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June 2021 Observations Nature Observations

A Visit to Big Creek, Part 2

This is the second loop of my journey through the Big Creek Conservation Area Trail. For part 1, go here.

Having returned to the parking lot, I saw some amazing aerial masters. Similar to the Kingfisher and the Black Terns, I saw Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) maintaining a single position in the air, this time in groups. They were incredible to watch, and thankfully one landed for a moment so I was able to get a clear photo of it.

Barn Swallow, kindly sitting still for once for a picture.

It was only recently that I realized there were so many different species of Swallows in our area. Later in this same hike I took (very blurry) pictures of two other species: Tree (Tachycineta bicolor) and Northern Rough-winged (Stelgidopteryx serripennis) Swallows.

I saw more Mute Swans, this time sleeping with their elongate necks tucked around themselves. In the picture below, you can really see how bizarre that long neck looks when it’s not extended.

Mute Swans, sleeping and preparing to sleep.

A small brown shape on the path ahead revealed itself as an Eastern Cottontail (Sylvilagus floridanus). Wikipedia says of this animal: “The cottontail prefers an area where it can hide quickly but be out in the open.” This seems to describe my sighting perfectly as the rabbit was fully exposed on the path, but disappeared into the plants at the edges as soon as I neared, and I was unable to spot it again.

Eastern Cottontail Rabbit frozen by my presence, until it disappeared into the vegetation.

One of the only Insect observations I made were some mating Deer Flies (Genus Chrysops). Although they cause pain when they bite and can be determined adversaries, when you get a good look at them you realize they are also quite beautiful. Look at those wonderfully strange eyes and patterned wings.

Mating pair of Deer Flies.

I had to pass through the Redwing assault again, and once through I saw the rarest observation of my hike. A black dome was crossing the trail at a decent rate for what I quickly realized was a turtle. In my excitement I couldn’t get the zoom lens to focus on the turtle for some reason. As I was trying to get a picture, I rushed forward, hoping to get a good picture of the turtle before it disappeared into the undergrowth that it was making for. While doing this, I startled something to my left. A Great Blue Heron (Ardea herodias) took to the skies, disturbed from its ambush site by the turtle-seeking human. I quickly snapped a couple of pictures of the Heron before moving forward, hoping to still find the Turtle.

After this mutual startling, I made it to the location of the Turtle, which had reached the shelter of the vegetation. I was still able to see the turtle (it was, after all, not moving incredibly fast) and took a few pictures of its shell. From this, I was able to determine that it was a Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii). I have only ever encountered Snapping Turtles and Painted Turtles before, so this was a very exciting sighting for me, even if I didn’t get a good photo.

My clearest shot of the Blanding’s Turtle as it barreled through the undergrowth.

Just a few dozens of meters further I came upon a young deer browsing in the middle of the trail. It still retained the spots of a fawn, and was smaller than an adult but certainly not a helpless baby. The deer seemed pretty unaware of me until I was quite close so I got some good pictures as it looked at me and after it saw me it wandered off into the marsh.

I could hear Marsh Wrens all around making their buzzing calls, but they are extremely difficult to spot and even more difficult to capture with the camera. This was one of my closest attempts, it’s almost as though the Wren is mooning me with its upright tail sticking out into the line of my camera instead of its chirruping face:

Most times in the summer, I have the Macro lens fixed to my camera because of the abundance of insect life, but on this trail I kept the telephoto equipped for all of the bird sightings I had. Near the end of my walk, I came upon a Dragonfly perched on the ground of the path and I was able to capture it adequately with the telephoto. It was A Blue Dasher Dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis), which occurs throughout most of the United States but only in the very Southern portions of Canada.

Blue Dasher Dragonfly resting in the path.

Ahead of me, meandering along the trail, was a pair of young Canada Geese (Branta canadensis). They were interesting to me, because they weren’t the Goslings following their parents and they weren’t Adult size either. The one appears to be much more “gosling-like’ than the other, which has started to acquire the characteristic facial markings of adult Canada Geese.

Young Canada Geese.

My final farewell to the trail this day was seeing a Heron stalking in the shallows, wreathed in fog. This Heron of the Mists was a perfect sendoff to my journey through the Long Point wetlands.

For previous posts about nature observations of this kind, see:

A Visit to Big Creek, Part 1

Pinery, Winter 2019

MacGregor Point Observations (May 2018

-Algonquin Observations (July 2018), Day One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six

And if you’re interested in seeing more of my photos and learning some facts about the creatures I’ve observed, follow me on Instagram @norfolknaturalist.

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June 2021 Observations Nature Observations

A Visit to Big Creek, Part 1

This year I’ve discovered a new trail in Long Point. It’s called “Birding Trail 8” according to Google Maps, but the signs at the location say it’s part of the Big Creek Conservation Area. In any case, it’s right along the Causeway road that runs down Long Point into Lake Erie, and the trail goes through some of the conservation area’s wetlands. My most recent hike along this trail was this past weekend and I encountered some interesting creatures along the way.

Being a wetland, the air was filled with the calls of Red-winged Blackbirds (Agelaius phoeniceus), the males sporting their signature red/yellow epaulets and the females in their mottled brown stripes. Female Red-winged Blackbirds continue to catch my attention because they are often doing all kinds of different things and they don’t have the distinctive look of the Males. I’ve taken many a picture of Female Red-wings thinking they’re a different species only to review my photos and find that I’ve taken yet more pictures of Female Red-winged Blackbirds rather than new and unique species. Not that I mind much, as I find basically any species interesting. The only picture I took of a Red-wing on this hike was a Female that had what looks like nesting material in her beak.

Female Red-winged Blackbird with what looks like nesting material in her beak, or perhaps a mangled insect.

One thing you may have heard about Red-winged Blackbirds is their divebombing behaviour when you approach too closely to their nest. Well, there must have been a nest right on the edge of the trail because for the first stretch of this path I was running with my head down while I felt wings flapping at the back of my head. It was an exhilarating and frankly terrifying experience. If only I could have told the aggressive bird that I had no interest in raiding its nest. Thankfully I wasn’t physically harmed, just seriously intimidated by a bird not much bigger than my hand. 

Having run through the Red-wing gauntlet, I got some decent photos of Mute Swans (Cygnus olor). There are 3 species of Swans that occur in Southern Ontario, but only one (the introduced Mute Swan) has an orange bill, so it’s pretty easy to identify at close range. If you’re wondering, the other two are Tundra and Trumpeter. Although called the Mute Swan (apparently because it’s less vocal than other Swans) this one was making creepy grunting noises, not sure why.

Mute Swan

Another bird caught my eye, hovering in midair above the water. I say hovering, because that’s what it appears to do, but the bird must have been doing some incredible movements to stay in one place as it pinpointed its prey below. The bird was a Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon), the only species of Kingfisher that occurs in Canada. My pictures aren’t the greatest as it was decently far away, but you can still make out its incredibly long beak.

Belted Kingfisher “hovering” in place.

A much less noticeable bird than the Red-winged Blackbirds or the Kingfisher was the small Common Yellowthroats (Geothlypis trichas). I saw one Male on this loop of the trail, clinging to some reeds, and in my second round I encountered a Female in the same general area.

Male Common Yellowthroat
Female Common Yellowthroat

At the far end of the trail, the left side opens up onto a wider stretch of Lake Erie, and it’s here that I watched the amazing aerodynamics of the Black Terns (Chlidonias niger). I observed the Terns foraging for a long while; I find them beautiful birds, masters of the air. One or two would come out of the inner wetland and dip their beaks into the water surface, sometimes coming out with a small fish or tadpole. Prey acquired, they would return, cross the trail, and dip down into an area obscured by reeds and vegetation. I believe these Terns were foraging for their young or partners back in the nests that were hidden within the marsh. The Terns included in the Genus Chlidonias are known as the Marsh Terns for this reason, these Terns rely on wetlands for their breeding territories, often constructing their nesting colonies on floating bits of vegetation.

While watching the Terns, often through the lens of my camera, I was startled by the sight and sound of a large brown object leaping out of the marsh to my right, maybe 10 meters away. The creature responsible was a White-Tailed Deer (Odocoileus virginianus), and it loped ahead of me down the trail after its abrupt emergence from the reeds. 

White-tailed Deer running down the trail. It had emerged with a splash from the marsh to the right.

One Tern hovered in the air above the trail and made its soft call. I’m not exactly sure why, but it gave me some excellent views of this beautiful animal.

As I was walking along this stretch of the trail I could hear the unforgettable call of Sandhill Cranes (Antigone canadensis) and I could see that there was a pair at the corner of the trail coming up. These birds are fascinating creatures, and their sounds are similar to the Wolf in conjuring the wild in my mind, a call from another world. 

Sandhill Cranes calling.

The constant calls of Marsh Wrens and Red-winged Blackbirds were my companions as I walked through a heavily reeded area. On my right, I could see the Terns hovering above the wetlands and descending among the reeds to where I suspect their nests were. Also to my right were the occasional sightings of Muskrats (Ondatra zibethicus), skimming through the water on important business.

Muskrats are a common sight in the wetlands of Long Point.

As I neared the parking lot, I was deciding whether to make another loop of the trail in the hopes of seeing more interesting creatures. If you read the title, you’ll know what my decision was, and be sure to return for Part 2 coming soon! As a teaser I will say that I saw more than just Birds and Mammals (even some Invertebrates) on my second round through the marsh!

For previous posts about nature observations of this kind, see:

Pinery, Winter 2019

MacGregor Point Observations (May 2018

-Algonquin Observations (July 2018), Day One, Two, Three, Four, Five, Six

And if you’re interested in seeing more of my photos and learning some facts about the creatures I’ve observed, follow me on Instagram @norfolknaturalist.

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Nature Observations

Nature Observations: Pinery, Winter 2019

Pinery Provincial Park is a great place to visit any time of the year, and Winter is the season when you can get closest to a few of the bird species that make their home there.

We always bring along bird-seed to Pinery when we go in the Winter, because there are a number of birds that will come very close when presented with a nutritious food supply. Some (Black-capped chickadees and White-breasted nuthatches) can be induced fairly quickly to landing on your hand and feeding from it. This year, we were a bit early in the season and most of the birds except a few brave chickadees were too wary to feed from our hands. Despite this, we were able to feed many birds by leaving out a pile of seeds on the railing on our site (we were staying in one of the yurts they have there). If you’re planning to do this yourself, remember to not leave the birdseed out overnight. During the day, you will attract small foraging songbirds but at night, you’ll most likely be feeding raccoons, who can devastate snapping turtle populations in the park, if they overpopulate themselves.

The first birds we attracted to our food supply were the bold chickadees, ever-eager to exploit any opportunity available.

A perched Black-Capped Chickadee (Poecilie atricapillus)

Next came the nuthatches, with their impressive ‘talons’ which they use to grip bark as they scale down tree-trunks to pry out insect food.

White-Breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis)

Tufted titmice were quite abundant as well. I’ve never been able to feed one from my hand, but they were quite content to fling seeds about in the pile, picking out the ones they desired.

Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor)

The final visitor to our railing was a downy woodpecker. Downys are the smallest woodpeckers in Canada, at approximately 15-17 cm (Backhouse, 2005). Still jabbing as though he were piercing bark, the woodpecker walked awkwardly along the railing. It truly appeared strange to be perched and moving horizontally, as they are so superbly adapted for their vertical orientation on tree trunks.

Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens)

Although only a few landed on our hands to pick at seeds, we were pleased to see these little birds foraging nearby, bringing cheer to the wintry woods of Pinery Provincial Park.

The view of the seed pile being visited by the winter birds.

References:

Backhouse, Frances. Woodpeckers of North America. 2005.

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Welcome to my new Nature Blog

If you’re interested in the living things that inhabit this world with us, then you’ve come to the right place. I’ve always found it fascinating that there are so many different kinds of creatures, living out lives in different ways to us humans. In some cases, it’s difficult to believe that we share the same planet, let alone the same backyard. There are countless species that surprise and delight in your own neighbourhood, and there are many more around the world. I’d like to explore this diversity, and try to share my own excitement about these creatures, whether they are insects, fungi, plants, birds, mammals, or any of the other species that crawl, fly, swim, run or grow across the planet.

To do this, I’m planning on producing posts detailing a specific species or group of species to get a taste of what sort of creatures are out there. I will also occasionally post about my own observations (and photos) of species that I’ve encountered in my own travels in Southern Ontario. Another thing I’d like to do is review books that are relevant to learning about nature, as I have a personal library stocked with some great books about the diversity and wonder of life.

I hope that when you visit this blog you learn a little something, gain a greater appreciation for living things, and get inspired to pay a little more attention to the world of nature that’s all around us.