Sunday, May 29, 2016

Feeling Carolinian

Last week I visited a spot in Lambton County I had never been to before.  After about 30 seconds I knew that I was in for a treat.  Up in the trees this pair of mating Giant Swallowtail butterflies caught my eye.  They flitted through the forest interlocked for some time and I later found some nice patches of one of their host plants, American Prickly-ash.

Even with my eyes on the ground, the Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) made it tough to spot the baby White-tailed Deer which hid among the forbs.

My co-worker Andrew spotted this white flowered Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum).  Typically the flowers are pink to mauve.  I had never seen a white bloom before.

The very broad leaves of White Bear Sedge (Carex albursina) paired with the whitish bases of the leaf sheaths make for easy identification.

On the other end of the spectrum, at least by name, Narrow-leaved Sedge (Carex grisea) was a new one for me.   Also known as Narrow-leaved Sedge, Carex amphibola is quite similar with differences lying in the cross-section shape and length:width ratio.

I'm early on this next sedge, Muskingum Sedge (Carex muskingumensis), but I think I can be confident in the ID at this stage based on the habitat (moist vernal pool depression in this case) and the long, pointed perigynia with the terminal spike having an 'elm-like' kink to it.  I'll have to check back later in the season to be sure.  I found Muskingum Sedge growing in LaSalle Woods last year at the Ojibway Bioblitz, photos (of mature fruits) are shown in the post here (about halfway down).

A shot of one of the plants in full.

After the two of us stared at this flower-less plant for a moment, it became apparent that we were looking at Purple Joe Pye Weed (Eutrochium purpureum), a rarity that resembles the more common Spotted Joe Pye Weed (E. maculatum) but grows in slightly drier and more shaded habitats.  The earlier typically has 3-4 leaves in a whorl on the stem whereas the latter has 4-5.

Always a good indicator that you're in nice habitat, Canada Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum canadense).

Good stuff indeed!

That afternoon I had to stop by a woodlot in Chatham-Kent for a few surveys.  I was impressed by the 'photosphere' effect my phone essentially shoot photos in every direction, and while the stitching is a bit blurred, you really get a cool 3D effect.  I was trying to do some of the large Sycamore and American Beech justice.  I think I saw one of the nicest American Beech I've ever seen, the thing was a flawless monster, perfect crown probably the largest tree in the woodlot, no signs of Beech Bark Disease and straight as an arrow.  I didn't have my DBH (diameter at breast height) measuring tape on me but I suspect it would be 120-130 cm DBH.

And as luck would have it, Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) was in bloom.  I've got to find a spot in the U.S. to try this edible delicacy, Ontario-cultivated fruits are hard to come by.  It has a mango-banana-citrus type taste.  If you're ever at the Ojibway Nature Centre in Windsor, there is a very large specimen growing beside the parking lot.

Friday, May 27, 2016

May Long Weekend in Georgian Bay

Last weekend Alyssa and I joined some friends in Georgian Bay for a weekend of camping.  Here are a few of my favourite shots from the 3 days of exploring.

Lance-leaved Violet (Viola lanceolata) was common among the cracks in the bedrock along shorelines and in some of the rock barrens.  The leaves of this violet cannot be confused with any of our other violet species which range from heart-shaped to arrow-shaped to bird-foot-shaped.

Many of the folks I was camping with were 'herpers' - seeking to get a peek at any snake, turtle, frog or salamander they could find.  When introducing myself to a few others I gave the warning that I may be the boy who cried wolf in that if you see me hunched over with my camera out, I'm probably admiring something with leaves and not scales!

The photo below shows a nice mix of colours from the pink of Pink Corydalis (Capnoides sempervirens) to the white of Early Saxifrage (Micranthes virginiensis).

A favourite late-spring ephemeral, Large-flowered Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora).  The corkscrew-like flowers droop down looking like a plant that needs a drink.

Some of the sandy shorelines has stands of Sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata) growing.  When I was maybe 8 or 9 I purchased a mini birch bark canoe lined with Sweetgrass from the London Museum of Archaeology; it gave of the sweet smell of the grass for years and years.  The chemicals phytol and coumarin, found in the grass, have been found to repel mosquitoes.

Baltic Rush (Juncus balticus) often grows in a linear form on sandy shores.

Just before a Blanding's Turtle was spotted in a grassy shoreline meadow marsh, I was snapping pictures of this Brown Sedge (Carex buxbaumii).  The very dark spikes (early in the season) can help to identify this sedge.

I was given instruction to keep an eye out for snails for a fellow naturalist who among other skills, is into snail ID.  These are a species of ram's horn snails from the family Planorbidae.

Anyone who spends time in Georgian Bay is familiar with Massasauga Rattlesnakes; our group spotted 11 over the 3 days including one which measured about 36" in length!  Down the shore from our campsite there was a known hibernacula and two rattlesnakes which would spend each day basking among the boulders and juniper bushes.

Love birds?

Speaking of birds, I had never seen a Prairie Warbler, and as it turns out the southeast of Georgian Bay is a great spot to find them!  Walking along a trail, the first call I heard I pointed to the sky and whipped around to look at my co-worker Charlotte, that's it! 

An Eastern Kingbird sitting pretty.

With patience, you can often track down a Gray Tree Frog by following it's call.  This one, like most, was fairly confident in camouflage and staying still to avoid detection.

The ridge running down the torso of this Green Frog is one way to differentiate a Green Frog from an American Bullfrog (I had thought it was the other way around, thanks for catching that Allen!)

A keen eye spotted an Eastern Ribbonsnake in the grass.  The fine lines and white scale in front of the eye are diagnostic for this species which is often found near wetlands or watercourses.

Hiking along a trail we nearly stepped on this terrestrial Map Turtle.  With all the rocks along the trail, coupled with the unlikely habitat for a Map Turtle, it could just as well have been a rock!

A highlight for me was seeing a pair of 'courting' Stinkpot Turtles. As adults they are not much bigger than a large fist, but they have attitude, and they sure do stink!

I just read an article about a Blanding's Turtle that was recaptured as part of a research project in Michigan.  It was estimated to be 83 years old!  That's nuts.  The article right here if you are interested. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Bank Swallow Bonanza!

I was working in Port Stanley this week and took a drive to Hawk Cliff yesterday evening.  The sounds of Bank Swallows, maybe 300 or so, became more and more loud as I walked out the the cliff to enjoy the view.  I was surprised to see some of the swallows fly up to others perched at a hole in the cliff, bite onto the wing of another, and pull them to the ground below, feisty!

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Botany, Birds and Bikes on Pelee Island

Last weekend I joined my co-workers for a trip to Pelee Island.  Nathan posted some great pictures on his blog.  With bikes, bins and botany books packed up we ferried across on Friday for a 2 night stay.

I find it hard not to flip the odd cover object.  This Eastern Foxsnake (thanks for pointing that out Reuven) was actually the only SAR herp I saw all weekend, but then again my effort in that department was lacking in favour of birding and checking out some new (to me) botanical spots.

Wild Phlox (Phlox divaricata) is an awesome sight at this time of year.  I just purchased a pot of it from Nith River Native Plants in hopes of getting a patch going in my backyard.  All of the other species/varieties of Phlox in Ontario are rare or exotic.  That said, I generally associate this species with somewhat decent habitats. 

Another wildflower that creates sprawling colonies is False Mermaid (Floerkea proserpinacoides).  Not very showy at all; there are about 9 flowers in this photo, and although they are all facing away from the camera, you'd hardly notice them if they were front and centre.

An obligate Dutchman's Breeches shot.  This was off of a trail at Browns Road, but Fish Point takes the prize for the sheer spectacle of thousands upon thousands of plants.

Wooly Blue Violet (Viola sororia).  They may be a dime a dozen but they are great pollinator plants early in the season.

 Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica) blooms in what I would describe as a Hop-tree thicket off of Harris Garno Road.

The Saturday morning crew at the tip.  A bit of a slow morning, we sure saw alot of Baltimore Orioles (and a few American White Pelicans on Middle Island).

The leaves of the rare Miami Mist (Phacelia purshii) at the Stone Road Alvar.

 Low Juneberry (Amelanchier spicata) grows about 2m high on the thin alvar soils.

 The similarly striking white flowers of Common Plum (Prunus domestica) growing on the side of the Stone Road.

Small clumps of Long-hairy Chickweed (Cerastium velutinum), an S2-ranked species that was new to me that weekend.

Giant Chickweed (Myosoton aquaticum) is a native of Eurasia.  It can be found in wet meadows
The basal leaves give Kidney-leaved Buttercup (Ranunculus abortivus) it's name.

An opening full of White Camas (Zigadenus elegans) had a couple of Michigan Lily (Lilium michiganense) seed pods containing golden seeds.

The jury is out on this sedge, I have a feeling it is Mead's Sedge (Carex meadii), another S2 species, but this species is quite hard to distinguish from Rigid Sedge (Carex tetanica).  There are records of Mead's from the alvar, so maybe a trip at a later time will shed some light on this.

Record shot of Whorled Milkweed (Asclepias verticillata) in it's most earliest stage of development - close inspection of the thin, grass-like leaves and the remains of last years' plant offer some hints for ID.

Paging through Mary Celestino's  book Wildflowers of the Canadian Erie Islands on the ferry ride over, Andrew wanted to see Parlin's Pussytoes (Antennaria parlinii).  Bam!

A few butterflies were out, including this Clouded Sulphur and a good number of Red Admirals passing through.

My co-worker Christy pointed out this Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, seems a bit early to me!

 The Bald Eagle nest in the central part of the island is now hoe to owlets but there were still a few Bald Eagles to be found, this one at Middle Point.

There's a Blue-headed Vireo in there.  I enjoyed putting my new binoculars to the test, a solid investment for years of fun.

Wild Licorice (Galium circaezans) along the edge of the trail on the NCC Ivey Property.

Cleavers (Galium aparine) is a pesky relative of Wild Licorice, often found attached to clothing with it's sharp barbs.

Braving some gusty winds, Alyssa and I did some exploring and came upon a massive swath of Rue Anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides).  The couple populations I know of in Waterloo Region are maybe 2x2m, this area was in the range of 50x50m, intermixed with Phlox, May-apple and Short's Aster.

 Neat things to be found at the edges of pavements include Flat-stemmed Spikerush (Eleocharis compressa).  We looked high and low for Cliff Conobea (Leucospora multifida) with no luck, I'm guessing early May is not the time for it.  For another time!

Blue Ash (Fraxinus quadrangulata) with it's sharp, 4-sided branches.

The pollen-carrying stamens of Early Meadow-rue (Thalictrum dioicum) hang down like tiny chandeliers.

 The seed head and early leaves of presumably Catnip Giant Hyssop (Agastache nepetoides).

A tiny Twice-stabbed Lady Beetle (Chilochoris stigma) crawling up a shrub.  So much to see on Pelee Island!