Friday, July 29, 2016

Algonquin Park Again

The second part of my weekend in Central Ontario was spent in Algonquin Park. After spending the last five summers here, it was certainly nice to be back and see some of my favourite people and places.

One of those favourite places is the unassuming Pewee Lake, at the parking lot for the Highland Backpacking Trail. The water level in this shallow lake fluctuates, resulting in a pretty interesting mix of plants along the shore. Water Lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna) is common.

Several species of Bladderworts are present, including the tiny but beautiful Reversed Bladderwort (Utricularia resupinata). The whole flower is under 1 cm long.

Like U. resupinata, the sedge Carex michauxiana is characteristic of areas with fluctuating water levels.

Carex cryptolepis is one of the more common species here.

Moving on from Pewee Lake, we encountered a few Green Commas. I see lots of commas, but getting identifiable looks at them can be a challenge, so these somewhat cooperative individuals were nice to see.

I couldn't help checking on a population of Club-spur Orchid (Platanthera clavellata); they were as nice as ever!

This hairy-looking sedge is Carex houghtoniana, which was growing abundantly on the side of a sandy trail.

For those of you less interested in sedges and other tiny plants, here's an interesting beaver observation. Beavers spread an oily substance from their cloaca over their bodies to aid in waterproofing. I've seen a lot of beavers but never before this rather hilarious behaviour. (There's no sound in this video.)

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Torrance Barrens

I spent the weekend exploring a few different areas in Central Ontario. On Saturday I was at the Torrance Barrens near Gravenhurst with Lev Frid and Amanda Guercio.

Something a bit strange I've noticed is that a lot of the most interesting places for a naturalist are really marginal habitats where plants and animals are severely limited by harsh conditions. Nowhere is this more exemplified than on Canadian Shield barrens, where hot dry rocky upland areas with little to no soil transition into nutrient-poor bogs and fens in lower areas. Despite the inhospitable environment, there are a lot of cool things to see!

Virginia Chain Fern (Woodwardia virginica) is an interesting species that is abundant in the bogs here. I haven't seen this species in very many other places. The fronds grow vertically and singly in large patches.

Although they have a much wider distribution, for me the Common Loon is the bird emblem of the Canadian Shield.

I was very pleased to see my first White Fringed Orchids (Platanthera blephariglottis).

Although I only saw my first ever Coral Hairstreak this summer, they were pretty common at this location. Like many butterflies, this species is attracted to animal scat, where they often allow very close approach. It seems they are reluctant to leave such a delicacy!

Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) is a widespread flower, but one that I find very hard to photograph as it waves wildly in even the slightest breeze.

At one point I flushed this Common Nighthawk off of her two eggs. She started making some very odd noises, and pretending to be in distress to lead us away, which we quickly did to leave her in peace.

Grey Hairstreak was a lifer butterfly for me. Its presence here is perhaps not surprising given the abundance of Sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina), but I have previously spent lots of time in areas with lots of Sweetfern without ever seeing this lovely little butterfly. Unlike other hairstreaks, this species often opens it wings when resting.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

A Hybrid Birch

While exploring an interesting bog in Dufferin County recently with Todd Hagedorn, we came across a small tree that was totally unfamiliar. However, after a while I realised that it was a hybrid between two very different species of birch: Bog Birch (Betula pumila) and Paper Birch (Betula papyrifera). Paper Birch is the familiar tree with peeling white bark, and was present in very low numbers at this location. Bog Birch is a small shrub that was abundant at this location, with no individuals more than about a metre tall and most much smaller.

This rare hybrid, also known as Sandberg's Birch, is very intermediate in most respects between its parent species.

This individual is about five metres tall, with several thick trunks.


The bark is darker than on Paper Birch, and is not peeling (The damage you can see at the left in the picture above appeared to be done by a squirrel or some other rodent).

Paper Birch has sharply pointed leaves with large teeth, while Bog Birch leaves are very rounded with small teeth. The leaves on this hybrid are pretty much right in the middle.

Bog Birch can also hybridise with Yellow Birch, but that can be eliminated by among other things the lack of a wintergreen scent to the twigs and that the apparent absence of Yellow Birch nearby.

Always fun to see something completely unexpected, and I certainly wouldn't expect that these two species with such different growth forms could produce viable hybrids!

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Man there are a lot of Carex

I've been making a concerted effort this summer to learn my true sedges i.e. the genus Carex. Carex is by far our largest genus of plants locally, with 169 species listed for Southern Ontario.  For perspective, that is about the same as the number of butterfly species recorded in the province. Still, it wasn't until I actually started identifying them that I realised how amazing the diversity really is in this group.

The genus can (simplistically) be separated from other members of the sedge family, and from other grass-like plants, by a few characters:
  • Growing in wet and/or shady areas, rarely in dry open habitats
  • A more or less triangular stem
  • Separate male and female flowers, in adjacent clumps or completely separated
  • Seeds enclosed in a case (the perigynium), each with a single accompanying scale
And now for a random selection of species I've photographed recently! I'm only using Latin names here. Although there are common names for most species, they are very inconsistent between sources and don't seem to see much use.

This is one of the most attractive species I've encountered: C. buxbaumii. This species and the next four were all growing in wet areas between dunes at Rondeau Provincial Park.

C. aurea is easy to identify once it develops this nice golden colour to its peryginia.

C. pellita has very hairy peryginia, although that may not be clearly visible in this photo. A hand lens is an absolute necessity when identifying sedges!

C. crawei is mostly restricted to shores of the Great Lakes in our area.

C. viridula has distinctive dense little spikes. The thin white spikes at the top are the remains of the male flowers.

Moving away from Rondeau (although this species is likely found there too), C. flava is closely related to C. viridula, but with long beaks on the peryginia. 

Most sedges have pretty thin leaves, but a few forest species have much wider ones. This is C. plantaginea with its creased leaves and red-banded stems.


C. albursina has smoother leaves as well as wide bracts covering the spikes of peryginia.

Some species have big inflated peryginia, like C. lupulina seen here.

C. utriculata is more subtly inflated.


C. atherodes can be confused with the more common C. lacustris, but among other things can be distinguished by very hairy leaf sheaths (where the leaf meets the stem).


C. vulpinoidea is easily recognised by the thin bracts projecting from the inflorescence, and seems to be most common along trails through wet areas.

And to finish off, a couple of bog species. This pretty one is C. magellanica.

And finally, C. oligosperma, a true bog specialist.

If you've made it this far, congratulations! Believe it or not, the photos above represent only about 8% of the local sedge diversity. Certainly a group that will take many years to master!

Tiger Beetles and More Near Long Point

Last weekend, Todd Hagedorn and I spent a day in the Long Point Area. We had plenty of nice sightings, but the highlight for me were some tiger beetles we came across at St. Williams Conservation Reserve. Tiger Beetles can be found actively hunting in open, exposed areas.

One of Ontario's rarest species is Ghost Tiger Beetle (Cicindela lepida). The rest of our tiger beetles are mostly dark brown, green or purple, but this one is all white with just a few metallic markings on the back.

Ghosts are dwarfed by the Big Sands Tiger Beetle (Cicindela formosa generosa) found in the same habitat.

Festive Tiger Beetle (Cicindela scutellaris lecontei) was also present in the same sandy areas.

A new fern for me was Ebony Spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron). Unlike most of the Asplenium species which are found on rocks and cliffs, Ebony Spleenwort can be found growing in forests and even sometimes in weedy fields.

Dodder (Cuscuta sp.) is a parasitic plant that looks like tangles of orange thread strewn over other plants. Large quantities were growing in various wetland areas that we visited.

There were good numbers of shorebirds at the Townsend Sewage Lagoons, primarily Least Sandpipers, Spotted Sandpipers and Killdeer. This Dunlin was mixed in, and was mostly still in breeding plumage. It is a fairly odd time for one to show up, and I'm not sure if it's a summering bird or an early fall migrant.

Saturday, July 9, 2016


I haven't spent a whole lot of time odeing this summer so far, but I have come across a couple of lifer damselflies. Both these species are found in rivers in Southern Ontario.

The bluets (Enallagma) can be difficult to identify, with many species differing only in the shape of the reproductive parts. River Bluet is a little easier than some, with a narrow, tapering shoulder stripe and the long upper clasper (on the tip of the abdomen). 

In general, the Ontario species of dancers (Argia) are found in rivers and large lakes, but there are exceptions. This is a Blue-fronted Dancer, one of four dancers restricted to Southwestern Ontario (two other species are widespread).

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Some Shrubs

Here's a few interesting shrubs I've seen recently.

This Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) with it's beautiful spherical cluster of flowers was growing in dunes at Rondeau.

Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica) looks more like Poison Ivy than like the other species of Sumac (and indeed the two genera are closely related), but the fuzzy red fruits are very reminiscent of the familiar Staghorn Sumac (R. tyhphina).

Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia) has very distinctive fruits.

Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) is a common wetland shrub. The small flowers will turn into bright red berries, which persist into the winter and are thus an important food source for birds.