Nelson's Sparrow

Nelson's Sparrow

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Nelson's Sparrow, HUGO and more.....

I'm taking a break from the recent black-lighting posts. There have been some interesting bird occurrences to highlight, not surprising at this time of year.

I hadn't been to the Erieau area for quite awhile, so decided to check it out on Saturday. The winds were favourable for some hawk movement. Turkey Vultures, although technically not a raptor but fly in with many raptors on the fall migration, were fairly common.
There was a smattering of Sharp-shinned Hawks and the occasional Northern Harrier passing through.
Well out along the Rail Trail was a bit of mud flats, which shorebirds were making use of. On this day there were a few Killdeer, a Least Sandpiper and a Baird's Sandpiper. They were all a bit distant, so the photos are as well. We saw two Peregrine Falcons, one of which swooped over the shorebirds scattering them to who knows where.
Baird's Sandpiper (L), Least Sandpiper (R)
A few Yellow-rumped Warblers, the most common species this time of year, were also around.

On Sunday I got word from Steve Charbonneau that there was an abundance of Nelson's Sparrows at the Keith McLean Conservation Area. In a way this was not surprising. I lived right across from the KMCA for more than 5 years when Keith was alive and farming the property. He always left some natural habitat, especially near the wetland areas, and even planted several acres of tallgrass prairie on the east side of the property as well as the east side of the creek system. After Keith passed away and the property was given to the St. Clair Region Conservation Authority several years ago, the property has increased in wildlife values and I knew it would draw a greater diversity of wildlife and therefore a greater number of birders. To date there have been 173 species of birds seen here, and likely other species that have not yet been reported.

With the high water levels of this year resulting in much more extensive wetland habitat, it was only a matter of time when some rarer species of birds showed up. It has not been disappointing in the least, as species like Snowy Egret, American Avocet, Willet and Red Knot have put in an appearance for birders this year already. Looking at the grassy/weedy field edges adjacent to the creek system, it looked perfect for Nelson's Sparrow. The species migrates through southern Ontario every year from their Hudson Bay Lowlands breeding range, but are very secretive even in the usual spots one finds them. A conservative estimate was on this day was 15, with the likelihood of at least 20. However they were always on the move flitting back and forth between the grassy area and the cattail vegetation and being the very furtive species that they are, it was difficult to get a precise number. I headed out in the afternoon, and although I did see several, it was so windy that even on the rare occasion that a bird was visible, it wasn't visible for long. They dropped into the grasses and out of sight very quickly. I did not get any photos.

Yesterday was another windy, blustery day but I decided to try again for some photos of this relatively elusive species. While searching for the target species and waiting for one to pop up and remain in some kind of view for more than a split second, I saw lots of other species.

One of the less expected species was Indigo Bunting. Most would have departed the province several weeks ago. There were actually at least 4 and possibly 5 or 6 individuals, all sporting the female/immature plumage. It is entirely likely this was a family group, and perhaps raised locally.

 I also saw things like Tennessee Warbler, a late warbler species, as well as Marsh Wrens, but did not get photos of either.

Sandhill Cranes are not unusual, as they nest nearby, with some persisting into early winter. But they are a photogenic species so I often try and get a photo when the opportunity arises.

A couple of Tundra Swans came by. Their numbers are building now here in the southwest and should be here in the thousands in a few short weeks.
A couple of Northern Harriers also went through, causing some of the waterfowl a brief bit of consternation.
A Bald Eagle soared through. It is encouraging to see the numbers of Bald Eagles continue to increase. Hawk Cliff, along the north shore of Lake Erie south of St. Thomas, has already recorded 170 of them passing by that Hawk Watch station since early September.
In spite of the windy, blustery conditions there were a few butterflies quite literally hanging on. I noted a Monarch and this Bronze Copper.
I was much more successful in photographing my target species than on the weekend. But the birds flushed up quickly from the weedy patch and headed to the stand of Typha and Phragmites where they often dropped out of sight almost immediately. Some of my early attempts resulted in photos like this:
Then finally one popped up and instead of dropping down into the Typha, remained in view.....sort of. This photo is what you would see with an equivalent 16X binocular, so not all that close and even at that, with vegetation partially obscuring it. But at least it was identifiable.

Unfortunately with the 35-55 km/h wind blowing the vegetation in front of the sparrow which played havoc with the focus, as well as blowing my telephoto lens slightly off target, many of my photographic attempts resulted in this next one.
But thank goodness for digital photography rather than film. Out of about 50 shots, a few turned out relatively unobscured and then with significant cropping, got some worthwhile results.

On the way home I wanted to stop in at the Blenheim Lagoons, where Jim Burk had noted a Hudsonian Godwit there on the weekend, along with a few other shorebird species. They were reported to be skittish, so before I went to far, I scoped out the muddy edges. There it was along the far shore, along with a few Pectoral Sandpipers, etc. This photo is likely the equivalent of about 60X.

 As the shorebirds were reported to be skittish, I cautiously headed over to a closer vantage point where I might get a better shot. All of a sudden the shorebirds took to flight chattering loudly. I knew it wasn't because of me, as I was not in view of them at the time. The shorebirds wheeled around, and this is the only other photo I got of the godwit, cropped significantly.
It was only seconds later that I noted a Peregrine Falcon swooping after the shorebirds, although I did not see it successfully capture anything. Peregrines used to be extremely rare and legally endangered throughout eastern North America, and seeing one swoop after shorebirds was an infrequent and awesome sight. It still is to some extent, but it seems that it happens all too often when one is trying to get a better look at the shorebirds. Oh well.
The last time I saw the godwit it was heading southwest. Whether it returns or not remains to be seen, but given that it will be heading a long way south on its migration, perhaps it was using this event to be a good reason to vacate this area altogether.

Monday, 8 October 2018

Black lighting at Newport Forest

I've been doing a lot more black lighting lately. Regular readers may have noticed. It is a different kind of nature photography, certainly emphasizing the macro end of things but rewarding just the same. It takes a fair bit of patience not only to set things up and attract critters, but to get good enough photos which can hopefully be identified since a lot of the subjects are relatively less known.

I recently had the opportunity to set up and photograph night time creatures at Newport Forest, in Elgin County. I don't know all the background of Newport Forest, but a few years ago two people, Kee and Pat Dewdney of London, purchased it with the intention of conserving and restoring it. It was a mix of forest, floodplain, creek systems and former agricultural land along the south side of the Thames River. On the former agricultural lands, many native trees and shrubs have been planted and are now thriving amidst the old field vegetation. Not only was the intent to conserve and restore it, but to do as complete an inventory as possible of all life forms they and others could discover.

In more recent years, the property has been transferred to the Thames Talbot Land Trust, an amazing group of volunteers which has acquired several properties in Middlesex and adjacent counties with the goal of preserving and protecting the natural features occurring on them.

Using black lighting enables one to attract creatures that may otherwise be difficult to inventory for. Kee Dewdney has set up a black light on several occasions in the past few years, and I was fortunate to join him a few evenings ago with my own black light equipment, hoping to increase the list of species, or at least getting some good photos of species already known for the site.

Not everything that we captured by black light has been identified down to the species level, so it is uncertain at this stage just how many of the creatures we documented are in fact new. Kee puts out a periodical bulletin to interested people which summarizes the latest findings and activities on site. My post here is not intended to usurp Kee's report, but to share some of the photos that I obtained.

Many types of creatures are attracted to lights...moths, beetles, orthoptera, flies, bugs, etc. Even though October is not the most productive time for black lighting, it can still fill in some gaps. A bonus is that the mosquitoes aren't much of a nuisance.

Beetles, and in particular leafhoppers, are interesting but challenging to photograph due in part to their very small size, some of which are a mere 3 mm in total length. Against a white sheet, they all look black and it isn't until one gets a bright light on them and a good close-up photo that you can see the various patterns. There are hundreds of species, making them one of the more difficult groups to identify. Many of them don't have common names.

Bandara sp
Gyponana octolineata
Jikradia olitoria
Prescottia lobata
Texananus sp
Related to the leafhoppers are the planthoppers. This next one is a member of the Flatidae family, known as Flatormenis proxima.

A type of Plant Bug is this next one, in the Miridae family.
Lygus sp
Next is a spittlebug, the nymphs of which can be found in the frothy spittle like substance found on vegetation. This photo is of an adult, only about 3 mm in length.
Clastoptera obtusa
Crickets, grasshoppers and katydids are fairly abundant in these habitats, but don't often come to lights. This next one is a Two-spotted Tree Cricket, one of the more distinctive members of the Orthoptera in the area. I believe this first one is a female with both a side view and a top view. The third photo is of another Two-spotted Tree Cricket showing the variable pattern on the top side.
Neoxabea bipunctata

Crane Flies are relatively large creatures, looking a bit like a giant mosquito. This one has not been confirmed as to species, but is likely Tipula sayi.
 Caddisflies are numerous, and often difficult to identify to species unless they are collected.
Moths are one of the larger groups of night time creatures that visit black lights. Here are some of those that had the best photos turn out.
Clandestine Dart Spaelotis clandestina
Common Idia Idia aemula
Common Tan Weave Pleuroprucha insulsaria
Copper Underwing Amphipyra pyramidoides
Diamondback Epinotia Epinotia lindana
Pale-spotted Palthis Palthis asopialis
Green Cloverworm Hypena scabra
Maple Spanworm Ennomos magnaria
The Wedgeling Galgula partita
Spotted Grass Moth Rivula propinqualis
Although the black lighting season is winding down, there may yet be opportunities to see what is still around at the end of the season.

Sunday, 30 September 2018

More Creatures

A couple of posts ago I highlighted some of the night time creatures that came in to my black light set-up. It was in a hardwood forest clearing away from any lights, at Rondeau. To see the way my set-up looked, and to see the non-moth critters that visited me, check it out here.

To finish this topic off, at least for now, I will highlight the moths that I was able to capture on digital film. I know I missed some shots, since focusing in very low light is a challenge for the camera. But overall I was pleased with the diversity of moths I was able to capture. I was able to identify quite a few on my own, using the Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America by David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie, but some were just too much of a challenge and so I got some assistance via the on-line database known as BugGuide.

Some came to the light itself.
Garden Webworm Achyra rantalis
Chickweed Geometer Haematopis grataria
Purple-backed Cabbageworm Evergestis pallidata
Large Yellow Underwing Noctua pronuba
 There were lots of this next one, Caddisflies, which are actually moth look-a likes. I'm sure there are different species, but apparently caddisflies are notoriously difficult to identify to species from a photo alone.

But the majority came to the lit up sheet, and were easier to shoot with the camera.
Common Idia Idia aemula
Definite Tussock Moth Orgyia definita
Double-striped Scoparia Scoparia biplagialis
Many moths are fairly drab, as you can see, but being active primarily at night, they don't need a lot of colour, at least not the kind that we can see. However there are some that are much more brightly coloured, such as this next one. It looks a bit like a bird dropping. There are some moths known as bird dropping types, but this one does not go by that name.
 Beautiful Wood-Nymph Eudryas grata
 These next two are actually the same kind, but show some variation in their colouring.
Gold-striped Leaftier Machimia tentoriferella

Grateful Midget Elaphria grata
Flowing-lined Snout Hypena manalis
Green Cloverworm Hypena scabra
 One of the brightest ones I came across is this next one.
Scarlet-winged Lichen Moth Hypoprepia miniata
Ambiguous Moth Lascoria ambigualis
Master's Dart Feltia herilis
Chestnut-marked Pondweed Parapoynx badiusalis
Plume Moth sp.
These next two are also the same kind, Pondside Crambid Elophila icciusalis, but show some variation in colour.

Faint-spotted Palthis Palthis asopialis
Water Lily Leafcutter Elophila obliteralis
Spotted Grass Moth Rivula propinqualis
Pyrausta bicoloralis Bicolored pyrausta
All of these moths are fairly small, as you can tell by the size of the weave of the cotton sheet. I do hope to get out much earlier in the season next year with the hopes of attracting some of the big silkworm moths. But regardless, one never knows what might show up at a black light. I have had some success in my own back yard, which is well away from any real natural area although I have planted trees and native wildflowers to make it more appealing to some local wildlife. It has always been worth the effort to get to know some of the lesser known creatures that inhabit nearby areas.