Saturday, 5 September 2020

Wandering Close to Water

 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.

     In life, it is always important to get all your ducks in a row!

     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).

     Here is another look at the flower.

     How could a burst of colour like that not buoy the spirits of a naturalist?
     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

Downy Woodpecker - male

     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.

     Riverbank Grape (Vitis riparia) was quite common and the year's crop seemed prolific.

     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.

Merri-Lee's Pictures

     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.

     It has been a good many years since I have seen concentrations of this magnitude.
     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).

     Thanks are due to Merri-Lee for allowing us to use these exceptional images.

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.

     Bon voyage, cher papillon! 

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.

     It was Heather's first excursion along the Mill Race and she was very much enamoured with it.

     The regular cast of Mill Race characters put in an appearance to welcome Lily. 
     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.

     Black-capped Chickadees were our constant companions, perky, cheerful, friendly and entertaining.

     Even a tiny American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus) came to join the party.

   Lily was oblivious to all this attention paid to her - but just wait a year!

     Healthy stands of Wild Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum) were dotted here and there.

      Lily even seemed to take notice, but perhaps she was not impressed!

     We have frequently observed Muskrat (Ondatra zibethicus) along the Mill Race - always a source of pleasure.

     All too soon it was time to bid farewell to Heather and Lily for another week.

     See you again soon! 



  1. That baby is a little bundle of joy! What a sweetheart. Love the birds you've seen and I can't get over those Monarchs! I haven't seen a one here that I know of...this summer. And what a crazy bug that lies in wait! You packed a lot into this post! I enjoyed it. Happy weekend!

  2. Hi David! Thanks for a post jam-packed with wonderful species of birds, flowers and insects. Those ambush bugs look nasty, we don't have them here, but recently Asian hornets have settled here, and they like to rip the heads off bees and feed them to their larvae, doesn't sound nice, either. But in spite of this plethora of natural wonders, little Lily is once again the star of the show, perhaps with Miriam coming second for taking all of the wonderful photos. The photos of those swarms of monarchs were also very impressive, as was your wonderful home-grown one. Have a nice weekend, I'm taking a day off tomorrow and will be busy doing nothing, Hugs, Valerie

  3. Your photos of the butterfles are so beautiful! The Monarch are very pretty, David.

  4. The Mill Race Trail looks a lot like the trail around "my" lake, including the muskrats. If I'm lucky I can also spot otters which always is a lot of fun to watch them play in the water. However, I haven't been since the beginning of the pandemic since the lake is close to town and there are just too many people for comfort, so I have turned to less populated places. I always enjoy your photos of the birds.

  5. I think Valerie's comment described this post well!
    It is jam packed with such wonderful photographs and what a mix for us.

    I am so pleased to see the sweet photographs of Lily, she does steal the show :)

    Have a happy weekend.

    All the best Jan

  6. Hola David, hermosa entrada nos dejas hoy. Es maravilloso disfrutar de tanta naturaleza. Todo es espectacular. La pequeña Lily es hermosa. Un enorme abrazo.

  7. Much more variety of taxa in this post than is usual from you, David, and I have really enjoyed it - words and images alike!

    Many places in UK are somewhat more neglected from a maintenance point of view than has previously been normal, due to a reduced workforce as a result of Covid restrictions. I wonder if your Millrace Trail has been curtailed at that point due to it falling into disrepair somewhere along the line? I hope that it reopens for you soon.

    1. Could well be, Richard. The trail is 1.6 km from one end to the other and about a kilometre is open, and we saw no evidence of work along that section. When we could walk the entire length we went another 300 metres or so to the Eco Café in St. Jacobs for a coffee and that is what we miss being able to do as much as anything.

  8. HUGE thanks for taking us along on your delightful explorations. Delightful explorations with wonderful company.
    Huge thanks to the photographers as well.

  9. What a wonderful variety and Lily is a delight. I had never heard of Jagged Ambush Bugs and googled them to see a different angle.

  10. The eastern Chipmunks and Lily - are my favorites.

  11. Hola David.

    Enhorabuena por la hermosa Lily, dentro de poco contarás con una acompañante activa y con avidez por aprender.

    Muchas y muy buenas fotos abarcando casi todo, pero el seguimiento de la crisálida y la posterior evolución de la Monarca me han dejado gratamente impresionado, gran reportaje.

    Un abrazo desde Galicia, España,


    1. Muchas gracias por tus palabras amables, amigo Rafa.

  12. What great animal adventures. I love the wonder of the birds of the waterways and woodlands. Those monarchs are incredible.

  13. Åh så vakre og fine bilder alle sammen..Så søt lille Lily😊

  14. Enjoyed your post and traveling along with you on the trails. Many of the same birds hanging out in my backyard. One year I was lucky enough for a group of monarchs to stop off for the evening in one of our backyard trees. Hoping to see that again one day though sadly, I've not seen many monarchs this summer. Hope you are having a great weekend!

  15. Thoroughly enjoyed your post today, with so much wild life to be seen beside those serene waterways.

  16. Hi David, buenas noches!
    Butterflies, water lilies or nenufares, how beautiful. Oh my gosh, this is an amazing post. Autumn has just arrived in your area, i am looking at some oranges and golds ... that process is what i love. Gorgeous nature. And also love snails, eat them? never 🌷

    I had fun with the self-differentiated cars XD!

    I really enjoyed this post. Sending some hugs for You, for Miriam, for beautiful Heather and for the sweet stroller Lily, of course! 💛

  17. So many creatures and flowers to see, always something different to look at and photograph.

  18. Very rich places with flora, but also with fauna. A visual joy.

  19. To see that many monarchs together is amazing.

  20. Que de belles photos! L'abeille sur la fleur jaune est magnifique. Bravo pour cette photo!
    Moi aussi je n'aime que le beurre d'escargot, j'en mets sur une pizza tomates cerises/mozzarella, c'est très bon.Les sauterelles sont jolies.
    Incroyable tout ces papillons monarques.
    Lily a tout le temps de découvrir la nature, elle a toujours des cheveux incroyables :D
    Bon dimanche

  21. Hi David,
    I am impressed by the number of pictures in this blog, in fact enough for two separate ones. It makes clear that you have been around in the nature and that you have seen a lot. This time I like the monarch butterflies the best. Their migration is famous, so to see such a large number in one time must have been amazing. The way they emerge is very interesting. I have never seen this in real.
    Greetings, Kees

  22. Hi David.

    I enjoyed all this beauty that you show.
    Lots of beautiful birds and Insects.
    The Bee in the Flower is beautiful.
    Nice that you can also walk there again, which was previously no longer accessible.

    Greetings from Patricia.

  23. So much going on in your life...where do I begin. Sweet baby girl! Wonderful birds seen. Gorgeous trails, beautiful butterflies...
    Thank you, as always, for taking time from your day to share your bird sightings this week with us. Much appreciated!

  24. Loved the chipmunks, so cute. Amazing photos of the butterflies from your friend Merri-Lee, I had never seen so many butterflies together! And the rearing of your Monarch butterfly is pretty amazing too.

  25. It's taken me a whole mug of coffee to read, digest and enjoy that post. I obviously never walked in the right places to see mammals in Canada. I find the friendliness of the chipmunks quite refreshing. I was particularly interested in the Monarchs because we had them in great profusion in New Zealand. Oddly teasels have come into my life a lot recently too. My Mum always had some dried in a large cream (coloured) jug/vase in the house. I've ordered some for growing next year. The birds will love them.

    1. If ever you make it back to Canada, Graham, we will go on a mammal hunt together and I am quite sure I can deliver some nice surprises for you!

    2. Much as I would love to return (and one of my late dear friend's daughters has a house on the lake in Sarnia whilst the other lives in Amhertsburg where I know I would be very welcome) there is no way I can get travel insurance for North America now and, in fact, that has been the case for some years. At least I have rich memories even if we never managed the Trans Canadian and other dreams.

  26. Hello, David
    Wonderful outings and reports. Lily is adorable, she seems to be growing quickly. The monarch photos are just awesome, it is amazing to see them gathering on the one tree. I love the Hummingbirds, shorebirds, egret, heron and all the birds. Great post and photos. Have a great day and a happy new week!

    1. She is growing quickly, but at this stage of her life something would be seriously amiss if she wasn't. She gets cuter each week I can tell you that!

  27. Beautiful array of birds, and the reptiles, gorgeous. And there was Lily, wonderful.

  28. Great photos of the lake David, I love them all. The chipmunck is very beautiful. Your granddaugher is growing quickly, she is a beautiful girl. Greetings Caroline

  29. What a fabulous collection of the best that nature has to offer! That nuthatch is beautiful and you know I'm a sucker for egrets and herons. Gossamer wings on that dragonfly. And now I will go out to the banks (and banks) of jewelweed and have to touch it to see what it does! Thanks for that idea!

    1. You have to wait until the seed pods are mature, Jeanie.

  30. Precioso documento fotográfico amigo David tanto de aves como de plantas, ya estás todo hecho un experto botánico. Que gran y compensado paseo. Las mariposas de tu amiga Merry-Lee son una maravilla ¡qué gran privilegio!
    La simpática y querida Lily cada día está más guapa, tiene unos mofletes para mordisquear levemente y comerla.
    Un fuerte abrazo querido compadre y amigo.

    1. Muchas gracias amigo Juan. Lily es guapa sin duda.....muy guapa......y la madre también.

  31. That was refreshing. It was 114 here yesterday and will be at least 111 today with 11% humidity. I got up at 6:30 this morning to give my plants a drink before the onslaught. I particularly enjoyed many of the birds in this post as they are the birds I grew up with in New Jersey.

  32. Wow, what a long blog David ;-))
    But everything is beautiful to see.
    Nature is so beautiful there for a lovely walk.
    Beautiful all those Monarch butterflies and what a beautiful baby Lily is to see.
    Soooooooooo sweet.
    Greetings Tinie

  33. What a fantastic variety of images. The birds, butterflies, even a snail and to top it all off, Lily. Nature is the best! Thanks for this wonderful post, David.

  34. The young lady is growing and cute!
    It's nice to have a place close to home where you can observe nature. Wading birds are a very interesting object of observation! I like photographing them very much.
    But you also have interesting insects and the report about butterflies is amazing!

  35. Your report is impressive, it is very complete with the number of birds, herons and even beautiful plants. The birth of the Monarch butterfly is an enchanting sight.
    I really liked seeing Lily again, she is so beautiful!
    Lots of hugs and kisses.

  36. Hi David - just wonderful to see all the photos with our commentaries ... those Monarchs are amazing aren't they - looking like Autumn leaves to me - but obviously not. Your monarch is pretty special - excellent shots readying for her short life. Teazels, sweet-peas et al - delightful ... have a good week - Hilary

  37. jeee, so many wonderful things happen in this post I don´t ever know where to start commenting :) I say it is wonderful LIFE, not only wildlife, in hos post. :) Take care!

  38. The sight of Lily is always a very warming treat for me, she is such a sweetheart! David thank you so much for these beautiful captures you gave us. My favorite was the egret! We do have some egret visitors here in the Philippines who visits time to time when it's winter in Siberia. It is said that once it was tried to be killed for food by some Filipinos but all they discovered were a bag full of feathers so since then, they just let it be and stuck to our common chickens. That Monarch is simply special as it is both last and very beautiful! Just like a Chinese proverb said, the flower that blooms in adversity is the rarest and most beautiful of them all :)

  39. Hats off to Merri-Lee for some spectacular photos, including the one of the hummingbird. Also, hello again to little Lily who steals every show. :)

  40. I laughed at your comment about the snails: preferring your garlic and butter with a nice bread. To be honest, I feel the same way about artichokes. It's good that one of your favorite haunts is open again, albeit partially. We do develop relationships with places, and it grieves me that my favorite prairie still is closed. I'm not sure of the reason; it is a Nature Conservancy spot, but many of their other places are open. Ours is not to reason why, I suppose.

    I'm looking forward to the arrival of our winter birds. Maybe this will be the year I begin to sort out the sandpipers, plovers, and such.

    1. I have never eaten whole artichokes, but we do enjoy the hearts (marinated?) in jars. We use them in salads, and as a key component in a vegetarian pasta we make, and sometimes I use them with feta cheese and black olives to make a Mediterranean omelette.

  41. Another wonderful post, David, with so many items and photos to enjoy. You and Miriam seem to have sussed out all the best places for spying these things. Adorable photo of the nuthatch outdone only by the beauty of Little Lily. The human reach/grasp is an important marker/milestone, btw, so a bright little thing too!

  42. Nice that the trail has been opened up so can again walk it. Thankfully, the trails in the large city park near our apt were never closed. I quite agreed with your comment about snails and bread in butter sauce would be my choice too, David. What an amazing display of monarchs and thanks to Merri-Lee fir sharing also glad your last one is on its way to warmer climates.

    1. Interestingly, she just sent more pictures from last evening. If anything the numbers are increasing.

  43. Enjoyed your beautiful photos today (sweet Lily included)!

  44. Baby, birds, butterflies , lovely walks. And the wildflowers,especially the yellow ones bring smiles as well! What a lot of joy!

  45. Hello David, some great walks with birds, insects and butterflies and ofcourse Lily and her mum. I am impressed with those Monarchs at the farm of the lady. This is a true wonder of nature. And than your last Monarch coming out of that wonderful cocon they make. I wish him well. And for eating escargots I agree totaly with you the garlic sauce with a peace of bread is indeed innough. Snails are wonderful in nature and better leave it for the Thrushes.
    Warm regards,

    1. I remember once, in the UK coming upon a rock surrounded by snail shells where a thrush had obviously been hammering snails open. It was an interesting discovery.

  46. A lovely post with lots going on. I do like the pictures of the bugs, the Grasshopper looks huge! I would love to see such a congregation of butterflies, it must be quite something to see!

    1. Well, if you come on over, I will take you to Merri-Lee's place to see it, Pam!

  47. WOW! David a very impressive post with lots of great bird shots, butterflies and bugs but of course I think Lily stole the show. hanks for sharing such sunning images

  48. How I wish I could walk this trail with you, so much to see in wildlife of every kind. I have never hard of a Jagged Ambush Bug and from what you say I don't think I ever want to see one! They are evil. I saw a film on the monarchs the other day and I was stunned at how many there are in groups. Good to see 'yours' hatching. I will get back to blogging eventually, the kitchen is holding me hostage at present. Too much fruit and vegetables but I will appreciate the result in winter.
    Stay safe and best wishes to you both. Diane

  49. Your publication is very interesting, with many images to enjoy and above all your pleasant story as usual. A good sample of the summer biological diversity of your region. I was very amused by the arrangement of the cars! haha

  50. Hi David what a wonderful trail to walk along so many things to see,you take the most amazing photos of nature and of course love the photos of little Lily she is growing so fast,hope you and Miriam have a wonderful week . Cheers

  51. Buenas lecciones nos deja siempre de aves y plantas amigo. El Hipericum lo conozco crece m Lily está preciosa nos gusta verla crecer. Los coches se juntan por colores :))
    Buen semana David. Cuidaros.
    Un abrazo.

  52. Thank you, David, for sharing an uplifting collection of images and experiences!

    You're quite fortunate to have several places nearby from which you can enjoy nature. The diversity of your post is astounding! Birds, bugs, blooms, babies - oh, my!

    We hope the near future will have us all reveling in nature's playground again.

  53. hello David
    a never-ending post ... but ... my thoughts were as if I had been there on your excursion, pictures and text were very interesting
    Greetings Frank

  54. wonderful images as usual.....I enjoy to see your photos of nature.
    Welcome to Fall season....
    have joyful days.

  55. Hi Both,
    You have certainly been busy with your trips out and about and such a diversity of images, likewise I have only seen one Great White Egret lately, such a concentration of Tortoiseshell Butterflies and the your final Monarch, super images Miriam, the of course along comes Lily and steals the show.
    You both stay safe and well

  56. My goodness, David, this was a joy from start to finish. The Ambush Bug is new to me; I have quite a bit of goldenrod in my garden - I shall go have a look tomorrow. The Spotted Jewelweed is a lovely plant. A marvelous shot of the snail, and I am with you on the "no, thanks" to the escargot. And the multitude of monarchs at the farm of your friend - fabulous. What do you suppose attracted them there?

  57. Un precioso reportaje como siempre. Lily va cambiando de semana en semana ¡ y sí es muy guapa, como su mamá ! Abrazos para todos.

  58. So many wonderful images and stories to comment, on that I won't start, but will say that it is always an education and joy to visit here.

  59. Hello. Wonderful post. Great photos.

  60. Hi David,
    This is a very long Post, with lots of great information and stunning photos!
    Love the birds and so many butterflies! It was great to view this!

  61. came back for another look at all beautiful critters. Now I noticed the trees full of Monarchs. What a sight to see. So wonderful. :)