Sunday, September 27, 2015

My Kind of Friday Night!

Friday evening I found myself driving down Hamilton-way to complete some salamander surveys for work.  Having walked the site dozens of times this summer I have got to know the post-spring ephemeral ground cover fairly well, the odd Spinulose Wood Fern, patches of Clearweed, dead Garlic mustard stems, a few patches of sedges, but for the most part detritus and deadfall.  So upon seeing a fern that looked a bit different, the lowest pinnae pointing downward, I was quite happy to spend a moment looking it over.

I've seen Northern Beech-fern (Phegopteris connectilis) plenty of times in the Sault Ste. Marie area and other shield locations.  This fern was different, 'frillier', among other things.  I remembered working through keys awhile back and noting that one of the distinguishing features of the rare Broad Beech-fern (Phegopteris hexagonoptera) was the wing on the rachis between the lower pinnae (see the second photo, a rachis is the stem' and pinnae are essentially the 'leaflets' coming off the stem).  What I recalled was that the lower pinnae in 'connectilis' wasn't actually connected, and hexagonoptera was; I mean both have connected pinnae along the rachis but I seem to have embedded this in my head as a memory hook.

Anyways, my Friday night got a bit more interesting looking down at a patch of about 7 Broad Beech-fern, about 25 fronds in total.  This species is listed a Special Concern and S3 (20-100 occurrences) in Ontario.  Looking at my copy of the Atlas of Rare Vascular Plants of Ontario (Argus and White 1982) I see the species has a distribution essentially from Essex County to Niagara as well as a concentration in the Kingston/Thousand Islands area.

Another distinguishing feature is the glabrous (or nearly-so) stem.  Northern Beech-fern has hairs and scales on the stem. 

A shot of the habitat, lower slopes deep in the Dundas Valley with a canopy of Sugar Maple, American Beech with occasional Red Oak and White Ash.  There is a small groundwater seepage nearby.

I first spotted the fern on Friday and the Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) had not yet begun to bloom.  Alas, today the interesting gangly yellow flowers were out in profusion, a nice sight at a location where there are many of these shrubs in the understory at the high elevations.

Still plenty of Eastern Red-back's out and about, I like these quick little guys.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Hiking Algonquin: Highland Trail

Before making our way to Ottawa, last week's vacation started with a trip to Algonquin Provincial Park to hike the 35km Highland Trail loop (there is also a shorter 19km loop).  In 2012 we canoed Massasauga PP, and Killarney in 2014, and I love covering ground in a canoe, but this year I convinced Alyssa that something more terrestrial was in order.  With our packs loaded up, and fuelled by lunch at 3 Guys and a Stove/Kawartha Dairy in Huntsville, we reached our campsite on Provoking Lake by Monday evening.

Here's me in the pines with Mew Lake in the background.

There were a few neat plants along the trails including a few patches of Spikenard (Aralia racemosa) in fruit.

Indian Cucumber (Medeola virginiana) was actually fairly common.  I don't see this alot, or at least in such profusion around Waterloo.

This small patch of Ground-cedar (Diphasiastrum digitatum) was the only one I encountered on the whole loop.  The foliage of this plant contains toxic alkaloids which make it unpalatable to herbivores.  Dense colonies of this species, as well as club mosses can provide favourable habitat for ground-nesting birds like Nashville Warbler.

Hobblebush (Viburnum lantanoides) is very common throughout the deciduous and mixed forests.

Trailing Arbutus (Epigaea repens) along the trail on our way to Head Lake.  The genus comes from the Greek for 'upon the ground'.

The entire hike is probably 95% treed habitat, so when I got to the first marsh I dropped my pack and went exploring.  Moose tracks along a wet sandy shoreline led me to a patch of Michaux's Sedge (Carex michauxiana), I'd chalk this up as my botanical highlight for the trip.

Identifying wetland sedges in September isn't always the easiest, it's kind of like grabbing at scraps, but some were still in good shape like this Inflated Sedge (Carex vesicaria).

I noticed this insect, I think it's a Bee Fly (Bombylius sp.) but I could be mistaken, any ideas?

Creeping Snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula) which is similar to the plant in the second photo, Patridge Berry (Mitchella repens).  The Partridge Berry in the photo lacks some of the traits I would expect, namely the lighter coloured venation and slightly spade-shaped leaves but I am fairly sure that's what I'm looking at.

Some rustling in a dense stand of conifers flushed out this male Spruce Grouse.

I don't know what the American Toads are feeding on up there but I saw mammoths and lots of 'em!

We had some fresh signs of Black Bear and Moose, I pulled these hairs off a spruce branch in a well-used Moose trail.  Despite fatigue after putting in about 15km on day 2, Alyssa didn't believe me when I told her they were from a Samsquanch.

Unable to sit still and rest on our lunch break I slogged through the nearby marsh and found the remains of a gentian, Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinita) would be my guess.

This Gold-thread (Coptis trifolia) caught my eye in the sunlight.  It's roots are a vibrant yellow-gold colour.

At night I fell asleep to the sounds of Common Loon and Barred Owl.  It doesn't get much better than sitting by a campfire, post Labour Day (ie reeeaally quiet, we didn't see a single person on the trail on day 2!) and just listening.

The fungal diversity kept things colourful along the way.  I'm by no means up on my mushroom ID.

I believe this is Golden Spindles (Clavulinopsis fusiformis).

 An Inky Cap (Coprinellus sp.)

A couple of coral fungi (Clavulina sp.)


The interesting Hemlock Varnish Shelf fungi (Ganoderma tsugae)...growing on a fallen Eatsern Hemlock.

Bear's Head Tooth Fungus (Hericium americanum)...a small portion of which may have met some oil and salt in a pan over a Whisperlite stove.

Getting back to those Stiff Goldenrod that I had mentioned a couple of posts back.  I made an effort to stop on my way out of the park and do some reconnaissance.  I found the plastic mesh remains of straw blankets worked into the soil, and in my opinion an unusual-looking monoculture of goldenrod (Solidago rigida, S. juncea and S. nemoralis).  No other rare species that I could see but a few tufts of Indian Grass I would likely attribute to being 'in the mix' also.  I've seen prairie associates like Indian Grass and Cord Grass growing along the rocky shore of the Ottawa River near Pembroke but the Indian Grass at the east gate seems a bit suspect given the circumstances.

There she be.

A shot of the basal leaves.

And with that we were off to get our fill of traditional Polish cuisine at the Wilno Tavern just east of Barry's Bay.  Fried sauerkraut and pierogies the size of baseballs, enough said.  The babushka in the photo is Alyssa hobbling not from the large meal but from the essentially 2 day 35km hike.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

A visit to Mer Bleue

I was on vacation this past week and following a few days of camping in Algonquin PP, I made my way to Ottawa to visit my sister.  A few Ottawa-area destinations were on the agenda including a visit to the National Gallery of Canada, a stop to eat my annual ration of Beavertails pastry- "The Quebeรงoise" soaked in maple butter, and a walk on the Mer Bleue boardwalk, a spot I've long wanted to see.

At over 33 square kilometers in area, this conservation area is massive, and a real gem in such close proximity to Ottawa.  The highlight is the large peatbog dominated by Leatherleaf, Black Spurce, Tamarack, Cottongrass and other typical acid-loving bog species.  The boardwalk itself is rather short, 1.2km I believe, but just long enough to give visitors an appreciation for this ecosystem.  I was a little surprised that the first interpretive sign I encountered touted peatlands as the largest untapped energy source and an alternative to fossil fuels.  Fortunately the signage to follow spoke to the local significance of this feature and the role that peatlands and wetlands in general play in biodiversity on a larger scale.

This photo shows a portion of the boardwalk, it's interesting moving from the treed upland sand ridge, down into cattail marsh, then on to a low shrub community, then through portion of treed bog.  While I didn't come up with much in the way of wildlife on this short visit, you can certainly understand why Mer Bleue is a hotspot for birds and butterflies.

The whitish underside of the deeply-veined Bebb's Willow (Salix bebbiana) leaves.

This young Midland Painted Turtle was happy to bask alongside the boardwalk. 

Unfortunately among the cattails, European Frog's-bit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae) is abundant in some areas, I grabbed a big mitt full of the stuff, it quite literally clogs waterways.  A little bit of reading up on this species and would you look at that:

"In 1932 the plant was brought from Europe to the Central Experimental Farm in Ottawa for possible commercial use as an ornamental plant. In 1939 it was found in the Rideau Canal. Since then it has spread to several rivers, Lake Ontario, Lake Erie and other inland waters." Ontario's Invading Species Awareness Program

A nice view of some fruiting Highbush Cranberry (Viburnum trilobum) on the way out of the wetland.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

More Eastern Ontario Adventures

Earlier this week I had the opportunity to return to eastern Ontario.  It was a good week with the leaves beginning to change colour, a few good wildlife sightings, and a whole lotta bushwacking. 

Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis) was growing at the edge of a few beaver meadows.  The less showy Indian Tobacco (Lobelia inflata) is common along the ATV trails and Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica) is also present in wetlands occasionally.

Having lunch (you might guess from where), I spotted a small piece of snake skin poking out from the crack in this boulder.  Gently pulling it out to have a look I got ore than I bargained for.  I need to get confirmation on the species, I'm thinking Northern Watersnake although it wasn't exactly near open water or shoreline habitat.

Nathan spotted a couple of Bronze Copper.  Plants of the Polygonaceae family are hosts for the caterpillars of this species.  

I had never actully seen a Leonard's Skipper before this week.  While taking this picture we heard rustling on the opposite side of an open water marsh which was possibly a Black Bear (lots of tracks but the only one we did see was just north of Gravenhurst on our way home).

 Nearby, Purple False Foxglove (Agalinis purpurea) was growing along a sandy shoreline.

 Seemingly endless networks of marshes, swamps and fens.

And how 'bout that?  Nathan's first rock flip of the day yielded this small Five-lined Skink.

Doing some 90km/hr botany along Highway 60 on the drive back, it looks like Stiff Goldenrod (Solidago rigida), a provincially rare species, is doing well along the roadsides in Algonquin PP.  I have a bit of a beef with rare species being made widely available in seed mixes which are then broadcast in natural or semi-natural settings.  The seed progeny is quite possibly from somewhere in the States (or beyond), and these mixes get planted in all sorts of stormwater ponds and highway right of way throughout the province.  I don't know, I fear the day when planted/anthropogenic populations may dilute the credibility of natural ones.