Great Egret

Great Egret

Friday, 29 May 2015

Have you seen anything?

Quite often when I go along a trail, people I encounter ask that question. While I know that this is posed mostly by birders who want to know what interesting birds I have seen that they should be hopeful in finding themselves, I often pause before answering because in reality, there has been a lot to see. But what I am seeing may not just be birds. Birds of course are fascinating, but they are just one part of the forest ecosystem that we are hiking through, and really are only a small part of it. The trees, the wildflowers, the ferns, the reptiles and amphibians, the multitude of insects......the diversity is enormous! Sometimes you may not see the animal itself, but you may see evidence of its being there earlier.....leaves that have been munched on by the caterpillar of a butterfly that is now flitting along the trail; a pile of poop which attracts butterflies and other insects; a nipped off branch that is evidence of a deer, or rabbit. And if there aren't specific things in those groups of things to see, there is always the shadows and shapes of the many things that are everywhere. The light is always changing, moment by moment as the sun travels across the sky causing the shadows to change at the forest floor level. At one point a wildflower may be in complete shadow and a few minutes later it is in brilliant sunshine.

The peak of the spring bird migration has now passed and resident species are settling down to nest. The forests of Rondeau can be full of bird song at various times of day. At other times it is relatively quiet, but there are other things to take note of. While I was on the boardwalk near where the Prothonotary Warblers are nesting, this Five-lined Skink approached me. It came to within about half a metre of my foot before it scampered off in the other direction.
Just over the edge of the boardwalk, this Green Frog was resting, appropriately, amongst is the circular plant on the frog's back. Frog-bit is not native, but showed up at Rondeau in the marsh back in the mid-1970s and has been expanding to quiet waterways ever since. The tiny floating plants are one of the three species of duckweed that occur at Rondeau, and the tiniest floating plants in this image are Watermeal.
At ground level in the forest are plants such as this Canada Violet, one of two species of white violets occurring at Rondeau. The other species is almost finished flowering now.
Another flowering plant which is quite abundant in the richer part of the forest is Sweet Cicely. The individual flowers are quite small. In a few weeks you will hardly notice the plant at all, but a bit later you will notice them for an uncomfortable reason: if you are walking off the trail, you will end up with sharp pointed black seeds stuck into your socks or pants, poking into your skin. As you pull the seeds out, you are dispersing them to perhaps a new area.
Sweet Cicely
In a different location, I was checking for another pair of Prothonotary Warblers that nested in a box last year. I didn't see any activity this time, but I did encounter a large Leopard Frog.....
.....and a Snapping Turtle. One doesn't often see snappers in the sloughs, but they are there.

There are a lot of Tuliptrees at is the unofficial flagship tree species for the park, as it is the largest provincial park in the Carolinian Life Zone which Tuliptrees are more or less limited to in Canada. Appropriately there is even a trail with that name. One of the highlights at this time of year is to see the numerous flowers on these trees. Unfortunately the flowers are typically very high up in the tree, since they require a lot of light. There are a few open grown Tuliptrees, and where you find them, there are lower branches which often have flowers. Two of the best spots to see them at about eye level are in the campground (not far from site 71) and at the north end of the parking lot for the Marsh Trail.

 Some of the flowers will have pollinators visiting, such as this honey bee in the image below.

There are still birds to be heard and seen. Acadian Flycatchers have one of their Canadian strongholds at Rondeau, and there are currently at least 4-5 known singing males or pairs right along the trails or roads. Who knows how many are back in the less accessible part of the forest.

In more open areas of the forest, one may come encounter an Orchard Oriole, another southern species. The black and chestnut brown pattern of the adult male are unmistakable.

Butterflies are becoming more abundant. There were several Spicebush Swallowtails, appropriately, at the Spicebush Trail parking lot.
 Question Mark butterflies are also fairly widespread.
At the Visitor Centre, a Blue Jay was taking a bath, apparently unconcerned who was watching and photographing the event.

Near Shrewsbury, there is a small colony of Great Blue Herons nesting in a half-dead willow tree. These shots were taken from the marsh edge, but I hope to get the kayak out one of these days and get different shots.
Adult heron approaching the nest tree
Arriving at the nest, the adults greet each other
On the sandy shores of the lake, including at Erieau, there are some rare plants. This next image is a close-up of the flowers of Sand Cherry, ranked as S3 (rare) in Ontario. There is an abundance of these flowering shrubs at the Laverne Kelly Memorial Park at Erieau, but it is very uncommon at Rondeau.

The Blenheim Sewage Lagoons are always good for a different diversity of wildlife. The sprinkler cells vary in their condition from one visit to the next. On occasion hundreds of shorebirds, especially Dunlin, are present. But mixed in may be some much rarer shorebirds, such as this White-rumped Sandpiper.

For some reason, a lone Tundra Swan is still present at the lagoon. Presumably it cannot fly.

Not that long ago, I had a Cattle Egret in breeding plumage arrive at the lagoon, circle around a bit and then land in the grassy area.

In an unmowed part of the lagoon, I flushed out a small sparrow.

Given the way it allowed me to get very close before flushing, I assumed it had a nest nearby and so upon closer examination I discovered this nest of three hatchlings and two eggs.

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