Monday, August 24, 2015

Renfrew Rambles

A couple of weeks back I had the chance to do some work in Renfrew County.  Despite some demanding terrain I had a great time and with the exception of a bat acoustic survey on a sand bar one night, the mosquitoes were non-existent.

Here are  a few photos from the trip.

Fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium) is a common sight along roadsides on the Shield.  This species frequently pops up following forest fires and can sprout from the ashes and bloom in profusion just several months after a fire event.

There were plenty of marshes to explore.  After clambering among deadfall and squinting my way through dense, pokey Black Spruce understorey, these provided a welcome refuge, proved to be biodiversity hotspots, and were sought out as the preferred lunch destinations.

Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa), otherwise known as Hardhack.  In comparison with Narrow-leaved Meadowsweet (S. alba) the leaves are tough like leather, hairy and the flowers can range from light to deep pink rather than white.

The lagg (the term for the watery 'moat' surrounding a floating peat mat) stopped me this time.  Given the choice of confirming the species of Cottongrass way out there at the risk of becoming a bog body and settling for "Eriophorum sp.", I took the latter option in this case.

My favourite upland find for the week was a few clumps of seen-better-days Rusty Woodsia (Woodsia ilvensis) growing on a rock barren among an open canopy of stunted Red Oak and alongside Tufted Hairgrass and Poverty Oat Grass, an (although locally fairly widespread) habitat.

These openings made for some nice vistas.

Fragrant White Pond Lily (Nymphaea odorata).

Common along roadsides and hydrocuts, the pale blooms of Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) are persistent long after they have been picked or a frost.  From what I can gather, both the genus and species epithet translate to 'of pearls', kind of like 'pearl of pearls'.

Rugged Goldenrod (Solidago squarrosa) is best identified by the recurved phyllaries (the small bracts or scales) below the petals.  Interestingly, this goldenrod has a bit of an eastern seaboard distribution, check it out.

Beaver dams giveth wetland and beaver dams taketh away wetland (or at least created a massive drawdown effect on this peatland when the levee broke.

Larger Canada St. John's Wort (Hypericum majus) seems to well on desiccated organics, there were acres of it.

A weedy species that turned the table on Eurasian weeds and has become well-established in Europe, a different Fireweed (Erechtites hieraciifolius). 

Nodding Beggar-ticks (Bidens cernua).  For what seemed like a desert when I approached, this drawdown area, the anti-beaver meadow had a decent assemblage of wetland herbs.

Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera intermedia).  If you get down poking around in the Sphagnum you can sometimes find hundreds of these per square meter.

White Beaked-rush (Rhyncospora alba).  

Finally got a good look at one, Virginia Cottongrass (Eriophorum virginicum).  Standing among a few thousand of these swaying in the wind I declared a suitable lunch break spot...

...on top of an abandoned beaver lodge which had a new tennant.

A stand of Wire Sedge (Carex lasiocarpa), a species which dominated a number of fen mats and made for much easier walking than the mine-field that is a Tussock Sedge (C. stricta) marsh.

4 Snapping Turtles on the week, some of which were still snapping.

Rattlensake Manna Grass (Glyceria canadensis)

Perfect timing for Bog Goldenrod (Solidago uliginosa).

Orange-belted or Tri-coloured Bumblebee (Bombus ternarius).  These might have been the most abundant bee for the week and made for some slow wading through forb-dominant marshes like the one in the photo below.  The buzz of the bees almost drowned out the sound of Billy Bob's 12-gauge in a nearby gravel pit!

I had never seen Houghton's Cyperus (Cyperus houghtonii) before, but that's what I keyed this out to be, S3 to boot!  It was growing at the bottom of a sandy borrow pit plenty disturbed by the rippin' and tearin' of ATVs.

 An American Lady on Boneset.

Purple-stemmed Aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum). 

Bird sightings included stumbling upon an Osprey with a half-eaten duck, Common Loons during evening paddles and a Ruby-throated Hummingbird playing chicken with my face.

Swamp Sparrow accompanied us in the marsh clearings.

This Eastern Phoebe taunted me with it's quick flights back and forth over the wetland lagg that I could not cross "Look what I can do!"

A curious Song Sparrow

And a shot of a female Wood Duck just before disappearing through a breach in a beaver dam.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tree-weavin' Scot's Pine for Prairie

Last Saturday I had the chance to visit an interesting site within the Rice Lake Plains in Northumberland County.  The property was recently acquired by the NCC and our goal for the day was to assemble a list of vascular flora for the property.  Given the presence of tallgrass prairie remnants in the area, we came across a few expected goodies as well as a few surprises.

The site is perhaps 1/4 Scot's Pine by area, but hopefully in due time some will be removed or fall victim to a prescribed burn.  I got my tree-weavin' on; shimmy, shoot the gap, find the prairie (see this video for an introduction to the concept of tree-weavin').  I would hazard a guess that 1/4 of the ground cover was Poison Ivy, a tricky species to work with when doing burns as the irritant properties of the plant are taken up in the smoke.  Anyways, a nice site with rolling hills, well-drained soils, and a mix of prairie, old field, plantation and successional poplar stands.

Cylindric Blazing Star (Liatris cylindracea) was in full bloom; Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) had, for the most part, gone to seed.

Gray Goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis), a species commonly found thriving among inhospitable gravelly substrates, adds a bit of yellow to the mix.

There were a dozen or so of the white form of Cylindric Blazing Star.

One of the highlights was Stiff Yellow Flax (Linum medium).  There are 10 species of flax known from Ontario with all 6 of the native species ranked as S3 or lower.

This Early Figwort (Scrophularia lanceolata) stuck out among the knee-high vegetation surrounding it.

Another highlight for the day, a south-facing slope was home to a good number of Prairie Buttercup (Ranunculus rhomboideus).

I wondered into the woods after lunch and found some Pipsissewa (Chimaphila umbellata) growing among some large pine.

Not much of a show-stopper, but the group was quite happy to turn up a patch of Frostweed (Crocanthemum bicknellii) which upon closer inspection of the small, exposed sandy area, was right beside a patch of Intermediate Pinweed (Lechea intermedia).

A single patch of Pinesap (Monotropa hypopithys) was noted, obtaining nutrients from the Scot's Pine above it.

Sky Blue Aster (Symphyotrichum oolentangiense) was beginning to bloom.  Similar to Arrow-leaved Aster (S. urophyllum) and Smooth Aster (S. laevis), this species is easily identified by its deeply cordate basal leaves.  Arrow-leaved tends to have notably 'winged' leaf petioles and an upswept, white inflorescence, while Smooth has glabrous leaves (though it shares the bluish-mauve colour of the petals of Sky Blue).  All can be found in prairies and drier habitats, sometimes all three at a single site.

The cream coloured blooms of Tall Cinquefoil (Drymocallis arguta).  It still stings to think of the flat of plugs I grew out for my campus prairie garden; one year they were planted (with signage no less!), the next year, weeded out by well-meaning undergrads.

 Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans) in bloom.

Afterwards, I made a trip over to the Red Cloud Cemetery, a site which was situated within tallgrass prairie which has been allowed to revert to a somewhat natural community (albeit with a few headstones).