Blue Lakes

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Monday was the last day of my contract with Innis Point Bird Observatory. The spring migration monitoring wrapped up with a reasonably good day, despite some wind that required a few nets remain closed. Although it was a slow season compared to some other stations in Ontario, I enjoyed it, and the low capture volume allowed me to provide plenty of training to my two “interns” and a few other volunteers. I handed in my gate keys at the end of the day, and all that’s left is for me to computerize the data and get it sent off to them.

Yesterday was therefore my first day “off”, but I hardly spent it sitting around. In fact, I didn’t even get to sleep in much past my usual 3am wake-up time. At 3:45 the alarm went off and Dan and I climbed out of bed to head out to the first of Frontenac Bird Studies’ three MAPS sites.

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MAPS stands for Monitoring Avian Productivity and Survivorship. Basically it’s the banding program that fills in where migration monitoring leaves off. While migration monitoring (and the non-banding surveys of the Breeding Bird Survey) are able to detect and document the overall trends of bird populations and individual species, they are unable to say why they’re trending that way. In fact, no generalized surveys can give us really specific information – in order to know whether it’s habitat loss or pollution or environmental contaminants or something else very specific targeted research must be undertaken for each species. But it’s a pretty big haystack and often a fairly small needle. MAPS banding can kick-start the process by being able to give an idea of which part of the haystack the needle is in. The program documents “birth” rates by monitoring proportions of the different age classes in the population, and “death” rates (where death might mean either actual death or simply the departure of the individual to other localities – either way, it’s a loss of that breeding individual to the local population) by banding year after year and seeing who returns the following summer. If we know that there are lots of chicks but adult survivorship appears to be very low for a particular population, we can then focus our efforts on finding out why the adults aren’t returning.

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There are over 500 MAPS stations in North America, but fewer than 10% of those are in Canada. Only thirteen stations have been established in Ontario, four of them are defunct, and three of the remaining eight are Dan’s. Part of the problem is the availability of skilled personnel – the US has some 2000 federally-permitted banders, while Canada only has about 200 (the last time I heard the stats, anyway). Another part of it is that so much of our landscape is remote and, often, inaccessible. A single MAPS station only requires seven visits over the course of a summer season, so they’re usually run on a volunteer basis and tend to be located within an easy drive from the bander’s home. But I suppose an additional part of it is just that Canadian banders haven’t embraced it the way Americans have; there have been, for instance, nearly four dozen MAPS stations set up in Alaska over the years, and while it’s certainly a large state, it’s hardly any more populous than much of Canada.

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Anyway, enough with the background info. This was supposed to be a post about our outing yesterday. Last year Dan had set up three stations in or near Frontenac Provincial Park, but one of the three had to be retired early due to some unfortunate logistical difficulties (a shame, as it was quite a nice spot). He wanted to replace it this year so he would again be running three stations, and after much scouting of crown land along the Frontenac Arch north of the park he located a spot out near Sharbot Lake, about a half hour’s drive west of us, and about 19 km (12 mi) north of the other stations, as the crow flies.

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It’s nestled between two small lakes, possibly oversized ponds depending on your point of view, the larger of the two only about 14 acres of water surface. This site is similar in many respects to the other two, but even the short distance north gives it a slightly more northern feel, with a greater proportion of conifers and several bird species not found (or found in lower numbers) at the other site. One of these species is the Black-throated Blue Warbler, of which Dan and I estimated 5-7 territorial males singing within our netting area alone. My short name for the species is simply “Blue” (Black-throated Green Warblers are “Greens”), and because the most dominant landform feature was the dual lakes we decided to call it Blue Lakes (Black-throated Blue Warbler Lakes being a bit of a mouthful).

Dan has already posted a summary of the morning’s banding, so I won’t repeat that here; you can head over to his post to read about what we found, including our first-ever banding of a Yellow-throated Vireo, a Hermit Thrush (another of those northern-feel species), and of course a Blue. Instead, I thought I’d highlight some of the other interesting things I found about the site during the morning.

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The lakes themselves are actually more green than blue, being covered with plentiful pond lilies. We didn’t notice any fish, though that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not there, just that they weren’t close to shore. There were, however, plenty of frogs. Most of them seemed to be Mink Frogs, a species I hadn’t ever encountered prior to moving to eastern Ontario. There were also a few Green Frogs and Leopard Frogs thrown in for good measure. I spotted a few turtles basking on exposed logs, at least one of which was a Blanding’s, a Species At Risk in Ontario.

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In the larger of the two lakes there were a few tall standing snags that still retained many of their larger branches. In a couple of these Great Blue Herons had built nests, and in one of them, at least, there were a couple of youngsters, getting near to the age where they will leave the nest. I didn’t bring my long lens with me, so the photo was taken by holding my camera up to my binoculars. I used to do all of my long-distance photos this way, before getting a DSLR, but the image quality isn’t nearly as good. As it turns out, the method is a whole lot easier when you’re using a point-and-shoot. I went back with Dan’s super-zoom camera after borrowing it from him the next time our paths crossed, but by that time the chicks were hunkered down again.

Chestnut-sided Warbler nest

Speaking of nests, Dan was halfway through clearing out a net lane last week when he discovered this Chestnut-sided Warbler nest just a foot and a half from where he was cutting. She’s been studiously incubating over the last week, and was still present today; hopefully the habitat modifications haven’t put her off too much.

Whorled Loosestrife

These flowers are growing abundantly in a couple areas of our site. I was quite taken with them; the flowers are just small, only about a centimeter (<1/2″) in diameter, held aloft on dainty thread-thin stems, and a cheerful orange accented with red. As far as I can tell, they’re Whorled Loosestrife, Lysimachia quadrifolia, although every photo I’ve looked at for the species has shown yellow flowers, not orange ones. Whorled Loosestrife is one of our native species, and is unrelated to the invasive Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) even though they share the same common name.

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This plant grows at both Blue Lakes and Maplewood Bog. It may also be at Rock Ridge, though I haven’t noticed it there myself (it is on the official park checklist, though). It took me a while to figure out what it was: Sweetfern, Comptonia peregrina, though it’s not actually a fern at all and the name just refers to the similar appearance of the leaves. It also refers to the fragrance of them. The leaves can be crushed and steeped in hot water to make tea; it was a traditional Native American remedy for diarrhea and dyssentry, but it also tastes very pleasant. The intriguing burr-like balls are actually the plant’s seeds, and within that spiky exterior is an edible and tasty “nutlet”. I’ll have to try it next time I’m there.

Dwarf Raspberry

Another plant starting to bear fruit already is the Dwarf Raspberry, sometimes known as Swamp Raspberry, Rubus pubescens. Despite its alternative name, it’s found in most northern forest conditions. Related to our domesticated raspberries, this one rarely grows more than half a meter (~18″) high. The berries are, as with all Rubus species, edible and sweet, but as each plant bears only a few fruit they make more of a treat than a snack.

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At one spot along the shore an old fallen log had fetched up in the shallow mud leaving its top side exposed as it rotted. It’s been colonized by sedges and other plants, as well as one of my favourites, sundew – I believe these to be Round-leaved Sundew, Drosera rotundifolia. I wrote about some sundew at Rock Ridge last year, but I believe those were a different species, Spoon- or Spatulate-leaved Sundew, Drosera intermedia.

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With the log so close to shore I was able to simply lean over to take a few photos, something I hadn’t been able to do at Rock Ridge. I even found a small patch of it growing at the shore edge there, where the water had become trapped and somewhat stagnant behind the grounded log.

Caenia dimidiata

And the last one, for today: this guy was hanging on one of the nets when I went to close up at the end of the morning. It’s a net-winged beetle, Caenia dimidiata but no common name. These guys are neat not only for their own appearance, but also because they are part of a mimicry complex that includes the Black-and-yellow Lichen Moth (below; taken at our last house). Presumably somebody in the complex tastes bad, and they all benefit from the learned avoidance behaviour of predators that the common aposematic colouration gives them.

8087 - Lycomorpha pholus - Black-and-yellow Lichen Moth

Tuesday Miscellany

milkweed pod

I missed Miscellany last week; I didn’t have very many photos, and the ones I had were part of series that I wanted to post more than one image from. With the passing of summer, nature is slowing down outside. There aren’t as many bugs about, the wildflowers are largely finished. Most of our summer birds have headed south, leaving just the winter feeder visitors behind. My walks through the woods are getting quieter, and I have to make more effort to notice interesting things; they aren’t as abundant or obvious as they were.

I love playing with milkweed seeds. I have a hard time passing by open pods when I’m out walking. I like the way the seeds all grow in such careful organization, smoothly layered upon each other like scales. I’ll often pull out puffs and cast them to the wind, just for the joy of it. Last week I pulled out a full, un-fluffed bunch of seeds from a recently-opened pod, such as the one shown here. I peeled off the seeds, slowly, enjoying the silkiness of the down. When I got to the end, I was left holding a fascinating structure. It was papery, with paper-thin divisions running along its length. the down of the seeds was tucked neatly into these creases, securing it until the wind became strong enough to tease it from the pod (or a person pulls them out and tosses them into the air). Presumably this is an adaptation to make sure that there is sufficient wind to carry the seed away from the mother plant when the seed falls off, and not just fall straight down.

If the structure has a formal name (undoubtedly it does), I don’t know what it is, as I wasn’t able to turn up the answer with a web search. I did, however, find out that they make excellent fire-starting material because they’re so papery. Of course, so do dried leaves, which also happen to be abundant at the same time of year…

milkweed bugs

I found this pair hanging out on a milkweed pod last week. The upper one I’ve already mentioned once this fall; it’s a Small Milkweed Bug, a species that feeds on the seeds of milkweed plants. The smaller one below is a nymph of the same species. In most true bugs (that is, the group of insects that have a piercing tube-like structure for mouthparts and wings that are solid for only half their lenth and membranous the rest, leading to the group’s name Hemiptera – hemi/half, pteron/winged) the nymphs resemble wingless adults in shape but are usually differently, and often more brightly, patterned than the adults. This is a later instar of the nymph; younger nymphs are nearly all red-orange.

Giant Water Bugs

Speaking of bugs, I have been inundated with Giant Water Bugs this evening. After a spell of cold, near- or below-freezing nights, we’ve had two in a row that have been fairly warm, up near or slightly above 10 C (50 F). Last night I didn’t realize it was so warm until well after midnight, but tonight I was prepared, and set out my moth trap for a try at late-season moths. I plugged it in just before dusk, and then forgot about it. After dinner, I put Raven on her tie-out when she asked to be let out, and went back into the house. A few minutes later she started barking in alarm. I stepped outside and could hear something rustling in the leaves at the front of the house – clearly what had gotten Raven worked up. I grabbed my shoes and went around to investigate, and it was immediately obvious what she was hearing. There were dozens of these guys, on the porch, in the garden, in the lawn, and yes, rustling around in the thick bed of leaves under the trees in front of the house. Where the heck are they all coming from? I did finally walk through the forest that borders our meadows on the west, where I’d also heard spring peepers calling a few weeks ago, but couldn’t see anything near the edge that was very wet, or even perhaps a springtime vernal pool. I’m hoping not too many of these things actually go into the trap.

Baby Northern Water Snake

Another sighting of puzzling origin is this guy. I’d stepped outside this afternoon to dump the compost while I could see what I was doing (I’d created a large pile last night when I prepared and froze a batch of carrots from our garden), and right beside the porch steps was this little snake. Only 6 or 7 inches (15-17 cm) long, it was in the rocky, mostly empty soil bed beside the walkway. I quickly put down the compost and hurried back inside for my camera. At the time I just assumed it was a young milk snake. I took a few photos, then picked him up and move him away from the house. Sitting down to blog this evening, I had another look at him. Eastern Milk Snakes usually have a pale Y-shaped mark at the back of their head and this one didn’t have that. I wasn’t sure if that was because it was a juvenile, or because it wasn’t a milk snake. Some poking around suggests the answer is the latter. I believe this is actually a young Northern Water Snake, Nerodia sipedon. Although adults tend to remain closely associated with water, juveniles seem to often stray across land, perhaps as they disperse looking for new water to colonize. The solid bands in the front half, turning into a checkered pattern in the back half of the body, seem to be characteristic of the species.

Hitched Arches caterpillar

I found this caterpillar clinging to the inside of the porch screen last week. I’m not quite sure how it got in, but it was a very chilly day, and it wasn’t up to going anywhere further. I took a few photos, and then put it outside where it could hopefully find a more appropriate place to hole up. I believe it’s the caterpillar of a Hitched Arches, Melanchra adjuncta, a species of moth. I’d encountered the adults at the lake house last August (2008), and then again in May (this year). I caught one again this summer, after moving to this house. The species is found across much of North America, and flies for much of the year, May through September. Presumably they overwinter as caterpillars or pupae, thus delaying their appearance in spring.

Old nest in grapevine

We’ve had a couple of hard frosts now, and even the frost-hardy plants have wilted away. The grapevines are nearly bare of leaves, exposing the clusters of dark blue Concord grapes, and the mass of woody stems twining and crawling and sprawling across the side of the shed. As I was standing looking at the vines, thinking I should collect up some of the remaining grapes and freeze them to make pie with this winter, I noticed a clump of twigs tucked into the back of the tangles. Looking closer, it turned out to be a nest. It was quite large, appropriate for something robin-sized. It had probably finished up and fledged its young before Dan and I moved in in July, assuming it was even from this year. Determining the identity of the builders of nests can be difficult, with the exception of a few distinctive species (such as robins, or swallows). I’m not sure what species this one belonged to, although if I had to hazard a guess I might say Brown Thrasher, which build chunky, twiggy nests, usually on the ground but also sometimes tucked into thick shrubs or vines.

Playing ball in the leaves

Nearly all of our leaves have fallen now, and they form a thick bed across the lawn under the trees. I was tempted to rake them up today, if only because it was such a nice warm afternoon and it would be a reason to be outside. I didn’t, however, instead tossing the ball with Raven and Dan. Here Dan’s commanding Raven to “Drop it!”, which she does, though generally only after a good bit of bounding about in circles playing keep-away. She tosses up sprays of leaves like she’s running through water. A few more weeks and we’ll be feeling less inclined to stand still and toss a ball around outside.

Giant otters at Cocha Salvador, Manu, Peru, by Sarah_and_Iain on Flickr

Day 5 on the Kolibri Expeditions’ Manu bloggers’ tour takes us to Cocha Blanco (roughly translated to “White Lake”), an old oxbow lake that is now home to waterlilies, sunken logs, fish – and a family of Giant Otters. The largest species of otter, and by extension the largest species of mustelid (weasel family), it lives up to its name with males reaching 5-6 feet (1.5-1.8 m) in length. In some areas, and historically, it was also known by the name of “River Wolf”, for its huge size and carnivorous habits. Like other otters, they’re highly social, living in family groups and vocalizing frequently. Unfortunately, it is now endangered, primarily to habitat loss, with nearly 80% of its original South American range now unsuitable. Because their occurrence tends to be so patchy, population estimates are hard to make, but are thought to be less than 5000 individuals. Suriname and the Guianas are the otter’s stronghold, with a scattering across the rest of northern South America. The promotion of responsible ecotourism can lead to habitat conservation efforts that will help this species and others. Back in January Julie Zickefoose did a great post (one of a few) about Giant Otters she saw in Guyana, which made me keen to experience these creatures.

I’m going to Peru with Kolibri Expeditions as part of their blogger promotional series. Want to come? I’d love to have you along! My departure leaves November 13, 2010 and returns the 21st, well before the US Thanksgiving. You can get more information about the trip, including itinerary and, of course, cost, at this page. Don’t forget that if you’re also a blogger you get $100 off. In addition to having a great time, meeting some great bloggers, and seeing some fabulous birds, you’ll also be supporting the local communities as they work toward developing a sustainable ecotourism industry for their area. It’s a win-win!

Tuesday Miscellany

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Another week flies by – has it passed already? It seems all I can do to keep up some days. Here is the other half of last week’s miscellaneous collection, along with a few new additions from this past week.

Our swimming pool was closed up this weekend and drained today. The owners of the house had it going earlier this season, before Dan and I moved in. Neither Dan nor I are avid swimmers, though I do enjoy paddling in warm water. However, the weather was so cool and rainy this summer, the pool never warmed up, and it only got hot enough for me to even consider it on a couple of occasions. Rather than waste the energy in keeping it up, we advised our landlord that it might just be best to drain it.

It will be missed by the frogs, who had discovered this watery oasis in the middle of our pondless meadows. Our peak count was seven individuals. We tried removing them at one point, walking them back half a kilometer to the neighbour’s pond, but within a couple of days new ones had moved in to take their place. Surprisingly, they didn’t seem to suffer from the chlorinated water (very low levels, but still), and they probably loved the bonanza of insects that got caught in the pool and drowned. They would haul themselves up on the hose of the kreepy krawler. Raven had a blast running about the pool edge, peering in at them, she’d go to the pool gate and sit and whine for us to let her in. We mostly seemed to have Green Frogs inhabiting the pool, identified by their green upper lip and dark bands across their back legs.

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August was our first “repeat” month in eastern Ontario, since we moved out of Toronto to the lake house for Aug 1 last year. It’s been interesting to see some of the same observations we had last year turning up again this year. One example is this giant crane fly. Almost three inches from foot to foot, it’s got to be the biggest crane fly species I’ve seen. We had a couple around the house last year, including this individual. It’s a Giant Eastern Crane Fly, Pedicia albivitta. They’re attracted to artificial light, and we’ve been seeing them regularly at our porch lights.

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This repeat goes back to spring 2008. I found a similar cocoon stuck to my parents’ windowsill last winter, and later saw many at the research station. Since that initial observation, I’ve also seen them on the outside walls of the lake house, and now around here, including on plants in the meadow. They belong to a bagworm moth, probably Psyche casta, a species whose females fashion these stick cases like caddisflies and then never leave them. They mate with males and then lay their eggs all within the confines of their case. Once the female has mated, she secures the case to a surface with a sticky pad of silk, and then dies. The case in this photo probably no longer had a living adult in it, though I didn’t try taking it off to check.

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I spotted this strikingly-patterned beetle on a plant at my parents’ new place while housesitting last weekend. It’s a leaf beetle, and I foolishly neglected to pay attention to what species of plant it was on. Since leaf beetles tend to be very closely associated with particular types of plants (such as the Three-lined Potato Beetles or Clavate Tortoise Beetles on my Chinese Lanterns in the spring), knowing the plant species would have helped with identification. Still, I suspect it to be a Ragweed Leaf Beetle, Zygogramma suturalis, which feeds, unsurprisingly, on ragweed, a pretty common plant around here.

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I found this brightly-coloured clump of fungi on an old stump in one of our small stands of trees out in the middle of the meadows. From the photos in my mushroom guide I think it’s Mycena leaiana, a fairly common and widespread bright orange fungus that is usually found in clusters on stumps and logs. It’s considerably larger than other Mycena species I’ve encountered, and was particularly eye-catching, even through all the foliage.

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I found this lovely flower in the woods at my parents’ place. Of course, after posting the white mystery flowers last week, I knew what these ones were: White Turtlehead, Chelone glabra. It’s a very common, widespread species that enjoys wet soils and is found blooming this time of year. It’s a host plant for Baltimore Checkerspots, which we’ve seen lots of in the wet woods at the back of our meadows where I found that first one.

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I noticed under our birdfeeder the other day that some opportunistic seeds had sprouted. Two of them had got quite large. I think the one on the right is a sunflower; I did notice a few other younger sunflowers hidden in the long grass. The one on the left, of course, is corn. This one rather surprised me, I didn’t think that the corn packaged in birdseed mix was actually viable. But apparently so! I don’t expect that it will get large enough to actually produce ears before the frost this year, but I’m impressed by its tenacity nonetheless!

Monday Miscellany

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

This weekend was spent visiting my family, at my parents’ new place east of Brockville. I packed up Raven and headed out on Friday, and then returned home late today. It was a tri-purpose gathering, combining a belated Mother’s Day with two birthdays (mine and my sister’s, which are two days apart, usually on Mother’s Day weekend). My entire immediate family was there, an uncommon event these days as we’re spread across nearly half of southern Ontario, with close to 450 km (280 miles) separating the two furthest people (the closest two are still an hour’s drive apart). It was a really nice weekend, full of family and good times, but I must admit that in four days I didn’t do a smidge of naturalizing. I barely did any birding, even; aside from about 15 minutes spent with the binoculars Saturday afternoon, my only birding was what I noticed singing or caught a glimpse of while wandering around. My camera spent the weekend in its bag.

So my Monday Miscellany is on the short side this week. The first photo is from mid-week. The Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, including this stunning male, have been making regular trips to the feeders. I’ve been seeing more of the females than the males, although the males can be heard regularly singing in the vicinity. They’re big fans of the sunflower seeds, so we’ve been continuing to fill our feeders even though the winter birds have all mostly departed. I always look forward to the return of these guys to the feeders in spring.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

The Ruby-throated Hummingbirds have settled in to the area, I think. My mom had at least two females visiting her feeder, and I heard a male doing a U-display at one point. I have yet to see a female here, but then again, I was away all weekend. It astounds me how fast these little birds can beat their wings when flying (an average of 50 beats per second, but substantially higher in certain situations). Watching them hover in the air as they pause to scan their surroundings is like magic. They should be starting to nest soon; also magic? the amazingly tiny nests they build, and the even more amazingly tiny eggs they lay in them.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

On the particularly rainy day we had last week, I noticed this little guy sitting on the small sumac tree that’s near the feeders in front of our house. He would feed, then sit on the branch for a while, then return to feed, then back to the branch. I guess with the weather so cool and wet, he didn’t want to waste a lot of energy flying all over the place, so he stuck close to a guaranteed food source.

Autumn colors in spring

On my birthday Dan and I went out in the afternoon to visit one of the MAPS sites. It’s the site we have to paddle in to, and at the launch point where we were putting the boat in to the water, I noticed a large patch of vibrantly coloured bushes. The area where they were growing seemed to be under water, and it was hard to tell if the plants were victims of higher-than-normal water levels, or if they were swamp or other wetland bushes. Their colours, and those of many of the small saplings growing among them, really reminded me of the autumn landscape.

Basiaeschna janata - Springtime Darner

These could almost have gone in to the “Wings of the day” W week post. I’ve noticed both dragon- and damselflies to be becoming much more abundant recently. The above, a Springtime Darner (Basiaeschna janata), and below, a Common Baskettail (Epitheca cynosura), were both observed along a stretch of dirt road slightly to the north. They were flying along the edge of the road, in the low, open area between the hard-packed dirt and the forest. Many dragonflies are territorial, and will patrol up and down a stretch of road, path, forest or pond edge, or other open area, as they watch for intruders and look for females. Indeed, these two were doing just that, sweeping up and down the road and then periodically landing on a tree or twig to sun and “recharge”.

Epitheca cynosura - Common Baskettail

Floral surprises

Wildflowers

Now that the snow has melted out of the forests, and the lake has opened up, there’s the opportunity to take the boat across the water to the park to do a bit of hiking there again. I haven’t been in to the park to hike since last fall, and although much of the park along Kingsford is very similar to much of the non-park along Kingsford, it was still with some anticipation that I pushed the boat into the water. Raven didn’t share my enthusiasm. Although she’s getting more comfortable with splashing in the water, as long as her feet can touch bottom, and she’s come to enjoy car rides, sitting at the window with a big grin on her face, she is still rather apprehensive about the boat. I suppose that’s to be expected; she hasn’t had occasion to be in it since before the snows fell. We’re trying to get her over it by always making sure there’s a good romp at the other side. But in the meantime, she sits huddled by the driver with a worried expression and the occasional whimper.

Round-lobed Hepatica

We had a really nice hike. Just a short one, I didn’t want to be gone too long, although I could easily have spent the whole day out. It was one of those perfect-weather days. Aside from a brisk breeze when you were down at the water, the temperature was just right – warm enough to be comfortable in a t-shirt, but not too warm to cause sweating. We walked across a couple of ridges, ending up at a small vernal pool where frogs were chirping. Unfortunately, Raven discovered it before I did, so by the time I reached it the frogs were no longer chirping. I called her back to me and we sat still together at the shore for a few minutes, hoping the frogs would feel danger had passed and start up again, but they didn’t. Ah well. Can’t really beat last weekend’s encounter anyway.

Round-lobed Hepatica

Over the last week or so I had been checking the forests for wildflowers, watching for the first signs of some of my favourites. The hepatica have started blooming, and in some spots, particularly open south-facing slopes, they are prolific. However, there had been little sign of anything else. I found the odd green shoot here or there, but nothing I could definitively identify. I figured that the wildflowers were still a week or two away, so while I continued to watch, I wasn’t really expecting to see anything.

Round-lobed Hepatica and Spring Beauties

So it was with a bit of pleasant surprise that I spotted a couple of Spring Beauties blooming beside the trail leading down to our dock. Small flowers, pale with pinkish stripey veins. Although they are widespread throughout the east, I only consciously recall encountering them when I was down on Pelee Island. I’m not sure why I would have missed seeing them around my parents’ old place, since it seems unlikely that they would have been absent. Over in the park, there were areas where they were so abundant they sprinkled the forest floor like garnish on a cake. And as delicious to the eyes as the cake is to the tongue. Speaking of tongue, apparently these flowers grow little tuber-like nodules on their roots which are edible and somewhat tasty when boiled.

Bloodroot

I was so focused on the Spring Beauties that I nearly missed these Bloodroot, not two feet away. Bloodroot is one of my favourite forest wildflowers, one of those species that you can see dozens of times and still point it out and say, “Look! Bloodroot!”, each time anew. There were actually a few patches of it blooming on our southeastern-facing slope, but I encountered none in the park, not even furled-up leaves with the promise of becoming broad, snowy blossoms. Bloodroot, of course, takes its name from the orange-red juices that seep from the stem and veins when broken. Native Americans would use this colour as a dye, but more interestingly it can also serve as an effective insect repellent. Provided you don’t mind your face and skin being smeared with orange.

Dutchman's Breeches

As I carried on down the trail to the dock I started paying more attention to the green stuff that was poking up from the fallen leaves. Up on the slope there was a large wash of it, and using my binoculars to get a closer look, it resolved into Dutchman’s Breeches – blooming! An extensive patch of the stuff, all with short spikes of white-and-yellow flowers. This is another species that I’ve only encountered on Pelee Island. It has a more southerly distribution but is still found through much of the east. It is related to the cultivated bleeding hearts found in many gardens (an Asian species, of course, although we also have native North American ones). The deeper flowers of the Dutchman’s Breeches requires pollinators with long proboscises, and their primary visitors are bumblebees, such as the Tricolored Bumblebee below.

Dutchman's Breeches and Tricolored Bumble Bee

I didn’t see any blooming in the park, either, although I did find a few that were getting close. It will be interesting to revisit the park in a week or so once everything’s opened up and blooming. I have a feeling, from what I saw today, that it will be a veritable blanket of wildflowers covering the forest floor.