Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Black is beautiful, and more

When it comes to the health of tallgrass prairie and savanna, that is, black at this time of year is a beautiful sight and means there is something to look forward to in the very near future!

If you have been to Rondeau in the last couple of days, you may have noticed that some formerly grassy areas which showed the beautiful dried grasses of a healthy prairie or savanna and looked like this.....


.....were now looking like this:

The park staff carried out a much needed burn a few days ago. Fire is a natural phenomenon required to maintain healthy prairie vegetation. And healthy vegetation results in a healthy mix of prairie adapted fauna, including insects, herps, birds  and mammals. If the prairie was not burned and the nutrients not recycled quickly, the prairie plants would get smothered. Shrubs and trees would eventually take over, shading and crowding out the prairie plants and stifling the prairie fauna that requires prairie habitat to live in.

The results of such a burn are dramatic. The soil, now temporarily covered with black ash, absorbs the sunlight energy more readily, and warms the earth to stimulate the prairie vegetation to start growing. In just a few weeks it will look something like this, with wonderful displays of colourful wildflowers to attract butterflies (and photographers :-).



Wildlife will be attracted to it, either very soon or next season. A fire doesn't have to happen on a prairie every year. In this part of the world a fire every 3 years on average would be about right, depending on the condition of the prairie site.

While I was at Rondeau yesterday, an American Woodcock was ditsy-doodling right along the road side, in an area of a prairie site that had not burned. It was rooting around in the soil, searching for worms or grubs, and did not seem in the least bothered by my presence. I was able to use the car as a blind and got several shots.


At one point after several minutes, the bird must have been startled by something in the leaves....perhaps a mouse or something. It jumped up, turned around and raised its tail feathers showing some agitation as demonstrated in the next image. But only for a minute or so, and then it resumed feeding.
Eventually the bird wandered farther from the road side, getting more difficult to see. One can see that its mottled coloration blends in quite nicely with the dead leaves and grasses.

The east winds had picked up, and birds that were around earlier in the day seem to have moved on.....or moved back south! At any rate, birding had diminished.

Even though a deer herd reduction had taken place at the park late last fall, they are still around in good numbers. They do look a little tattered this time of year, as they shed their winter coat of gray-brown to be replaced by their summer coat of reddish-brown over the next few weeks. Hopefully they don't need their winter coats any more!

I decided to check out Clear Creek Forest Provincial Nature Reserve. I hadn't been there in awhile and I have a spring wildflower hike scheduled there in a couple of weeks.

The spring wildflowers are coming on, but not all that quickly due to the slow spring. Hopefully the timing of the hike will match the peak of the wildflower display. Some of the earliest wildflowers are already visible in small numbers, such as Bloodroot and Spring Beauty.
Bloodroot
Spring Beauty
There is a huge amount of Dogtooth Violet appearing, with very few in flower. This shot was taken in a previous year.....I only saw a couple of single flowers out during this visit, but this is what to expect in another week or so of sunny weather.
Dutchman's Breeches are also out, but just barely.
The creek itself doesn't have a lot of flow at this point, but its gravelly bottom and some spring flow is enough to attract some fish to spawn.
Clear Creek
I noted these two suckers spawning in the shallow gravelly area of the creek.
A third one had been there moments before, but didn't stay. I am not a fish expert, but I believe these are Longnose Suckers, which are known from the area and enter cool streams along the lake to spawn. Clear Creek is one of the few streams remaining in Chatham-Kent that could be classified as a cold water stream, as there is some type of forest vegetation along its entire length to this point. Most other streams in C-K have little or no forest vegetation to shade the water, and are now considered to be warm water streams.

I also had the opportunity to catch up with a couple of salamanders, in this case a Red-backed Salamander and a Lead-backed variation of a Red-backed Salamander, both of which were resting under the same bit of debris.

Red-backed (L) & Lead-backed (R) salamanders

Red-backed Salamander







4 comments:

  1. Was there Friday during the burn.

    Driving I almost ran over a American Woodcock in front of the cottages. It was on the road and I didnt see it. My spouse yelled to stop and missed him by inches.

    So glad i missed it, they are a great bird.

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    1. Hi Derek....thanks for the comment. The woodcock is truly an amazing and entertaining bird....glad you were able to miss it with the vehicle.

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  2. I think that's a Lead phase Red-backed Salamander, not a Blue-spotted Salamander. It looks too small and thin to be a Blue-spotted Salamander.

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    1. Hey Jared...thanks for pointing this out. My mistake in a hasty identification!

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