Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Some recent wetland visits

Wetlands are fun to visit in mid summer. By now the water has warmed up considerably, with many plants and creatures quite abundant and in prime condition. A visit to any of the wetlands in Chatham-Kent, such as Rondeau, McGeachy Pond or St. Clair NWA or elsewhere is a worthwhile time.

Rondeau Marsh

As the water warms up, aquatic plants send up their stems and many floating plants can be seen. Fragrant Water Lilies have rather large leaves, and in between the leaves are the striking flowers. The flowers provide nectar for pollinators. The leaves provide shade for critters beneath the water, as well as being something for other critters to rest and bask on. Of course they also absorb sunlight energy to provide nourishment for the plant.

Fragrant Water Lily (Nymphaea odorata)

A much smaller floating plant is European Frog-bit. It has very small floating leaves by comparison, with a three-petaled white flower. It is not native to North America, but was discovered in the western part of Lake Ontario several decades ago. The first record for Lake Erie was at Rondeau back in about 1977, when a former university professor of mine who specialized in aquatic vascular plants came to visit me while I was working at Rondeau and during the course of our canoeing through the Rondeau marsh, he discovered it. Since that time, it has become quite abundant in the quiet waters of the Rondeau Marsh and Bay as well as many sloughs. It has also expanded to many other wetlands in the Great Lakes.

European Frog-bit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae)

Here, somewhat appropriately, a couple of Green Frogs are seen amidst the abundant frog-bit.

One of my favourite wetland plants is Pickerelweed. Its presence is usually an indicator of somewhat deeper water. Bees love the flowers of these plants. It has unusual flowering arrangement, often with the flowering parts (pistils and stamens) arranged in three different combinations of sizes and lengths, even on the same plant.

Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)

Here a Blanding's Turtle is feeding on aquatic vegetation. It is wandering through an extensive mat of duckweed, those really small floating plants which will have one or several tiny dangling rootlets. This turtle has a high-domed shell and a bright yellow chin and throat. Unfortunately from the perspective of this photo, neither feature is evident.

Dragonflies are abundant as well. Here a Widow Skimmer is at rest, while below is a female White-faced Meadowhawk.

Widow Skimmer

White-faced Meadowhawk

Saturday, 26 July 2014

Backyard wildlife

Sometimes you don't have to go very far to shoot and enjoy all sorts of wildlife. And on the warmer summer days, since I don't tolerate the heat and humidity all that well, it is nice to have access to A/C in the house. So brief forays into the back yard can provide some fascinating wildlife, and numerous macro photography opportunities.

Of course it helps to have a diversity of wildflowers, shrubs and trees.....something I've been working on for more than a few years. And Marie has a great diversity of more functional (a.k.a edible) garden plants to add to the attraction for wildlife.

Milkweed and Purple Coneflower are perfect for attracting butterflies and many other insects.


Black Swallowtail

Red Admiral

Silver-spotted Skipper

Tawny Emperor
This Tawny Emperor was actually one that visited our garden in 2013.....I'm still looking for my first one for this year!

One critter that may look like a butterfly is actually a day-flying moth, the Eight-spotted Forester. It is very distinctive.

Eight-spotted Forester

Another few moths which one seldom sees, but are likely around, are the underwing group. This Dark Red Underwing was actually on a neighbour's house.

Dark Red Underwing
This pose does not show the deep red and black patterned underwing, but if it is startled, it will flash its wings and the colour and pattern will be quite obvious.

This next moth is small but very distinctive. It is not native; the larvae depend on non-native species such as Tree-of-Heaven, an aggressive fast-growing tree that is often found in abandoned lots and other disturbed sites. We don't have any Tree-of-Heaven in our immediate area that I know of. The adults feed on the nectar of flowers, which they do find here.

Ailanthus moth
There are lots of other pollinators around, and may be different ones each day or week.

Bumblebee sp

There are quite a few different kinds of bumblebees, and even some members of the fly family that look a lot like a bumblebee.

This next photo is of a Long-legged is very small, as the size of the fly compared to the leaf venation indicates.

 This next image is of a type of Blowfly, probably of the Lucilia genus. Its iridescent green colour and the many black hairs make it quite attractive up close.

 The next image is of a type of fruit fly also known as a Sunflower Maggot Fly. The term maggot has an undesirable connotation.....but I think this tiny delicate fly is quite attractive.

Beetles are common amongst these wildflowers. This first one is a Margined Carrion Beetle. It gets the term 'margined' for the pinkish margin around the head.

Margined Carrion Beetle

Long-horned Beetle

Red Milkweed Beetle

A tiny insect I always look forward to finding is this Red-banded Leafhopper. Being only about 5-6 mm long, it isn't going to get your attention from a distance, but up close, it is a real crowd-pleaser!

Red-banded Leafhopper

Milkweeds attract aphids, among other things.

Occasionally a dragonfly will stop by. They are always on the lookout for insects, their main diet. This is a female Common Whitetail.

Common Whitetail

A very undesirable insect to have around, especially if you have veggies such as squash or zucchini growing, is the Squash Bug. Their eggs are easy to find under the leaves of the plants.

Squash Bug eggs

A recent surprise to find in our yard was this member of the katydid family. It is a young one, with its wings not fully developed. It was crawling around a milkweed plant as well as a Red Cedar. In looking at the tail plate from another photo I took, it appears to be a Fork-tailed Bush Katydid. For some sub-groups of katydids, particularly the bush katydids, an examination of the male's tail plate shape is important for identification.

Fork-tailed Bush Katydid
Katydids are members of that interesting group of insects that sing. There are many species across the province and elsewhere. A very useful book was published in 2006, entitled The Songs of Insects by Elliott and Hershberger, complete with fabulous photos and a CD of their songs. As they were publishing it, they came across a couple of images that I had of unusual colour forms of one kind of katydid....a pink colour form and a yellow one, which they asked to publish. I was quite pleased to let them include it in their book.

And finally, at least for this post, I leave you with another more common type of wildlife that many of you have likely seen in your yard.

Eastern Cottontail
There is a family of cottontails that really like to hang out in or near our yard. We don't cut the lawn often, so there is always lots of clover for them to munch on when they want a change in diet from our garden plants. And on more than one occasion, they have found a suitable nesting spot somewhere amongst our yard vegetation. An adult regularly hangs out in the front yard prairie patch on cool fall and winter days, soaking up some sunlight.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

"Twittering" one of the Original "Twitterers"

We hear a lot about Twitter these days, even if you aren't into social media.

My first experience with 'twitter' occurred long before social media existed. It was back in the early 1970s long before personal computers, cell phones and the like were even in the average persons vocabulary.

I was exploring the dark woods along the Tuliptree Trail of Rondeau. This trail traverses several woodland pools (sloughs) of various widths along the way. It was getting to be dusk, on a warm evening in early June, and there was no wind. There wasn't even the hum of mosquitoes! But there were twittering sounds coming from all directions. I couldn't see what was making that sound, initially, but when one twitter came from very close range, I turned on my flashlight and there it was an Eastern Gray Treefrog!

I was reminded of that experience, and numerous ones like that, just the other day when I was exploring a large patch of milkweed looking for butterflies and dragonflies. There, along the path, was a Common Milkweed with a partially curled leaf, and right in the middle was an Eastern Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor). Although in this example, one could make a case for it being an Eastern 'Green' Treefrog.

Hyla versicolor
One seldom sees them at this level and in these conditions especially during the day. They are often much more hidden. They often are up in the trees and shrubs growing very close to water, feeding on insects. Their sticky toe pads, more visible in this next photo, enable them to climb readily. Sometimes they may be found high up on a building near one of these wetlands.

During the night-time hours, especially in late spring and early summer, they will come down to the water with the purpose of attracting and mating with another. It is especially at those times, that the twittering calls are heard through the forest.

A typical woodland pool along the Tuliptree Trail where these treefrogs are often found.

One of the interesting things about this treefrog, besides their fantastic ability to climb, is that they can change colour! The treefrog in the photos above show how it has come close to the colour of the milkweed leaf it is resting on. The colour change may take several hours to complete. This ability enables them to be very well camouflaged, as this next photo shows. Can you see it?

So there you have it....the Eastern Gray Treefrog is one of the original 'twitterers'! It is one of the most amazing experiences to be out in the wetland forest after dark on a quiet, warm night being serenaded by such creatures.......just another awe-inspiring event in the natural world!

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Mid July action

Plants and insects abound right now, providing lots of opportunity to photograph! I've been out regularly, here and there, in the Rondeau area.

Open areas with Common Milkweed and other wildflowers are always good for attracting insects. Along the South Point Trail were things like this American Lady on a Black-eyed Susan.

American Lady
Something that caught my eye was a whole bunch of caterpillars feeding voraciously on some willows. This large distinctive caterpillar is the larva of a Mourning Cloak.

Mourning Cloak larva

Mourning Cloak
On a raspberry leaf, I noted this brightly coloured critter. It is a Red-banded Leafhopper, one of the more bizarrely coloured insects. It is very small, only about 5-6 mm in length, so the way you see it on your screen is several times life size! I find these more often on a milkweed plant than any other species.

A female Eastern Pondhawk was in the area. It is one of the more gorgeous dragonflies, in my opinion.

Other dragonflies were around, including many White-faced Meadowhawks. They would be perched, then dash out before returning. They were catching smaller insects, such as midges and mosquitoes, and are voracious predators.

Here a female of the species chowing down on a recent capture, followed by an 'in-your-face' view.

Woodlands are attractive on a heavily overcast day. I enjoy the Spicebush Trail in these conditions.

The ferns are quite lush at this time of year, with a good diversity: Ostrich Fern, Sensitive Fern, Silvery Spleenwort, Maidenhair Fern, Broad Beech Fern, Marsh Fern, Cinnamon Fern, Royal Fern, Rattlesnake Fern and others are scattered along the trail, sometimes in abundance. A healthy fern diversity means a healthy forest.

Broad Beech Fern

Silvery Speenwort

There is lots of Spicebush along this trail, not surprisingly. Here is a clump of Spicebush stems. Do you see anything else in this photo?

If you look closely on the largest stem, there is a moth. It blends in quite well, and a casual passer-by would easily miss it. It is a moth with the common name of Tulip-tree Beauty.

A common plant in the damp areas of this trail include the Wood Nettle. The flowers are very tiny...not spectacular at all! And yes, being a nettle, the stiff hairs will sting.

Wood Nettle
One reader of a previous post asked why there was no mention of Helleborine (Epipactis helleborine) in my post of early season native orchids. Well there are two reasons: first of all it is not a native species, but an orchid that came from Europe. And second of all, at Rondeau it is not an early season orchid. However it is just coming nicely into flower these days, and is quite widespread along this trail. An image is below.
Epipactis helleborine