Great Egret

Great Egret

Friday, 26 August 2016

Endangered orchid, Boogie Woogie Aphid, shorebirds and more

Late August is normally prime time for one of Canada's rarest orchids. The endangered Nodding Pogonia (Triphora trianthophora) only occurs in Canada at Rondeau Provincial Park. The numbers have fluctuated considerably, so annual monitoring is beneficial to understand how the population is doing. I have had a study plot in place since 1985, and have monitored the population there almost every year since.

Nodding Pogonia

It is a small, but very attractive little orchid. I posted a fairly extensive blog about it previously, so will not repeat myself here. If you want to know a bit more about this endangered species, check out this blog post. 

A couple of days ago I met with park staff to visit the study area to see what this year might have in store. I was concerned about the excessive dryness in June and July, as moisture to keep the delicate tuber type root healthy just below the diminishing leaf litter is critical for the species survival.

We parked along the road and headed into the forest, crossing ridges and sloughs to get to the study area. Once there, we checked out the places where this species had been known to flower in previous years. After awhile, it was very evident that it was not a good year for Nodding Pogonia. We saw a grand total of three plants, one of which had grown well but been affected by a blight of some kind. The other two plants had flowered briefly a few days earlier, and had one or two developing buds that, if conditions are favourable, may yet flower.

On the next ridge over, also occasionally good for this orchid, we saw another three plants, none of which had flowered yet but had developing buds. Some years have had over 1000 plants in this general study area. It looks like this year will be less than a dozen. The species is known to fluctuate from year to year, but with the diminishing leaf litter and very dry conditions, perhaps the delicate tubers will not survive dormancy to try another year....time will tell.

While searching for the orchid, my survey colleague called me over as she had noted something quite was a branch of an American Beech tree covered with fuzzy white things.
When the branch was bumped, the little fuzzy white things would raise up their hind ends and wave a filament up in the air to make it look like it was dancing!

This is the Beech Blight Aphid, a.k.a. the Boogie Woogie Aphid due to its hilarious behaviour of a branch full of fuzzy white things waving back and forth in unison!

A closer look:

These aphids suck out a lot of sap from a beech tree. After sucking the sap, they excrete copious amounts of a honey dew type of liquid. Since the aphids are concentrated on branches and sometimes even leaves, the honey dew may drip down on a lower branch in considerable concentration. This resulting concentration of honey dew supports the mould Scorious spongiosa, which is especially evident after the leaves have fallen, and may last well into the next summer.
This process seldom does any real or long-term harm to the tree, although sometimes individual branches may die.

Another interesting observation on our orchid search was discovering a small caterpillar that initially looks like a bird dropping. Such mimicry is part of its defense. It also has large eyespots, presumably to appear more fearsome to a would-be predator.
This is the very young larva of a Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly. After it goes through a few growth spurts, it will be a bright green with large eyespots, before going into the pupal stage and eventually emerging as an adult butterfly. I wonder how many times I have passed by such imitation bird droppings without giving them a second glance?

I had heard from the McArthur's that Red-headed Woodpeckers were hanging out in the vicinity of their cottage. We had hoped earlier in the season that a pair of adults would nest in a partially dead cottonwood tree, but that didn't happen. They must have found a location more to their liking. Regardless, both adults and young were now showing up. Although they remained quite high in a dead cottonwood while I was there, I managed to get a few shots, which I had to crop considerably.
Adult Red-headed Woodpecker

Young of the year Red-headed Woodpecker

After leaving the park, I decided to check out the Blenheim Sewage Lagoons. I must admit that I was hoping for a Common Ringed Plover, so I wouldn't be tempted to travel to Toronto to see one (Note: I haven't gone to Toronto, and likely won't). Not surprisingly, I didn't see one here. In fact I didn't even see its look alike relative, the Semipalmated Plover, on this visit. But it was still worthwhile, with half a dozen or so species of shorebirds. Sometimes they are very skittish and getting photos is difficult. I find that if there are a lot of Killdeer, the other shorebirds are more skittish, responding to the startling cries of the Killdeer. When Killdeer are fewer, the other shorebirds are more tolerant of birders.

There were the usual species.

Least Sandpiper

Semipalmated Sandpiper
Lesser Yellowlegs
And there were some less common species including this next one which is my first of the year,
Baird's Sandpiper
Stilt Sandpipers are relatively uncommon in the spring, but more common in the fall as juveniles show up.
Stilt Sandpiper
Although it was windy, I walked along one of the more sheltered paths to see what butterflies were there. I got some very nice shots of the rare Common Checkered Skipper on an earlier visit, and I saw at least 11 individuals on this one. However I only had my camera gear that was the equivalent of a 22X binocular, which could only focus at about 3 metres, so I was pleased to get even one shot that turned out half decent. It blends in quite well on the top of this Wild Carrot.


  1. Allen, great posting on the condition of this frail orchid species. The mention of the "Boogie Woogie Aphid" made me laugh out loud. Ric's Red headed Woodpeckers was a nice followup as well. I think Red headed Woodpeckers might be my single favorite bird. At least they had a good brood this year. -DM

    1. Thanks, Dwayne....those little aphids are really entertaining!

      Hopefully this little orchid will rebound in the future, but it is so susceptible to excessive dryness, especially with the diminishing leaf litter.

  2. Saw a branch of those boogie woogies aphids up here last year! Weird and fascinating!

    1. Indeed they are....another one of nature's intriguing and entertaining critters.

  3. I am going to put the boogie woogie aphid into my Halloween post!!

    1. Go for is a fascinating little creature!

  4. I am going to put the boogie woogie aphid into my Halloween post!!