Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Linear hiking in Chatham-Kent

A project I have been working on these last few weeks is an inventory of the flora and fauna of an abandoned railroad corridor here in Chatham-Kent. Normally railroads are off limits to most people, but this corridor is currently owned by the municipality and three of us are tasked with conducting the inventory. Future uses for this corridor are being discussed, and there are some interesting possibilities. However before things get too far along, the intent is to see what kinds of flora and fauna are along it.

I was involved in the inventory of the 34 km section of the east half of this corridor in 2012.  At that time, we found some new plants for C-K, as well as several populations of Species At Risk. Several very small patches of endangered Tallgrass Prairie habitat were discovered as well. This year we are covering the west 34 km section and we are hoping for similar interesting discoveries.

Some parts of it are pretty bleak as one might expect in the parts of C-K which have the lowest amount of natural vegetation in the first place. Non-native species of plants are abundant. Trees and shrubs are not, at least in some stretches. But one never knows what is just down the path.

There are some patches of woodland adjacent to the corridor in places, and with all the rain we've had lately, there is lots of 'wetland', at least for now. Some of the wetland patches seem to be fairly permanent, which is a good thing.
Wetland adjacent to woodland
Frogs are widespread, although not abundant. Probably the early to mid April period would have been quite noisy with frog song, but things are fairly quiet right now. The most exciting frog species to date, is Western Chorus Frog, which I just heard but didn't is a very tiny frog, not much more than an inch in length, but with a loud voice.

This Leopard Frog below was especially cooperative. It even let a damselfly (probably some kind of Bluet) use it as a perch. I wonder if the damselfly realized how dangerous this might have been.
On this cattail leaf was a colourful Smartweed Caterpillar getting some sustenance. Once the caterpillar turns into a moth, it is considerably duller.
 In one wetland area was this female Six-spotted Fishing Spider. It is a monster...the body length is almost an inch in length and in combination with the legs, totals almost three inches.
As would be expected, dragonflies are fairly numerous where there is water and lots of open area. Nothing unexpected....yet, but good numbers of the usual species.

Common Whitetail

Halloween Pennant
Twelve-spotted Skimmer
Widow Skimmer
I haven't attempted to identify many damselflies yet, or even photograph them for that matter. This one below appears to be either a Slender or Lyre-tipped Spreadwing.

A very large fly came by, appropriately named  a Black Horse Fly. Its body can be slightly more than an inch long. It can give a painful bite and is hard on livestock. Fortunately it seldom bites humans.

 There was lots of evidence of Groundhogs......numerous holes and mounds, and periodically I would hear their piercing alarm call. On occasion one would let me get close enough for a photo.
Groundhog sentry
 At one point, some almost full grown young demonstrated their curiosity by emerging from their burrow quite close by. There were two young that emerged from one entrance, while two others emerged from the other.

There are a number of streams crossing under the old rail bed. This adds diversity to the wetland habitat, and often there are numerous trees adjacent, along with the fauna that inhabit such areas.
 One particularly good thing these bridges are good for is nesting habitat. Cliff Swallows as well as Barn Swallow, recently declared a Species At Risk, have been seen using them, as have Eastern Phoebes.
Eastern Phoebe
Phoebe nest
 Other birds of interest include a fair number of Wild Turkeys, furtively exploring the corridor area and adjacent croplands.
 Indigo Buntings are pretty regular.
 I've come across Orchard Orioles on more than one occasion, including this female which, along with its male counterpart, was carrying food to young in the nest shown in the next photo.

 Of course butterflies are noticeable by their abundance. Some of the larger and more colourful ones include:
American Lady
Eastern Comma
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Red-spotted Purple
There are lots of the smaller ones as well, including azures, crescents and skippers, including European Skippers.
European Skipper
And this butterfly look-alike that is actually a daytime flying moth, the Ctenucha Moth.

One butterfly species that seems to be missing so far is Monarch. I haven't seen any along this corridor yet; in fact I've only seen a handful all spring and early summer so far. The milkweeds are just coming into their prime....I hope there are a few Monarchs on their way from the midwest to make use of them!


  1. Thank you . I am impressed with your width of nature knowledge.

    1. Thanks for the visit and comment, Irene. I'm glad to be able to share some of the things I've learned in more than 40 years of study (and am still finding out myself).