Prothonotary Warbler

Prothonotary Warbler

Monday, 29 May 2017

Orchid hunting

As much as I like birds, I get side-tracked from time to time, and there are so many things to get side-tracked with!

Last weekend I was on the prowl for an orchid species I hadn't seen in probably 35 years: Ram's Head Lady's-slipper (Cypripedium arietinum). It is fairly widespread in Ontario and elsewhere, but never common, and certainly not here in southwestern Ontario. I knew this species was likely still around in the greater Ipperwash area, as it used to occur (and maybe still does) in Pinery. However I recall hearing years ago that the Pinery population had declined significantly.

A friend gave me some directions to where I was likely to find it. With directions in hand, and a fairly good idea of the crown land layout that it was on, I headed out. As it turned out, it was closer to the beginning of the unofficial trail than I was expecting, so actually went at least a couple of hundred metres past it. It is a tiny orchid, barely 12-15 cm in total height. The sun was bright, and so the contrast and shadows did not make it easy to see. But by going well beyond it in my search, I came across several other orchid species.

This is Pink Lady's-slipper, a.k.a. Moccasin Flower (Cypripedium acaule) and is huge by comparison. There were at least a couple of dozen of these in flower, as well as numerous sets of leaves which will not produce flowering stems this season.






Another orchid I came across was Hooker's Orchid (Platanthera hookeri). I only saw basal leaves, no flowering stems, although it is more plentiful at another part of this site, and could be in flower now. It isn't nearly as colourful as the previous orchid, obviously, and one can easily walk past without noticing it.


Flower of Hooker's Orchid
I saw leaves of the Large Yellow Lady's-slipper, but none in flower. Again, it is more common elsewhere, not far from the Hooker's Orchid, and could be in flower very soon.

These next two photos show the target species. As mentioned, it is quite small, and easily overlooked. The macro lens used almost to its fullest was necessary to get these shots. I noted only two flowering stems and another 5 non-flowering plants. It is considered very rare in southwestern Ontario, and perhaps the only remaining population in Lambton County. It is likely the southernmost population in Canada.



Of course on the sandy pine forests of the Ipperwash area, there are other interesting, non-orchid species. Since I don't see them in Chatham-Kent, I took advantage of a healthy population of several species here just waiting to be photographed. This first species is Fringed Polygala (Polygala paucifolia), sometimes known as Gaywings. It really is a pleasing sight on the shaded forest floor.


A less colourful but still interesting plant is Starflower (Trientalis borealis).

In a nearby location, the Karner Blue Sanctuary owned by Lambton Wildlife, is a good population of Wild Lupine (Lupinus perennis). Wild Lupine is critical for the survival of the Extirpated Karner Blue Butterfly, which used to occur at this site. It formerly occurred in the St. Williams Forestry Station in Norfolk County near Long Point, as well as Pinery Provincial Park. Some of the reasons for this dainty butterfly's extirpation are controversial, but it is largely due to some ill-advised management of the habitat. And that could be the topic for a completely separate blog post.









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