica chamaedrys) seemed to be doing quite well both in upland and lowland areas. 

Not much of a photo, but this slope is covered in Slender Satin Grass (Muhlenbergia tenuiflora).  Ranked provincially as S2 (5-20 occurrences in the province), this species seems to come up alot in background information reviews for work. 

Another shot of Slender Satin Grass,

I believe this is Orange Mycena (Mycena leaiana).

Just before lunch we saw a Bald Eagle fly down the river.  I've had worse vistas for lunch.

There was definitely alot of sedge ID'ing, I think the day list topped 25 species.  If you're on the sedge train then keep reading.  Andrew spotted this Smooth-sheath Sedge (Carex laevivaginata).  It closely resembles Carex stipata which has shorter perigynia and thin, wrinkled leaf sheaths (versus smooth).

Drooping Sedge (Carex prasina) was found growing along a stream in the bottom of a ravine.  This sedge is in the same section as C. gracillima, C. arctata, C. formosa, all of which seem to have fairly stark differences which lend themselves to a quick ID. 

For comparison, Handsome Sedge (Carex formosa) was also present, largely along trails in the upland portions of the site.  A similar form to C. prasina but the perigynia appear more rounded or inflated.

Wooly Sedge (Carex pellita) growing along the sunny banks of the Maitland.  The perigynia are quite hairy.  C. lasiocarpa is similar but prefers deeper water, has narrower leaves, and tends to be more of a bog/fen species rather than swales and riverbanks.

 Hitchcock's Sedge (Carex hitchcockiana), named in honour of botanist Edward Hitchcock.  The best way to tell Hitchcock's from C. oligocarpa is to examine the leaf sheaths, they are hispidous in Hitchcock's and glabrous in oligocarpa.

Still working on that hand-modelling career.  We also came across a nice patch of Wood's Sedge (Carex woodii).  I find it easy to narrow down to this species based on the elongated male/pistillate spike (the part at the top), the rich woods habitat and the clonal, whispy, slender leaves.
Given the diversity of rare or less common sedges here, I think I might have to pack lunch, dinner and some resources and spend a day working through some keys (and swattin' skitters).