Columbia Lake, Waterloo, On
Columbia Lake is always a fine spot to do a little birding, and a whole panoply of nature reveals itself to the careful observer. It is not far from home and we have spent countless happy hours there, wandering, probing, and recording wildlife in a range of taxa.
Where there is water, often there are gulls. These Ring-bills (Larus delawarensis) were content to laze around on a fine summer's day.
Each season reveals species unique to the time of year and we were not surprised to come across our first Autumn Meadowhawk (Sympetrum vicinum).
Shorebirds, like the Greater Yellowlegs (Tringa melanoleuca) below, now in the full flush of migration, are quick to exploit mud flats and shallow water, where they are able to find ample food to fatten up before embarking on the next leg of their long migration.
Great Egrets (Ardea alba) have been hard to find this year, and at no time have we seen more than a single bird, and even that infrequently.
This individual at Colombia Lakes bears several bands including one with a number, but we were unable to read it so that we might have learned where the bird originated.
A Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) tried its luck at a respectable distance from the egret; better to spend time feeding than quarreling and competing, I suppose.
It will come as no surprise that industrious bees are at work all around. Miriam, by exercising patience as she usually does, managed this fine shot of a Modest Masked Bee (Hylaeus modestus) taking nectar from St. John's-wort (Hypericum ellipticum).
A Jagged Ambush Bug (Phymata erosa) patiently waited for unsuspecting insect prey to come within reach.
These ferocious creatures will attack and overpower species larger and heavier than themselves, including bees and wasps. Prey is immobilized by injecting venom through their short beak. Honey Bees (Apis mellifera) are frequently subjected to predation by ambush bugs who, not surprisingly, are considered no great friend of the apiarist.
The flower acting as host to the ambush bug above is Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis), a plant that attracts butterflies, wasps and bees in profusion, and is favoured by ambush bugs as a place to secure a quick and easy meal.
Bees are beleaguered in more ways than one. An Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) will not pass up a juicy bee as a substantial snack, having tenderized it by beating it furiously against a branch, until it is thoroughly softened up and can be swallowed in one quick gulp.
The ground is alive with grasshoppers at this time of the year, Migratory Grasshopper (Melanoplus sanguinipes) being one of the more handsome species.
The Mill Race Trail, St. Jacobs, ON
Since the very early days of the pandemic the Mill Race Trail was closed and only recently reopened for pedestrian traffic, and we greeted its renewed accessibility with great gladness. It is still not open in its entirety (and we are not sure why), but the greater portion of it is available, and we are euphoric at being able to walk one of our preferred trails once again.
Spotted Jewelweed (impatiens capensis) bedecks the stream sides in exuberant profusion; it is in fact one of my favourite plants.
This plant also bears the common name Spotted Touch-me-not, referring to the manner in which the seed pods explode when touched, causing children to be startled. Once startled they of course go back for more, for what could be more fun than being startled twice?
The Mill Race Trail is the place to visit if you are anxious to find a White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis). I cannot think of any other place we go to where this species is more reliable, and often two or three together.
If you are really lucky, and are the bearer of delicious sunflower seeds, one might even land on your outstretched hand to feed.
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) is another species that is hard to miss on the Mill Race Trail.
Downy Woodpecker - female
This Black-capped Chickadee (Poecile atricapillus) is feeding on seed left by a two-legged friend and looks like it might have bathed before coming to the food.
At about this time we arrived at the point where the trail is closed off and turned to retrace our steps.
Water Lilies (Nymphaeaceae) were apparent in a couple of spots, and I don't recall having seen them before. Perhaps seeds were carried on the feet of ducks.
You can barely walk a hundred metres or two along the Mill Race without being accosted by bold (brazen some might say) Eastern Chipmunks (Tamias striatus) who shamelessly beg for food from any passing Homo sapiens.
Milverton Sewage Lagoons, Wellington County, ON
It was cool, dull and quite foggy in spots as we travelled the thirty minutes or so from our home to Milverton. In fact, the sun barely broke through until right around the time we left.
The ponds did not have the number of shorebirds experienced on previous visits, but there were pleasing arrivals, including our first Semipalmated Plover (Charadrius semipalmatus) of the fall.
Broad-leaved Sweet Pea (Lathyrus latifolius) furnished a wonderful burst of colour at the edges of the path.
This flower is pollinated by bumble bees; it is also visited by butterflies for food, but they provide no reciprocal pollination service to the plant.
Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla) is the world's smallest sandpiper and a couple of dozen or so fed furiously, flying up at the merest hint of disturbance or danger, only to settle back on the rich mud and pond scum where they had been feeding just seconds before.
A Least Sandpiper and a Semipalmated Plover positioned themselves conveniently, enabling a picture of them in the same frame.
Post-breeding Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus) flock together in huge aggregations and roost in cattail marshes, and sometimes a field of corn is an acceptable substitute.
We were very happy to locate a couple of White-rumped Sandpipers (Calidris fuscicollis), one of which is shown at the right in the picture below.
Spotted Sandpipers (Actitis macularius) at this location seem to favour perching on the pipes in the lagoons, for we have seen them here on previous occasions.
My level of expertise, and my proficiency at the identification of gastropods, is to say the least limited, but I am fairly sure that this is a Brown-lipped Snail (Cepaea nemoralis) of which there were hundreds slithering hither and yon.
The French term "escargot" is doubtless designed to make the humble snail sound more exotic, more appealing perhaps, but I think that a snail by any other name is still a snail, and I decline to have it on my plate.
A old friend used to rave about the garlic and butter sauce in which they are cooked. Give me the sauce, I say, with some crusty bread - and you can have the snails!
A single Greater Yellowlegs was the only member of this species we saw.
It has been an all too common refrain among naturalists this year that there has been a paucity of Monarchs (Danaus plexippus). Miriam and I have seen a few here and there, and I did see about fifty nectaring on Canada Goldenrod on the Sanctuary Field at SpruceHaven, but other than that they appear to have been sparse.
So, I was very pleased when my good friend, Merri-Lee, advised that Monarchs by the hundreds had visited her farm, as these remarkable images illustrate.
She also took these great images of Compton's Tortoiseshell (Nymphalis l-album), a species which is difficult to photograph since it closes its wings immediately on alighting and seldom seems to open them.
One associates hummingbirds of the high Andes with the habit of perching on flowers rather than hovering, as an adaptation to energy conservation at elevations with reduced oxygen. I don't think I have ever seen this behaviour exhibited by a Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilocus colubris).
Our final Monarch raised in captivity
The last Monarch raised indoors this year was clearly visible in the crysalis.
It seemed that we turned our attention to other matters for the merest of minutes, and the butterfly had emerged and was drying and inflating its wings.
In no time at all it was dried out completely and resting in place. Even though we have witnessed this event many times it still seems improbable that a butterfly so large could emerge from so small a chrysalis.
Before long the Monarch was ready to leave and we set the cage outside so that she (for it was a female) could determine the time of her departure.
Back to the Mill Race Trail with Heather and Lily
We met Heather and Lily at 08h:30 for a leisurely stroll along the Mill Race Trail.
The morning was pleasantly cool and the view from the bridge across the Conestogo River was entrancing looking in either direction.
It amused us that there seemed to be a side of the road for red cars, with grey and black cars opposite - vehicular segregation perhaps!
Lily changes each week and we cannot fail to notice it. She now looks around, responds to sounds and grabs at things.
A White-breasted Nuthatch craned in for a good look.
Eastern Chipmunks scurried along beside us and were probably disappointed that we had not brought seed with us, but they had no trouble finding sunflower seeds deposited by others.
We have frequently observed Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) along the Mill Race - always a source of pleasure.