Friday, April 17, 2015

Spring Ephemerals, Spring Peepers

I don't know if I've ever been so happy to see Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) as this year.  Such a refreshing spring ephemeral with it's varied blooms ranging from white to pink to mauve.  It's one of the first flowers to poke up through the leaf litter.  The genus Hepatica makes reference to the liver-shaped leaves.

May-apple (Podophyllum peltatum) is just beginning to emerge with a few starting to unfurl their leaves.

The few Spring-beauty (Claytonia virginica) I have seen this week were in bloom.  Michigan Flora distinguishes this species from Carolina Spring-beauty (C. caroliniana) by the breadth of the leaf (skinny, no petiole for C. virginica, more broad and with a petiole for C. caroliniana).
 Wild Leeks (Allium tricoccum) dapple the forest floor with their bright lime green foliage.  The similar (and less common) A. burdickii lacks red bases on the leaves and has more elongated leaves.

An early Cut-leaved Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata), the toothworts are the host plant for the rare West Virginia White butterfly.

One of my favourite sedges, Plantain-leaved Sedge (Carex plantaginea) is in flower right now.  I purchased a few from a native plant sale last year and they have added a nice touch to my backyard (neighbours peer through window, "Harold, he's planting more weeds!").  Speaking of native plant sales, and if you weren't on the mailing list getting slammed with promo emails already, Carolinian Canada is hosting their Go Wild Grow Wild event at the Western Fair Agriplex on Saturday.  I'm planning to check it out, sounds like they've got a wide variety of events, vendors, talks.

Late yesterday I turned a corner walking a forest edge and was delighted to see a large expanse of Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) in bloom.  I had seen others earlier in the week still 5-7 warm days before bloom; I think the south-facing bank of sandy Thedford soils had encouraged this population to get rolling early.

I didn't get a photo of the 2 Snapping Turtles mating out in the middle of this pond, but did manage to spot this biggun' basking contently along a stream.

And oh the herps!  Here we've got a Spotted Salamander egg mass.  Lots of Western Chorus Frog and Wood Frog masses, a limited number of Spring Peeper masses, all of these species calling in good numbers right now.  A dark blob hopping across a driveway last night turned out to be my first Green Frog on the year and American Toad was also calling at an irrigation pond.

 This Western Chorus Frog blends well with the leaf litter.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

First of year butterfly

I was tinkering in the garage 15 minutes ago and heard something flitting against the window.  To my pleasant surprise, a Milbert's Tortoiseshell and my first butterfly of the year!

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Salamander Pandemonium!

The weather two nights ago was great for a couple of reasons.  The insane boom and flash lightning show, and the second rainy/warm night for amphibian movement (at least where I am).  Thursday night's rain made for a busy Friday at work.

While I lied in bed listening to the pounding of rain on the rooftop and thunder claps, these Spotted Salamander were trudging through the woods to their pond of choice.  These were counted up and returned to their pond, all 200 and something of them yesterday.

The Waterloo Region Record recently ran an article about Jefferson Salamander and stated in the opening paragraph "They aren't much to look at".  In a time when this happens, the comment kind of made me shake my head.  This one's a beauty.  

A few Eastern Red-backed Salamander which quickly scurried away into the leaf litter.

Any day now the ponds will be singing with Wood Frogs.

Nice to spot my first-of-the-year Eastern Gartersnake.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Chinese Hemlock-parsley

Last year I found myself in a White Cedar swamp along Doon Creek in Kitchener, the site was somewhat hummocky with groundwater seepage areas, but with a closed canopy and patchy herbaceous layer.  Every once in a while areas of Sensitive Fern, Beggars Ticks, Purple-stemmed Aster, Wild Sarsparilla, Swamp Goldenrod and Fowl Manna Grass kept things interesting.  The photo below shows the habitat; typical organic cedar swamp (real fun to traipse through with all the deadfall!).

 I was delighted to look down at one of these patches and spot Apiacea foliage (the carrot/parsley family).  These leaves were a little more delicate looking than Spotted Water-hemlock (Cicuta maculata) but not quite as dainty as Bulb-bearing Water-hemlock (Cicuta bulbifera).  I had seen Chinese Hemlock-parsley (Conioselinum chinense) at a cedar swamp at rare Charitable Research Reserve (approximately 5km south of this spot) a few years prior and sure enough that's what we had here. 

The species is listed as S2 provincially (5-20 occurrences), so I was excited to take lots of pictures of the basal leaves at my feet.  Oldham & Brinker (2009) list county occurrences as Brant, Waterloo, Wellington, Haldimand, Huron, Lambton, historical record from Middlesex and all the way up in Cochrane District.  So it's pretty widespread.

A few more steps and a few more mature plants.

This was in July so I didn't manage to find any in bloom.  The photo below shows a plant maybe 75cm in height and soon-to-bloom.  Overall I think there were about 50-60 plants.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Bee Surveys at the Pinery

I volunteered to help conduct area searches for Rusty-patched Bumble Bee (Bombus affinis) at the Pinery this summer.  I'm looking to learn a bit more about bumble bees and this seemed a good fit. Spending a Saturday here and there scouring 14 targeted sites within the park sounds like my kind of fun.

Maybe I'm trying to make amends with bees, aside from appreciating them while out and about or sitting out back on the patio with a drink just observing, I can recall the day I hurled a green walnut at my sister which inadvertently landed directly in a ground-nesting bee colony at her feet (that didn't go well).  In more recent years, cutting buckthorn with a brushsaw only to see a cloud of angry bees rise up from a brush pile.  The 10 or so stings I received while bounding frantically through conifer plantation slash piles probably garnered some choice words, f-bombus's.

Yesterday an information session was held at the Visitor Centre to go over some of the details.  Alistair MacKenzie spoke to the park's significance as habitat to an estimated 200 significant species.  Sheila Colla provided some interesting background information on a variety of bumble bee species, both common and rare, and also outlined the most recent sightings of Rusty-patched at the Pinery (as well as 40 or so sightings in the last couple of years, mainly in Illinois and Wisconsin).  Victoria McPhail of Wildlife Preservation Canada also introduced the group to Bumble Bee Watch, a site the runs on the same platform as ebutterfly.  Very cool stuff. 

Pinned specimens of both Rusty-patched (pink label) and federally significant (soon-to-be provincially) Gypsy Cuckoo Bumble Bee (Bombus bohemicus) (white label) were on hand.  The Rusty-patched has the rust-coloured patch on the abdomen which is surrounded by yellow.  This is probably the easiest way to distinguish from a pile of other bees with orange/brown colouration on the abdomen. 

I didn't capture the Gypsy Cuckoo well in these photos, but the lower portion of the abdomen is white or off-white (the remainder black).  These bees are a social parasite on Rusty-patched, B. terricola and B. occidentalis).  Social parasitism in bumble bees involves the parasite species killing off the queen of a host species, laying their own eggs in the nest, and having the worker bees of that colony raise their young.

After the information session Alyssa and I went for a stroll on the Cedar Trail.  The feeders at the Visitor Centre were lively.

Probably 20-30 White-breasted Nuthatch

A half dozen or so Tufted Titmouse and a bunch of chatty Black-capped Chickadee

Along the Cedar Trail, near the Old Ausable Channel I found last year's stem of Rough Blazing-star (Liatris aspera).

This year's Balsam Ragwort (Packera paupercula).

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) in a clearing of Little Bluestem, Indian Grass and Balsam Ragwort.

The remains of Wood Betony (Pedicularis canadensis) flowers from 2014.

The remains of Cylindrical Blazing-star (Liatris cylindracea) below.  A funny side note, back at the Visitor Centre I was paging through the Sightings Book at the desk before leaving; I always like to browse these books/white boards to see what's been spotted recently.  The bird tab yielded a tonne of sightings from 2014 into early 2015, lots of herpetofauna, hog-nosed snake, turtles, frogs, good good, mammals, I had no idea there were chipmunks at the Pinery! haha just kidding, flying squirrels, dorito-eating raccoons, some observations of bear and moose written in crayon (I'll take with a grain of salt).  Plants (rubs hands together in anticipation), whadda we got?  Pat Deacon, June 6, 2014 "Liatris cylindracea on Cedar Trail"...followed by a measly 5 additional entries between June 6 and now!  I got a good chuckle.  On last count the park was home to 757 species of vascular flora.

We made a brief stop at the fields on Greenway Road to watch the 75 or so Tundra Swans.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Don't Call me Dodder

I really enjoy exploring the banks and floodplains of the Grand River, the habitat is so dynamic and you never know what you might find, well, aside from alot of Reed Canary Grass (Phalaris arundinacea) and an alarming amount of Yellow Iris (Iris pseudoacorus)...and a good chance of shopping carts and fish tackle.

One interesting species, Common Dodder (Cuscuta gronovii) occurs frequently in these floodplain habitats, it kind of looks like that neon orange silly string that comes in a can (have they outlawed that stuff yet?).  There are 7 species of Dodder known from Ontario.  According to the NHIC plant list C. umbrosa is listed as a historic occurrence and was last collected in 1958 on the Kaministiquia River near Thunder Bay (but may still be present in northwestern Ontario). The 2 species ranked as S1, C. coryli and C. polygonorum were recently documented in Windsor (Ojibway Prairie) and Niagara respectively.

This species is parasitic on a variety of plants and it's actually considered a major agricultural weed in some parts of the world.  Once established via a root system it will begin to spread; what's really cool is that it does this through chemosensory clues which guide it to grow toward suitable hosts.  Once wrapped around a stem, it will insert haustoria to connect into that plant's vascular system which will then support it.  Sounds like a bad horror movie plot!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Brantford Perched Prairie Fen

I took a couple of friends to see the Brantford Perched Prairie Fen last July.  This rich prairie site, about 1.3ha in size, is fed by calcium-rich groundwater which makes for some unique flora.  In fact, this community (ranked S1 in Ontario) has only 2 known occurrences in the province.  Literature prepared by the Michigan Natural Features Inventory provides further detail about this rare habitat.

A few highlights from our excursion included a healthy population of Ohio Goldenrod (Solidago ohioensis).  The succulent leaves of this goldenrod kind of resemble those of Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens), an exotic species which is a halophyte, meaning it flourishes under saline conditions.  Where you would find Ohio Goldenrod in high quality habitats, Seaside Goldenrod is largely limited to the ditches of the 401 from Windsor through to Woodstock and continuing further east.  I've started to see it popping up away from the 401 along farm laneways and areas you wouldn't think are subject to a whole lot of salt.

Swamp Thistle (Cirsium muticum) with it's purple leaf midrib. 

Sticky False Asphodel (Tofieldia glutinosa ssp. brevistyla).  Homer's Odyssey speaks of  "indifferent and ordinary souls" being sent to  "asphodel meadows" in the afterlife.  As tempting as it is to imagine botanizing a perched prairie fen in the afterlife, the asphodel meadows Homer was referring to were in the Greek Underworld, so maybe not my first pick.

White Camas (Anticlea elegans) was nice to see in bloom.  I hope to make it back here this year, if not for some informal Dorca's Copper surveys, then maybe to track down some Yellow Stargrass (Hypoxis hirsuta).