Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Saturday, 29 April 2017

April showers....

....have brought April flowers! (Spoiler alert: don't worry, there will be lots of May flowers in the next few weeks, and will be highlighted in a future post.)

April is a great month for getting out and 'into nature', and if the birds aren't abundant enough, there will be flowers to get distracted by. Inland areas are warmer than places along the lake, so wildflowers there will be up to two weeks different in their flowering condition. Most of the ones here are related to lake side locations, such as Rondeau Provincial Park.

Some of the earliest ones are almost finished, including Bloodroot....

...and Spring Beauty.
Marsh Marigold is well along, and probably past its best.

Hepatica, Purple Cress and Cut-leaved Toothwort have been out for awhile now, but are still plentiful at lake side.

Cut-leaved Toothwort

Purple Cress
Spicebush is just past its peak.

Dutchman's Breeches is just getting underway at Rondeau..... is Yellow Trout Lily (a.k.a. Dog Violet).

One of the earliest buttercups has been out for at least a couple of weeks, but is still abundant.
Early Buttercup in the Rondeau picnic area

A bit surprising is the number of wildflower species which normally don't begin to bloom until May, are appearing in good flower for a few days now. But given the less than severe winter and some early warm-up weather, it may not be all that unusual, and may even indicate a trend. For example both White and Red Trillium have an average first flowering date of May 4. Both of these were noted in flower on April 27, and likely were out at least a day or two earlier than that.

A tiny wildflower that many people have likely never paid attention to before, in spite of having walked right by it countless times, is Mitrewort (Hint: it is scattered along that popular birding trail, the Spicebush Trail). Its average first flowering date is May 8, but several were seen on April 27.

 It is really tiny....those individual flowers are no more than about 2-3 mm in diameter, but are worth a close look to see their intricate pattern.
Goldenseal, a rare Species At Risk, doesn't normally flower until about May 8, but several were seen in flower on April 27.
Yellow Water Crowfoot, another member of the buttercup family, has May 14 as its average normal flowering date. It is abundant in the sloughs, and was noted in full flower on April 25. Undoubtedly the lack of ice in the sloughs this late winter and the faster warming of the water stimulated an earlier flowering time this year.
Long-spurred Violet, easily told by its pale bluish-lilac petals with darker centre and a very long spur, normally doesn't begin to flower until about May 10, but there were lots in flower on April 27.

But not to worry....the late April and early May showers will bring on lots of flowers which will show up in the next few weeks!

Friday, 28 April 2017

Spring arrivals continue

Almost every day brings new migrants into the area. It is a wonderful time of year for many reasons, but the arrival of birds is certainly high on many people's list. Recent trips to Rondeau Provincial Park have been rewarding.

I got my first of year (FOY) Gray Catbird along the South Point Trail.

I also came across Blue-headed Vireo for the first time this season along that trail. I ended up with several on the day, and they were all fairly high in the trees.
Palm Warblers have been around in greater numbers in the last few days.
Not a FOY, but a bird that doesn't often give a nice clear photo op was this Eastern Towhee.

A Baltimore Oriole showed up on the Tuliptree Trail.
Indigo Buntings are always a crowd pleaser, and two showed up at the beginning of the Tuliptree Trail and at the feeder area of the Visitor Centre. Only males so far to my knowledge.

Other FOY birds included: Yellow Warbler, Common Yellowthroat and Warbling Vireo, but no photos this season yet.

Birds nice to see but aren't FOY have provided photo ops from time to time, including things like Blue-gray Gnatcatcher. They are busy little rascals and don't often give a clear shot.
One or two Rose-breasted Grosbeaks showed up a few days ago, but now they are quite common, with females around as well.

Savannah Sparrows are relatively common now in the open grassy areas.
You don't often see American Woodcocks in the middle of the day, but this one was carefully dipsy-doodling across Lakeshore Road. There wasn't any other traffic in sight so it gave me time for a few photos, before it disappeared into the roadside vegetation.

Earlier today I got my FOY Northern Mockingbird at Fletcher Ponds, a small conservation area very few people ever visit. It is located on the west side of Merlin Road, between Merlin and Fletcher. It wouldn't let me get a photo, however. (Note: Merlin was originally called Smith's Corners. When the post office there opened in 1868, since there was another place in Ontario which already had that name, the community was renamed Merlin. One rumour has it that the name came from a village in Scotland, but another rumour is that it was named after Merlin the falcon, which had been seen in that area.)

There will be lots more in the days ahead (and hopefully we won't be deluged with brisk NE or E winds)!

Monday, 24 April 2017

Weekend wildlife

I know that wildlife is around more than just on weekends, and in semi-retirement one would think I would have lots of time on normal weekdays to get out and explore. However that isn't always the case, and most of this past week had me otherwise occupied.

But the last day or so was a great change of scenery and included several of my 'go-to' places in Chatham-Kent.

Rondeau Prov Park is always worthwhile, for many reasons. It was a relatively quiet, windless morning, so I stopped first at the Spicebush Trail hoping that the Louisiana Waterthrush which has been noted there on occasion would make an appearance. Not today.

The South Point Trail is usually a good place to meander along. Eastern Towhees are regular.
There has been an influx of White-throated Sparrows in the last couple of days. In places, the ground seems to be moving as they shuffle through the leaves searching for food.
A large number of Chipping Sparrows were in the sandy beach dunes at the forest edge. I scanned through as many as I could, hoping that a Lark Sparrow as was found at Point Pelee a couple of days ago, might be mixed in with this group, but it was not to be.

I got my first of year (FOY) Pine Warbler, and one of the two I saw even allowed me to get at least a record shot as it came down to a leafless branch. When they are flitting through the pines, it isn't quite so easy.
Pine Warbler not in a pine
 I was interested in getting a FOY Red-headed Woodpecker. It used to be a common species here and throughout southwestern Ontario. In fact on one occasion, in 1983, we recorded an astounding 114 on the Rondeau/Blenheim Christmas Bird Count! The species has been in serious decline for quite awhile, and that could be the topic for an entire post. In a typical year now, there may only be one or two pairs nesting in the Rondeau area. At any rate, since one had been reported in the previous day or so, I wanted to track it down if possible. Initial efforts were not successful, but Garry S advised me he had seen one going between a willow tree and a feeder at a lot just south of where the White-winged Dove spent most of 2016 and part of its time to date in 2017. It didn't take a long time to find the bird, and it was on the move between various trees in about a 3 cottage lot area.
Woodpecker in the willow

I had tried to get a photo of Northern Flicker from time to time, and I often find that if you move in their direction, they quickly move on. But while waiting near the willow tree that the Red-headed Woodpecker was supposed to come to, I noted this flicker arrive and start feeding on the lawn, apparently not concerned about my presence.

A short while later, I checked up on another red, white and black bird, the reported Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and found it coming to a feeder just north of the Visitor Centre.

The White-winged Dove continues at its alternate site, trying to build a nest on top of a stove pipe. I'm not sure what goes through its head when the material it keeps depositing on this slippery and shiny surface disappears almost as fast as it is deposited.
Another member of the dove family, Mourning Dove is, at this point, having more success than the White-wing. This nest was in a honeysuckle bush along the Tuliptree Trail.

I stopped at the Spicebush Trail again, just in case the Louisiana Waterthrush was in the area. Still no waterthrush, but the highlight was to have a visit with Rob and Pauline, two former MNR colleagues whom I hadn't seen in many years.

Before leaving the park, I checked out the maintenance loop. No new birds for the day, but I got my FOY Question Mark.

The species is not common in April but does occur in very low numbers. The dark upper hind wing indicates it is a summer form, which is apparently typical of spring migrants.

A brief swing by Erieau had distant waterfowl and a few Caspian Terns.

Yesterday afternoon, we went to the Mitchell's Bay area, exploring both the south shore trail and north shore trail. I noted a sub adult Glaucous Gull and a Common Gallinule, both FOY but no photos. There were some cooperative Forster's Terns.

The Purple Martin houses have attracted the target species.

An American Coot was close by the north shore trail...... was a Ring-necked Duck.
The target species I was hoping for was Yellow-headed Blackbird. I had intended to go out on Friday afternoon, since it had been a few days since my previous visit, but some other projects kept me away. Later that evening I noted that Blake had seen about 7 males, so I figured my chances were good on this day. Sure enough, three were seen foraging on a lawn near the south trail, while at least another four were hanging out with a large mixed flock of blackbird types in the field to the east of the trail. I didn't see any females, but they should arrive soon and let the nesting begin!