Great Egret

Great Egret

Friday, 6 November 2015

Ahhh....Indian summer

You gotta love the weather here in southwestern Ontario these last few days. Mostly sunny, light winds, temperatures in the 18-22C range. While this would qualify as Indian summer in most people's books, the Old Farmer's Almanac, which has been passing along its wisdom since 1792 would disagree, however. According to the almanac, to qualify as Indian summer you must have warm--check--dry weather--check--following a decent frost--check--in November--check--with clear chilly nights--check--but it has to occur sometime between Nov 11 and Nov 20! I'm not sure why it has such a restricted time frame. There are some attempts to describe it on their web site, but it doesn't seem to adequately explain why it has to happen in this 10 day stretch. For more information on this, according to the Old Farmer's Almanac, see what they say here. Regardless, I think most people would consider the weather of these past few days as a prime example of Indian summer, when the leaves that remain on the trees are mostly golden.

All that aside, I don't think many people would complain about the weather from Monday-Thursday of this week, other than those who will go unnamed but who have lamented nice weather during the week only to have crappy weather on the weekend :-). However the weekend weather doesn't look all that bad, so we shall see....

I've been able to be out and about several times these last few days, fortunately, and most often to locations in southern Chatham-Kent. I went looking for the Townsend's Solitaire one day, but it turns out that it was a single 'solitairy' occurrence on Nov 1, at least for now. But it is still likely somewhere in the park. The one that showed up back in April of 2011 showed up for one day at the parking lot of the South Point Trail, and then disappeared for about a week when one, and presumably the same one, showed up just a bit north of the Visitor Centre for a day.

There were lots of Cedar Waxwings feeding in the tree where the solitaire had been seen...probably at least 40.....and by the middle of the week, almost all of the berries that had been abundant on the cedar tree were now gone.
There were also lots of American Robins in the area, and on occasion a Red-bellied Woodpecker, which is always nice to see.
Butterflies were fairly common considering the time of year. There were lots of Cabbage Whites and Clouded Sulphurs, an Eastern Comma, a couple of Common Buckeyes and, somewhat surprisingly, 6 Monarchs trying to migrate along the east side of the park. At this point it is highly unlikely that the Monarch will make it to Mexico.
Clouded Sulphur

Eastern Comma
On one occasion while I was taking a short snack break and sitting in the car, I noticed a good looking buck venture out from the trail along the south end of the maintenance compound. It didn't seem to mind my presence from a distance, and fortunately I had the telephoto lens right beside me. Notice the swelled neck. That is what happens to bucks during the mating season, with an increased blood flow to the muscles of the neck in preparation for the tugging and pushing of other bucks who are vying for a mate.
I ventured out the Marsh Trail one day, hiking about 10-11 kilometres out to Long Pond and back. It was a bit breezier than I would have liked that day, and it kept the bird sounds and chips covered up. I saw the usual mix of Fox Sparrows, White-crowned and White-throated Sparrows, Rusty Blackbirds, etc. And there was other types of fauna scattered here and there as well, especially herps: Spring (Fall?) Peepers, Leopard and Green Frogs, Eastern Garter Snakes and a single Northern Brown Snake.
Eastern Garter Snake
Northern Brown Snake
And there were many dozens of Autumn (a.k.a. Yellow-legged) Meadowhawks.
Just after turning back from Long Pond, I noticed a couple of Sandhill Cranes standing quietly not too far away in the cattails and Phragmites. I could see that they were not going to stay there long, and so I got prepared for them to take flight. They jumped up in sync and circled around before heading towards the south end of the marsh, yodeling their trumpet like call all the way.

There was a fair bit of Asparagus along the trail, quite obvious with its pale green and feathery leaves and bright red fruit.

I noticed a Red Cedar along the side of the trail with two of its three small trunks lying on the ground. A closer examination of it identified the tell-tale markings of Beaver gnawing.

Beaver don't normally chow down on conifers, but since there aren't many of their choicest items around, including poplar, willow, birch and the like, I guess this animal tried to make do. I'm not sure what his plans were for it, as there wasn't any evidence that it attempted to drag it away to its lodge for consuming.

I also came across this undesirable species of wildlife along the trail. Feral cats, which are not native, of course, have huge impacts on wildlife, especially in natural areas.
Has anyone been out to the observation tower along the Marsh Trail? I hadn't seen it for at least a month, but was concerned when I realized that two of the posts closest to the bay were not looking good.
It was evident that someone, presumably park staff, have stacked up a few sand bags around the posts, but that is a very temporary solution at best. Who knows what the winter storms and moving ice might do to this tower?

I also spent a bit of time along the Erieau Rail Trail and the waterfront. As expected, there is a huge number of waterfowl, especially ducks, in what is locally known for very good reason as Duck Bay. At least 10-15,000 birds are spread out from this southwest corner of the bay all the way to Shrewsbury, and there are still shorebirds using the mudflats and vegetation mats, but one needs a high-powered scope to see them well.

On occasion a few ducks were in the air, and did a reasonably close fly by such as these Gadwall did.

I didn't see the Blue-gray Gnatcatcher that has been seen by others, but I did catch up to the Northern Parula that has been hanging out for several days. It was seen again on Nov 5, which makes it one day later than the previous late date for this species in the Rondeau checklist circle. The bird was in the shade against a bright sky, so it wasn't the easiest to photograph. I had to do more than the usual tweaking on the computer to get it at least recognizable.

So all in all, an excellent few days to be out. I wonder what the change in weather will bring? More northern birds, maybe even a few more Snowy Owls (one was seen from the Erieau trail earlier this week)?

This is the time of year when White-tailed Deer have mating in mind, so be careful when driving the roads!


  1. I always thought that "Indian Summer" was any warm period AFTER a killing frost. It was then a time when Native Americans were able to hunt and gather, etc., in preparation for the long winter ahead.

    1. That is what the majority of people think, but not according to the Old Farmer's Almanac. I've added a link to their site, for what it is worth.