Great Egret

Great Egret

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Early Autumn at Rondeau

The crowds have left, and the park is quieter, at least from a human activity perspective. But even as the season winds down, there is a diversity of things to enjoy.

Spicebush Trail
The woodland trails are still mostly showing their greenery, but the autumn colours are starting to appear. Perhaps the most obvious signs of the season are some of the plants. I'm sure some hikers notice these, but they are so small and don't show a lot of colour, they can be easily overlooked. They are called Beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana). They don't have the normally green colour of most plants, because they don't need to acquire energy from the sunlight via chlorophyll the way that most plants do. These are parasitic plants, getting their energy by tapping into the roots of other plants. They are closely associated with American Beech; hence the 'fagus' part of their scientific name, which is the genus for American Beech.

Beechdrops flowers

Another common plant along woodland trails is a goldenrod called Blue-stemmed Goldenrod (Solidago caesia). Instead of a series of flowers near the top of the plant as some of the more well-known goldenrods have, they are arranged in small clusters very tightly against the main stem which is more angled than upright.

Blue-stemmed Goldenrod
Also, there is an abundance of White Snakeroot.

White Snakeroot

Less obvious than these flowering plants are some shy critters, the salamanders. Blue-spotted salamanders are fairly common and widespread, but spend most of their time well hidden under something. Before long these cold-blooded creatures will be underground, below the frost line, for the winter.

Blue-spotted Salamander
 A slightly smaller salamander is the Red-backed Salamander. The stripe on the back isn't really red, but certainly is an orangey colour. There is a different colour form sometimes seen, known as the 'Lead-backed' Salamander which has a duller grey coloured stripe on the back.

Red-backed Salamander
In more open parts of the forest one will find numerous spiders in the shrubbery, and one of the more common ones is the colourful Marbled Orb Weaver.

Marbled Orb Weaver

A few dragonflies are still around, but their numbers are diminishing. Here is a Black Saddlebags, one of the most common ones late in the season.

Black Saddlebags

A beautiful, common and widespread wildflower found along roadsides and all sorts of open areas is the New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae). It is a favourite of many insects which are still present at this time of year.

New England Aster
The woodlands have changed over the past few years, with the arrival of the Emerald Ash Borer. Consequently many ash trees have died, opening up the forest canopy. Other plant species are quick to take advantage of this openness and resulting availability of sunlight. Vines in particular are well known for their ability to spend much of their energy climbing quickly over other plants. By using these dead trees to support them as they climb to reach the sunlight, they avoid having to invest large amounts of their own energy to grow a massive trunk.

This image shows a dead White Ash tree covered with Virginia Creeper. This vine is abundant, as are Wild Grape and Poison Ivy. Most vines produce berries that will benefit the numerous warblers and thrushes that are migrating through at this time of year. And the maturing Virginia Creeper is turning an attractive deep red right now, which is attractive in combination with their deep bluish purple berries.

Even though many ash trees have succumbed to the ravages of the Emerald Ash Borer, there are lots of young ash trees sprouting up. Whether they have a chance to mature and produce seed to help keep the species around remains to be seen.

This final image is of a young Black Ash leaf, photographed in a slough along Spicebush Trail. Black Ash isn't abundant this far south; it is normally more abundant a little farther north. It is easily identified by the individual leaflets growing tightly to the stem, with virtually no petiole (leaf stem). All other ash species have petioles which are at least 5 mm in length, or are slightly winged. Black Ash grows in very wet areas, unlike some of the other ash species.

Black Ash leaflet

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