Great Egret

Great Egret

Saturday, 9 May 2015


I haven't been able to get out a lot these last couple of weeks. This Lyme Disease (LD) thing is really annoying, as not only does it greatly reduce my energy while my immune system fights it, but taking the antibiotics also reduces my energy. In addition, I am to keep out of the sun! But I have been able to get out for brief periods to some places either early or late in the day when the sun is less intense. This post will just highlight some of the more interesting snippets of my explorations during that time.

Yellow-headed Blackbirds, especially in their breeding plumage, are always a highlight. One or more birds have been noted fairly regularly at the Angler Line wetland, as they were in 2014. I got out there this evening, just as the thunderstorm was approaching, and at first there was no Yellow-headeds to be seen or heard. There was Green Heron, Pied-billed Grebe, Great Egret and others. However after the storm passed, one bird eventually popped up and began its non-musical (to human ears) song. This photo is from a sunnier day about a week ago.....I did manage a couple of more distant shots this evening.
There have been lots of Horned Grebes passing through. Most of them are in almost full breeding/alternate plumage, such as this one, I photographed at Erieau recently.

 Great Horned Owls are of interest, especially when they are nesting. Some readers will remember the family of owls that nested in a broken Black Cherry tree in Paxton's Bush on the north side of Chatham a couple of years ago. I'm not sure where they were nesting in 2014, but this spring they are in a broken Sugar Maple, but much higher up. However they are farther away from the main trail, and seem to be staying at the nest longer than in 2013.

2013 nest in a Black Cherry
Owlet sitting at the edge of the 2015 nest
The Blenheim Sewage Lagoons have been quite productive, just in time for the major movement of shorebirds heading north to their breeding grounds. I wasn't able to catch up to the Baird's Sandpipers that were there for a couple of days, but I did catch a few of the other species. A female Wilson's Phalarope has been around, and a male has been reported in its company just recently. They have nested at the BSL in the past. Given that the lagoons look very basically like prairie potholes to birds, some birds more likely to breed in the prairie pothole region will expand to sewage lagoons of southern Ontario. Wilson's Phalaropes have nested on several occasions. Back in the early 1980s, I managed to photograph an incubating male at the nest. In the phalarope world, males are less colourful than the females, and end up doing the vast majority of the incubating!

Wilson's Phalarope female
Pectoral Sandpiper
 On one of my visits, a flock of Dunlin was flying helter skelter over the lagoons. I never saw them land, so I couldn't get an accurate count. But I did manage to get a few group flight shots. Other birders had put an estimate ranging from about 125 to 140 birds. When I saw this flock wheeling around, I estimated the number to be about 175. Just to see how close I was, I printed this photo and did an actual count. How many would you estimate? Click on it to enlarge it and it may help. The answer will be at the bottom of this post.
Flock of Dunlin
With the warmer temperatures, many more migrant landbirds are appearing at places like Rondeau. The developing flowers of trees, such as this Silver Maple, attract insects, which in turn attract songbirds.
Silver Maple
Scarlet Tanagers are always fun to photograph, especially when you come across a cooperative brilliantly coloured male in good light.

A few Hooded Warblers have turned up as well. Fortunately it is a breeding species of southern Ontario that is increasing wasn't that long ago that it was considered a really rare bird.
Hooded Warbler male
Warmer temperatures are also important for reptiles and amphibians. Unfortunately the reptiles in particular like to bask on open sunny places, such as roads, where they can soak up the heat. This leads to their demise. I have seen quite a few snakes dead on the roads lately. When I find one still alive, I try and encourage it to move off to the side. Here is an adult Eastern Ribbon Snake. It looks a lot like an Eastern Garter Snake, but it inhabits wetter woods, usually has more distinctive yellow stripes down the length of its body, and has a telltale tiny white spot right in front of its eye. You have to get close to see it, perhaps closer than most people like to get....:-)

Wildflowers abound. I've shown a fair number in previous posts, so I won't repeat them here. It is always nice to see a good showing of our provincial flower.
White Trillium
Red Trillium seems to be less common in most woodlands.
 A real rarity is this next one. It is a yellow colour form of the Red Trillium. I have only seen it in a couple of places, but this particular one which I photographed a couple of years ago has been in bloom three years in a row.

A Species At Risk type of shrub or small tree is this Eastern Flowering Dogwood. It is a plant of woodlands with sandy soils. It used to grow at Rondeau but hasn't been seen for several decades, presumably due to heavy deer browsing during the years when the numbers of wintering deer was approaching 600! What at first glance seems to be white 'petals' aren't really petals at all. They are deciduous bracts or bud scales. The actual flowers are the tiny greenish parts in the middle, which will develop into red berries in the late summer to early autumn. The bracts in this photo are not quite fully out; hence they are still on the greenish-yellow side. They should be brighter white in a couple of days.
Another rare woodland plant is Virginia Bluebells. I first saw this species in flower many years ago, while visiting George Washington Carver National Monument in southern Missouri. Since then I have seen it in Ontario in beautiful flowering condition. A friend who had them growing profusely on his property gave me some very young plants several years ago, and I planted them in my wildflower garden. They don't show this nicely every year, but this is a photo from today.

Answer to the Dunlin flock photo: by counting them in the printed photo, I came up with 229 birds! It has been my experience that most birders underestimate the number of birds in a flock. How many did you estimate?


  1. Great post Allen, glad to hear you are recovering nicely from LD.

    1. Thanks Arni....I'm improving, but still not back to normal, whatever normal is these days!