Saturday, April 30, 2016


The spring ephemerals are a large and wonderful group of plants. These species are not linked by taxonomy but by ecology. Ephemerals are plants found in deciduous forests that emerge very early in the spring and die back in the summer. They do this to take advantage of the short period in spring when temperatures are reasonably warm and the trees overhead do not have leaves blocking the light. A large variety of ephemerals are currently blooming in the Rondeau area.

Note that while not all these may fit a strict definition of spring ephemerals as they don't die back over the summer, all do come up early in the spring to take advantage of high light levels.

To start off with, Blue Cohosh is an interesting plant named for its distinctive blue berries later in the summer. We actually have two species: Caulophyllum thalictroides has yellowish flowers that open later than the purple-flowered C. giganteum.

C. giganteum

C. thalictroides

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) has a bizarre flower that lays flat on the ground. I've found conflicting information on what pollinates these flowers (possibly ants or carrion-loving flies), but the seeds are definitely spread by ants, and the flower position may make this easier.

Members of the arum family (Araceae) have very strange flowers, and a few species are found in Ontario. Possibly the very first plant to flower in spring is Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) (this flower from a week ago is already dying pretty quickly). The flowers actually produce heat to melt through snow and ice the spring. Later on the huge leaves cover the wet habitats in which this species grows.

The other common woodland arum is Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum).

Two similar species of Dicentra can be found blooming together: Dutchman's Breeches (D. cucullaria) and Squirrel-corn (D. canadensis).

 Dutchman's Breeches flowers look like little pairs of pants.

Squirrel-corn is similar, but easily distinguished by the rounded lobes.

There are lots of other ephemerals blooming right now but in the interest of keeping this post to a manageable length you'll have to wait a bit for pictures of them.

Friday, April 15, 2016

Recent Birds

As winter turns to spring some of our first birds to start nesting our the owls. Great Horned Owls are usually the very first bird to lay eggs. This owl was incubating on a windy day.

This Eastern Screech Owl was photographed before the nesting season, but they will use tree cavities like this to nest.

My local Long-eared Owl is lingering very late. I've never seen one linger into April before. If you look closely, the owl is holding a dead chickadee in its talons.

We accidentally flushed this Short-eared Owl from the edge of a sewage lagoon in the middle of the day. It landed on a nearby fencepost and we were able to get great views, although it was a bit too far for photos.

My highlight recently was this Western Grebe that I found at the mouth of the Credit River in Mississauga. This is a pretty rare bird, with an average of maybe one record a year for Ontario recently. A lot of people got to see this bird as it stuck around for a couple of weeks.

Unlike some previous Western Grebe records, this bird did not associate with Red-necked Grebes. Many thousands of Red-necked Grebes stage in western Lake Ontario, and a few stay to breed in marinas and sheltered bays. Floating tires are put out for them at several locations.

Turkey Vultures nest in odd places like caves and sheltered ares in human structures. This was one of a pair that seemed to be staking out this old barn.

Migrant songbirds are finally starting to arrive in numbers. Today I had my first Pine Warbler of the year. Many birders find this to be a fairly rare bird at migrant traps like Pelee and Rondeau, but it is actually just a very early migrant that is mostly gone before the other warblers arrive in early May.

Sparrow diversity is at about its highest level of the spring right now. I had eleven species today around Rondeau, including several Vespers.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Ontario Nature Blogs

There are a lot of awesome blogs about nature in Ontario, but finding them is not necessarily easy. I thought I would host a page listing as many as I can to make them easier to find and even maybe even help create a bit more of a community rather than a bunch of people "talking into the void". Click here to check it out and please let me know of any additions and corrections!