Friday, 18 June 2021

Still staying local.....

09 June 2021
Lakeside Park, Kitchener, ON

     The park has become dense with vegetation and some of the paths are barely visible.

     There is luxuriant growth everywhere you look.

     Dragonflies have been abundant of late and  many Common Whitetails (Plathemis lydia) were present, and one very obliging female stopped for a moment to have her picture taken.

    That two-legged reprobate, Homo ignoramus disgusticus continues to do what it does best, trash the environment, and it appears that this squirrel found tasty remnants left in a plastic container cavalierly tossed away.

      It certainly is not beneficial for the squirrel to acquire a taste for human food and start to seek it out. It is lacking nutritionally and in any future conflict between squirrel and human there is going to be one sure loser - the squirrel.

     In Canada last year, 3.3 millions tonnes of plastic was diligently separated and put out for recycling, of which only 9% was actually recycled. There is simply not the industrial capacity to process more. This abysmal ratio is no doubt true in other countries, and in many even worse. There are poor countries where there is no attempt at all to recycle plastics, electronic waste or other hazardous products. Children pick through mountains of garbage exposing themselves to all manner of hazards to their health.
      In addition to household waste, containers like the one the squirrel is licking never make it to a recycling bin. The land we use for recreation and food is degraded with this stuff, soil and groundwater are polluted - and we just keep tossing it away. 
      People have more excuses than you can imagine for continuing to eat at restaurants that offer only plastic cutlery and styrofoam plates, plastic-lined beverage containers and little plastic containers for dipping sauce, to using disposable items at home to avoid the onerous chore of doing the dishes - and so on. It would be as well to sign a pledge committing to providing a trashed planet for your children and grandchildren, because that is exactly what you are doing.
     I had no intention of getting into this disgrace when I started to write this post, but it is one of the key issues of our time. A friend of mine was horrified to see plastic bottles floating on the ocean in Antarctica, and the islands of debris floating in the seas of the world are well known to all. Microplastics are now being absorbed by fish rendering them unsafe for human consumption. It goes on and on.
     It was a hot day and we left the squirrel to enjoy its treat. 

     I bet it wouldn't take long to find another.

10 June 2021
Our backyard, Waterloo, ON

     A Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) is a handsome bird indeed, and I always think the French name for it, Pic flamboyant, captures it so well.

     Unusual among woodpeckers it is primarily a ground-feeding species, with ants forming the mainstay of its diet.
     Like all backyards ours has its share of ants, and this individual was perfectly willing to help us get them under control!

     At times it seemed as though he was bent on excavating the patio as he drilled into the soil between the bricks!

     It was a great pleasure to share our space with him and we hope he returns often. Ants du jour will doubtless always be available.

11 June 2021
Lily at Breithaupt Park, Kitchener, ON

Will someone help me out of the car, please?

A snack is always welcome.

         Bet you can't put your foot in your mouth - well not literally, anyway.

     That was a good one!

 Do you think I'm cute?

 This is a good book!

 That was a great way to spend a couple of hours.

11 June 2021
SpruceHaven, St. Agatha, ON

      Everywhere is looking quite splendid at this time of the year.

     The Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) colony is thriving and we have around thirty nests with eggs or young.

     The adults are kept busy providing a nonstop feeding shuttle to hungry young, and have earned a brief rest now and then.

     Siberian iris (Iris siberica) is found around the pond. A more gorgeous plant would be hard to imagine.

     Yellow Iris (Iris pseudacorus) also does well there, and is no less appealing.

     This non-native species can be highly invasive, but is often planted at waste water ponds to take advantage of its ability to absorb heavy metals.

     The area we call Teen Hollow in recognition of the work done there by WRN Teens is coming along according to plan, and is well on the way to becoming a fully functional restored wetland.

Back at home, Waterloo, ON

     A glass before dinner, another with dinner. Hmmm!

     How could you resist a wine with a name like that?

14 June 2021
Laurel Creek Conservation Area, Waterloo, ON

     Having now bought an annual pass to all the properties of the Grand River Conservation Authority, we go over to Laurel Creek quite frequently.
     With a sky like this and modest mid-twenties temperature, you will understand the allure.

     We took our thermos of coffee and Miriam's delicious apple cake to David's Dell, and almost as soon as we sat down had the company of a Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos), a fine welcome indeed.

      Soldier Beetles (Catharis livida) are making their presence known and a quick search is sure to turn up a few.

     We are still seeing them in singles, but soon they will be living up to their colloquial name of "boinking beetle" since the entire population seems to be joined together in a glorious orgy of sex!

     What a handsome creature it is!
     And Northern Crescent (Phyciodes cocyta) was also a joy to see.

     It is always rewarding to capture them with wings both spread and closed to display all aspects of their beauty.

     The pattern on the hindwing almost looks like scrollwork.
     Bluets (genera Coenagrion and Enallagma) can be frustratingly difficult to identify without hand examination, but given the likelihood of a given species where we encounter it, I believe this representative is Familiar Bluet (Enallagma civile). 

      They were present in their hundreds, but were airborne far more frequently than perched.

     It was interesting to see a Northern Crescent and a bluet so close to each other.

     The most ambitious attempt at identification for the species below that I can make is that it is in the family Coenagrionidae, a narrow-winged damselfly of some type.

     If you have by now concluded that my level of proficiency with odenates is not great, you are right!
     A Little Wood-Satyr (Megisto cymela) posed no identification difficulties at all.

     We are just getting into the period of peak abundance for Northern Pearly-eye (Enodia anthedon) and we were rewarded with a few sightings.

     Monarch (Danaus plexippus) is probably the best known butterfly in the world, due principally to the many TV documentaries viewed by a wide audience.

     Most birds are now well advanced into their breeding season and they are both silent and secretive, but one can always count on an American Robin (Turdus migratorius) to bid a fond farewell.

     I had Miriam to keep me company, coffee, apple cake, butterflies, dragonflies, birds and beetles too.  I can think of no better way to spend a morning in June.

Wednesday, 16 June 2021

Book Review - The Birds of Maine - Princeton University Press


     Having spent a week intensively birding in Maine a few years ago, in all its varied habitats, I looked forward eagerly to reviewing Birds of Maine.
     Although I never met Peter Vickery I knew of him by reputation and a greater advocate for the State of Maine and its birds never lived. Sadly, Peter died of cancer before the completion and publication of the book, and it is due to his dedication and commitment that we have this magnificent work before us today. If it is possible to achieve perfection in a work of this nature, I think this is it. Even those who have little interest in Maine specifically should get their hands on a copy to see how it should be done!
     Peter's wife, Barbara, and the eminent author and ornithologist, Scott Weidensaul, took on the  responsibility of completing the book, sensitively  embracing Peter's vision throughout, and the results speak for themselves. 
     By carefully reading all of the sections leading up to the species accounts, one is provided with a wonderful review of Maine's rich ornithological history, avian distribution, habitats, current status and conservation, and a glimpse into what the future might hold, faced with rising sea levels and the impact of climate change. How many coastal marshes will disappear? How might rising temperatures affect forest cover and the birds that depend on it? Which  species will no longer find the conditions they need for their very survival? Many of these questions have disturbing implications, but the issues need to be faced. One cannot plan for a future without understanding what it will look like.
     I have long held the art of Lars Jonsson in high esteem and I can think of no better artist to provide the coloured plates which grace the book so well. A Swede by birth and by choice, Jonsson has great experience with the birds of a northern landscape such as Maine, and is especially adept at rendering the seabirds of northern latitudes in evocative detail.
     The line drawings of Barry Van Dusen are no less inviting and make it a pleasure to turn each page.
     The species accounts, the meat and potatoes of the book so to speak, are well laid out, filled with information, frequently accompanied by range maps. Below the common and scientific name each species is introduced by a short sentence, often whimsical in nature, great fun in a serious tome. A couple of examples will illustrate the technique. For the familiar and much-loved Red-winged Blackbird, "A loud, flashy harbinger of spring." And for the less admired brood parasitic Brown-headed Cowbird, "A stealthy, ubiquitous, and successful brood parasite from the Great Plains". 
     This book is a huge success from every vantage point. In the interests of a balanced review I searched for typos, for editorial sloppiness, for incorrect facts, for a picture incorrectly labelled, for maps that were unclear - I found none!
     Of all the books that have come my way in recent years, this is about as good as it gets!

The Birds of Maine - Princeton University Press
Author: Peter D. Vickery, illustrated by Lars Jonsson and Barry Van Dusen 
Hardcover - US$45.00, £38.00  
ISBN: 9780691193199
Published: 3 November 2020 (USA)
                12 January 2021 (UK)
664 pages - 8.75 x 11.75 inches - 150+ black-and-white drawings and colour plates


Saturday, 12 June 2021

A Naturalist's Pot Pourri

      We are slowly easing back to normalcy, although having been in and out of lockdown three times, we are waiting to see if this return to regular life will last.

06 June 2021

Three Bridges Road, St. Jacobs, ON

     This was a very hot day with the air temperature around 32 degrees, and with humidity factored in close to 40. To say that I dislike this kind of weather would put it mildly.
     Instead of taking a walk we decided to go for a drive in an air-conditioned vehicle.
     There is a small man-made pond on Three Bridges Road and on hot days it becomes a premier attraction for birds; Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) especially are prone to congregate there.

     Four were present to enjoy the cooling effect of the water.

     And a female Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) was not to be denied either.

     Farther along the road we spotted six Killdeer in a field where the grass no doubt offered a little respite from the heat.

     Even the face on this tree seemed to be suffering and grimacing!

Hawkesville, ON

     A Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) was panting to stay cool, all the while scanning for fish in the river below. No doubt a plunge would be refreshing!

Our Backyard, Waterloo, ON

     Back at home the backyard was a bit of an oasis, with the temperature being several degrees lower than out on the street.

     A juvenile American Robin (Turdus migratorius) visits us several times a day, finding rich pickings among the stones on the path.

     Although quite capable of foraging for itself it has not lost the instinct to beg for food and gives it a try with any other bird that is close at hand regardless of species.

     It has little success of course, but it is fun to watch as it tries to secure food without effort. We enjoy watching these antics.
     We have a lone Lupine (Lupinus polyphyllus) which is producing beautiful flowers and attracting pollinators.

     On any given day many American Goldfinches (Spinus tristis) come to feed and bathe. The males look especially handsome at this time of year.

     But the females are not lacking in charm and beauty either.

     Common Grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) are all business when they visit. They waste no time when gathering food, and often stop for a drink at the bird bath on the way out.

     Never a day goes by without Mourning Doves (Zenaida macroura) and the backyard wouldn't be the same without them.

     And it is a rare day that we don't have North Cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis). The male bursts on the scene in a blaze of glory, with a song to match.

     The female is equally beautiful, perhaps more so in the eyes of some.

Laurel Creek Conservation Area, Waterloo, ON

     After dinner we took our coffee and cookies over to Laurel Creek to spend a little time in David's Dell.
     A Golden-backed Snipe Fly (Chrysopilus thoracius), our first ever, was an exciting discovery.

07 June 2021
SpruceHaven, St. Agatha, ON

     Last year I had the distinct pleasure of conducting a walk for couple of teachers and a group of children.
     The teacher's names are Katherine and Kayli, fine dedicated people, and a pleasure to know and share time with. 
     Here is Katherine's definition of the group:   "This group has no status as a school, and is best described as a group of parents (essential workers) working together to support our children through this pandemic year.  While The Working Centre supports its staff in this way by providing space, we are a self-directed "learning pod" (with a big focus on experiential learning!) with no formal structure or status".  
     I can't imagine a more creative way to teach children. And when you meet the kids it is immediately apparent  that they have learned so much and have developed skills as young naturalists.
     It was my pleasure to spend an afternoon at SpruceHaven with them.

        The series of pictures below will give you an idea of the fun they had, all the while learning new things about the wonderful world of nature. I don't think that further commentary is needed from me.

08 June 2021

Hirondelusia, Kitchener, ON

      Hirondelusia is a Barn Swallow habitat modified from designs approved by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry to mitigate habitat, and to channel public concern about species at risk.
     This project was conceived and constructed by my friend Jennifer Cleary-Lemon, Associate Professor in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of Waterloo, with admirable and able cooperation from Marcel O'Gorman, University Research Chair, Professor of English and Founding Director of The Critical Media Lab.

     Through a collaborative, combined academic and creative approach, Hirondelusia seeks HOW and WHY specific species at risk recovery strategies are designed and built, and WHAT seeing structures like this tell humans about threatened species like the Barn Swallow.

     Bravo Jennifer and Marcel.

Behind John M. Harper Public Library, Waterloo, ON

     Behind the library there is an expanse of open ground (for how long I wonder?) stretching towards the nest of Western Osprey (Pandion haliaetus) that has been successful for several years. The nest is located atop a hydro transmission tower, close as an osprey flies to the productive fishing areas of Laurel Creek Reservoir and Columbia Lake.
     This grassland with scattered shrubs and two small artificial ponds, surrounded on all sides by roads and human presence, forms a bit of a haven for wildlife, and we have often made exciting discoveries there.
     Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) can be found with little effort, and no doubt breeds there.

     Viceroy (Limenitis archippus) is a species that mimics a Monarch (Danaus plexippus) to fool predators into thinking it is toxic.
      Miriam took what I see as two very appealing pictures.

     Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar) is a destructive defoliating moth, and its caterpillars can strip a tree in record time. Unfortunately they are abundant and widespread this year, wreaking havoc wherever they appear.

     Dragonflies abound now, but so many simply refuse to rest for a few minutes, and so remain unidentified since we do not capture them in a net.
Calico Pennant (Celithemis elisa) was more obliging than most.

Calico Pennant ♂

Calico Pennant ♀

     I hope that my good friend Richard Pegler, dragonfly aficionado and skilled photographer, will enjoy these shots.
     Virginia Ctenucha (Ctenucha virginica) is a common diurnal moth, and there were many flitting around.

     It's good to keep a wide eye open when searching through vegetation. Nature delivers simple treasures.

     Water droplets on a leaf outshine the Hope Diamond in my opinion. Human bling is superficial, artificial, sometimes garish, and valued financially and aesthetically according to time and the dictates of fashion. Nature's adornments are eternal in their beauty, ephemeral perhaps, yet guaranteed to reappear. 
     Common Ringlet (Coenonympha tullia) is indeed common at this time of year.

     What would a grassland with scattered saplings be without a chorus of Song Sparrows (Melospiza melodia)?

     So many familiar wildflowers, so much pleasure.

Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron strigosus)

Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)

     There were many, many insects and their larvae making a living among the forbs and grasses, the flowers, shrubs and ground cover, so many I could not count so high.
     Here is the larva of a Seven-spotted Lady Beetle (Coccinella septempunctata) quietly going about its business.

     A Four-lined Plant Bug (Poecilocapus lineatus) is a very handsome specimen.

     Ribwort Plantain (PLantago lanceolata) was dotted here and there.

     It has been said that familiarity breeds contempt. I can assure you that this adage is untrue of our reaction to American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis). Rarely a day goes by that we do not see this species and there are usually several in our backyard, but it never becomes any less beautiful for its ubiquity.

     We were not sure whether we had seen Giant Vetch (Vicia nigricens) before, but if so we had forgotten it.

     It is very striking.
     And so is a Golden Tortoise Beetle (Charidotella sexpunctata).

    Do you find Tufted Vetch (Vicia cracca) beautiful? 

     I do!
     Dotted Loosestrife (Lysimachia punctata) is non native, but quite beautiful. It has the ability, however, as do most invasive species, to out-compete native vegetation.

    It would be great if we did not have to deal with so many organisms that do not belong here, but I am afraid it is too late to expect that we will ever eradicate them, or in some cases even get them under control.
     Our final companion of the morning was a very handsome Black Blister Beetle (Epicauta pensylvanica).

     What a wonderful time we had, poking and probing, making exciting discoveries, calling each other over to share our finds. If you are someone who has been chafing at the bit to emerge from COVID restrictions, I encourage you to get out and search in a local field, or woodlot, along the banks of a pond, or in your own backyard. There is more to satisfy your curiosity than you ever dreamed possible.