Great Egret

Great Egret

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Early May Action

I've been out daily for the last few days, but haven't taken the time to process the photos and post anything. So this is a 'catch-up' post of sorts.

Monday involved a very long hike around the entire South Point Trail of Rondeau. A cold northeast wind kept bird activity at a minimum, with only a handful of the usual warblers around. I had heard that the area beyond the washout was better, so I proceeded to negotiate it. The erosion really is a challenge here, as the previous path, which had been moved inland due to erosion that destroyed the boardwalk, no longer existed. But things have really deteriorated and because of the ~1.5 metre drop-off and the need to tromp through shrubbery or clamber over fallen trees at the water's edge, one has to be reasonably nimble to get through. I can't imagine what it would be like with a brisk southwest wind and the associated wave action!

After making it through the worst section, I proceeded up the other side of the SPT. The first kilometre had a few small clusters of birds but only Blackburnian was new, and they were mostly fairly high up. The most abundant species was Yellow-rumped Warbler. There are still lots of Black-and-white Warblers around, including a few females, which signal that the migration of this early species is coming to an end.

The rest of the trail was surprisingly quiet, other than the snoring call of Leopard Frogs, but it made for a nice walk and I enjoyed the solitude. I met only six other birders the entire 7 km trail.

My next stop was the north end of Harrison Trail, around the log pond and maintenance area. The wet areas have a profusion of shrubs sporting tiny yellow flowers right now....this is Spicebush in or at the edge of the wettest areas.

The flowers always appear just before the leaves open out. The leaves, especially when fresh, are very fragrant, and is the reason the shrub gets its name. Later on, these flowers will produce bright red berries.

I checked out the Spicebush Trail next. This trail was originally called the Rondeau Trail but when I was working in the park in the 1970s we decided that Spicebush Trail was more descriptive, which has been its name ever since. I also checked out Bennett Ave and the Bennett deer exclosure, which is on a ridge ~80 metres south of Bennett Ave. Although there are many wildflowers out throughout this area, one can really see a difference in the size and appearance of health by comparing the wildflowers inside the deer exclosure. Most of the flowers inside are at least half as big again as those outside, and some are probably twice the size. It really goes to show that since this exclosure was constructed in 1978 and deer have not been able to get inside for more than 35 years, the wildflowers are so much healthier. The constant browsing by a large herd of hungry deer, as well as the lack of ground cover which causes a deterioration of the micro-climate at ground level, takes its toll on the quality and quantity of wildflowers outside the exclosure. The two exclosures (there is another one south of Gardiner Ave) have been an effective way to demonstrate the effects of high numbers of deer.

I realize it isn't obvious from these photos of the difference in size, but when you see them in real life, it is very apparent.

On Tuesday I went out again to check on the Yellow-headed Blackbirds along Angler Line, just south of Mitchell's Bay. They didn't disappoint, and I could hear them as I approached the site. My previous estimate was of about 6-8 males, and presumably a similar number of females. Based on a longer time spent here today, I think there are at least 10 males along with an uncertain number of females.

Angler Line wetland from the road

The image below shows a female. The yellow is duller and not nearly as extensive as on the male, which makes the bird less obvious when it is sitting on the nest.

In both of the previous photos, the birds are sitting on last year's stems of Purple Loosestrife. This is a highly invasive, non-native species that created huge problems in wetlands. A biological control has been somewhat effective, but it does not eliminate it. Invasive, non-native species are a huge problem in many of our natural areas, but that is a broad topic for another post.

While watching the blackbirds, I heard Sora, Common Moorhen and Pied-billed Grebe as well as a Bullfrog. I saw a pair of Ring-necked Ducks, and had fly-over of a Green Heron and Black-crowned Night-Heron. I only got a quick shot of the latter species, but the close proximity of tall grasses interfered with the focus and prevented it from being as sharp as it should be.

Black-crowned Night-Heron

I also watched an adult female Blanding's Turtle cross the road nearby.

May and June are the months when the greatest number of turtles are crossing roads, as they seek the best spots to 'thermo-regulate' (a.k.a. bask). They are cold-blooded and need the sunlight warmth to increase their physiological processes. This is especially important for females which are developing eggs inside.

Blanding's Turtles are very distinctive. They look somewhat like an army helmet on legs. A close look will show numerous yellow dots on the shell, and the underside of their throat is a bright yellow. It is a declining species throughout its Ontario range, and is a Species At Risk. You don't see them very often except near good quality wetlands, and unfortunately you also see them dead on the road after having been hit by a car.

Turtles will even dig their nest hole in suitable soil along roadsides, where the roads are near to wetlands.

On Wednesday I returned to Rondeau after the morning rain had stopped. The brisk east winds (yet again!) ensured that bird activity along the east side of the park wouldn't be too high, so I stayed farther west. I checked on a Blue Jay, which I noted had been building a nest several days earlier. During a previous visit, it seemed that the nest had been abandoned before completion, so I was pleasantly surprised to see an adult bird incubating eggs. The nest is fairly high in the tree, but open enough for a distant photo. Blue Jays are usually one of the most vocal birds in the forest. But if you see them and they are quiet, it often means they have a nest nearby.

An Eastern Chipmunk paused for a brief photo session before scampering away.

A nice group of warblers was seen near the south end of the maintenance loop. Northern Parula, Black-and-white, Black-throated Green, Nashville and Yellow warblers were busily feeding, as was a Blue-headed Vireo. But the most interesting bird was a Blue-winged Warbler, which showed a wider than usual wingbar which was pale yellow rather than the usual white. Unfortunately it was also very active, and often too high up. It did pause briefly, but was partially hidden behind some leaves.

I suspect that at some point in its history, it had some genes of the Golden-winged Warbler added, a species which often hybridizes with Blue-winged, and produces interesting back-crosses through the succeeding generations.

The Erieau area had a very late adult Snowy Owl around in the last day or so. I drove over and there it was.....a long way out in the corn stubble, and not willing to turn around to face me. The by now high winds made getting a photo difficult, if not almost impossible.

I was running out of time, but drove home by way of the Blenheim Sewage Lagoons. I didn't go was very windy and would have been hard looking through a 'scope! But a few small groups of gulls were feeding in a field just to the southwest of the lagoons, and I had heard that the Franklin's Gull had been seen there. I didn't find it at first, as some of the gulls were in too tight a cluster and too far away. But a Turkey Vulture flew low and erratically due to the wind, spooking the gulls into flight, and then the Franklin's Gull was visible, although too far away to try for a photo.

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