Sunday, 28 May 2023

Rare, Threatened and Endangered Wildflowers

 A few days ago I decided to forego any serious birding activities, as this is also the time of year when some of the rarest, most threatened and endangered plants can be found, but it takes some planning.

One of the rarest plant species is an orchid, the Small White Ladies'-slipper (Cypripedium candidum). It formerly grew in small number of widely scattered places in Ontario, but currently it only occurs in an area of eastern Ontario, and on the incredible prairies of Walpole Island First Nation. Due to my working relationship with the folks at WIFN, I have been privileged to have seen them there on a number of occasions from about the mid 1980s until the early 2000s. However I had not seen them for quite awhile, so made contact with someone I have worked with over the last couple of decades or more, and made arrangements to check them out. We ventured to one of the largest and most remote prairies, and bingo, found a couple of dozen or more.

The photos above show pure examples of this endangered orchid. What is even more intriguing in some ways, is that it may hybridize with the Small Yellow Ladies'-slipper ( Cypripedium parviflorum). Finding some of the variable hybrids is always rewarding. These next photos show the variability in their colour, and are known as Andrew's Lady-slipper (Cypripedium X andrewsii). As you can see, they are not pure white or pure yellow, but may vary. Their sepals are typically more purplish than those of the Small White's as well.

There were other plants of interest on this prairie, but I didn't spend a lot of time with them. This first photo shows a small portion of this phenomenal prairie, much of which was burned this late winter or early spring, creating great conditions for tallgrass prairie. In the first photo, in the middle range, there are quite a few small yellow flowers.

They are Golden Alexanders (Ziza aurea). It is relatively widespread in Ontario.....

 ...unlike this next one, the smallish Yellow Star Grass (Hypoxis hirsuta) which is also endangered, as it is found in less than half a dozen places in Ontario.

I had other rarities to catch up to on this day, and since I was more or less going by the Sydenham River Nature Reserve, owned by Ontario Nature, decided to stop in and see how the Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) were doing there. I had seen a fantastic display of them a week or so earlier, in Elgin County, but hadn't seen this population on the Lambton/Middlesex border for a couple of years.

They weren't quite as spectacular as in some years. Whether it was due to unusual water levels, or the way the spring unfolded as some of them seemed to show being hit with a touch of frost, or something else. I didn't get to the most impressive part of the site which is not easy to get to. However I was able to enjoy quite a few clusters and individuals throughout part of their normal range here.

They bloom prolifically for a relatively short period, but are likely 95% finished by now.

I left the SRNR and headed to my next target area, to see another endangered species. It was in  Middlesex County, in the Strathroy area, and the species to check up on was Drooping Trillium (Trillium flexipes). In Canada, it is only found in Middlesex County, with a possibility of a population in neighboring Elgin.

I hadn't seen this population for about 14 years, and wasn't certain I could find it, if it still existed. But persistence, and a reasonable memory, of its location proved to work, and I found about 15 plants. It droops more than other Trillium species....

...and a key characteristic is the very short filaments of the anthers, a closer look at these next two photos will show.

I was pleased to find that at least some individuals remained, and had I taken more time to explore, may have found others.

On the way home, I stopped at a couple of places in the Skunk's Misery and Thamesville area, where I expected to find good flowering populations of yet another endangered species, although much more widespread across southwestern Ontario than the other species featured here. It is Eastern Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), a largish shrub that can get to small tree size on occasion. These first two photos were taken from the roadside, so I didn't have to go far.

The flowers themselves can vary somewhat in appearance, as the next two photos show. They will have bright red berries when the fruits are ripe later in the summer.

Another endangered species is one that many years ago, was planted in a small prairie patch. It is Moss Phlox, (Phlox subulata) and likes open sandy situations, flowering right at ground level.

So there you have it: a variety of rare, threatened and endangered species that even keen botanists seldom see. These are just a small sample of the incredible diversity of rare flora here in southwestern Ontario!

If you would like to subscribe, or unsubscribe, to Nature Nuggets, send an email to:

Saturday, 20 May 2023

An Endangered Species, good numbers of warblers and other birds

 It is a special highlight when the presence of a seldom seen endangered species, and in this case, a very cooperative one, occurs. I am referring to the endangered Loggerhead Shrike, quite a rarity even in its normal breeding range, which hasn't included southwestern Ontario for many decades. But one was seen a bit north of Erieau a few days ago, and for some reason has decided to stick around for several days. Not that the habitat is any good for breeding, as it is predominantly very open farmland rather than the open alvar habitat it prefers. I have been fortunate that it has decided to stick around, as during the first 3 days of its presence I was too pre-occupied with other things and couldn't get to see it. Fortunately this morning I managed to track it down and get a few photos, although the sky was quite bland.

I had driven by this spot a few moments before and the bird was not visible. When I did see it, it was quite busy preening. I suspect it had taken a bath in a close by creek, and then came up to the wires where it preened the entire time I watched it. Maybe if it sticks around a bit longer, I will get a photo of it looking sleek and with a nice blue sky background.

The warbler parade is well underway at places like Rondeau, and while I have seen quite a few of the ~30 plus species that regularly show up, I have not been able to get photos of them all. But some have cooperated for me, at least for a record photo, as follows.

American Redstart

Bay-breasted Warbler
A real crowd pleaser is this next one, the vibrant Blackburnian Warbler.

More subdued is the Black-throated Blue Warbler, especially the female, shown first.

A species at risk is Canada Warbler, easily told by its gray back, white eye-ring, yellow throat and belly separated by a black necklace.

The female Cape May Warbler, next, is also quite subdued compared to the male.

Chestnut-sided Warbler has occasionally nested at Rondeau.
The Northern Parula has been quite uncommon in some years, although it is fairly plentiful this year.
Yellow-rumped Warblers are typically the first one to arrive in spring, and some years the occasional one may even overwinter. There are still some around now, although they are often gone north by now.

Of course there are numerous other species to look for and enjoy. Eastern Kingbirds like open spaces, and this one decided sitting on a park sign along the beach was to its liking.

Gray Catbirds are quite numerous these days.
House Wrens are busily checking out potential nesting sites....
...or perched on a stub ready to declare its territory.
Red-headed Woodpeckers are not common, but are present in small numbers.

Savannah Sparrow
Scarlet Tanagers are here and there, and the females are much more subdued than their bright red counterpart.
Warbling Vireos, next, are fairly common, but are not terribly brightly coloured.
Not everyone likes the Brown-headed Cowbird, a female of which is shown next, but they have their role in nature.

Of course there are other critters to see along the way. This Bullfrog was right on the path, and although he puffed himself up as I walked by, he didn't move off.

This Common Five-lined Skink is anything but common. In fact it is legally endangered. The fairly bright orange face is indicative of its breeding condition.
And Northern Ribbon Snakes, shown next, are also a species at risk. It looks a lot like an Eastern Garter Snake, but the lines are a little more distinct with a brighter yellow, and there is a small white patch in front of its eye.

There is always something to see and appreciate! If it isn't birds, it is reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, wildflowers, fungi, etc., etc, or just the peaceful natural landscape!

If you would like to subscribe, or unsubscribe, to Nature Nuggets, send an email to:

Saturday, 13 May 2023

Wildflower parade continues; Virginia Bluebells are a highlight

 There are lots of birds around these days, but wildflowers often get less attention. Therefore this will be another post which features the magnificence of many landscapes that birders frequent, but may not always pay as much attention to. That being said, I want to start off with a species of wildflower that is overall quite uncommon, but where it occurs, can be overwhelmingly dominant. I am referring to Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica).

It is not a species that occurs in Chatham-Kent as far as I know, at least not naturally. It will be in an occasional private garden. But the populations I know of and have immersed myself in over the last decade or so are in two places in Elgin Co, and another in a nature reserve that borders Lambton and Middlesex.

These wonderful plants are relatively short-lived, but are dominant when in full bloom. The photo above was actually taken a few years ago at the Sydenham River Nature Reserve. The ones that follow were taken along a hiking trail in Elgin Co, where my sister and her husband invited me to join them a few days ago on their annual trek to see these beauties. It took the better part of an hour along the trail to get to the first of three patches, including a few ups and downs along the trail, so definitely not in the relative flatlands of Chatham-Kent! It covered several acres along Dodd Creek. Most were in full flower, with a few pink undeveloped ones yet to appear.

As in many populations of plants, there can be some anomalies, such as this next one which is fully open but has retained its pink colour.
It was a beautiful day and we had the place to ourselves. Sunny, mild with hardly any wind, and the only sounds were a few Baltimore Orioles vying for territory in the trees above, as well as the babbling creek nearby. (Thanks Susan and John!)

All in all it was a wonderful few hours enjoying this piece of creation.

Closer to home, I continue to be on the search for wildflowers while out birding or whatever. This first one is Blue Cohosh, the later blooming species compared to the one I featured a couple of blogs ago. The flowers are noticeably yellowish, not purplish.

Violets continue to be abundant, with this Downy Yellow Violet one of the most common.....
...a far less common species is this aptly named Long-spurred Violet, which grows in small scattered groups rather than being as widespread as either the yellow or blues ones.
Large-flowered Bellwort appears in clusters here and there.

There are still some Red Trilliums, and I have a hard time resisting them.
Skunk Cabbage was in its prime a few weeks ago, but I missed them at that time. It is not common in most places that I travel.
It is mostly visible by its leaves, rather than flowers these days.
A wildflower soon to be out is Canada Mayflower. The leaves, as shown next, are fairly widespread, and I suspect there may be a few out in flower that I haven't caught up to.

White Trillium continues to show well.... in this scene from Clear Creek Forest Prov Park.
Wild Blue Phlox is scattered here and there along roadsides and trails at Rondeau.
Wild Geranium is becoming more plentiful, and the flowers can vary a little in appearance.

Wood Anemone is relatively diminutive, but always pleasing to see if you get down close to it.
...and the sloughs of Rondeau, while dropping in water levels slightly due to the lack of precipitation over the last few days, continues to support members of the Yellow Water Crowfoot.

There will be a steady, but slightly decreasing stream of wildflowers appearing in the next few weeks due to the closing of the forest canopy. Some will likely appear in a future post.

If you would like to subscribe, or unsubscribe, to Nature Nuggets, send an email to: