Saturday, August 23, 2014

Late Summer Miscellany

No real theme here, but enjoy a bunch of photos I wanted to share from the past month or so. Fall is well underway in the natural world, with many warblers at peak levels of migration and many leaves starting to change.

Pink-edged Sulphur caterpillars eat blueberries, and so can be very common in dry open areas.

I was happy to come across this male Black-backed Woodpecker next to the trail while biking by. He seemed completely unconcerned about my presence. Black-backeds are at the southern limit of their range here in Algonquin.

 Shrews are often found dead, presumably as predators kill them but soon discover they taste bad. I believe this is a Masked Shrew but it is difficult/impossible to tell without very close examination.

A wonderful surprise one evening was this hunting Great Gray Owl that we watched catch a Meadow Vole. Due to high numbers of Deer Mice and Eastern Chipmunks (and possibly other small rodents), it has been an incredible summer for owls. I've seen Great Gray, Barred, Northern Saw-whet, Long-eared and Great Horned within Algonquin so far.

This is Spilomyia fusca, a flower fly that is an incredibly good mimic of the Bald-faced Hornet.

Cardinal Flower is a common riverside plant.

Tiger Beetles are common on dry open areas in late summer, and are easily identified by the wing markings. This is a Bronzed Tiger Beetle.

 This is an Oblique-lined Tiger Beetle.
Horned Bladderwort is a common shoreline species.

Purple Bladderwort is significantly less common in Algonquin Park. Bladderworts are carnivorous, with tiny bladders on their roots that trap tiny animals.

 I believe this Buprestid beetle is a Hemlock Borer, Melanophila fulvoguttata. There were at least 10 of them on this single tree.

Common Ravens are typically extremely wary, so I took advantage of the tameness of this young bird as it fed on blueberries.

This big blister beetle (Meloe sp.) would give me some nasty blisters if crushed.

I was excited to discover this Many-plumed Moth (Alucita sp.) resting on a window. Although, like all insects, it does not have more than 4 wings, each wing is divided into many feather-like plumes.

Algonquin Park is usually an awful place to see shorebirds, so we travelled to Presqu'ile Provincial Park on Lake Ontario one day to see what we could catch up with. We had twelve species (all reasonably common ones), including my first Baird's Sandpipers of the year. By this point in the year, juvenile shorebirds like this Semipalmated Plover (aged by the pale fringing on the back feathers) begin to dominate over the earlier migrating adults.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Rondeau Retrospective

Seeing as it's now August, it's really time that I get up a post about my time at Rondeau! I had an awesome time this year, with total bird numbers being quite a bit higher than last year. In fact, I would say that most days this May were birdier than the best day of last May. Below are some of the photographic highlights.

The Blenheim Sewage Lagoons are always good for seeing a variety of swallows. The Bank (left) and Cliff (right) pictured are especially attractive to me as I rarely get good looks at these species perched over the rest of the year.
The award to most bizarre sighting of the spring would have to go to this Snowy Owl that stayed in the same field near Erieau all month, and ended up staying until at least June 5th!

After seeing a female and an adult male Summer Tanager last May, I was happy to see two young males with their blotchy plumage this year. The bird above had been reported earlier that day but I ended up finding a different bird of my own a few days later. This is a southern species that regularly overshoots its breeding range to end up in Ontario during May.

A common but very attractive species, this Great Crested Flycatcher was showing off as it hunted. Cool temperatures this May meant that many species like this that typically feed up in the canopy were offering great looks low down.

The photo isn't the greatest, but this Yellow-billed Cuckoo was really showing off and allowed the bets looks I've ever had at this species.

Due to the late spring, few butterflies had emerged even by the time I left Rondeau (May 20th), but some migrants were around such as this American Lady and at least one American Snout.

Once the Canadian stronghold for the species, Rondeau has been very poor for Prothonotary Warblers in recent years. This year was much better and I saw one or more daily, with at least two pairs staying into the summer to breed.

The next three photos are of uncommon sparrows. I had an excellent May for sparrows, finding Lark Sparrow and Lark Bunting as well as the three species shown here. This photo shows three Clay-colored Sparrows, out of an extraordinary six that were along one section of Marsh Trail one evening.

The Clay-coloreds were joined by this Grasshopper Sparrow, proving amazingly elusive in this only slightly unkempt lawn.

Although Fox Sparrows are common in early April, this mid-May bird was a bit of a shock one morning!

This picture and the next two show three angles of an interesting looking vireo I found one morning. It does not look like any Blue-headed Vireo I've ever seen and in many ways looks much better for a vagrant Cassin's Vireo, but this identification might be impossible on an out-of range bird. Comments are welcome.

A highlight this spring was seeing a pale orange form Scarlet Tanager. Unfortunately it was pouring rain at the time, but this normal male is stunning enough in its own right. It's almost a shame these birds are so common because I can't resist watching each one I see well for a few minutes!

Six species of turtles occur at Rondeau. Two are very hard to find and two are species I see regularly, but the others are real treats for me. This big guy with a bright yellow chin is a Blanding's Turtle.

As May winds on, flycatchers become an increasingly dominant part of the migratory waves. Yellow-bellied Flycatchers are very plain, but subtly quite beautiful birds.

We had an oddly early wave of Olive-sided Flycatchers come through this May, with this bird being one of 3-4 I saw on May 15th. I typically associate Olive-sideds as coming through in late May or very early June after most other birds have already finished migrating.

I get very few opportunities to see shorebirds throughout the rest of the year, so I made an effort to check a variety of beaches and flooded fields as well as the Blenheim Sewage Lagoons as often as I could make time. These Black-bellied Plovers and Dunlin (with one Ruddy Turnstone a little farther back), we just some of the approximately 400 shorebirds on Erieau beach one afternoon.

I couldn't resist posting this picture of a Scarlet Tanager feeding on the ground next to my car just prior to one of my guided hikes! 

Northern Map Turtle is the other species of turtle that is common at Rondeau but special for me. This shot was actually taken just outside the park, and was one of about 15 turtles basking on this dock.

As I was packing to leave on my last morning, I heard a Common Nighthawk call outside, and stepped out to see this individual sitting in a tree outside. I have no idea why it was calling in the middle of the day!

After leaving the park on my last day, I stopped one last time at all the local shorebird spots, seeing Little Gull, Wilson's Phalarope, White-rumped Sandpiper, and best of all, this breeding plumaged Stilt Sandpiper (with two Lesser Yellowlegs). Unfortunately my camera battery died at the most inoppurtune moment and I never managed a good photo of this beautiful shorebird.