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Thursday, 27 August 2020

Another Grab Bag of the Meanderings of Miriam and David

      The realities imposed by the global pandemic are a daily feature of our lives, but by careful planning, common sense and respect for others we have been able to continue on with our lives without undue hindrance.

Forwell Park/Hillside Park, Waterloo, ON

     Often, after dinner, we go for a walk through Forwell Park to Hillside Park, and are bound to encounter other walkers and cyclists, but everyone seems to be well aware of the precautionary measures to be taken, and it is a pleasant experience all round. I don't think that we have ever encountered another birder there, but many have inquired as to what we are looking at, and a few have given us tips about birds they have seen farther along the trail. 

  

     Common Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) appear to have had a successful breeding season and we frequently see large flocks with many hatch-year birds. Adults are underrated beauties in my opinion.


     A couple of Yellow-bellied Flycatchers (Empidonax flaviventris) were probably early migrants.



     This cat was handsome and very friendly but we hate to see felines wandering at large. They are fearsome predators of birds and other small wildlife, and seem to kill with abandon, their lethal pursuits bearing no relation to hunger.


     An American Robin has captured a tasty morsel or two.


     If there has been a constant component to our walks at Hillside Park this year it has been the presence of Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus). There is ample high quality nesting habitat for them and they have had a successful breeding season based on our observations.


     I always think we pay less attention to the sky than we should, other than looking for birds above us, and Miriam rectified this shortcoming with a dramatic intersection of branch and cloud.


     The faint outline of a rising moon is no less charming.


     It is a little early for even incipient signs of fall and I suspect that this tree has been subject to stresses of one kind or another. Perhaps its root system is unduly shallow and has suffered from drought. Whatever the cause, I do not think it represents a genuine herald of autumn.


     Jerusalem Artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus) were dotted here and there, enlivening a backdrop of green.


       To the best of my recollection, and that of Miriam too, this is the first occasion when we have observed  a Grey Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) bathing in the creek.


     On the way out of the park we noticed this handsome Swamp White Oak (Quercus bicolor), a pleasant discovery indeed. Perhaps there are others, seeded from tiny acorns, likely hidden and forgotten by squirrels; we will be sure to look.



Columbia Lake,  Waterloo, ON

     The level of the water at Columbia Lake is regulated, but for reasons not apparent to us, it seems to have fluctuated unreasonably this year. It has gone from depths where Ospreys (Pandion haliaeetus) were able to plunge dive in pursuit of fish, to conditions where we could walk across the lake  with ease. Such was the case this evening.



     These conditions are favourable to shorebirds and there were groups of Semipalmated (Calidris pusilla) and Least Sandpipers (C. minutilla) feeding on the mud and in shallow water.


     Ever skittish, they rapidly took to the air if we approached too close, only to land again 
on the mud a few metres away.


     There were several Lesser Yellowlegs (Tringa flavipes) present, often serenading us with their high, whistling call.


    A Solitary Sandpiper (Tringa solitaria) was mainly content to feed in a delicate manner, deliberately picking insects from the surface of the water. It appeared positively well mannered compared with the frenzy exhibited by the peeps all around it!


     Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis) is at its peak in late August and presents a glorious sea of yellow.


     It is highly prized by pollinators of every description.


     There are many species of bumblebee seeking nectar, and I am not sure as to the exact species of the following individual.


     Mouse-ear Hawkweed (Hieracium pilosella) was ubiquitous.


     Clouded Sulphur (Colias philodice) is at its peak in southern Ontario from about mid June through mid September.


     Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) is among the most catholic of eaters, dining on just about anything it can swallow, and the low water level doubtless concentrated fish into shallow pools making for easy pickings.



Milverton Sewage Lagoons, Wellington County, ON

     Immediately upon arrival at the sewage lagoons we had the incredible good fortune to spot a Wilson's Phalarope (Phalaropus tricolor) among a large gathering of Lesser Yellowlegs. Actually, in all conscience we cannot lay claim to having spotted it; an old friend, Ken Dance, had arrived a little before us, and had already located the bird and pointed it out to us.


     It is a small bird - compare its size with a Lesser Yellowlegs.


     There were about a dozen or so Solitary Sandpipers present, all birds of the year making their first migration from the boreal forests to their winter quarters in South America. Their plumage is crisp and clean, not yet having endured the rigours of a year's life on the wing. The yellowish tinge to the legs is another clue that these are hatch year individuals.


     Lesser Yellowlegs was clearly the most common species and this bird was wrestling with some tasty food item hidden from view.


     Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) was also in attendance, though in much lower numbers than Lesser Yellowlegs, as is usually the case.


     
Numerous Pectoral Sandpipers (Calidris melanotos) rounded out the contingent of shorebirds.




     It is hard to beat a Wilson's Phalarope for the "bird of the day" but a hunting Merlin (Falco columbarius) could perhaps lay claim to the honour.

     We first saw this young bird juking its way across the water in hot pursuit of a shorebird. The range of manoeuvers at mind-boggling speed was incredible, but the shorebird won the day and the falcon gave up. No doubt inexperience in the hunt played a role in the outcome; this youngster has much to learn in the honing of its survival skills.
     


     It perched on this snag, periodically leaving and making a circular flight, returning to the same branch.
There seemed to be no purpose to these forays that we could determine and they did not appear to reflect a bird in hunting mode.
     That all changed when it shot off the branch and returned mere seconds later with a bird in its talons.


   
 Success!
     It wasted no time in plucking and devouring its prey.




     It rested for a short period, perhaps to allow its food to digest, and then left the area completely.


     I would counsel those shorebirds, "Don't relax your guard. The Merlin will be back!"  
           

Sunday, 23 August 2020

All the News That's Fit to Print

     In no particular sequence, here are some of the highlights of the past week for Miriam and me.

At the house

     A few years ago we planted Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) at the side of the driveway at the front of our house. It was nibbled right to the ground by pesky rabbits the first year, but since then it has bloomed spectacularly and we have enjoyed it very much.

     Oddly, despite having seen a multitude of pollinators using it, neither of us had ever seen a Monarch (Danaus plexippus), a butterfly dependent on milkweed, on the plant,  In early summer this year, however, we did see Monarchs frequenting it, and they displayed all the behaviours of a female seeking to lay eggs. It was unusual enough of an observation that before leaving in the car to run errands, I went back into the house to fetch Miriam so that she could see what I had discovered.

     We were never able to locate eggs, but here is proof positive of the outcome, a Monarch caterpillar in a late instar feeding on the leaves.

   
       Hooray, we said!

     And to add to the elation of the moment this striking Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) was spotted too.

     I have no doubt we said Hooray again!

     A male Gypsy Moth (Lymantria dispar) seldom seems to land and we had been unable to get a picture. One morning, to our surprise on opening the front door, one was perched on the brick of the porch and we were finally able to fill in the gap in our photographic record for this species.

           A couple of days ago while sitting on the patio having our morning coffee and some of Brian Smith's delicious banana bread we noticed an American Crow (Corvus brachyrynchos) perched on the fence. Usually this species is wary, having little reason to be trustworthy of humans, but this individual seemed quite content to rest for a while. Any thought we might have had that the bird was injured was dispelled as it moved around and walked along the rail. It was very handsome indeed.

          It was a pleasure to share our morning with this intelligent bird.


 

     Miriam has again raised butterflies indoors this year, and much as we have enjoyed the experience, we may rethink how we do it next year, since there is some evidence that it may not be entirely beneficial.

     Nonetheless having already released all our swallowtails, we looked forward with great eagerness to the Monarchs emerging. Many eggs are laid the same day, so it is hardly surprising that butterflies hatch out in the same manner.

      At the left in the picture above you can see a lone chrysalis still a few days away from hatching.

     We are thrilled when these splendid creatures first fly and are never anything less than awed by the process we are privileged to observe.


     One individual landed on Miriam's blouse, and then on her finger before flying off.


     It was a fitting farewell.

Ottawa

     We spent a couple of days visiting Caroline and Andrew in Ottawa, spending most of our time on their patio, admiring all the work they have done in their backyard, but Miriam, Caroline and I did take a walk through a local woodland.

     A pond covered in Duckweed (Lemnoideae) deep in the forest was very attractive, and I was surprised that neither Mallards (Anas platyrynchos) nor Wood Ducks (Aix sponsa) have yet discovered it.

     There were many fungi throughout, especially in moist areas as you might expect, and I am reasonably sure this is a species of Amanita.


     Mushrooms are not my strong point, so if anyone can confirm the ID feel free to do so.

     In the meantime, I will do a little research into the species below to see if I can come up with a name for them.




   Identified by two members of iNaturalist as Lobster Mushroom (Hypomyces lactifluorum) on 28 August 2020

   So many species of Yew (Taxaceae) found in Eastern North America are hybrids of species imported by settlers from Europe that they beggar identification.


RIM Park, Waterloo, ON

     Of late, when Friday morning comes around, we look forward to meeting Heather and Lily, to take a walk together. To tell you how thrilled we are to be able to share in Lily's life in this manner would require a chapter to itself!

     Having parked our car we noticed a sculpture across the road that we have never seen before, although it is somewhat weathered and obviously not new.

     Clearly it represents ears of corn and it would be interesting to know why and by whom it was installed here.

     A flock of Common Starlings (Sturnus vulgaris) was perched in a tree nearby.


     Not long into our walk Heather spotted a large Eastern Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis) basking on the road, and obligingly it stayed for a while before slithering off into the grass. 




     Lily will not remember when she encountered her first snake!

     Himalayan Balsam (Impatiens glandulifera) is a widespread invasive plant, whose flower is very attractive both to the human eye and to pollinators - especially bumblebees (Bombus spp.) it seems. The colour of the inflorescence on this plant seemed even more beautiful than usual.


     For the first time on our walks, Lily was a little fussy this morning, so mom carried her for a while.

     That feels better!

     RIM Park meanders alongside the Grand River and in places is characterized by classically tranquil scenes of bucolic perfection. We had never before seen artists painting it, and wondered why.

     Here is a view that begs for the interpretive skill of an artist's brush. Imagine for a moment what a French impressionist could have done with that!

     Following comforting moments with Heather, Lily fell asleep, hair askance and blowing bubbles.

     How cheerful and smiley she was when she woke up.

     It is fascinating to watch this precious little girl develop each week and clearly she is now moving her eyes to follow things or people she sees.

      I wonder what changes we might notice by next Friday.

Three Bridges Road, St. Jacobs, ON

     There is a small pond on Three Bridges Road where on one occasion, just before freeze-up, it was filled with Common Mergansers (Mergus merganser). Since then we have seen very little there although we always check as we go by.

     Imagine our delight, therefore, when we spotted both a Great Egret (Ardea alba) and a Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias), the two species feeding alongside each other.



     All in all, it has been a pretty good week I would say!