Great Egret

Great Egret

Sunday, 13 April 2014

Salamanders and sun on Saturday

Saturday dawned as a beautiful day.....sunshine, mild temperatures and very little wind. I met two colleagues at Rondeau just after daybreak to check salamander traps again. The first two excursions over the previous ten days resulted in zero salamanders....would the third time be the charm? We went around the pond, checking the twelve traps that had been placed the night before, when the pond was teeming with amphibian activity, albeit mostly Wood Frogs. The first 10 traps were empty. Would this be a total bust? But trap number 11 had one...finally! And of the three traps placed in a nearby slough that had also looked promising the previous evening, one trap held another of these amphibians!

This individual is a salamander of the Jefferson's/Blue-spotted complex. Only DNA analysis will determine if it is one, or the other, or likely a hybrid, which is what most of them are. In general appearance, however, the lack of bright blue spots on the upper part of the body, and the smaller gray/blue spots on the lower part of the body and tail, along with the fairly good size of this critter (it measured about 14.5 cm) leads one to believe that it has at least some Jefferson's genes in it.

After taking the requisite measurements, etc., the salamander was released into the water from which it came.....and quickly swam away burying itself under the leafy detritus on the bottom.

With that part of the day getting off to a good start, I headed for Spicebush Trail, hoping for more opportunities to photograph Rusty Blackbirds. I had seen, and photographed, several there a couple of days ago. The very wet woods habitat especially along the western side of the trail is ideal for this declining species. I heard some this time, but they were much farther off the trail, so I didn't get to photograph them. The trail was actually fairly quiet in spite of the very calm conditions allowing sound to travel. Pileated Woodpeckers were calling and giving their distinctive drum-roll. A couple of pair of Wood Ducks flushed up from the slough. American Robins sang in the sunny warmth.

A trip along Lakeshore Road to the Visitor Centre was quiet, although numerous Dark-eyed Juncos and other sparrow type birds darted across the road. I checked the Visitor Centre feeders and found....nothing! Well, no birds anyway. The reason? A new pond is being put in, and workers were busily digging the hole in which to place the pre-formed pond, carefully back-filling around the edges with sand. The VC pond had been ravaged over the past little while by one or more muskrats digging through the soft liner, so hopefully this one will last a lot longer and attract a whole bunch of birds and frogs. Time will tell, but it looks promising.

The north end of the park with its semi-open habitats is often good for birds. I had heard that Jim and Blake had a Palm Warbler in the picnic area earlier in the day. Blake has a photo of it on his blog. That would have been my first spring warbler of the season, so I was anxious to find it as well. I looked through lots of Dark-eyed Juncos, a few American Tree Sparrows and others but did not see it. The steady (by this time) southerly wind may have caused it to move elsewhere. I did see several Field Sparrows and Chipping Sparrows, but no warbler of any kind. Chipping Sparrows have arrived in larger numbers in the last day or two. I noted at least a couple of dozen over the course of the day.

A nearby much-branched maple tree proved to be attractive to Brown Creepers. This species is quite numerous these days. Birders with better hearing than I have hear their high pitched song fairly readily....I am left hoping to see them, and this day was very good for seeing them. I must have encountered well over a dozen at various places, including this maple tree. They are a challenge to photograph, as they are constantly on the move, going around the trunk much faster than I can, and are constantly being obscured by branches. They are not a brightly coloured bird in the first place, so one has to get a good close-up for them to stand out.

Brown Creepers are generally a more northern species, passing through southern Ontario in decent  numbers but very few remain to nest. I have only found two nests at Rondeau, the first one in the early 1980s during the first Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas, which are the only two records for the park.

The campground is often good for birding as well, at least until it gets filled up with campers. There were lots of Brown Creepers, the usual Red-bellied Woodpecker or two, Common Grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds and others. I was hoping to find Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, Eastern Bluebird or a warbler of some type but was not successful. Several Northern Flickers were poking in the sandy ground for ants.

On this day, I decided to check the Ridgetown Sewage Lagoon before returning home. The last couple of times I had been there, it was still mostly ice-covered, with only a few Canada Geese on the surrounding berms. I expected the ice to be gone, so was not surprised when I found the open water hosting many ducks: Northern Shoveler, American Wigeon, Blue-winged Teal, Green-winged Teal, Bufflehead, Ring-necked Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Hooded Merganser and the usual Mallards and Canada Geese. There were a few Ring-billed and Bonaparte's Gulls present as well, with most of the latter species showing fairly well developed black hoods. The highlight of the lagoon visit was a pair of Sandhill Cranes walking along the westerly berm. There isn't what I would call suitable nesting habitat anywhere close by, so this pair may have just been passing through.


  1. Looking forward to traipsing around Rondeau again

    1. Thanks, Dave....are you home yet? We are likely going to have a short blast of winter again over the next couple of days.