Monday, 29 July 2019

A Visit to Bronte Harbour, Oakville, ON

25 July 2019

     For almost as long as I have known Miriam, we have been making excursions along the north shore of Lake Ontario; in fact a few special memories were created on such outings. So, it was with great delight that we embarked on another adventure together.
     Bronte Harbour is a picturesque little cove, especially appealing in the summer when many craft of various sizes, degrees of opulence and affordability, are berthed at the docks.

     Canada in general is not a flag-waving nation (thankfully), so it is both striking and unusual to see so many flags fluttering in the breeze. 
     For many years Bronte Harbour was home to a thriving colony of American Cliff Swallows (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) and many nests remain.

     Unfortunately, these nests have been taken over by aggressive House Sparrows (Passer domesticus), an alien species, and not a single nest is any longer occupied by Cliff Swallows. 
     Even where barriers had been installed to prevent the Cliff Swallows from nesting, and raining their droppings on pedestrians below, wily House Sparrows have found a way to beat it.

     It is entirely due to the deliberate actions of humans that this invasive species has become so well established throughout North America, but it has become a serious problem for many native species, especially cavity nesters.

     A pair of American Crows (Corvus brachyrynchos) had obviously had a successful breeding season, and dedicated parents were still being pestered by young birds fully capable of getting their own food, but always on the lookout for a free meal if it was to be had. The begging calls of the fledglings were constant.

     In recent years, chairs (known locally as Muskoka chairs) have become available at various dockside points for people to sit on and enjoy the sun. The chairs are sponsored by local businesses and organizations and add a lovely splash of colour to the environs. 

     I can vouch that it is pleasant indeed to sit on the dock, with the water lapping gently against the seawall, sipping a cold drink, or simply watching the world go by.

          Our principal goal for the day was to see the sizable colony of both Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia) and Common Tern (Sterna hirundo), and we were not disappointed. 

     Caspian Tern is the world's largest tern and in the picture below you can see how it dwarfs the Common Tern off to the left on the breakwater.

     The task of catching fish to feed hungry young is a serious business.

     We were entertained for a half hour or more by these aerial acrobats, and more than a few rested on the breakwater between bouts of fishing. As you can see a few Ring-billed Gulls (Larus delawarensis) were happy to share the space with them. 

     We have become accustomed to seeing large numbers of Double-crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) at Bronte, sometimes numbering in the thousands, but today we saw but a couple of flocks far out on the lake, perhaps  forty or fifty birds, and a lone individual perched on the spar of a boat.

    I suspect that this has something to do with the senseless, illegitimate and heartless cull of this species. Someone should start to cull a few of us.
     The breeding success achieved by Red-necked Grebes (Podiceps grisegena) over several years has been quite remarkable. The past couple of years, however, have been equally remarkable for their lack of results and it appears that once again there is complete failure. A bird was sitting on one nest, attended by her partner, but there appeared to be none of the excited interaction that normally is manifest in a breeding pair. There was no exchange at the nest so we were unable to ascertain whether there were eggs. Sadly, we saw no young of the year at all.

     It was quite a different story with Canada Geese (Branta canadensis) where many young are now almost indistinguishable from their parents.

    Several Mallards (Anas platyrynchos) were basking lazily at the water's edge. No doubt they too enjoy a tranquil, warm summer's day.

     I suspect that these birds are males who have moulted their feathers and are in the condition known as eclipse plumage and are now acquiring their new plumage.
     See Kortright (1943) - In the early summer, as soon as the females are well established in their incubation duties, the males of most of the ducks desert them, gather into flocks by themselves, and proceed to moult their bright winter plumage.
     During this moult, the brilliant plumage of the males is gradually replaced by a sombre, inconspicuous dress, which in most cases is almost identical with that of the adult female. This plumage is known as the eclipse plumage.
     The moult which results in the eclipse plumage is known as the "post-nuptial"or "eclipse" moult. It consists of a complete moult, of the body, tail and wing feathers.
      After we left the harbour we went to a little restaurant where we had eaten a couple of times in the past, and always enjoyed it. Lunch was as good in the eating as it had been in our memory!
      We have to be sure to do this again before summer is done with us for another year.

Saturday, 27 July 2019

Bringing in the Sheaves

     25 July 2019

     Wherever you live, I am sure that there are certain characteristics that define "home" for you, make it "your place," so to speak.
     One of the distinguishing features of The Region of Waterloo, Ontario, where Miriam and I live, is the presence of a large Mennonite community. Like every religion, it seems, it is broken into factions, with different levels of adherence to ancestral Mennonite beliefs and traditions, but there is a substantial community of Old Order Mennonites that still hews to ancient dogma and rejects many of the trappings of modern life.

       Everyone is familiar with the old expression "Make hay while the sun shines;" well, that applies equally to bringing in the sheaves of wheat.
     When we passed a field with the sheaves neatly stooked, and saw a horse-drawn dray, we could not resist stopping to watch.

      As you can see this is a labour intensive process, and all members of the family (and friends too) are pressed into service.

     Children from an early age have chores to do, and this boy, too young to heft the sheaves, is nevertheless expected to help.

     His hat is a little battered, and somewhat the worse for wear, but I am sure he thinks it is just perfect, and no doubt he enjoys being with the men, and taking part in the important work of harvesting the grain.

     When the dray is filled to capacity, it is time to head for the barn to unload.

     A second contingent is already loading up as row after row of wheat is tossed onto the wagon. This boy has graduated to a new hat it seems!

     This is hard, physical work, and the temperature was around 28 degrees, but the men worked without a break and none slacked off.

     In no time at all the cart was more than half full.

     Back at the house the women folk had been busy too. Laundry hanging on the line was proof enough that good weather was an opportunity not to be missed.

     Inside the home much preparation would be underway preparing supper for the men. After such a day's exertion they would no doubt have prodigious appetites, and the table would be laden with bread and apple butter, regardless of what was to follow - likely meat, potatoes, vegetables - and perhaps a shoofly pie for dessert. Not for these folks quiche and salad sprouts!
     Two youngsters had carefree moments on their bikes, but in a few more years they will join the band of workers too.

     As we drove away, the barn waited for its next load.....

     .....and the house had an air of neatness and tranquility, a fitting refuge no doubt after a hard day under the hot sun.

     We may not have much interaction with the Mennonite community, nor they with us more than is necessary, but I for one am mightily pleased that they are here in our midst. It just wouldn't be home without them.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Tuesday Rambles with David - West Perth Wetlands, Mitchell, ON

23 July 2019

     We all convened at 08h:30 at the West Perth Wetlands in Mitchell, ON, primarily to catch the first flush of southbound shorebird migration, but also to see what else we could find in what has become a first rate birding location in recent years.

     Judy and Mary were unable to join us, but along with Franc and Carol, and Jim and Francine, we spent a very agreeable three hours immersed in nature.
     The level of the ponds is regulated and the depth of the water was a tad high for shorebirds generally, but not so deep as to exclude them altogether.

     Small sandbars and tiny islands provided habitat, and the shore at the edge of the ponds was graduated, permitting birds to forage in shallow water.
     There were many Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) present, and as a species that breeds locally, it was apparent that a productive breeding season had been enjoyed.

     Families of Mallards (Anas platyrynchos), with young in every stage of development were frequently seen.

     Surely one of the very agreeable features of a walk through the meadows of southern Ontario in spring and summer, is the sheer familiarity one gains with Song Sparrows (Melopspiza melodia). Males can be easily spotted perched atop saplings or other elevated lookouts.

     Most of their song is concerned with the serious business of territorial defence and mate selection, but you would swear that at times they sing for the pure exhilaration of doing so. 

     And very pleasant it is too, to amble along in warm sunshine, being serenaded by a Song Sparrow.
     West Perth Wetlands is a premium location to find Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) and this enchanting species breeds there each year. 

     Since males play a minimal role, or no role at all,  in raising the young, we did not see any, and in fact they may be undergoing moult when their flight feathers are all lost at the same time, and it is prudent to remain concealed in the vegetation.
     Many young were observed, however, from ducklings a mere day or two old, through robust juveniles as big as their parents.

     Of course, in addition to birds there are many other natural attractions, and Monarchs (Danaus plexippus) navigating the crosswinds are always a delight to see.

     Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) is a very common resident of wetlands, with handsome, robust males tending a harem of females. This one seemed content to peek out from behind a leaf.

     Where there is water in Ontario there are Muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus) and we always take great pleasure in seeing them, especially when we consider the extent to which they were mercilessly hunted and trapped for their pelts in times past.

     The population has fortunately rebounded and all can delight in their industrious comings and goings.
     As mentioned earlier there were many Wood Ducks with young.

     There are certain hatchling birds that elicit "aahs" from all who see them. Young Killdeer would be high on that list.

     There were quite a few Least Sandpipers (Calidris minutilla) feeding along the water's edge. This is the world's smallest sandpiper and the Killdeer in the foreground give a good size comparison.

     Here is a Least Sandpiper with a Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius), the latter being a species that breeds locally, as contrasted with the Least Sandpiper that has recently arrived from its breeding grounds in the Arctic.

     And, a picture of a Least Sandpiper by itself.

     Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) was clearly the most common shorebird, as it usually is, and many were wading belly deep in the water, snagging insects from the surface.

     Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) was also present, but in much smaller numbers and always beyond the range of photography.
     In mid summer wildflowers are rampant with a stunning, and very pleasing variety of shapes, colours and sizes, from ground-hugging miniatures to giants standing almost a metre tall. 
     These beauties are a species of Bindweed, genus Convolvulaceae.

   Various flowers attract beetles and I believe that the following creature is one of the large number of similar beetles in the family Cantharidae, although I am the first to confess that the order Coleoptera is almost as much of a mystery to me as Egyptian hieroglyphics!

     There are many tall plants with large spreading inflorescence but I am  confident this is Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota).

     A Western Honeybee (Apis mellifera) was nectaring on Knapweed, in the genus Centaurea.

     Here is another look at Knapweed which was prolific and attracted a wide range of insects.

     Various species of Burdock (Genus Arctium) are widespread and highly invasive.

     Jewelweeds (Genus Impatiens), on the other hand, are native species, and all quite lovely, eagerly sought out by Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilocus colubris) as a rich and abundant source of nectar.

     Chicory (Cichorium intybus) could be found throughout, nodding in the wind like a princess perched atop a steed.

      A female Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater) reminded us that we were there primarily to see birds.

     But I make no apologies for being sidetracked by the beauty around us, the wonders of nature before our eyes, with secrets waiting to be discovered. 
     In fact, if this narrative seems a little disjointed, I do apologize for that, but it is following the sequence of Miriam's pictures which trace our footsteps as we meandered around the wetland.
     The family of Damselflies know as Bluets (Genera Coenagrion and Enallagma) are extremely difficult to identify without having the species in the hand, so we will have to be content to simply call them Bluets!

     The following flower is a total mystery to me, but I will continue to see whether I can identify it and if I succeed I will add the name to this account.

     A Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) was much easier, although the picture is not the best ever of this species.

     This Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) seemed content to hunker down in the foliage. In the fall this species does acquire a yellowish tinge to the belly, but I think reflected light magnified the hue somewhat in this picture.

     Odonates were out in force and this Slender Spreadwing (Lestes rectangularis) kindly consented to have a picture taken.

     A Twelve-spotted Skimmer (Libella pulchella) was no less obliging, living up to its French common name La Gracieuse!

     I think one could spend a lifetime studying flies and barely scratch the surface, so for a duffer like me, my acquaintance with them is scant and often times ephemeral. But I can tell you that this is a Greenbottle Fly in the genus Lucilia.

     A female Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) gave me no difficulty at all!

     Towards the end of our circumnavigation of the wetland there were stands of Daylilies (Genus Hemerocallis), invasive species that have been introduced by way of people's gardens, but dazzling and beautiful nonetheless.

     As always, I am grateful for Miriam for her patience with the camera, and for capturing such a wide range of organisms.
     And when we all got back to the parking lot Carol had yet another treasure for us. She had baked rhubarb muffins and had one for each hungry naturalist. If you can think of a better way to end a walk, then you are one up on me! Thank you, Carol!