Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Monday, 11 September 2017

Recent Rondeau and Erieau foray

It is amazing how time flies, and I hadn't been to either Rondeau or Erieau for awhile. A recent trip to both made up for that.

At Rondeau, I headed for the South Point Trail, where there is often a buildup of warblers and other passerines at this time of year. That was a good choice. The bushes were loaded. Unfortunately the bright sunlight, caused many shadows in the dense shrub growth, and hawks in the vicinity kept the birds low and partially hidden. So photos weren't all that rewarding. Blackpoll Warblers were by far the most common.
 I got about 15 species in all, including the occasional Black-and-white Warbler. They aren't usually this green, but being in the shade of the greenery will do that.
There were also sightings of things such as Northern Parula and Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, but no photos. No Connecticut Warbler either that I could find, although one or more has been seen by others along this trail in recent days. Seven Bald Eagles were noted overhead, including five of which were flying much higher and drifting with the winds in a southwest direction, so presumably migrants.

It wasn't that many years ago when seeing a Bald Eagle was a real highlight, but due to their rebounding population in the last couple of decades, is an expected sight.

I always keep an eye out for other things of interest, and came across a variety of pollinators on goldenrod. One that particularly caught my attention is this Feather-legged Fly (Trichopoda sp.), named because of the feathery appearance of the lower part of its hind legs. It is a little more obvious in the second photo.

I got lots of photos of other pollinators, but as yet are still working on their identification. Maybe it will be fodder for a future post.

What used to be a rare orchid but is now just considered uncommon with a restricted range, is this Great Plain's Ladies'-tresses.
A later trip to Erieau proved worthwhile. Nothing really unexpected was seen, but it is always nice to see what is around.

There was a flock of at least 50 Sanderling feeding and resting on the beach.

A Ruddy Turnstone was feeding on the pier and area.
Not a Rock Sandpiper
At the west end of McGeachy Pond is a butterfly bush next to the parking area. On this day, it was very busy, with more than a couple of dozen caught up in a feeding frenzy. There were at least 15 Monarchs and 7 Painted Ladies as well as Question Mark, Red Admiral, Silver-spotted Skipper and the usual Orange Sulphur and Cabbage White butterflies, all seen in about 20 minutes.

Orange Sulphur

Painted Lady

Question Mark

Question Mark

Silver-spotted Skipper
A brief stop at the Campbell Line pasture on the way home did not have much bird life. Aside from the typical Turkey Vultures passing by overhead, there was a family of Eastern Kingbirds on the fence by the road.
 This immature Brown-headed Cowbird, below, was hanging out with the kingbirds, so I assume it thought it was part of the family due to it likely being raised by them. No doubt it will not make the southward migration with its 'family', but hook up with other cowbirds before long.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

More Backyard Wildlife

There is a lot of wildlife to enjoy in our back yard. And as someone who really enjoys macro photography, the opportunities are almost endless. The names of some of the invertebrates are descriptive and interesting as well.

While checking out a Tall Ironweed plant recently I came across this is an Assassin Bug. It isn't big, but I imagine it could be quite intimidating to a small insect.

The patch of dill often attracts a variety of insects. I came across this colourful Twice-stabbed Stinkbug.....

.....and a little later, these tiny critters. These are the larval form of the Multicoloured Asian Lady Beetle.

 Adult Multicoloured Asian Lady Beetle
The Multicoloured Asian Lady Beetle is not native to North America, as one would guess from the name. They were brought to this continent to help control aphids, quite successfully I might add. Unfortunately that was to the detriment of some of our native Lady Beetles, many of which have declined severely.

Milkweeds are favourite haunts of insects. One of the most colourful ones is this Red-banded Leafhopper. They don't look this bright from a distance. In fact they are only about 5-8mm long, so one has to get up really close to even see them, and a macro lens is a necessity to see the detail and colour.

 It looks like another generation of this colourful creature is not too far off.
While I was looking for these leafhoppers, I turned over a milkweed leaf and saw this rather peculiar sight. I watched for a few minutes and decided it was an immature insect emerging from an early stage of development.
 These photos were just taken a minute or two apart, and show how this insect transforms from a small, early development nymph stage to an older one. (In case you wanted to know, this is incomplete metamorphosis, going from egg to nymph to adult. The nymph stage can go through several growth stages. Complete metamorphosis goes from egg to larva to pupa to adult)

 The end result is that it is a more mature looking Large Milkweed Bug, which are often seen in clusters on milkweeds.
 The full adult Large Milkweed Bug is shown next.

Milkweed leaves make great landing spots for flies. This first one is a Long-legged Fly. It is tiny as evidenced by the leaf venation for scale, but if you look closely, you can see that it is feeding on an even smaller fly!
 I'm not sure what kind of fly this next one is, but it is colourful (as are many flies).
On the developing goldenrod was this Flower Fly.

Marie was keeping an eye on the strawberries, and came across this next critter. It is a moth, known as The Herald.
On a tomato plant was this Tobacco Hornworm. There is a Tomato Hornworm that looks similar, but this one is a Tobacco Hornworm. It is the larval stage of the Carolina Sphinx Moth.
 Even though these hornworms can do a lot of damage to tomatoes, they in turn can become food for something else: parasitic wasps. This next photo shows a hornworm that has had a lot of eggs laid in it by a parasitic wasp. The eggs hatch and the larvae feed internally before pupating. The pupae, or cocoon, are on the outside of the caterpillar and are shown here as grains of rice. The caterpillar eventually succumbs.
Nature can be fascinating even in its life and death struggles to survive. The insect world has no shortage of such events! A future post will highlight some of the other fascinating invertebrate creatures I've recently come across in the yard.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Transformation of a monarch

It is always fascinating to see the transformation of invertebrate life. In my opinion, there is no more interesting example than to follow the development of a butterfly, and in this case, the Monarch butterfly.

The following images weren't all taken in the last few days, but many of them were. This first one shows an adult female with the tip of her abdomen turned up to the underside of a milkweed leaf as she lays an egg.

 The egg is very small, as to be expected. It is only a couple of millimetres in diameter.
 After a few days, it hatches (hopefully!). Ants are known to find and consume the developing larva, so not all eggs will hatch. Upon hatching, the larva consumes the remains of the egg and will chew a small hole through the leaf.
 This next one shows a larva that is probably 2-3 days old. It hatched out on a small milkweed plant that I was growing from seed in some plug trays.
 Over the course of several days it feeds ravenously.

 After several periods of growth, it gets to the point where it seeks out a place to change to its pupa stage. This usually is in a more obscure location, and often happens well away from the milkweed plant. The caterpillar hangs upside down with its hind end producing a sticky mass of threadlike substance which will provide an anchor, holding it in place while it develops into the adult. While hanging upside down, the caterpillar splits its skin and wriggles out of it, revealing this beautiful chrysalis of the pupal stage. It is decorated with black and gold spots.
When the above photo was taken, it shows a slight darkening of the chrysalis at the bottom. Just before the adult emerges, the outer part of the chrysalis turns clearer and somewhat brown. A close look will show some of the detail and colour of the newly formed adult inside. I wasn't expecting it to happen quite so quickly, and so I missed that part! This next photo was taken less than 24 hours after the one above. The new adult emerges and climbs a bit to a surface where it can hang for several hours while its body fluids are pumped into the venation network making the wings rigid.

 Usually within 4 or 5 hours of emerging, the butterfly is able to take flight and will hopefully survive to continue the propagation process.
It truly is an amazing transformation!

Now that the end of August is close at hand, over the next few weeks, Monarch butterflies will be heading south and west by the hundreds of thousands, on their long journey to the wintering ground in some Mexican mountains. In southwestern Ontario, the peak of their migration seems to occur from about the middle of September to the end of the month, although some individuals can be seen up to the end of October or even after. It all depends on when the latest generation emerges as an adult, which is somewhat weather related. Corridors of natural vegetation and lots of milkweeds are critical for the butterflies to make it to Mexico as well as for future generations to return.

Friday, 18 August 2017

Phalaropes and Orchids

I realize that Phalaropes and Orchids may seem like an odd combination, but sometimes the events just go that way.

Some readers may recall an earlier blog post, describing an unsuccessful attempt in predicting the appearance of one of Canada's rarest orchids, Nodding Pogonia, to be in flower at Rondeau Provincial Park. I was determined to see this species in flower, and on August 13, the overnight temperature dipped lower than it had been for several days, down to about 11C. With that bit of information in mind, I figured that August 15 might be the day to see these amazing little flowers fully open.

It so happened that at about the same time, there was an appearance of up to 8 Wilson's Phalaropes at the Blenheim Sewage Lagoons. This species has nested at the lagoons on very rare occasion, but in recent years even seeing them on migration has been a challenge. So on my way to Rondeau to check out the orchids, I made a stop at the sewage lagoons.

There was, as expected, a lot of shorebirds scattered along the gradually expanding muddy edges of the ponds. And there in one corner, were three of the aforementioned phalaropes, spinning around as phalaropes do.

 On occasion, one or two would come up to the very muddy edge and preen.

After viewing these phalaropes, I continued to Rondeau. Putting on my boots and gathering my equipment, I struck off, hoping that this would be the day. Some years I don't ever see them in flower. The mosquitoes were present but tolerable. Sometimes they are a formidable presence, making this foray very uncomfortable. On this occasion, putting up with the mosquitoes was worth the effort, as I came across a few orchids in flower!

 At best, these little plants are small, typically no more than 12-15 cm in height. However some are extremely diminutive, as the one in this last image was no more than about 5 cm!
Since I might not have a chance to see them in flower again this year, and who knows what the next year or so might result in, I took lots of photos. This declining orchid, in Canada, grows only at a remote place or two at Rondeau, and some years not a single plant will flower.