Thursday, 29 October 2015

Dark-eyed Junco (Junco ardoisé) in our Yard

29 October 2015

     Fall is well advanced now and as the following pictures from our backyard show most of the leaves are off the trees. Yesterday we had driving rain and today the wind is quite fierce so the combination of the two might just denude them completely.

     Dark-eyed Juncos Junco hyemalis returned to the area a couple of weeks ago and have been constantly in our yard ever since.

     Juncos seem to have a charm all of their own and we always look forward to sharing our space with them. At times when they are feeding on the ground, seemingly undisturbed by anything, they suddenly burst into flight and zoom off revealing the flash of white outer tail feathers so characteristic of this bird.
     For the most part they seem quite content to forage on the ground, kicking up the leaves to garner whatever morsels are hidden below.

     There are various subspecies of Dark-eyed Junco and females are quite distinct, so it is always fun to scan and see what can be found. Some individuals can be easily identified. One year we had a bird whose white outer tail feathers were much more prominent than others, and we called him Flash. He stayed with us right through the winter until the birds moved out the following spring.
    Although this species feeds mainly on the ground some of the birds become very adept at utilizing the feeders, but they are in the minority. This individual is a striking male.

     This morning a boldly coloured male Northern Cardinal Cardinalis cardinalis was feeding with the juncos, but in their sombre greys they did not seem to suffer by comparison. It's a great addition to any backyad.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Vive Le Canada! Vive Justin Trudeau!

20 October 2015

     Yesterday in Canada's federal election Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party were elected to the status of majority government. We salute you Monsieur Trudeau and applaud the principled campaign you led, focusing on a vision of hope and inclusiveness for all Canadians. Our future looks bright.
     No government is perfect, of course, but we can look forward to a future based on science, truth and sincerity, and not one of division and disparagement, based on narrow ideology as practiced by the Harper conservatives. Scientists were muzzled, cabinet ministers were not permitted to speak to the press in a forthright manner, and were provided with media scripts they had to stick to. Questions were never answered in the House of Commons; a mockery was made of parliament. Conservative backbenchers were stooges, they were not even permitted by their party to take part in all candidate debates if it in any way looked as though the views of the party might be challenged and come under scrutiny; they were pawns in Harper's game.
     Canada's environmental record was appalling and the slavish commitment to the development and expansion of the tar sands made us pariahs on the world stage. Many environmental protections were eliminated surreptitiously by burying them in giant omnibus budget bills where they had no place. We abdicated our position as a country with a strong environmental conscience by failing to meet the commitments we had agreed to at international gatherings to reduce greenhouse gases, the Kyoto Protocol being notable in this regard.
     Goodbye Mr. Harper. Good riddance!

     Your way is not the only way. Canadians are sick and tired of the politics of negativity and division. May you wallow in the backwaters of ignominy forever.
     Thomas Mulcair, leader of the NDP should be congratulated for running a competitive, spirited campaign, based on clear positions, reflecting the history of the social democratic movement in Canada. His party suffered crushing losses, but he should nevertheless be congratulated for his commitment to our country and his long record of public service.

     Elizabeth May, a lifelong environmentalist, and leader of the Green Party in Canada, was the only member of her party to win a seat. This was not entirely unexpected. She is an enormously capable woman, with very high standards, impeccable principles and substantial scientific expertise. Let us hope that Justin Trudeau reaches out to her and uses her wisely.

     And so we say again, congratulations Justin Trudeau. Félicitations encore. We look forward to four years of good government at home and the restoration and refurbishment of our reputation abroad.
     Vive Le Canada! Vive Justin Trudeau! 

Thursday, 15 October 2015

Hairy Woodpecker (Pic chevelu) Feeding on Staghorn Sumac

15 October 2015
rare, Cambridge, ON

     Fall weather in southern Ontario this year has been especially agreeable, with warm sunny days and an abundance of dazzling foliage.
     This morning, while doing my regular Thursday morning monitoring at the rare Charitable Reserve in Cambridge, it was a distinct highlight to see two Hairy Woodpeckers Picoides villosus feeding on the fruit of Staghorn Sumac Rhus typhina. The drupes of this shrub are densely gathered into a conical formation and covered with hairs.

    The shrub actually has separate male and female plants and the fruit is produced on the female. The name Staghorn Sumac derives from the fact that the bark has a fine velvety texture, somewhat reminiscent of the velvet of the new antlers of stags.

     Sumac is impressive at any time of year, but it really assumes its prominence in the fall when the leaves and the fruit turn a vivid scarlet, breathtaking when struck by sunlight.

     White-throated Sparrows Zonotrichia albicollis was quite common, feeding on the ground, and flitting in and out of cover. It was not the easiest species to photograph today!

     For a couple of weeks now there has been a significant concentration of Rusty Blackbirds Euphagus carolinus, a species which has declined in abundance in recent years.

     Red-winged Blackbirds Agelaius phoeniceus were flocking with the Rusty Blackbirds; curiously the males were in full voice. I could have closed my eyes and easily imagined that I was listening to recently arrived males at a marsh in spring.

     Here is a hatch year male starting to acquire the badge of his gender.

     Both species of blackbird occupied the higher parts of snags, and trees already denuded of leaves, and the chorus was almost deafening.

     Mourning Doves Zenaida macroura were very willing to share the branches with the blackbirds.

     It was interesting, albeit a tad gruesome, to come across the corpse of a small Raccoon Procyon lotor, almost picked clean by whatever predator had been able to capture it.

     The colours of the trees are so glorious that it is hard to resist taking a few more photographs, so let me present, with no apologies for repetitiveness, autumn in southern Ontario at its best.

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Parotoid (alternatively paratoid) Gland in American Toads

     The parotoid gland is found on the back, neck and shoulders of toads. It secretes a milky alkaloid substance called bufotoxin, to deter predators. Bufotoxin operates as a neurotoxin.
     In the picture of an American Toad Anaxyrus americanus americanus below, taken locally in Cambridge, ON, the raised glands are very visible, located somewhat behind the eyes.

     American Toads present an entire range of colouration, as can be see from the following pictures, all from an area within a thirty kilometre range from my house. Doubtless the colour of the skin can change hue depending on environmental conditions and the substrate in which the toad finds itself.

     In all instances the parotoid glands are clearly visible, although not as prominent as in the first picture, where they are a lighter shade than the rest of the toad's skin.
     I have no doubt that the secretion of bufotoxin is effective as an anti-predator strategy in many instances, but as far as I can tell, it appears to offer little defence against avian predators such as Broad-winged Hawk Buteo platypterus or Great Blue Heron Ardea herodias.

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Magic Along the Mill Race

7 October 2015

     Fall weather continues to be truly glorious here, with temperatures hitting the low twenties by mid afternoon, and I took advantage of the fine conditions to walk the length of the Mill Race in St. Jacobs and back.
     White-breasted Nuthatches Sitta carolinensis were very active, and vocal too, as they went about the important business of stashing food to be retrieved during the winter ahead. Perhaps the vocalizations represented squabbling over a choice patch of seeds ready for the taking.

     This female Downy Woodpecker Picoides pubescens seemed a little more relaxed as she hitched up and down the trunk of a tree searching for insects, spiders and larvae; she seemed to be more engaged in eating what she found rather than caching it for later.

     There were many Blue Jays Cyanocitta cristata around and their raucous calls shattered the peace of a sunny morning. Loud though they sometimes are, the sounds of nature never seem to impair the tranquility of a beautiful day, as the sound of a truck going by does, for example. The cadence of nature is a welcome sound, the noise of humanity an unwelcome intrusion.

     Meandering farther along the trail I came upon this apple tree laden with fruit.

     Many of the apples have probably become home to grubs and they will provide a fine source of protein for the many woodpeckers and other species that exploit this rich source of food.
     Those that had fallen to the ground were already being consumed by squirrels and other animals.

     All along the trail there was a variety of fungi, most of which I was unable to identify, but appreciated them nonetheless.

     In a classic scene of the harmonious beauty of nature, a sense of everything in its place, this pair of Mallards Anas platyrynchos was quietly enjoying the serenity of this fall day.

     As might be expected, the colours on the trees are turning to hues of gold and red and purple, and the sunlight reflecting on them revealed a glorious sight.

     Eastern Chipmunks Tamias striatus were seen scurrying to and fro, often with their cheek pouches filled with provisions for the winter; soon they will enter hibernation.

     The following shot gives you an idea of just how pleasant the Mill Race is to walk alongside.

     More fall colours attracted my attention as I meandered along - you are seeing everything in the same sequence as I encountered it.

     More fungi were in evidence and I was given to wondering if any of these species are edible. Obviously I didn't try to find out!

Hen-of-the-Woods Grifola frondosa

     More colours:

     I believe that these nuts are the fruit of one of the species of Hickory, but I am not sure which one.

     As the leaves fall from the trees they drop into the water and are borne along with the current until they hit an obstacle such as a submerged branch, where they gather and form a mat of foliage.

      It was a marvelous morning and I felt envigorated and at peace with the world. The following words by Wendell Berry could well have been written to express my feelings of happiness and inner well-being; my sense of joy that nature is still everything to me.

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.