Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Not the winged things I was hoping for......

Yesterday dawned warm and bright. I had decided not to go out to Rondeau since there were other things on the home front that need my attention. Then came the posting from Steve about a cooperative Kentucky Warbler at the corner of Bennett Ave and Lakeshore Road. Drat. I hadn't seen a Kentucky Warbler for at least a couple of years. But I kept on with my home front activities.

Then came the posting about a Swallow-tailed Kite flying south over Bennett Ave......that would be a new bird for the Rondeau checklist area. I remember seeing one south of Leamington awhile back....sometime in the mid to late '80s I think.

All of a sudden my activities around home seemed like they could wait a few hours, so I quickly packed some snacks and gear and off I went.

As I got closer to the park, I made a conscious effort to keep my eyes peeled to the skies as well as the hydro wires. Once in the park, I stopped at an open area near the tennis courts, in the hopes that the kite would pass by in plain sight. My patience wasn't rewarded (and I wasn't all that patient :-) so I headed farther south. I met Steve Charbonneau, finder of the Kentucky Warbler, at the beach access across from the Visitor Centre. It gives a wide open view, and there were lots of dragonflies buzzing around, which could be good for attracting a kite. When nothing materialized, we checked various other spots we thought might be likely. But wherever the reported kite was, it did not appear where we were.

Steve and I went back to see if the Kentucky Warbler was still singing. In spite of checking the area on two or three occasions over the next few hours, the warbler was not to be heard either by me or by several others who were searching. Maybe it was the increased heat of the day? Maybe it had moved on? Maybe......???

I didn't let the day go to waste even though I struck out on the two target birds.

There were a few raptors and raptor type birds in the sky. Turkey Vultures were abundant, and we even hoped to find a Black Vulture as a consolation.

A sub-adult Bald Eagle flew by.

This immature Red-tailed Hawk soared overhead briefly.

And there were other things with wings.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails are fairly common now.

Black Swallowtails are just emerging.

Spicebush Swallowtails are fairly abundant, not surprising since Spicebush itself is abundant.

I noticed my first Painted Skimmer of the season.

Another winged critter is the Six-spotted Tiger Beetle, commonly seen along the sunlit pathways of the forest and adjacent areas. They don't normally let me get close enough with a macro lens to get a shot like this, but they were busy doing what Six-spotted Tiger Beetles do. For what it is worth, Six-spotted Tiger Beetles don't always have six spots.....the number varies considerably.

While checking out the South Point Trail just in case the kite was perched somewhere in sight, I noted this pigeon on the trail that actually was quite tame. A closer look indicated that it was banded, so presumably is a lost racing pigeon.

A pair of Wood Ducks were resting on a rotting log in one of the sloughs.

This Wood Thrush has built its nest surprisingly close to a lot of pedestrian and bicycle traffic. It is in a honeysuckle bush right along Harrison Trail just south of the exit to Tulip Tree Trail. Hundreds of hikers and bikers have passed by within a couple of metres of this nest.

While none of the anticipated rarities showed up for me, I took the time to enjoy one of Rondeau's star visitors of the season.....the White-winged Dove. In the past, it has not been cooperative for the well lit, unobscured views I was hoping for. Either the sky has been bland, or there are branches or leaves in the way, such as this next photo where it was resting and preening in a Sugar Maple. I had to tweak the image more than usual to get this result.
After a few minutes, it started moving around in its territory, providing some of the views I was hoping for.
Within its territory, it has decided to begin nest building! On one occasion it started on the roof of a Toyota Venza, but when the owner took it for a shopping trip, the bird moved its efforts onto the base of the window and hood of this Lincoln!
I wonder what Matthew McConaughey would say about that (for anyone watching US television)!!

Sunday, 29 May 2016

More than just birds!

The peak of the spring bird migration is now behind us for another year, much to the chagrin of keen birders. There are still some species heading north, but in just a few short weeks, others will be heading back south!

During the last couple of weeks or so, there have been some lulls in the bird activity, and then it is time for me to get out a different camera and lens combination to focus on plants. I am almost glad for these lulls in birds, since the parade of spring wildflowers is nothing short of amazing in its own right.

Exploring the forest is a rich and rewarding experience, especially on a quiet day with little wind and after a cleansing rain. This post will highlight, in no particular order, some of the more recognizable herbaceous wildflowers one can see in the woodlands or adjacent areas. Perhaps some of you were noticing these plants in your quest for birds, but didn't know what they were. The ones shown here are fairly typical of similar habitats across southern Ontario.
There are many sloughs at Rondeau, which is perfect habitat for the Yellow Water Crowfoot/Buttercup (Ranunculus flabellaris), a member of the Buttercup family. This year was a particularly good one for this species. I don't think I have ever seen it as profuse as what it was this year. Even though it started flowering early in May, it is still in flower in small numbers. It shows up towards the back of the image above. My main purpose for taking that photo wasn't for the flowers, however, but because I like the large Silver Maples in the slough with the green setting.

A similar species, but one which didn't start flowering until a few days ago, is the White-water Crowfoot/Buttercup (Ranunculus longirostris). It tends to be in the quiet, shallow water of cattail marshes. The submerged leaves of both of these species are very finely dissected, as they appear in this next image.

Everyone knows the trillium. But this next one is a rarity. It is the yellow form of the Red Trillium (Trillium erectum).

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is a delicate wildflower found especially at the edges of pine oak forests. Hummingbirds love them. On occasion you will see a hummer hovering below, sticking its long bill up to get the nectar at the top of the flower tube.

This first image is what it typically looks like.
 Sometimes you may find a paler version.
 This year I found a creamy yellow version, only the second time I have seen it in Rondeau.

I expect that everyone knows the Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum).

Large-flowered Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) is abundant. Since its flowers hang down, the yellow colour gets lost on the bright, sunny days. It is much more showy on an overcast day and when you get down to take a closer look.

Wood Betony, a.k.a. Lousewort (Pedicularis canadensis), is common in the sandy pine-oak forest. It can be mostly yellow....
 ....or sometimes mostly burgandy.

Also at the edges or openings of the forest is the Starry False Solomon's Seal (Maianthemum stellata). It is a member of the Lily Family.

This Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium montanum) is not very noticeable unless you get a close look. Contrary to its name, it is not a grass at all, but a member of the Iris family.

White Baneberry, a.k.a. Doll's-eyes (Actaea pachypoda), is scattered throughout the hardwood forest. If you see these plants in fruit, you may notice the hard, bright white berries with black dots. Pioneers used the fruit as the eyes for their home-made dolls.

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) is widespread in forests of all types, as well as in very open habitats.

Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata) is also abundant. It can be almost pure white, pale blue or even pinkish purple.

Mayapple, a.k.a. Umbrella Plant, (Podophyllum peltatum) is dominant in the hardwood forest under storey.

Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) is very local at Rondeau.

The forests of Rondeau support orchids of many types. In fact there are at least 19 species of orchid that occur in various parts of the park. Some are relatively showy, such as this aptly named Showy Orchid (Galearis spectabilis). It doesn't get very tall...seldom getting over 10 cm high, but its flowers are indeed showy.
 Being relatively short, this orchid is challenging to get a ground view look at. Hence I dug out my P&S camera with the swivel screen and macro sure is a lot easier on the back!

The Large Yellow Lady's-slipper (Cypripedium calcelous var pubescens) is an orchid that most people would recognize. It occurs in several locations at Rondeau. This one grew no more than 20 metres from one of the common trails in the park, and is quite visible from the trail. I imagine that hundreds of birders and other hikers walked by it without seeing it.

Violets are abundant, colourful, and sometimes confusing. Some of the most common ones are
Long-spurred Violet (Viola rostrata), accurately named because of the long spur protruding behind the front of the flower.

Yellow violets are abundant as well, including this Downy Yellow Violet (Viola pubescens).

Canada Violet (Viola canadensis) is local but widespread in the deciduous forest. There are much rarer violets which I intend to highlight in a future post.

An intriguing plant that most people have never really seen is Mitrewort (Mitella diphylla). The flowers are tiny....really, really tiny. The overall plant may get 15-25 cm high, but there are only a couple of small leaves on its single stem, and a very tiny cluster of delicate flowers at the top. Individual flowers are extremely tiny....typically only about 4-5 mm across. But if you take a close look, they are amazing! For this next image I used a full frame camera, a 100mm macro lens with extension tubes totalling about 68mm, and then I cropped it heavily. Did I mention that it is tiny??

In the last few days, Sweet Cicely (Osmorhiza claytonii) is starting to appear. This plant doesn't have large showy flowers, but is better known for its seeds. If you are walking through a patch of this plant after the seeds have formed, you will discover long black seeds with very sharp points stuck in your socks, your pant leg, or you!

Not all plants are green. This next plant, looking like a pale coloured pine cone sticking out of the leaves, is called Squawroot (Conopholis americana). It does not have chlorophyll, but gets its energy from tapping in to the roots of other plants. This species is most often found in the pine-oak forest.

There is always something to see!

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

A picture doesn't always tell it all

My previous post highlighted some of the wood warblers I have seen at Rondeau this spring. Typically only one image per species was used. And that created a problem....hence this post.

I included this image of a Northern Waterthrush.
And that elicited a comment by a well-known Ontario birder that it should be re-labelled as a Louisiana Waterthrush.

I can't say that I blame Brandon for this comment. He is a highly respected and knowledgeable birder, and has served admirably on the Ontario Bird Records Committee (OBRC) for several years. From the angle showing this bird, the image does have some characteristics of Louisiana: the broad light coloured supercilium and the appearance of fewer, more spaced out darker streaks on the flank. However, and this is the reason for the title of this post, this single picture doesn't tell it all.

This next one is of the same bird taken three minutes earlier.
In this one, the yellow wash over the entire lighter part of the feathers is obvious, but what is more telling is the heavily streaked marks on the breast feathers. Even more conclusive is the numerous finer streaks in the throat region. All of these clearly identify this as a Northern Waterthrush.

Had the bird been singing, it would have helped, but this one was quiet.

Almost exactly a year later, I photographed this waterthrush within a short distance of the Northern Waterthrush. It wasn't singing either.
 In this side view, the overall light colour of the bird is decidedly white. The streaks on the flank appear to be few and widely spaced.
This bird hopped up on the railing along the trail, and here one could see the streaks on the breast, but they aren't as densely spaced as the Northern Waterthrush above. And again, quite conclusively, is the white unspotted throat. This bird is the much rarer Louisiana Waterthrush.

I realized after posting the previous 'Warbler Parade' blog and reading Brandon's comment that for a more challenging species it would have been helpful to include additional supporting photos to substantiate the identification. I expect that is why bird field guides are more useful when they show illustrations rather than photos. A good illustrator can often show all the important characteristics in one or two illustrations, whereas it might take half a dozen good photos to do the same.

Over the years, I have had single images of birds sent to me for identification. I'm sure many reading this post have received some also. While some images are relatively easy to figure out, when a single photo is received that does not show the critical characteristics, one is left with making an educated guess.

I am sure this is a dilemma for members of the OBRC. Sometimes a single photo is all that is received, and without the critical characteristics being shown, it can be difficult to accept or reject a rare record. I admire the willingness of the OBRC members to sift through the various types of reports from year to year, to decide what records are acceptable and what records are not!

So thanks, Brandon, for the comment on my previous post, and for indirectly pointing out the need for me to be more thoughtful in labelling certain types of images!