Sunday, 29 June 2014

Taylor Lake Trees

Taylor Lake Trees
22 June 2014

    The variety of trees and shrubs on our walk around Taylor Lake, described in the previous post, provided great enjoyment for everyone, and in some instances tested our identification skills.
    One of the easiest of all trunks to recognize, thereby facilitating identification of the tree, is that of a mature Shagbark Hickory Carya ovata, with its characteristic long curling strips of very shaggy bark. 

    This fine specimen has graced the woodland for many years.

    Less familiar to most of us was Poison-sumac Toxicodendron vernix and I am sure that most of us would not have recognized it had Larry not pointed it out. In fact, it's not beyond the realm of possibility that some of  us might have handled it in the way one does, to examine the structure of the leaves and stem more closely. Thank goodness we did not, since this plant rivals poison ivy (it is in the same genus) in its ability to deliver serious skin irritation and painful blisters.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Prairie Lily

Prairie (Wood) Lily Lilium philadelphicum
Taylor Lake, Waterloo County
22 June 2014

    Miriam and I joined a plant walk led by Larry Lamb, a veritable botanical encyclopedia, through the meadows and woodland surrounding Taylor Lake, where the Carolinian Zone reaches its northern limit. Hence, numerous species not found mere kilometres away are located in this very special area. In fact the sheer diversity of species that are rare and unique to the area led Larry to exclaim that it should be declared a national park!
    There are many photographs to pore over and we will need to get out our field guides to identify some of the species, but the flower that caused Larry the most excitement was the Prairie Lily shown below. While not endangered across the continent as I understand it, it is nevertheless very rare in this area, and was cause for great excitement.  Its beauty certainly impressed even those among us who did not appreciate its rarity.

Monday, 23 June 2014

C'mon Let's be Friends

At Our Feeder
22 June 2014

    This Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina and this House Finch Haemorhous mexicanus were feeding together at opposite ports on the feeder trying for all the world to ignore each other!

    Predictably, they got into a squabble, and the bigger House Finch won the day and was left in charge of the feeder.

    Maybe one day they'll just all get along!

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Niagara-on-the-Lake Wine Tour

Wilfrid Laurier University Alumni Association Wine Tour
21 June 2014

    I know this is a bird blog, but there is not a whole lot about birds in this post. 
   Once again, we were invited this year to participate in a wine-tasting excursion to Niagara-on-the-Lake by the WLU Alumni Association, and we jumped at the chance to take part.
    It was one of those classic Ontario days as we set off from home; the first full day of summer in fact, with a temperature in the pleasant mid twenties and little humidity. It was the kind of day to do whatever your heart desired, and for us a journey through Ontario's wine country seemed about as good as it could get.
    Having just said that there is not much about birds in this report, we never in fact stop birding at one level or another, and it was with great delight that we registered the fact the two Western Ospreys were on the nest, visible where the highway crosses over the Grand River. This spectacular fish hawk has made a recovery from the darkest days of chemical contamination and is now a relatively common sight in our area.
    Our well-equipped, comfortable bus moved seamlessly along the highway and it was not long before we were disembarking at our first winery, Foreign Affairs Winery.

    This may seem like a bit of an odd name for a winery and an explanation is in order. The owner, Len Crispino, was for most of his career a servant of the Government of Ontario in one capacity or another, and spent a period of about ten years representing Ontario in Milan, Italy. During this period he fell in love with wine produced by the distinctive process called Amarone in which the grapes are all dried before the wine is made, and against his own better judgement at times, and against the sober second thoughts of his friends and family, launched himself into the wine business in Ontario.

    After some serious initial setbacks, and some misgivings in the early stages, Len persevered and now has a viable winery producing a range of wines with the distinct character imparted by the tradition of Amarone.

    Following the tasting of three delicious examples of the output of this winery, we were able to make our purchases in their spacious showroom and retail location.

      We left Foreign Affairs Winery and headed into town for lunch at Bistro Six-One Restaurant. The tour organizers have devised a system whereby each participant selects lunch from several choices before the date of tour so that the restaurant knows ahead of time, and presumably at least some preparation is made before our arrival. This plan works well except for one thing it seems to me - we don't get to eat together. It is more efficient for the kitchen to prepare all of one selection before moving on to the next. They then repeat the same process until all the choices have been served. No doubt it's efficient from the establishment's perspective but it means that everyone having burgers for example gets served first, everyone having veggie wraps receives their lunch second, and so on. This means that no table has everyone served at the same time and some people have finished their meal before friends at their table have even received their food. At our table Miriam's choice of chicken on ciabatta bread was the very last item brought out from the kitchen; we were six at the table and everyone else had completely finished and their plates had been cleaned away before Miriam had food in front of her.

    After lunch we had an hour or so at leisure and Miriam and I spent most of this time in a park in this delightful town.


    As mentioned above, birding seems to be part of our constant state of awareness, and we saw numerous species both at the park and walking back to rejoin the bus, including a stunning male Baltimore Oriole and Chimney Swifts hawking for insects in the sky above the hospital.

    Back on the bus we headed to Joseph's Estate Wines, a family-owned and family-run winery since 1996.

    We toured the vineyard first which suffered considerable damage during the brutal winter of 2013/2104. Many vines will have to be replaced but we saw incipient grapes aplenty, giving great hope for this year's wine.

    At this location we were royally entertained by Eleanor who, at eighty-two years young, is a wonderful and knowledgeable ambassador for their product. She both informed and amused us and we were all moved to make our purchases due in no small measure to Eleanor's influence.

After tasting numerous wines, including that Ontario gem, Ice Wine, we headed to the store to make our selections and Eleanor was there already to help out at the counter.

    Our final destination was Diamond Estates where we toured the vineyards and the entire production facility, followed of course by a wine tasting.

    The barrel room at Diamond Estates was something to behold! 

    The oak barrels are sourced from three different countries - France, Hungary and the United States. There is no mistaking where this barrel originated.

    Our fine dinner was served in the barrel room, accompanied of course by red and white wine on the table. The menu was as follows: Red Wine and Shallot Braised Beef, Chicken with Mushroom Sauce, Field Greens with Dried Cranberries, Tuscan Bean Medley, Hearts of Romaine Cesar Salad, Chef's Potato Selection, Ontario Asparagus and, for dessert, Panna Cotta with Berry Coulis. It was all delicious!
     Following dinner, we boarded the bus to continue our journey back to Waterloo. It was an uneventful drive and the bus disgorged a bevy of happy wine afficionados into the parking lot to retrieve their cars and return home. As we sip our wine over the weeks to come I have no doubt that we will all have happy memories of a day well spent in the enjoyment of one of life's greatest pleasures.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird

Juvenile Brown-headed Cowbird Molothrus ater
19 June 2014

    As mentioned in an earlier post we have witnessed a juvenile cowbird being fed by a surrogate Chipping Sparrow Spizella passerina parent four years in a row in our backyard.
    Today, Miriam took these charming pictures of this juvenile bird, which has truly inherited the art of begging for food, for it cheeps loudly and flutters its wings the moment its unwitting parent comes anywhere near it. 

    Miriam and I both observed the young cowbird being also fed by a Song Sparrow Melospiza melodia, and there is ample evidence in the literature of young birds being fed by species other than their parents and it is thought that they simply respond to the solicitation behaviour of the young bird, which they are apparently unable to resist.
    But this evening while enjoying dinner on the patio we actually saw two juvenile Brown-headed Cowbirds, one being fed by a Chipping Sparrow and one by a Song Sparrow. Not only do we have the incredible good fortune to have one example of brood parasitism right before our eyes, we now have two. So far we have been unable to capture the Song Sparrow with its begging youngster on camera, but we will keep trying.

    Some years ago we naturalized our backyard, taking out all the grass, planting native species of trees and plants, including milkweed for the Monarch butterflies, and we are inclined to believe that this contributes towards the diversity of bird life and other life forms we see on a regular basis.
     This is the third host species we have now seen feeding Brown-headed Cowbird offspring and we consider ourselves very fortunate indeed. I realize that brood parasitism may pose a threat to certain endangered species, but for us, being able to witness these events is just another window into the wonderful world of nature writ large.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Northern Rough-winged Swallow

Northern Rough-winged Swallow Stelgidopteryx serripennis
16 June 2014

    Northern Rough-winged Swallow is difficult to photograph as it rarely seems to perch. Mostly they are seen in flight over open areas or water bodies, with barely an opportunity to alight. Yesterday we were fortunate to see two individuals perched on a barbed wire fence. The pictures are not great but they do serve as a record, however, of a bird that I can only recall having photographed once before. Sometime you have to take what you can get!

Monday, 16 June 2014

A Celebration of Ospreys

Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus
15 June 2014

     Ospreys have made a remarkable recovery since the dark days of organochlorine pesticides, when thin-shelled eggs threatened the very survival of the species.In the area where I live there is a healthy population with several active nests not far from our house. Even though we see them every year, there is nevertheless always a sense of excitement when the first birds appear in the spring, and reclaim their former nest sites. I never tire of seeing them plunge dive to catch a fish; it is one of the great natural spectacles anyone can witness with relative ease.
    This nest is at the Fountain Street bridge in Cambridge and has produced young for several years. We saw the male deliver a fish to the nest and we observed two young birds excitedly receiving it, even though only one can be seen in the picture below.

   Another species that has been making a recovery along the various waterways in our area is the Bald Eagle Haliaeetus leucocephalus and the nest shown below was occupied for several weeks, but it has subsequently been abandoned. It is located no more than a couple of hundred metres from the Osprey nest and various aerial disputes were observed. Perhaps the eagles simply decided to move to a more secluded spot.

    On the rare property in Cambridge, very close as an Osprey flies, another nest has been successful and even though one sees only the two adults in this picture, young birds are present.

    As can be noted from the pictures, Ospreys take readily to man made platforms which serve as a fine base for a nest, and most of the nests around here are located on such structures. It's nice that we can help in the recovery of a species which our disregard for the environmental consequences of pesticides almost destroyed.

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Sandhill Cranes

Sandhill Cranes Grus canadensis
Waterloo County, ON
10 June 2014

    In the vicinity of Grass Lake in the very southern part of Waterloo County (in fact where it abuts Brant County) a number of Sandhill Cranes have bred in recent years. This stately bird finds suitable habitat and an abundance of food, and has been faithful to the area each year.
    Miriam and I travelled down there to see whether we could find a few and were well rewarded as the pictures below will illustrate. Even for a bird so tall, the equally tall grasses and other vegetative cover can render them almost impossible find at this time of year, without a good helping of luck, and some persistent searching. 
    This time all we needed was luck for we spotted a pair almost as soon as we arrived. In fact they had a chick, although we didn't see it, but were shown pictures by a photographer already there.

    In the pictures below it appeared to us that the adults were trying to show their offspring a way through the fence, since they poked their heads through the wire without even coming close to getting stuck. They did this repeatedly but, if indeed they were trying to coax the chick through, they had no success and ultimately wandered back into the grassland.

    In a nearby marsh, Red-winged Blackbirds Agelaius phoeniceus were finding an abundance of caterpillars, high protein fare so essential to the development of their young.

    Male Savannah Sparrows Passerculus sandwichensis, fuelled by a surge in testosterone, were singing from every prominent perch it seemed, anxious to attract a mate and defend their territories. 

    There were other species to round out the time spent there, but the highlight without a doubt was the Sandhill Cranes, and we returned home well satisfied with our excursion. 

Monday, 9 June 2014

Fairmount-Webwood Passage Nature Reserve

Fairmount-Webwood Passage Nature Reserve
Donor Tour
8 June 2014

    All of the clubs, associations and individuals who donated part of the money needed to acquire this tract of land by The Bruce Trail Conservancy were invited to take part in a tour of the property. The Kitchener-Waterloo Field Naturalists participated in this event and were well represented by several of its members, including Miriam and me.
    This acquisition was deemed to be especially significant as it provides a connecting corridor of rich habitat between the existing reserves known as the Fairmount Wetland and Webwood Falls. Now that there is a direct route between the two, several kilometres of road travel have been eliminated.
    Our two staff ecologists for the day were Brian Popelier and Adam Brylowski and they did a fine job of interpreting the natural riches of the area.

Brian, Adam
    Before embarking on our walk we took a small detour to look at one of the falls from which Webwood Falls takes its name. It was quite beautiful, although the mosquitoes in that area were fierce. We were well prepared with repellent, however, so it didn't bother us too much.

    There were many attractive features of the property which contains a variety of habitat, not the least of which was this swamp, so typical of the area.

    Several species of damselflies and dragonflies were observed, not easy to photograph, however, since we were engaged in an exploratory walk and not able to tarry at length. Nevertheless we were able to get a fairly decent shot of this male Ebony Jewelwing Caloptyeryx maculata.

    Miriam reacts badly to insect bites and she was well buttoned up for protection. This, combined with a liberal application of bug spray on every square centimetre of exposed flesh, served her well for she was not bitten even once.

    There were many beautiful plants and trees including extensive patches of  Tall Buttercup Ranunculus acris.

    Wood Anemone Anemone quinqefolia was prolific and gorgeous.

     The curiously named Ostrich Fern Matteuccia struthiopteris is a native species and was quite prolific in some areas. It was quite wonderful to see it swaying in the gentle breeze, seeming at times to resemble a wave.

    Common Milkweed Asclepias incarnata is critical to the survival of the Monarch Butterfly Danaus plexippus and it was encouraging for all of us to see a few plants in the meadows. Brian recounted that "blowing parties" have been organized when the seed pods are about to burst. Volunteers literally blow the seeds from the pods to disperse them as widely as possible to stimulate farther and more widespread densities of the plant. It bears repeating that this is the only plant on which a Monarch lays its eggs and it depends on the toxins provided by milkweed to bolster its defences.

    The whole area was filled with a wide variety of birds, but it would require more time and some dedicated effort to photograph them. This is not a very good picture of Cedar Waxwings Bombycilla cedrorum but it certainly was great to see them flycatching from the snags in the swamp.

    Part of this land is restored pasture and one of the meadows formerly contained a good deal of invasive Common Buckthorn Rhamnus cathartica. Once it takes hold this is a difficult shrub to remove and it was through the concerted efforts of about thirty volunteers over a two-day period that it was eliminated. It is very pleasing to see the amount of regeneration of native trees taking place, based on entirely natural seed dispersal. In twenty or thirty years this meadow will revert to the kind of forest that existed before European settlement in the area.

    At the end of the walk it was time for Miriam to share the friendship of other members of KWFN who had made the journey north to take part in the celebration of this new reserve. Here she is with the ever irrepressible Marg Macdonald.

    And with Mary Ann Vanden Elzen, one of the true stalwarts of the club.

    Delicious baked goodies were provided and a glass of sparkling apple juice to toast the new reserve and all the donors who made it possible.

    I confess to feeling a great sense of pride and satisfaction that our club, now in its 81st year, was able to contribute to making this day happen.

Land Acknowledgement

We acknowledge that the land on which we are situated are the lands traditionally used by the Haudenosaunee, Anishinaabe, and Neutral People. We also acknowledge the enduring presence and deep traditional knowledge, laws, and philosophies of the Indigenous Peoples with whom we share this land today. We are all treaty people with a responsibility to honour all our relations.