Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Getting the Goods on the Grand

On Sunday Alyssa and I took a trip down the Grand River, after Saturday's FBO trip to Arkona I was eager to spend another sunny day out and about.

Floodplains are starting to burst into bloom; an exciting time following a winter of twig ID!

This mammoth Snapping Turtle was basking on near the edge of the river.  I would estimate it's shell measured about 60cm end to end with massive spines visible on it's tail.

Some seeps and sloughs are bright with Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), not yet at it's peak in these parts.

This was the first weekend I saw Red Trillium (Trillium erectum) in bloom.  It's foul-smelling flowers attract carrion flies which help to pollinate the flowers.

White Trout-lily (Erythronium albidum) is generally an indicator of good floodplain habitat.  In comparison to Yellow Trout-lily (E. americanum) I find it has broader, more teal (versus green), pale-looking leaves.  On Saturday I learned that one way to differentiate the two (from pressed herbarium specimens which lack petal colour) is to examine the stamen lengths.  My field notes are at work but I believe it was White has longer stamens than Yellow.

This has got to be the nicest Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Anemone acutiloba) I've ever seen.  What a beauty, and right next to it were pink, mauve and white versions.

Cut-leaved Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata), which used to be of the genus Dentaria, presumably referring to the toothy leaves is a member of the mustard family.  It is a host plant for West Virginia White butterflies and it's tubers were a food source for the Passenger Pigeon.

One highlight just off the river was an abundance of Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla).  After flowering, the seed pods form as an upright cup with a lid which eventually pops open releasing the spherical brown seeds.

Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) is hard to miss when in flower, most of the shrub is covered in these fluorescent.  It can occur sporadically in a forest or swamp shrub layer, or can form dense thickets, usually in swamps which have amply saturated soils.  I recall trying to navigate the Tanager Tract in West Elgin a few years back and begging for Spicebush mercy when I found myself deep in the middle of a never-ending thicket rife with mosquitoes and at the onset of thunderstorms.

Still a little early for the mauve-blue of Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata) (on the left).

I was very happy to find Harbinger of Spring (Erigenia bulbosa); it hadn't been documented in Brant County before.  My search was challenged by an abundance of Wild Cicely (Myrrhis odorata), pictured to the left here for comparison.  Harbinger has redder stems, smooth stems (not hairy like Cicely) and the leaves are less-finely divided. 

After the trip the previous day where Tony had pointed out Carey's Sedge (Carex careyana), I put my search image to the test and came up with a sizable population.

I enjoy submitting my butterfly observations to ebutterfly and like to append photos when I can.  I finally found an Eastern Comma willing to stay still long enough to get a shot.

Being introduced to Wavy-rayed Lampmussels by my co-worker a couple of weeks back I'm now paying more attention to the shells I find on riverbanks, here's another Wavy-rayed.

On the way home we stopped at a favourite Region-owned forest to check for basking turtles.  The photo below are all Midland Painted, I'm not so sure about the one in the centre though, the shell looks a little domed.

And over on another log, a couple of domed shells which I can confirm to be Blanding's Turtles by the bright yellow chins. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

FBO Ausable River Trip

Today I found myself in the Arkona-Parkhill area for the first Field Botanists of Ontario trip of 2016.  Our guide for the day, Tony Reznicek didn't disappoint with a few "life list" species ticked off the list and an overall great day out.

After meeting at Fossil Road near Arkona, the group carpooled to Joany's Woods where we explored an area of floodplain forest and spring ephemeral-rich slopes.  The fresh smell of onion was on the air as we passed through areas dense with a groundcover of Wild Garlic (Allium canadense).  Both White Trout Lily (Erythronia albidum) and Yellow Trout Lily (E. americanum) soon unfulred their petals as the temperature rose by mid-morning.  We later moved on to the Parkhill Conservation Area for lunch and a hike deep down into the ravine system.

A few less common species on the day included Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria).  This species resembles Squirrel-corn (D. canadensis) which has flowers with more rounded 'spurs' and has rounded yellow bulblets.  The bulblets of Dutchman's Breeches are flattened and pink-coloured.

The spring leaves of Canada Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum canadense) don't resemble the leaves which you would see in the summer/fall which lack the spotting and become overall 'sharper' looking leaves with shallower lobes.

Yellow Trout Lily was abundant and a favourite nectar plant for the bees right now.

Giant Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum), otherwise known as Early Blue Cohosh differs from C. thalictroides in that it emerges earlier and flowers almost immediately as it emerges, has purple (versus yellowish) flowers, and has longer styles than C. thalictroides.  Tony explained that the blue fruits that we see on plants in the fall and into the spring are not fruits per se but more seeds which form as the pollenated ovule grows so rapidly it ruptures the ovary wall and forms as a naked seed.  So they are gymnosperms (naked seeds) as are pines and spruces, weird.

While the spring ephemeral showing had everyone's attention, some plants have yet to show any sign of greening up; this is last year's stem of Tall Bellflower (Campanulastrum americanum).  The Oldham 1993 list for Middlesex County notes this to be "R2" rare.  I had only ever seen it before at Point Pelee.

This Spring Azure had just got out of bed, still working the kinks out.

While it's early, a few sedges were ID'd including Long-stalked Sedge (Carex pedunculata) with it's reddish basal leaf sheaths.  

This species has elongated peduncles (the stem the fruit hangs off of) which differentiates it from Pennsylvania Sedge (C. pensylvanica).

Wood's Sedge (C. woodii) is a fairly common sedge in Middlesex County, it can be found in loose clumps in rich Maple-Beech forests.

The staminate spike of Pennsylvania Sedge (the elongated part at right in the photo) is tighter against the pistillate spikes below it.  There is a larger space seen in the photo of Wood's Sedge above.  Pennsylvania sedge of then forms colonies via rhizomes and is a common sedge throughout many parts of Southern Ontario.

Plantain-leaved Sedge (C. plantaginea) is one of my favourites, and about 9 have now been worked into my backyard landscaping.  It has evergreen leaves which maintain their colour through the winter and give way to several to many flowering stems (culms).

The highlight sedge of the day was certainly the Carey's Sedge (C. careyana) growing at mid to lower slope elevations deep in the stream valleys.  This species is listed as S2 - Imperiled in Ontario.

The reddish base of the broad leaves is diagnostic.  It could be confused with White Bear Sedge (C. albursina) or Plantain-leaved Sedge.

The broader leaves of Carolina Spring Beauty (Claytonia caroliniana) differentiate it from Virginia Spring Beauty (C. virginica).  As with many spring wildflowers, the petal colour can be variable, for this genus ranging from white to purple to pink.

The leaves of Leatherwood (Dirca palustris) are beginning to emerge.  This stout shrub (usually about waist-high) can be found singly or in small populations in rich forests. 

Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) is always a good indicator that you're into something good and it was everywhere at the Parkhill Conservation Area.
 Finally some Early Meadow-rue (Thalictrum dioidum) in bloom.  The small flowers resemble chandeliers.

But what is better than Early Meadow-rue?  False-rue Anemone (Enemion biternatum)!  This small wildflower grows in small patches in rich floodplain forests.  It is listed as Threatened in Ontario and was the lifer for the day for me.  Tony mentioned that he is on a quest to find Snow Trillium (Trillium nivale) here in the Ausable River valley and from populations he knows of (out of province - it has yet to be found here in Ontario), the species prefers calcareous sites and is often associated with False-rue Anemone.  This species is known from maybe 15-20 sites in Ontario, about half of them occurring in close proximity in this river valley.
American Fly Honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis) was in bloom at the crest of a ridge.  Glaucous Honeysuckle (L. dioica was fairly abundant here and there with it's bluish-purple leaves on spindly stems).

The ant-pollinated flowers of Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) have begun to bloom.

 According to my scoreboard, Harbinger-of-spring (Erigenia bulbosa) is no more a lowland/floodplain forest plant than it is a plant of rich upland forests.  I have yet to see a pattern in what habitat it can be found in, other than a good one.

A few steps away I was pleased to find a patch of Dwarf Ginseng (Panax trifolius) which I know better from swampy hummocks of wetlands on the shield.

The last species Tony wanted to show us today was Purple Cress (Cardamine douglasii) which grows at the edges of a series of shallow wet pools in a young forest.  In a matter of days it's petals will fall making it next to impossible to spot among the Leeks, Trilliums, Bloodroot, Toothworts and Sedges that blanket the forest floor.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Show me your mussels!

This morning I took a trip down Brantford way to check out a Smooth Brome (Bromus inermis) meadow beneath some power lines (it gets better).  The area is near the Grand River and one of my favourite spots to botanize; a trip to the opposite bank on Sunday did not yield the Harbinger-of-spring I had hoped, but nevertheless a hike in these parts is always worthwhile.

My co-worker Gina is very good with her mussel identification, she's a mussel-head (is that a thing?).  Anyways, while I had been paying close attention to the Smooth Brome meadow, Gina came up with some interesting finds from the mollusc world.

This is a Wavy-rayed Lampmussel (Lampsilis fasciola); they are listed provincially as a Threatened/S1 - Critically Imperiled species and prefer riffle habitats of clear-flowing rivers with sandy or gravelly bottoms.  Given their habitat preference, they are negatively affected by pollution and siltation of rivers.  In their larval stage they are parasitic on Small-mouthed and Large-mouthed Bass, feeding off of them for a period before dropping off to fend for themselves eating algae and bacteria, yum!

Another find, Creeper (Strophitus undulatus) is a common species, also known as Sloughfoot and Strange Floater.

Elktoe (Alasmidonta marginata) is a Species of Conservation Concern (ranked S3 - Vulnerable provincially).  Mussels can be long-lived, many living 20-30 years and some for over a century!  There's a learning curve for identifying them for sure, but I'll have to pay a bit more attention to the shells I find littering gravelly bars.

Monday, April 11, 2016

2016 Tallgrass Ontario AGM: Ojibway Prairie

I've been helping to organize the Tallgrass Ontario Annual General Meeting over the last couple of months.  It will be held on June 25 at the Ojibway Nature Centre in Windsor.  While the AGM is free to members of Tallgrass Ontario, non-members are welcome to attend for a small fee to help cover catering/event costs.  If you're interested in attending just let me know.

The day will start with the typical AGM items, a couple of short presentations and a catered lunch.  After lunch we'll head out for a hike-tour of the good stuff!

I found an old USB in my desk today and came across some photos I took from the Ojibway Prairie Complex in August 2012.  While the month of June has it's limitations in terms of not quite being at 'full effect' bloom period in a southern Ontario prairie, this place always delivers somethig for the naturalist crowd.

The recurved leaves of Riddell's Goldenrod (Solidago riddellii) peel back from the stem making this goldenrod easy to spot even in the absence of flowers.  

Some moist, sandy areas of the prairie contain the rare Colicroot (Aletris farinosa).  This species is threatened both provincially and nationally.  It's basal leaves look kind of like a bromeliad (it's actually a member of the Lily family) with one or several flowering stalks extending to about knee to waist-height.  It is found in a handful of locations in Windsor as well as other parts of the Carolinian Zone.

Another, albeit much taller plant, with white spikes, Culver's Root (Veronicastrum virginicum).  I've always thought of the flowers as resembling Russian church spires, kind of like St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow.

While out and about I often come across Tall Hairy Agrimony (Agrimonia gryposepala).  In Windsor, Many-flowered Agrimony (Agrimonia parviflora) with it's narrower and sharper-looking leaves is rather common.

I lack any moth ID resources, but from what I can find online this is an Orange-striped Oakworm (Anisota senatoria), feeding on Tick-trefoil (it's host plant is predominantly oak trees).  The similar-looking Hornless Oakworm (A. finlaysonii) is known from a location near Shannonville.

Some areas of the Complex have dense stands of Dense Blazingstar (Liatris spicata).  Insects love it, deer love it, photographers love it. 

The petals of Michigan Lily (Lilium michiganense) nearly connect at the base of the flower.  The flower of Wood Lily (L. philadelphicum) is 'lava red' and has more of a conical form with the petals more straight out.  Ontario has one other (very rare) native lily, Canada Lily (L. canadense) which is known from Niagara I believe; one for the wish list.

Gray-headed Coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) adds to the yellow of Coreposis, Rudbeckia, Helianthus and Solidago.  The dried seed heads emit an anise scent when crushed.

If you rack your eyes to spot a dense stem of ascending leaves you might stumble across Tall Green Milkweed (Asclepias hirtella).  There are a handful of plants in the Ojibway Complex.  I posted some photos of a flowering plant back in October

The False Foxgloves (all 3) are currently being assessed by COSEWIC.  With the abundance of Black Oak savannah present, Smooth False Foxglove (Aureolaria flava) can be found growing within the root zone of it's host oak. 

Flowering Spurge (Euphorbia corrolata), one of the 'good' spurges.  It's dainty white flowers can almost be overlooked at first glance (no surprise when surrounded by a blazing palette of  purple, yellow, orange, pink...)

I've always liked this photo not for the Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus) in the foreground, but for the black marking on the base of the oak brought about by a recent prescribed burn.  

Tall Coreopsis (Coreopsis tripteris) is reeeeaaally tall.  Maybe not as tall as some of the towering Silphium species (2 of which are present in the area), but still one of the taller herbaceous plants on the landscape.

And it can be hard to pick up on everything the first time around.  With your eyes to the sky, shin-high plants like this Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) are tough to spot.  When not in bloom, this species jumps out about as much as a couple of blades of grass!