Marsh Wren

Marsh Wren

Saturday, 29 October 2016

Sun worshippers at the beach and mid-autumn stuff

It has been that kind of week.....some days being quite cool and others much warmer than usual. With the abundance of Turkey Vultures passing through, some have been noted enjoying the sun while resting on the beach. They aren't the normal sun worshippers, but about the only ones out there this time of year.

Beach dunes are good places to find other animal life. While checking the east beach of Rondeau recently to see if any rare geese were mingling with the hundreds of Canadas resting along the water's edge (there wasn't), I came across a life-and-death struggle. A large Chinese Mantid had found a Woolly Bear caterpillar and was proceeding to chow down on it.

Normally the mantid would not allow me to get this close with my macro lens (I was a mere 8 cm away for a couple of these shots), but she was more interested in the meal than escaping me. It was interesting that the caterpillar was still attempting to escape even though the mantid had a very firm grasp, but this is one Woolly Bear that will not have to wait to see what the winter might bring.

While I was on the sand photographing this mantid in action, a type of Ground-hunting Spider came by.

There wasn't much bird activity at the beach that day, so I ventured into the woods. There weren't many birds there either, so I guess it is clear that the fall migration has passed.

Even though the birds weren't very plentiful, there were other things to see and photograph. Earlier this year I had posted about the Boogie Woogie Aphids which are found on American Beech trees. There are still some around doing their thing.

The change in leaf colour is delayed this year compared with most years. According to visitors to central Ontario, even there the leaves are not as far along as they normally are. These next few shots are images taken at Rondeau in the last day or two. While it appears that there are lots of leaves already on the ground, the predominantly green of the trees indicates that the vast majority of them are still holding on quite successfully.
Bennett Ave
Bennett Ave
Rondeau Road
Spicebush Trail

Spicebush Trail

Amidst the leaves on one of the paths of the Spicebush Trail was this large female Eastern Garter Snake. It was in the shade and the ground was cool. The only thing that moved was its tongue as it flicked it in and out trying to determine if I was a threat or not.

Did you see it? Maybe this next photo will make it a bit more obvious.

A year ago, on October 26, some of the same vantage points looked like this:
Bennett Ave
Rondeau Road

This Hawaiian Beet Webworm moth was spotted on my van's door which was parked at the head of one of the trails. It is apparently an uncommon migrant to this area, the northern part of its range.
Autumn is a great time for seeing the fruiting bodies of fungi on the decomposing logs and stumps.
Pholiota sp.

Turkey Tail

A stop at one of the local sewage lagoons can add to the day's interest, and one time I stopped at the Ridgetown lagoons. As expected there were several hundred Canada Geese, and after a careful examination, I came across these two blue phase Snow Geese on the water.

They weren't on the water when I first saw them, but at one point something stirred up many of the geese. It turns out that this young Bald Eagle was drifting along right over head, and not all that high up, putting the geese in a bit of a panic. I presume that the geese thought it was safer in the water, so that in case the eagle swooped down, the geese could try and escape by diving under.

There were a few other ducks around, including a couple of dozen Northern Shovelers, most of which which were going through their moult and looking a bit drab.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Cattle Egret invasion?

Cattle Egrets are small white egrets that expanded to the western hemisphere from their natural African range in the early part of last century. The first record for Ontario was in 1956, and it gradually became a more common visitor, even nesting on occasion. Numbers seem to have peaked in the 1970s, although they are seen regularly in small numbers most years.

The first record for the Rondeau checklist area was on April 19, 1970, when two birds were observed. There have been several dozen records since that time, although 1973 was the year when they were most frequently seen and in the greatest numbers. The first record for that year were four birds on April 28. As many as 12-20 birds were seen regularly in May, and the last report for the year was of five birds on September 24.

Since that era, birds have been seen periodically, but usually only one or two at a time. The latest they have been recorded in the park checklist area in any year was a single bird on November 21, 1987. (I did have 4 birds at the Tilbury Sewage Lagoons, just inside Essex County, on Nov 1, 2014.)

The fall of 2016 has seen a minor influx of these birds. They have been reported in the last few weeks in various places across southern Ontario.

Most recently, they have shown up again in the Rondeau area. A birder/hunter reported one a few days ago flying over his blind along Rondeau Bay. In the last couple of days, two were seen regularly at the Blenheim Sewage Lagoons.

This morning, I went to the lagoons as they were reported there late yesterday afternoon. I arrived and noted two birds towards the far end of the main path between the ponds. Approaching them cautiously, I realized they were headed my way, so I stopped and waited for them to get even closer.

From time to time, I looked back towards the lagoon entrance to see if anyone else was coming along. Two birders was Steve Charbonneau and his son Aaron....and then much to my surprise, two more Cattle Egrets appeared between us. At this point, I was somewhat 'trapped' by two pairs of the egrets....I didn't want to move for fear of spooking them. I did see a way out, however, by moving to a side path, waiting for the second pair to come by.

And come by they did, although I think when they got by the shrubby willows I was using to hide behind, they realized I wasn't part of the landscape, and took to flight. They were almost too close to get in the field of view....this next image has not been cropped even a bit, and I barely got them totally in (actually, the closest bird has one foot outside the image).

They didn't go too far, but joined the first pair of birds farther down the path.

They circled around and resumed feeding on the numerous grasshoppers in the recently mowed grassy area.
While four birds does not constitute an invasion in the true sense, in combination with the reports from several other areas across southern Ontario, just how many are out there? Are these two pair covering lots of territory and the reason for those many reports, or are there several other pairs out there?

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Tis the season for raptors and waterfowl

Yesterday the winds were quite brisk from the northwest...perfect for watching migrating raptors somewhere along the north shore of Lake Erie. The mix of sun and clouds would only enhance the viewing opportunity. Some of the best raptor diversity shows up in mid to late October, including Golden Eagles. I spent several hours in the vicinity of the Morpeth Cliffs.

Turkey Vultures were abundant, going by in kettles and streams.
Streaming vultures

The array of wind turbines didn't seem to affect their route as far as I could tell, but I must admit I don't really know what is going on in the mind of a vulture!

There was the typical array of Red-tails, Kestrels and Sharpies (the hawk, not the marker). They were too far away for photos, and several of the buteo type raptors looked like Red-tails, but later I found out that a juvenile Swainson's Hawk was seen east of Wheatley. I wish I had been able to get clearer looks at some of those distant buteos that I chalked up as Red-tails!

I did get some eagles: two Bald and one Golden. They were too far away for photos as well, so I dug into my archives for these.
Bald Eagle
Golden Eagle

The benefit of being along the Morpeth Cliffs is that if the skies do not have anything going on, one can always look out over the lake. There were about 130 Common Loons, 2 Red-throated Loons and lots of waterfowl and gulls. A scope was necessary to see most of them, so again the camera didn't get much of a work-out.

Today I decided to go to a few places along Lake St. Clair. The Mitchell's Bay North Lake Shore Trail always has something of interest with its mix of wetland and prairie.

Great Egrets were still around.

There were lots of sparrows, mostly White-crowned.

A huge flock of mixed blackbirds was in the area. Of note were a few Rusties and a young Yellow-headed. I didn't get any pics of the Yellow-headed.

Along the Mitchell's Bay South Lake Shore Trail were a few of the same things, but also a couple of Eastern Phoebes.

A bit surprising was this fresh looking Common Buckeye.

Not in nearly as good a shape was this Virginia Opossum.
 Possums are well-known for playing dead. This one wasn't just playing.

A stop at St. Clair National Wildlife Area resulted in seeing a ton of waterfowl. If one had the patience, one could probably find more than 20 species of waterfowl there right now. I saw almost 15 in just a few minutes, including one of my favourite ones: Ring-necked Duck. There were at least 40 in one spot that I checked.

Canada Geese were constantly in the air.

I was hoping for some Greater White-fronted Geese, but did not find any on this visit.

Tundra Swans are beginning to arrive. I saw about 160, but in just a few weeks there will be tens of thousands passing through.....a wonderful spectacle unless you live right near by and, according to some folks I know who live right across from the NWA, their constant calls can keep you awake at night!

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Waterbirds, etc after the weekend

These past few weeks have been a little more hectic than usual. Family things going on, my sister from BC visiting for a couple of weeks, and also it was Marie's and my 40th anniversary! (Congratulations to Marie for putting up with me for so long.....and sharing some of my fascination with natural history as well!)

As a result of these commitments, I missed out on the Black-legged Kittiwake, Laughing Gull and Franklin's Gull seen along the east beaches of Rondeau on Sunday. So when Monday morning arrived, I had time to see what I could find there.

Dog Beach access seems to be the best vantage point to see waterbirds flying through, so that is where I headed first. Not surprisingly, a couple of intrepid birders were already there.
Steve and Reuven scanning the gulls
There was a steady stream of waterbirds passing by: Bonaparte's Gulls, Herring Gulls, Common Loons, Horned Grebes, Greater Scaup, etc. Alas, none of the aforementioned 'good' birds that showed up on Sunday were noted. But as usual, there are often other interesting sightings, which included White-winged Scoter, Surf Scoter, Little Gull and Peregrine Falcon. All of these were too far out to attempt a photo, especially given the light conditions. Shorebirds were on shore, as expected, and included Sanderling and Dunlin, while a couple of Greater Yellowlegs flew briefly overhead.
Dunlin waving to the camera
As these shorebirds were searching for something edible on the sand, I noted several little dark winged things taking a brief flight before finding another sheltered place to settle in. They were moths, a species which I have yet to determine. Update: I believe this is a Velvet Bean Caterpillar moth.

Half an hour after Steve and Reuven left for other birdy parts of the park, I noted a small loon flying by. Its shorter feet, smaller size, white face and neck all added up to a likely Red-throated Loon!

Eventually I left the Dog Beach access as well, looking for a different array of avifauna. There were both Kinglets, numerous blackbirds and a few warblers, mostly Yellow-rumped and Palm.
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Palm Warbler

As has been the case in the last few days, the sunny warm conditions have encouraged basking by snakes.

The warmth has been good for some lingering butterflies as well. I noted 6 species of butterfly, including at least 10 Eastern Commas. Monarchs and Red Admirals were also noted.

Turkey Tail, a type of bracket fungus, is commonly seen on rotting hardwood logs in the forest.

But the sunny and excessively warm conditions will be gone soon, probably by the time most readers will see this post. And autumn colours are becoming more prevalent even here in the banana belt.
Autumn maple along Bennett Ave
Virginia Creeper is typically loaded with berries at this time of year, and are great places to find berry eating birds such as American Robins, various other thrushes and warblers.
Virginia Creeper