Monday, June 05, 2023

Health Valley Trail, Waterloo to St. Jacobs

23 May, 2023

     Barely had we parked the car when we saw a Groundhog (Marmota monax) contentedly feeding on fresh shoots.

      It seemed to have a particular taste for dandelions.

     It kept a wary eye on us and periodically glanced skyward for danger from above. All must have been clear, for it did not make a dash for its burrow.

     A Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) had caught a long-winged insect and seemed undecided whether to eat it or carry it off to hungry mouths waiting in a nest.

     A female Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) has a radically different appearance from the male, and it is unsurprising that early bird watchers mistook them for different species.

     Common Tansy (Tanacetum vulgare) is not yet ready to bloom, but when its little yellow flowers resembling tiny berets burst forth, they will captivate and charm all who see them.

     The path so far has followed alongside agricultural land, but now snakes its way into moist woodland.

     More female Red-winged Blackbirds were spotted, at home in the wetlands where their nests are located.

     A male jealously guards his territory and warns rivals that they enter at their peril.

      Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius) has been a sparse breeder in Waterloo Region for several years, but with accelerating global warming, it appears to be extending its range and becoming a more frequent feature of the avian landscape. We were thrilled to see this male - a little farther away than we would have preferred, but very welcome nonetheless.

     I never cease to be impressed with the prowess of American Beavers (Castor canadensis) as they construct and maintain their dams.

     Perhaps this Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) has benefitted from their hard work.

     I have experienced a sense of calm from the gently-flowing Conestogo River a thousand times, and no doubt will feel it a thousand times again.

     Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is an unwelcome inheritance from early settlers. It thrives in disturbed areas, spreads rapidly into forests and woodlands, outcompeting native species to their virtual exclusion.

     Once established it is almost impossible to eradicate.

     A Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) looked a little the worse for wear.

      My good friend, Richard Pegler, frequently posts incredible shots of odenates, and his patience and photographic skill are always a source of great delight for Miriam and me, to say nothing of a little head-scratching as to how he achieves the results he does. We can't compete with his level of proficiency, but we were very pleased indeed to be able to capture a pair of Common Green Darners (Anax junius) in tandem, remaining coupled while the female laid her eggs in the water.

     It is clear in the literature that beaver ponds are a favoured habitat for this species, so everything was coming together in a manner of speaking.

     Interestingly this species has a migratory population and a resident population. In the  migratory form, larvae from the eggs develop quickly and emerge as adults ready to migrate south beginning in late August through the end of October. In resident populations, adults emerge, typically in late May or June, from larvae that overwintered underwater. 
     A White-striped Black (Trichodezia albovittata) is a common diurnal moth.

     Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) seems to be a great favourite of the public at large and people set out oranges and dishes of grape jelly to attract them to their yards.

      Now they are paired off and constructing their pendulous nests at the tips of branches of deciduous trees.
     The very last of the White Trilliums (Trillium grandiflorum) are lingering in shaded spots.

     Grey Catbirds (Dumetella carolinensis) chortled, gurgled and rasped from dense thickets, seeming at time ventriloqual.

     Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) is not a plant we wish to see anywhere.

      Contact can cause serious pain and skin lesions similar to burns. 
     House Wrens (Troglodytes aedon) were often heard chattering and occasionally we even were able to see one!

     American Yellow Warbler (Setophaga aestiva) is both common and charming.

     A Killdeer was bathing to clean its feathers of dust and grime, and perhaps also, on a hot day, simply enjoying the cool water.

     Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea) produces a beautiful little flower.

     I am quite sure that each time I see a Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus) I am impressed anew with its bold appearance.

     Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) was commonly heard and seen.

     As might be expected in late spring we detected only males; females are doubtless occupied with family matters.

     They were perhaps outnumbered by Grey Catbirds though.

     The Health Valley Trail never strays too far from the Conestogo River, but the sections through riparian woodland are very pleasant indeed.

     We embarked on our walk prepared to battle with mosquitoes, but we saw (or felt) hardly a one. While that may be welcome situation on a walk it perhaps speaks to the overall alarming decline in insect populations, a worrisome trend that should concern us all.
     Most of the butterflies we saw opted not to alight, but this Eastern Comma (Polygonia comma) was an exception.

     On the way back to the car, we were once again strolling alongside ploughed fields that are full of juicy insects for birds, and a Savannah Sparrow (Passerculus sandwichensis) was taking full advantage of the situation.

24 May, 2023

     Our friend, Mary, contacted us to see whether we wanted to repeat our walk, and we were happy to do so, energized by her delightful company. 
     A couple of European Ambersnails (Succinea putris) seemed especially happy to see each other!

     If you do no more than keep your eyes open it would be hard to miss Dryad's Saddle (Polyporus squamosus) somewhere along the way.

     After quite a bit of searching, I am quite sure that this is a form of mosquito (Culicidae); beyond that I don't know.

     Doubtless a Grey Catbird would be happy to make a snack of it - and itching humans would applaud.

     A Song Sparrow seemed more interested in nutritious dandelion seeds.

     Common Scorpionflies (Panorpidae) feed only on dead insects, sometimes extracting them from spiders' webs. 

     The very attractive species above is Panorpa claripennis (no common name) and it was a pleasure to observe it.
     As I have mentioned the Health Valley Trail abuts farmland for a good portion of its length, and sections of it traverse private property, with the consent of generous-minded farmers possessed of a civic conscience. It was unsurprising, therefore, to see cattle amongst the trees.

      A Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius) was bathed in sunshine, giving it a little washed-out appearance in the picture, but it is a handsome bird in breeding attire, a male judging from the reduced spotting. 

     This is a polyandrous species and the female is more boldly patterned than the male.
     Several Cedar Waxwings (Bombycilla cedrorum) were observed and finally one was positioned for a clear shot.

          Yesterday we were ecstatic to discover an adult male Orchard Oriole and our elation was kicked up a notch when we located this first summer male.

     Perhaps the next discovery will be a female - or a nest!
     Ground Ivy is always attractive but set against the decaying wood and the moss on this tree stump it seemed exceptionally so.

      The next picture is for Andrea - no other words necessary. 

      Two days - two great walks. We will have to do it  again soon.

David M. Gascoigne,
David M. Gascoigne,

I'm a life long birder. My interests are birds, nature, reading, books, outdoors, travel, food and wine.


  1. Beautiful birds and insects as always, David, and pretty plants. I love to see the white Trillium too.
    Nice photo of you as well!
    Hugs ans kisses, Marit.

  2. Two most excellent walks.
    I take your point (sadly) about the absence of 'squitoes. I would welcome it because their bites bring me up in welts, but that is a short sighted and selfish approach.

    1. We were both happy not to have to deal with mosquitoes, Sue, especially Miriam who swells up quite a bit after being bitten, but the serious decline in insects is reason for great concern. I'd gladly suffer personal discomfort for a return of biodiversity.

    2. Truth. Precious and fast vanishing biodiversity.

  3. ...David, you always amass a fabulous of images, thanks for taking me along. When I have my nursery we had problems with beaver, we may have had the only dam with nursery tags on the sticks!

  4. Hello, David!

    Would you please ask Miriam if she would be willing to swap a couple of your Groundhogs for a couple of our Hedgehogs ! It's an animal that I never had the pleasure of seeing when I visited the USA many years ago.

    As always, the variety of wildlife you see on your excursions is both admirable and enviable. I am very impressed with your Common Green Darner images which are, unsurprisingly, very similar in appearance to our Emperor dragonflies (Anax imperator). Thank you for your very kind mention of me in your post - I really don't deserve it!

    I did get that insect book for my birthday.

    Best wishes to you and Miriam - - - Richard

    1. Miriam says she'll do two for one on the swap, Richard!

  5. Yes, great walks on both days. I do love seeing all your captures and hearing about them. :)

  6. Oh you are a man of your word! I love this picture and have snatched it and put it in my files with all of my favorite Vulture photos. So did you wear the shirt on your walk or did you put it on just for the occasion :) Thank you ... you are a dear and fun friend who seems to add a great deal of joy to my life. So where do we go from here ... any requests will be honored if possible :)
    I enjoyed all of the birds in your walk, most of which I used to see regularly when I lived on the lake. Where I live now I only see a few common birds, like House Sparrows and Robins ... I can, when I have the opportunity go to Fox River and see all kinds of water birds, but haven't found a good place for the passerines. I especially loved your pictures of the Indigo Bunting. There is only one place where I have been able to see this bird and that is in the Chain of Lakes State Park that was just a short distance from where I used to live. It would be worth the drive (2 hours, which is probably nothing to you) to walk through those beautiful woods again. Now, that is something I will have to do ... wish you could be here to share the experience with me, but I will be sure to take pictures and post them when I go. So if you have any other interesting shirts to share, I would love it :) I have a few that might interest you ... so next time I put one on, I will do a selfie with my phone and share it with you ... I'm not telling. It will be a surprise :) Thank you again, David ... you are a delight :)


    1. I took the sweatshirt with me in the car, Andrea. It was too hot to wear it on the walk, but when fall rolls around and I need something to ward against the chill, I will think of you every time I put it on.

  7. Hari Om
    Just delightful, all that lush, fresh green and dappled light... and nature in all its glory. YAM xx

  8. Two very enjoyable walk ...
    The photographs you've shared a joy to see.

    All the best Jan

  9. Great walks, David and Miriam. Love the orioles and buntings. Such bright colours! I would be thrilled to see either. There are orioles here this year with a number of sightings around the island.

  10. On your walks I see birds I never see otherwise. And butterflies. And unwanted vegetation. And mosquitos.

  11. Looks a good place to go for a decent walk and see the beautiful scenery whilst the greenery is new, and to see the beautiful creatures and enjoy it as much as you both do.

  12. What a great series of photos from your walks these are David.
    I love the Indigo Bunting and also the dragonflies that are mating.
    I enjoyed your photos again.
    Greetings Irma

  13. Hi David - what a wonderful banner photo of you and Miriam ... delightful. Oh all those birds and nature at its best ... I loved this walk with you along the Conestego River ... just enjoy the Spring into Summer progressing - cheers Hilary

  14. The groundhog has its own kingdom. The snail challenges its balance.
    PS Photos taken in the public domain are excluded from permission

  15. Hello,
    I always love seeing the trillium, it does not grow here in our forest. The bird sightings were awesome, I love all the Orioles. Great captures of the dragonflies and the snails.
    Take care, enjoy your day!

    1. Maybe in high elevation, cool, damp woods you might find Trillium, Eileen.

  16. your post today has something for everyone, birds of course, but wooded areas, my favorite, and ground hogs, I love those, critters and b flies . I once saw a butterfly like your tattered one attacked while flying over our pool by a dragonfly, he destoryed her wings while we watched. I was flabbergasted when i looked it up and found that dragonflies kill and eat butterflies. My Pick of Fav of the Day is the green woods without the cows with the one with cows a close 2nd. they are magical

  17. Hi David.

    I will continue to follow your beautiful walks on the blog with great pleasure.

    Nice the Marmot.
    Beautiful birds, butterflies, flowers and dragonfly.
    Beautiful Red Wing Blackbirds.

    Greetings from Patricia.

  18. Dos grandes paseos con muy buenos avistamientos en una zona muy bonita y de gran vegetación. Es lamentable querido amigo ver como existen plantas que por la insensatez del ser humano invadan territorios que en nada tienen que ver con ella y que como bien dices dada su evolución ya no puede ser erradicada.
    Un gran abrazo querido amigo y compadre David.

  19. Wonderful photos and I appreciate your identification of each one. Some I know fairly well, but others are definitely not ones I've ever seen. I do like the colorful birds best.

  20. The photos are once again wonderful, and you always manage to see more than other people. Beavers have been missing in Germany for many years, but are slowly appearing again and starting to settle down. Have a great day, David, hugs, Valerie xxx

  21. Your shots of the groundhog particularly appeal to me.

  22. Fun walks..Full of birds, insects, flora and fauna...Great catch with the Dragon flies..
    I really admire your use of the English language..So nice to read the descriptions of your wanderings...We never see Baltimore Orioles or Red winged Blackbirds altho the are not far from here..Hope you are having a fun day..

  23. A very nice trail to walk and explore. You had a lot of beautiful sightings. I never seen a groundhog before so thank you for sharing.

  24. Well, you are a man of your word and I love it!!! I snatched it for my files and will store it with all of my favorite Vulture pictures. So did you wear this shirt on your wonderful walk or did you put it on for the occasion?
    Most of the birds that visit your woods have also visited mine (when I lived by the lake). The Indigo Bunting however was a rare sighting and the only place I ever saw one was at the State Park near me. So, that was a special treat to see your gorgeous pictures of that handsome fellow. I think it would be worth my while to make the drive (2 hours which is probably nothing to you) and take a walk through those beautiful woods again. If I do, I promise to take pictures and share them. Speaking of pictures, I have some shirts that I know you would like, so next time I wear one, I will make sure to take a selfie and share it. I know you stay in good shape with all of your walking excursions ... so just stay safe and continue to enjoy this wonderful time of the year.

    Andrea @ From The Sol

  25. lovely photos. I do enjoy your walks.

  26. Those groundhogs are so cute, till they live under your house. I love the trillium but missed it all here.


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.