Great Egret

Great Egret

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Indian Summer ?

Some of the recognized criteria for being Indian Summer are an unseasonably warm spell, with little or no wind, immediately following a killing frost, and between November 11-20. Well it seems that the last couple of days have met two of the criteria, not having met the specified killing frost in the immediate area or the windless conditions either, but it might be as close as we get. The weather prognosis for the next couple of weeks is quite a bit below normal temperatures, with Monday the 17th having a hi temp of -1C! Normally the daily hi temps are supposed to be about +9C. However with the wonderfully warm temperatures of the last couple of days, with the daily hi between 14 and 16C, I guess we can't complain (although those who are limited to weekends to get out will surely have reason for some grumblings.....sorry Blake :-).

I was able to get to Rondeau twice in the last couple of days, and did lots of hiking. It was warm enough that there were even a few mosquitoes out! The South Point Trail, around the centre block of the park (Rondeau Road, Gardiner Ave, Harrison Trail, Bennett Ave) as well as the north end of Harrison Trail, around the campground, and also Black Oak Trail, were all covered. Probably at least 20 km altogether between the two days. There were very few other folks around at all.

Clearly the leaves are almost all off.

But not all, and that is what led me to one of the most exciting finds of the two days I was roaming the park.

It may not look like much.....just a few green leaves, with lots of brown spots scattered about, to indicate they are well past their best. But this is a tree species which I have never seen inside the park boundaries. It is Common Hackberry (Celtis occidentalis). Now Common Hackberry is quite common at places such as Pelee Island, Point Pelee National Park, and even along some stretches of the Thames River. But it is a Carolinian Life Zone species which just barely makes it into southern Ontario and is greatly restricted.

Even though it has been on the park's checklist of tree species for more than half a century, I have never seen it here. One time back in the late 1970s when R. D. (Dick) Ussher stopped by the Visitor Centre, I asked him about this species, since he was the one who put it on the checklist when he was the park naturalist from about 1954-1968. He said that even though it was quite rare in the park, he had seen it along Black Oak Trail, so he and his wife Molly and I went out searching for it. We couldn't find it, and so I thought that some major wind or ice storm or something had killed the last remaining individuals of this species. And as far as I know, no one else has seen it in the park. So I was quite surprised to see not one, but two individuals on my trek today. One was along Harrison Trail, not far north of Gardiner Ave. The other was just south of Bennett Ave. It is quite possible that there are others.

Admittedly this specimen doesn't look very impressive. It had been damaged quite a few years ago, and the main trunk had died back and even rotted away. This is the individual I found just south of Bennett Ave. There were two new shoots that took over the lead branching, which are shown more closely in the image below.
The characteristic bark is quite obvious in these two stems. And a smaller specimen, which was still in good shape (at least it was upright, with no obvious damage), and showing the characteristic bark, was along Harrison Trail north of Gardiner Ave.

So in spite of roaming Rondeau Provincial Park with my naturalist eyes for more than 45 years, there are still some surprises to be found! As a side note, I am aware of a couple of specimens immediately north of the park boundary.

The warm weather had caused a number of butterflies and dragonflies to be out and about. There were lots of Common Green Darners along the South Point Trail, more than a dozen, but they wouldn't land. I saw a smaller one, which I didn't get a good look at, but it had a grayish white body. I also saw an Autumn Meadowhawk at the south end, as well as along Bennett Ave.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Butterflies were not plentiful, but a few were around. Orange Sulphur (1), Eastern Comma (15+) and a single Red Admiral were all noted in various parts of the park.

Eastern Comma

Red Admiral
The extreme southern part of the South Point Trail is subjected to lots of wave action, resulting in the periodic erosion of the existing trail. Almost exactly a year ago, the bench at the southeast corner was lost to the forces of erosion.

The bench at the very south end is perilously close to a similar fate. Any guesses how much longer it will still be with us?

A lot of birds have left the park area. While I was on the South Point Trail hoping for some flycatcher rarity, I noted at least five, perhaps six, Eastern Bluebirds. I always check a flock, hoping for the park's first Mountain Bluebird to show. But it didn't happen on this trip.

There are still some warblers scattered about, including at least half a dozen Yellow-rumped Warblers hanging around the campground.

As the winter approaches and natural food sources decline, bird feeders are increasingly active. A stop at the Visitor Centre is worthwhile. At the moment, the most abundant bird at those feeders is Pine Siskin, which loves the niger seed.
Pine Siskin

At least 30 siskins were around the VC feeders, along with the usual Black-capped Chickadee (which are actually quite uncommon right now), Blue Jay, Northern Cardinal, American Goldfinch, White-breasted Nuthatch, Downy Woodpecker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-winged Blackbird and House Sparrow. House Sparrows are of course not native to North America. They are not uncommon either, although there are some signs of decline. And apparently in their native European range, it is a declining species.


  1. Interesting blog post! I had always wondered about finding Common Hackberry in the park.

  2. Great posting and photography. The Hackberry was one of the first trees that I learned about at Point Pelee, and perhaps my first foray into botany!

  3. Hey Blake and Dwayne.....thanks for your comments. I had given up finding hackberry in the park, so was quite delighted to come across these two specimens. It is nice that their bark is so distinctive which helps at any time of year.