Maple Eyespot Gall

Maple Eyespot Gall Midge, Acericecis ocellaris

I’m disappearing for the weekend to visit my parents for Father’s Day, but as my sister, whom I’m carpooling with, is late, I have time to share a quick photo.

I found this leaf at Maplewood Bog, one of our three MAPS stations. It was near the edge of a poor fen that curls around the northeastern corner of our site, and I spotted it as I walked the water’s edge looking for dragonflies. Leaf galls aren’t that unusual themselves, but this one was pretty interesting for the pattern – perfectly round, pale spots bordered in dark, vibrant pinks and purples. The leaf itself is a Red Maple, an not uncommon species at the site.

Looking it up in my marvelous Tracks & Sign of Insects by Eiseman and Charney, I learned that these are the work of a Maple Eyespot Gall Midge, Acericecis ocellaris. These tiny midges lay their eggs on the underside of new leaves in May; the larvae form these distinctive circular galls while they feed through June. The galls themselves can be variable in colour, from greenish-yellow to bright cherry red, and may or may not have the colour repeated in a central spot to create the “eyespot” of the common name. Eventually the larvae drop from the leaf to pupate in the soil; once they’re gone, the galls turn a uniform brown as the leaf material dies. The species uses Red Maple almost exclusively as its host plant, with just occasional occurrences of galls on other maples and rare instances on other trees.

The Moth and Me #1

The first edition of the new blog carnival The Moth and Me is now up over at NAMBI. Although we’re still waiting for spring to settle in through much of the north here, the southern hemisphere is just wrapping up summer, and in the tropics they don’t see winter at all. I may not see another moth for another couple of weeks, but in the meantime, we can live vicariously through the posts of others – head on over to check it out!

Today at Kingsford – Ruffed Grouse trail

Ruffed Grouse trail

This is a follow-up to my post here, where I mentioned the prints in the snow left by a departing grouse. Yesterday I took Raven for her walk to the same spot where we’d encountered the grouse before. Once again, we accidentally flushed three grouse – in a slightly different spot, but same general area.

What was interesting about this encounter was that the grouse seemed to have been foraging when we disturbed it. There was a trail pushed through the deep snow that lead to where the grouse had flushed up from. And the most interesting part was that there were bits of the trail that were under the surface of the snow. I’m not sure if this is where the grouse had pushed under a fallen log or branch or something, and the branch had supported the snow in that section, or if the grouse had just dug deep enough through the snow to not break the surface. Either way, I thought it was neat.

The grouse’s departure print is on the left. You can get a better look at the full-sized image. The feather prints on this one were nice and clear. The photo’s illuminated by flash, which makes it look like it’s the middle of night, but it was actually about sunset – I just couldn’t hold the camera still enough long enough to get an ambient-light shot under the forest canopy.

In other news, drop by tomorrow for the 92nd edition of I and the Bird! I promise it will be fun…

Blogs and carnivals

A few blog-related news items that I have been accumulating to put into one post.

First, I and the Bird edition #91 has just been posted over at From the Faraway, Nearby. TR has done a great job with this compilation, creating a travel-themed issue full of interesting links. Lots of interesting reading and new blogs to be discovered, so head over to check it out!

I’ll be hosting edition #92. I would love to have some contributions from some of my readers and folks who haven’t participated before. The only criterion is that the post must be bird-themed, and you’re only allowed to submit one post per blog – but the blog doesn’t necessarily need to be your own. Leave a comment here or email me at sanderling [at] symbiotic [dot] ca with your link if you’d like to participate.

Second, Festival of the Trees edition #31 has been up for about a week, at Rock Paper Lizard. Hugh is one of my must-read blogs every day, and he has written an enjoyable installment for this monthly carnival. Be sure to pop by to read all the great posts he’s brought together.

Finally, it seems that every year in mid-winter, sometime in January, I begin developing a mild case of cabin fever. I itch for the warm weather and the green foliage and the teeming life. Last year I began this blog in part as a way to scratch that itch. This year I hope to put it to productive use in sorting some of my photos, in particular my moths which are currently stagnating in a generic catch-all folder. However, I am also hoping to use some of this nervous energy to forward my writing career. Among other things, I’d like to flex my writing muscles a bit more. One of the common pieces of advice I often see given to aspiring writers it to write every day in a journal. I write a fair bit here, but I don’t spend a lot of time talking about non-nature things. I’ve had a second blog kicking around empty for a while so I’ve decided to put it to use as a place to write about whatever comes to mind. I won’t be writing to it as often as here, but will post to it two or three times a week, perhaps. If you’re interested, you can check it out at The Glade.

Holiday bird-hunting

Christmas Bird Count

Dan and I signed up to help with our local Christmas Bird Count this winter. We’ve both done CBCs before, but this was our first in our new home area. We signed up a bit late, so didn’t get our first choice area, the “corner” of the circle that includes the top of our road (unfortunately our house is just outside the circle boundaries). We were assigned a section north of town, an area that we’d only been through once or twice, so it was a new experience for us. This area isn’t chock full of birders (just like the general population, there tend to be more around urban centres) so there weren’t many teams covering the full area, and we had a large expanse of ground to cover. We could easily have spent the whole day out birding the region, but with the big snowstorm that was due to roll in this afternoon, we only got a few hours in in the morning before having to pack things up. What we did do was mostly by car, some 50 km (31 miles) worth of road, though we did hike about 3.5 km (2.2 miles) in small segments here and there where the habitat looked promising.

Christmas Bird Count

Christmas Bird Counts are an annual, volunteer-driven bird monitoring project that occurs continent-wide during the month surrounding Christmas. They have their roots in the old 19th century pasttime of sport hunting. During that period hunters would compete in an annual Christmas tradition to see how many birds they could kill in a day (very few of these were likely ever actually used or eaten, and this sort of competitive and senseless massacre was a large part of what drove the Passenger Pigeon extinct). Watching birds and allowing them to live instead of shooting them for sport or science was just coming into its own at the end of the 1800s. An ornithologist named Frank Chapman proposed that perhaps instead of competing to see how many birds they could kill in a day, they could see how many birds they could count in a day. I don’t know whether Chapman’s motivations were out of sympathy toward the birds or concern over long-term depletion of populations, but either way they’ve inspired something big.

Christmas Bird Count - winterberry and alder

The first counts took place in 1900. There were 25 circles that year, and just 27 participants to count the birds in them. Toronto, Ontario, was one of those first 25, along with one in New Brunswick, the only Canadian representatives. All but 3 of the original counts were in the northeast. Those 27 people found some 18,000 birds of 90 species during the counts. The Christmas Bird Count has grown exponentially since then. Last year almost 60,000 people joined in to participate in 2100 counts across the Americas. They counted nearly 58 million individuals of 2267 species of birds. Competitions these days are less about giant numbers and more about rareties, those birds that are out of place for the time of year and location. The person who pulls up a slowpoke warbler on their snowy count here in southern Ontario gets a clap on the back. Even if a participant wasn’t the one to find the special bird themselves, there’s some thrill in knowing that these birds are hanging around in your area.

Christmas Bird Count

Of course, there is science behind all this fun. The purpose of the counts these days is to act as a monitoring tool for wintering species. Especially in the north the CBC can be a valuable tool to track species that tend not to be easily accessible at other times of year because they breed further north. Even resident species benefit from the monitoring, though, and in combination with Breeding Bird Surveys and Migration Monitoring the CBC adds a valuable component to monitoring efforts.

Wild Turkey

We saw tracks of Wild Turkey, but not the bird that made them.

I’m using that word a lot, “monitoring” – what does it mean? There are two types of scientific data collection that helps birds and other animals. The first is direct research, where people go into the animal’s habitat with the goal of answering a particular question. The question may be as simple as “how many young does this animal have” or “where do they build their nest” or “who does the majority of the parental duties”, or it may be as complex as “what effect do military training exercises have on the breeding success of birds using military bases to nest?” or “how often do extra-marital copulations occur and what percentage of a female’s offspring are fathered by someone other than her mate?” All of these questions come to bear when deciding on management practices or designating natural areas for protection, or for intervening to help save a species in decline.

White-tailed Deer

We also saw lots of deer, perhaps 7 or 8, but they don’t count.

And that’s where monitoring comes in. How do we know a species is in decline without data to show its numbers dropping? The three primary monitoring surveys are complemented by an array of smaller, often local, projects and efforts. Project Feederwatch, the Marsh Monitoring Survey, and local breeding bird atlases are other monitoring projects that provide valuable data to this end. Monitoring projects are ongoing and rarely have the showy results that funding agencies like to see come of their money, so it’s often difficult to get money for these sorts of projects. And yet, they’re every bit as important as the one-off research projects for providing valuable data. While research projects tend to be carried out by academic institutions or employees of bird observatories, most monitoring projects are primarily volunteer-driven. Fortunately, as the CBC shows, there are no shortage of people willing to participate.

Christmas Bird Count

Each count circle is 15 miles (24.1 km) in diameter, which equals about 177 square miles (452 sq km). That’s a lot of ground to cover by foot! I’m not sure why they chose to make the circles so large when the CBC was first established, particularly since they didn’t have many participants back then to scour the area. The segment that Dan and I covered was just a fraction of that, maybe 80 sq km (31 sq mi), but it was still a huge chunk of land for just two people, and hence why we drove most of it in the three and a half hours we had before the snow started falling. We got out of the car a few times, usually dropping one person off at point A and then driving half a kilometer up the road to point B, where the second person would park the car and walk up ahead; person 1 would reach the car and then drive ahead to pick up person 2 from wherever they’d managed to reach. It was bitter cold out, -12 C (5 F) before the windchill, and I think something like -17 C (1.4 F) with it. About ten minutes outside was about all we could manage before we’d have to climb back into the car and thaw out our cheeks and toes. We brought Raven with us, rather than leaving her at home stuck in her too-small crate (I’ve been looking for a larger used one online, since they’re not cheap, but every one I’ve contacted so far has already been sold or hasn’t responded). She’d walk down the road with person 2, on her leash, when we stopped to do a leapfrog. She enjoyed the outing, though she was happy to get in the car again after each walk outside!

Tomorrow: what we counted.

Go fish


Go fish, a card game played mostly by kids, characterised by the action of drawing a card from the pool when your opponent didn’t have what you asked for. You would tell the other person, “go fish.” It wasn’t “draw a card” or “pick up a card” or even simply “nope, sorry.” Perhaps the statement reflected on the fact that, just as with fishing, when you put your hand into the pile you never knew what you were going to come out with.

It’s the thing that really appealed to me about bird banding, or about mothing – setting something up to catch things in your absence, and then returning to see what you’ve got. And you could get anything, within reason. You never knew what would be there on the next check: a common robin, a secretive thrush, a bejeweled warbler, a powerful sharp-shinned hawk. An aberrant plumage, a first of the season, a bird you’ve never seen before.

Strange black spots on the fins. Most Pumpkinseed I’ve seen have perhaps a couple, this one is peppered with them. Sunfish supposedly do sometimes hybridize, so perhaps this individual is a hybrid?

With fishing, the diversity is lower than with birds or moths, but the premise is the same. You put your lure into the water, pull it up when something bites, see what you get. In our lake here we have seven species that we’ve caught ourselves, plus one more that we caught in the neighbouring lake but is also supposed to inhabit ours. This morning a friend of mine who was visiting caught what could potentially be a ninth species for the lake. In neighbouring lakes we also know of three or four additional species that require deeper waters and so don’t venture into our shallow lake.

A dozen is a rather meager number compared to the 150+ species of birds we anticipate tallying over the year, and the potentially 1000 species of moths I might get if we remain here for a while. Still, when you compare it to the total of six mammals we’ve seen here so far, it’s not too bad. Part of the surprise is also the size and colouration, depending on the species. The Bluegill of yesterday’s post are a good example of that.

Largemouth Bass

Most serious anglers (and probably mostly men) target the big species, trying to land something bigger than their friends, competitors, or even simply than their previous best. The above species is a Largemouth Bass, and is considered one of these big target species. The related Smallmouth Bass is also often sought after. The latter we’ve only caught one of, from our neighbour lake, even though it’s supposedly here, too. Largemouth, on the other hand, are fairly common. We have little Largemouth fry hanging about our dock in the weeds, and you’ll often see small ones schooling with sunfish. The big guys, though, you rarely see until they’re on the end of your line. Interestingly, bass are also part of the sunfish family; you can’t see it in this photo, but they have the same sharp spines to their dorsal and anal fins.

Northern Pike

This is the other big fish in our lake that is often a target species for anglers. This is a Northern Pike, and is unique among the fish in our lake in that it has sharp, pointy teeth, so you have to be careful not to let it take a snap at you when you’re handling it. They’re also long and skinny, and powerful, so they can slip out of your grasp quickly if you’re not paying attention. Pike are generally lurkers, hanging out under a log or beside a rock, in the shadows, waiting for an unsuspecting little fish to swim by, where they dart out and snatch it up. You need a bigger lure to even interest these guys, and they’re usually so well hidden that you can’t spot them just looking for them. The other relatively common toothy fish around here is Walleye, so named for its pale irises. We don’t have any Walleye in our lake, but there are supposedly some in the one just the other side of the road.

Black Crappie

There are fisherpeople who target species other than the big ‘uns. Crappie are a favourite alternative; this one is a Black Crappie, but there are also White. They’re characterized by their snouty appearance and humped back (hard to see with a thumb on his jaw). They’re supposedly more active at dusk and dawn, and I’ve caught nearly all of mine at dusk in the centre of the lake. Because of these habits it’s another one of those species that you don’t know you’ve got it till you pull up the line. It seems that the pronunciation of the name is a matter of some debate. Blackburnian and I pronounce it to rhyme with “happy”, but many people (maybe those who feel kindly toward the unfortunately-named fish?) pronounce it to rhyme with “poppy”. The origin of the name is just as uncertain, but one website I found suggested it was a corruption of the French word “Creppe”, a thin French pancake, perhaps referring to the fish’s shape and edibility, and likely dating back a couple centuries. They’re also lumped in with the “panfish” group, but are a little larger in body, and have a much larger mouth that allows you to gently grasp their lower jaw. A colloquial name for the species is “papermouth”, and you can get an idea of why from this photo – it looks a little like a chinese lantern.

Rock Bass

Somewhat similar in appearance but with a brilliant ruby-red eye is the Rock Bass. These aren’t a very abundant fish on our lake, and we’ve caught less than half a dozen, I think. They’re about the same size as the crappie, but while the crappie I’ve caught have been in the middle of the lake, the Rock Bass have all been under or near “structure” – docks, fallen trees and logs. Despite that they tend to be in shallower water, where they’ll often associate with schools of sunfish, I haven’t seen them just by looking into the water the way I have with the sunfish species. It’s amazing how much a fish can blend in when you’re standing out of the water looking down at it. Really it’s remarkable that birds like kingfishers and Osprey have so much success fishing. They are also in the sunfish family and so are related to the Largemouth and Smallmouth Bass, but not as closely as the latter two are to each other.

Yellow Perch

And finally, the last species to be identified from our lake, Yellow Perch. This is a particularly little individual, I’ve actually caught some that were as much as eight or ten inches. However, the smaller mouths and long, narrow shape means the species is tricky to hold on to for a photo – as soon as they give a twitch of that powerful tail, they’re gone. This photo really shows off the yellow well, some fish are more grayish, but all have that bold tiger-striping. They have very distinctive red pelvic and anal fins, the ones that hang from the belly, which unfortunately don’t show very well here. These guys also have spines on their dorsal fin, but the spiny part is distinctly separate from the soft part. Perch are in the same order as sunfish so share some characteristics, but are a different family.

I’ll have to write more about some of these species in another post, particularly the sunfish species that I enjoy watching. This evening as I write this, Blackburnian has gone out in the boat with his rods for some quiet time. I wonder what he’s been catching? That’s the great thing about it, you never know.