Jul 242017
 

Today, July 22, at the Nonquon lagoons in Port Perry, there was an interesting mix of life and death struggles. Lots of sights of successful breeding as Mallards, Wood Ducks, Hooded Mergansers and Trumpeter Swans showed off their new families. Very few shorebirds but the habitat is still not good for them ? Water is too high.

However two Soras were in full song and a Virginia Rail showed off her two offspring. 5 Common Gallinules and an American Coot were new arrivals as they haven’t been here all summer. The show stopper was the feeding frenzy by the Cedar Waxwings. Fifteen+ birds were feeding at eye to ground level chasing and catching a huge new hatch of bluet damselflies. For the dragonfly/damselfly afficionados out there this is the time be here .. crazy numbers of these insects. Also a large hatch of Monarchs must have occurred as they were everywhere.

Sora (rail) – Wikimeda

Lots of herps – Midland Painted Turtles, Northern Leopard Frogs, Green Frogs and my second (dead) Red-bellied Snake at this site this year. Lots of other butterflies and myriad other insects to amuse. A groundhog and a muskrat represented the mammal clan. Adjacent fields had several Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer and Spotted Sandpipers – so they are here .. you just gotta look further afield.

Geoff Carpentier
Avocet Nature Services

(via Ontbirds – Bird Alert – Click here for information on how to subscribe to alerts)

DIRECTIONS: The lagoons are located one road north of the transfer site on Concession Rd. 8 [don’t get confused as, despite the fact that these roads are both numbered “8”, they are two different roads – one is a regional paved road, the other a dirt concession road.]. Access to the lagoons is from the east end of Conc. 8 only as the bridge is out west of the lagoons. Please remember to close the gate behind if you go as it is not self-closing.

How to Obtain a Nonquon Sewage Lagoon Permit

Permits must be purchased in advance of entering the lagoons. Permits can be obtained from 605 Rossland Rd., Whitby, or at the Scugog Waste Transfer Station, 1623 Reach Street, Port Perry. An electronic version of the Nonquon Sewage Lagoon Birder Permit is available in PDF format at http://www.durham.ca/finance.asp?nr=/departments/finance/financeinside.htm. Nonquon Sewage Lagoon Birder Permits are available for $10 per permit. Cheques will only be accepted at Regional Headquarters. Payment by cash only at the Scugog Waste Transfer Station. Completed Applications should be forwarded to: Finance Department – Insurance & Risk Management, 605 Rossland Road E., Whitby, ON L1N 6A3

 

Jul 242017
 

On Saturday, July 22, I saw a Great Crested Flycatcher, a bird we have never seen before. The sighting was brief, with no time for a photo, but the tricoloured front view of light grey, soft lemon yellow and orange was unmistakable.

Another first this year is a family of Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks. The female has been feeding her two young at the sunflower feeder.  There are also at least three males coming to the feeder. In previous years, these birds have just stayed around for a few days.

Stephenie Armstrong, Sawmill Road, Warsaw

Great Crested Flycatcher – Dick Daniels

Grosbeak family at feeder – July 22, 2017 – Warsaw – Stephenie Armstrong

 

Jul 232017
 

Update re: John Deyell’s sighting (July 14, 2017) of Trumpeter Swans nesting in Sandy Creek Bay near Woodland Camp Site. Apparently, this same pair had 2 cygnets last year, unbeknownst to most people (saw photos from October last year taken by camp owner). This year they have 1 cygnet. I’ve attached a picture. Woodland’s owner, Cathy, told me a representative came into the camp from the Trumpeter Swan Society and advised that this pair of swans have been named Smokey and the Bandit. One adult swan is tagged J07 and the other has no tag.

Barb Evett

Trumpeter Swans with cygnet – 2017 – Woodland Campsite on Buckhorn Lake – Barb Evett

 

Jul 222017
 

Least Bittern (Ixobrychus exilis) (1)
– Reported Jul 20, 2017 14:50 by Ian Sturdee
– 5997–5999 Highway 7, Havelock-Belmont-Methuen CA-ON (44.4328,-77.8960), Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
– Checklist:
– Comments: “Flew over road while I was driving. Identified by shape, size and overall colouring including streaked underparts. Had a good look under the scenario. ”

NOTE: Jeff Teller found a dead Least Bittern on the roadside on June 27, 2017. It was 100 – 200 feet east of the gate to the Cavan Monaghan Transfer Station on Syer Line, which is the line that runs west off County Road 28 at Fraserville. He took a photo of the bird.

dead Least Bittern – Jeff Teller – June 27, 2017 – Syer Line at Transfer Station

 

Jul 212017
 

This spring (2017) I had a unique opportunity to photograph a Snapping Turtle that was unaware of my presence and as a result I was able for the first time to capture one with its neck fully extended and travelling at “top speed” (for a turtle). For years in the past I have taken lots of pictures (especially laying eggs), but every time I approach them they will lay down and pull their neck into their shell. I often noticed them at a distance stopping to “periscope” in long grass before they travelled along. Close-up shots had always eluded me, until now.

Rick Stankiewicz, Keene

Snapping Turtle – Rick Stankiewicz

Snapping Turtle 2 – Rick Stankiewicz

Jul 202017
 

First, a disclaimer. I am far from being an expert on the edible wild. That being said, this is an area I want to explore in coming years, partly because it has great potential in getting more people interested in nature. This is especially true right now, given the popularity of locally-sourced foods.

The allure of the edible wild goes beyond the food itself. Heading out into the fields and woods in search of edible species is akin to hunting or even birding; there is great pleasure in simply searching. Also, who could pluck a ripe mayapple without becoming interested in the plant that produced it? How did First Nations use it? Does it have medicinal properties? Even if you don’t indulge in the food yourself, knowing which species are edible is yet another way to fix them in your memory and gives them a certain romantic glamour.

Clockwise from top – mayapple, cedar, yellow birch, wild grape, wild ginger

Guidelines

  1. Only take what you need. Remember, you must never impede a plant’s ability to thrive in the location where it is growing. Begin with just a small sample. It’s also fun to simply nibble on these foods when out for a hike.
  2. Never eat wild foods that may be exposed to pollutants or pesticides from busy roads or nearby farms.
  3. Only drink or eat a little bit at a time, especially if you are new to the species.
  4. Be sure of identification. I have included the scientific names, which will make an online search easier if you are not familiar with the species. “Spp” means there are different species in the genus.
  5. The list below is simply an overview of the many edible species in the Kawarthas.

Fruits and seeds

Thoreau once wrote: “It takes a savage or wild taste to appreciate a wild fruit.” That being said, many wild fruits have a delicacy of flavour that compete quite favorably with horticultural varieties.

  1. Mayapple (Podophyllum pelatum) Although mayapples appear in early spring with their umbrella-like leaves and hidden, single white flower, the apple-like fruit does not ripen until later summer. By that time, the rest of the plant is withering and the fruit has gone from green and hard to yellow and soft. The “apple” can be eaten raw but remove the rind and spit out the seeds. The taste is vaguely tropical.
  2. Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) Also known as Juneberry and Saskatoon, the red to purple-black fruits ripen in June and attract numerous birds. The berries can be enjoyed fresh, dried like raisins or even mashed to make jam. This has always been an important food plant to First Nations’ people across Canada.
  3. Riverbank or frost grape (Vitis riparia) This woody vine with maple-like, toothed, alternate leaves grows everywhere in the Kawarthas. The grapes are dark blue to black with a waxy coating. They are sweetest after the first frost and often still delicious in winter. They make excellent jellies and jams. Learn the difference between frost grape and moonseed, a poisonous species. The latter has leaves with smooth edges – not toothed – and the fruit’s single seed is crescent-shaped. Wild grapes have many seeds in each fruit.
  4. Raspberries and blackberries (Rubus spp.) Both of these plants can be common along roadsides and in thickets. Raspberries have numerous fine prickles on the stem, while blackberries have large, well-spaced spines.
  5. Wild rose (Rosa spp.) Wild roses have fragrant flowers that blossom from June to August. The fruits, which are known as rose hips, are red to purplish and shaped like a pear. They often remain on the prickly twigs well into winter and can be eaten raw. Be sure to spit out the seeds.
  6. Strawberries (Fragaria spp.) The tiny, sweet berries of this familiar plant are best enjoyed as something to gather and nibble on when walking a trail. They also make a delicious tea or cold beverage. Bruise the berries and let them steep in hot water. Drink hot or cold.
  7. Blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) Blueberries grow in abundance in dry, open areas such as granite outcrops with scattered white pine. The lowbush blueberry (V. angustifolium) is the most common species locally. The berries ripen in July and August and can be eaten fresh off the plant.
  8. Ground-cherry (Physalis heterophylla): While the rest of the plant is inedible, the orange fruit is a sweet-sour delight. It is held in a dry, papery husk. This uncommon native plant grows in fields and open woods.
  9. Common elderberry (Sambuscus canadensis): This common shrub of damp habitats has clusters of small, cream-coloured flowers. The purple berries ripen in mid-summer. Although inedible raw, the berries can be used for jams, pies and wine.
  10. Wild rice (Zizania spp.) Wild rice grows in large masses on the edges of lakes. The seeds are purplish when ripe in late summer. It was used extensively by eastern First Nations as a staple food and was abundant in the Kawarthas before the construction of the Trent-Severn Waterway. This nutritious food is planted and harvested in Pigeon Lake and can be purchased at the Peterborough Farmers Market.

Salad plants

  1. Ostrich fern (Matteucia struthiopteris): The coiled fronds (leaves) of young ferns are known as fiddleheads, because they resemble the scroll of a violin. Ostrich fern fiddleheads make for the best eating. Collect them in mid-spring when the plant is less than 15 cm high and the fronds are still tightly curled. Fiddleheads can be eaten raw or cooked for 10 minutes in butter. The taste is similar to asparagus.
  2. Watercress (Nasturtium officinale): This small, prostrate plant has opposite, oval-shaped leaves and a green tangled mass of shoots. It grows in shallow running water and is present year-round. In summer, watercress has small white flowers. It is one of our most nutritious wild foods. Watercress can be eaten raw in salads or as cooked green.

Roots & shoots

  1. Sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis): Common around cottages on the Canadian Shield, “wild licorice” has three stalks, each with three or five leaves. A woody root runs on or just below the soil. The root can be eaten as a sweetish, licorice-flavoured snack. It is a main ingredient in traditional root beer.
  2. Cattail (Typha spp.): The shoots, rhizomes, flower spikes and pollen of cattails are all edible. Eating the shoots is easiest. Grab a young shoot at its base and pull up until it breaks off. Peel off the outer layers. Wash well. They are delicious raw, steamed or stir-fried and taste somewhat like asparagus.

Teas

Stopping to make a tea adds a fun element to hikes. Kids love building a fire!

  1. Eastern white cedar (Thuja occidentalis): Plays a few sprays of cedar leaves into water and bring to a gentle boil. Continue until the water is yellow to light green. Sweeten with honey or sugar to taste. Young spruce needles can also be used in the same manner. Cedar and spruce are rich in vitamin C.
  2. Staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina): The densely-haired red fruits can be made into a refreshing rose-coloured drink with a lemony flavour. Crush them first and soak in cold water. Strain to remove hairs and debris. Sweeten with sugar and serve cold. The fruits are most flavourful in late summer or early fall. You can also chew and then spit out the fruit as a “trail nibble”. It leaves a pleasant taste in the mouth.
  3. Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens): Also known as teaberry, this small, glossy-leaved plant creeps along the forest floor, usually under conifers. The leaves and berries have the spicy, aromatic flavour of wintergreen. Take a few young, tender leaves and steep in boiling water for a few minutes. Add sugar and even milk to taste. You can also chew the leaves and eat the red berries as you walk through the woods.
  4. Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis): Like Gaultheria, the twigs and leaves have the flavour of wintergreen. They can be chewed raw (and spit out) or steeped in boiling water to make a tea.
  5. Mint (Mentha sp.): This herb has a four-sided stem, pinkish flowers and usually grows in moist areas. It has a strong mint smell. The leaves can be eaten raw or used to make iced mint tea. To do so, tear up a handful of leaves (to release more flavour) and place in a heat-safe bowl. Pour in boiling water and allow to steep for 10 minutes. Squeeze in some lemon juice and add sugar if desired.
  6. Wild ginger (Asarum canadense): This plant of rich woodlands smells and tastes like commercial ginger. The leaves can be made into fragrant tea, while the rootstalks can be used fresh, dried or ground as a spice.
  7. Others: Teas can also be made from the fragrant leaves of sweet-fern (Comptonia peregrina), wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), Labrador tea (Ledum groenlandicum) and sweet gale (Myrica gale) – among others!

True to its name, Wintergreen stays green all winter – Drew Monkman

Puffballs

Giant puffball (Calvatia gigantea): Widespread and common, giant puffballs fruit in field and woods. They are often bigger than a loaf of bread and have smooth white skin. Cut the puffball in half and make sure the inside is uniformly white. Peel off the outer covering with a knife. Do not wash. Sauté thick slices in butter with onions. Other species such as gem-studded puffballs are safe to eat, as well. Just make sure they are all-white inside and have a uniform internal consistency.

Giant Puffball mushroom – 6 lbs! – October 13, 2016 – Joan Major

Resources

  1. The Edible Wild Plants of the Gamiing Nature Centre. Go to http://bit.ly/2tGM2Gc
  2. Edible & Medicinal Plants of Canada, published by Lone Pine (2014).

 

Jul 172017
 

I had a great day in the field on July 7. I was in the Lily Lake area and found a Green Heron NEST with three fuzzy herons, as well as eggshells. Later, I found what I think is a Porcupine den.

I also collected a few sedges and a rush from various locations in the Kawarthas. The species have yet to be identified.

Erin McGauley

Green Heron nest – Lily Lake area – June 2017 – Erin McGauley

Green Heron (Don McLeod)

Porcupine den in tree – Lily Lake – Erin McGauley

 

 

Unidentified sedge – July 7, 2017 – Erin McGauley

Unidentified sedge – July 7, 2017 – Erin McGauley

Unidentified sedge- July 7, 2017 – Erin McGauley

Unidentified sedge – July 7, 2017 – Erin McGauley

Unidentified rush – July 7, 2017 – Erin McGauley

Jul 142017
 

This is a series of photos from Rick Stankiewicz of a Common Green Darner emerging from the nymphal case. Enjoy!

Common Green Darner nymph which has just climbed up out of the water – Rick Stankiewicz

Adult emerging from nymphal case – Rick Stankiewicz

All the way out now!  – Rick Stankiewicz

Think I’ll stretch a bit! – Rick Stankiewicz

Now, let’s let these wings dry! (Note: This was a different individual, hence the different background) – Rick Stankiewicz

 

Jul 142017
 

In the spring of 1940 the countryside around Invermay, Saskatchewan, had an historic Forest Tent Caterpillar infestation.  I was 11 years old and have very clear memories of that time.  By the end of May the leaves in all the trees, almost all white poplar (aspen), and all bushes had been eaten.  It looked like fall.  Two memories stand out.  On the way to town with my dad, we saw telephone poles black with caterpillars.  I remember there were so many on the train tracks that the huge steam engine had to use sand normally used in the winter, when the tracks were icy because the drive wheels were slipping on the caterpillars.

One of my chores was to ride horseback to find the milk cows to bring them in the night milking.  It was raining and when I got home my mother put me in the washtub to wash the caterpillars out of my hair, and all my clothes were put into the washing hamper.

In June the trees and bushes all budded and put out new leaves, and we had spring all over again.  I don’t know what happened in 1941 because we sold the farm and moved to Ontario.

Keith McKerracher

Forest Tent Caterpillar defoliation of aspens – Government of Manitoba

Forest Tent Caterpillar (separated “snowmen” down the back) – Wikimedia

Jul 142017
 

For three years now, I have had these Trumpeter Swans across from our home in a bay near Woodland Camp Site on Buckhorn Lake. I know that they have been reported in previous years to your site. They have been here for at least the past 1 1/2 months.  I took these pictures on May 31st 2017.
I have attached a few of the pictures. The one with a yellow tag was here last year, J07.

NOTE:  In July, we spotted the swans with one cygnet. Unfortunately too far away for a picture.

John Deyell, 705 657 3568

Trumpeter Swan – May 2017 – John Deyell – Woodland Campground

Jul 142017
 

I recommend calling Pelee Wings 1-877-326-5193 in Leamington, Ontario,  and speaking to one of the sales people (true experts!). They will recommend a pair and ship them to you. If you don’t like them, they can be returned and they’ll ship another model. I like the Nikon Monarch series of binoculars but there’s lots of other great makes. This is where I bought mine. They have a huge selection and the prices are the best you’ll find anywhere. Usually they have some models on sale.

 

Jul 132017
 

Our very “skittish” and shy Red-headed Woodpecker has returned. I saw it for the first time this years on July 9, but didn’t have a camera handy. However, on July 11, I was ready. This picture was taken looking through our window into our backyard. The feeder hangs from the eave of our porch.

Red-headed Woodpecker – July 11, 2017 – Northey’s Bay Road – Dennis Johnson

Jul 132017
 

In case you might be looking for some new reading material this summer, I would like to suggest some of my favourite books from the past few years. If there is one theme they have in common, it’s that science, nature history, intellectual satisfaction and wonder are all part of an indivisible whole.

Some great nature books for your summer reading pleasure! (photo by Drew Monkman)

Evolution

1. Your Inner Fish: A Journey into the 3.5-Billion-Year History of the Human Body – By Neil Shubin (Vintage Books, 2008)

Neil Shubin, the American paleontologist who discovered Tiktaalik, the “fish with hands”, explains in this book how our bodies became the amazing but sometimes less-than-perfect machines they are today. By examining everything from fossils to embryos and DNA, he shows us that our bodies are the legacy of ancient fish, reptiles and primates. You will learn, for example, that our hands are modified fish fins and that major parts of our genome look and function like those of worms and fish. Shubin writes “If you know how to look, our body becomes a time capsule that, when opened, tells of critical moments in the history of our planet and of a distant past in ancient oceans, streams and forests.”

2. Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation – By Bill Nye (St. Martin’s Griffin, 2015)

With his trademark enthusiasm, the host of “Bill Nye the Science Guy” shows us that evolution is the most powerful and important idea ever developed in the history of science. Nye explains why race doesn’t really exist; how new species are born; and takes us on a stroll through 4.5 billion years of time. The book was sparked by a highly controversial debate with Christian creationist Ken Ham, which you can watch on YouTube. Nye writes, “My concern is not so much for the deniers of evolution as it is for their kids. We cannot address the problems facing humankind today without science – both the body of scientific knowledge and, more important, the process. Science is the way in which we know nature and our place within it.”

3. Why Evolution is True – By Jerry Coyne (Penguin Books, 2009)

As the title says, Coyne’s book takes the reader through the multiple lines of proof of why evolution is true. Drawing from many different fields of science, Coyne explains what evolution is and how it’s written in rocks, geography, embryos and genes. I especially enjoyed the chapter on how sex drives evolution. It explains why winning males have the loudest voices, the brightest colors, the sexiest displays – all decided upon by the females. Coyne also describes how evolution can favour genes that lead to cooperation, altruism and even morality. In the conclusion, he writes: “Many scientists have found profound spiritual satisfaction in contemplating the wonders of the Universe and our ability to make sense of them.” Even Albert Einstein saw the study of nature as a spiritual experience.

General nature

4. The Invention of Nature: Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World – By Andrea Wulf  (Vintage, 2016)

Chosen as one of the New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year, this illuminating biography is the story of Alexander Von Humboldt (1769 – 1859). Humboldt was a visionary German naturalist whose discoveries forever changed the way we understand the natural world. In doing so, he formed the basis of modern environmentalism. Humboldt was the first naturalist to see the natural world as a unified whole that is animated by interactive forces. He brought together exact scientific data with an emotional response to what he was seeing. “Nature must be experienced through feeling,” he wrote to Goethe. By combining nature and art, facts and imagination, he linked the previous mechanistic view of nature to a new emphasis on subjectivity. Humboldt even developed the idea of human-induced climate change, based on the deforestation and erosion he saw in South America. He was the first to recognize that humankind had the power to destroy the environment – with catastrophic consequences.

5. The Hidden Life of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate – By Peter Wohlleben (Greystone, 2015)

After reading Wohlleben’s book, a walk through a forest will never be the same. Drawing on the latest scientific discoveries, the German forester explains that the trees in a forest care for each other: parents communicate with their offspring, support them as they grow, share nutrients and warn of dangers. In doing so, their most important allies are soil fungi, which allow trees to share both resources and information. You’ll learn how trees use scent to summon parasitic wasps to rid themselves of pests, how leaves send out electrical signals and that a dead trunk is as indispensable for the cycle of life in the forest as a live tree. Intriguing activities are also scattered throughout the book, such as putting your ear to a tree trunk to hear how well it conducts sound. Wohlleben concludes with some encouraging thoughts on trees’ ability to withstand climate change, thanks in part to the great genetic diversity in a single species. If there is one message to take from this book it’s that trees are not the static beings we mistake them for.

6. New and Selected Poems – By Mary Oliver (Beacon, 1992)

I love to turn to the poetry of Mary Oliver as a source of inspiration and contemplation about nature. This collection has become one of the best-selling volumes of poetry in North America. Take it along on your next walk. Her poems are both companions and daily meditations. As the Poetry Foundation website explains, “Oliver’s verse focuses on the quiet occurrences of nature: industrious hummingbirds, egrets, motionless ponds…” I especially recommend poems such as “Wild Geese”, “Creeks” and “The Summer Day”. Oliver’s poetry is firmly anchored in place – a place that often evokes the Kawarthas – and is eminently accessible to the general poetry reader. In “When Death Comes”, she writes, “When it’s over, I want to say: all my life / I was a bride married to amazement. / I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.”

7. Naturally Curious: A Photographic Field Guide and Month-by-Month Journey through the Fields, Woods and Marshes of New England – By Mary Holland (Trafalgar Square, 2010)

Don’t let the focus on New England fool you. “Naturally Curious” is almost entirely applicable to the Kawarthas and a complement to my own book, “Nature’s Year in Eastern and Central Ontario”. At 474 pages and full of beautiful colour photographs, this is one book I always keep on my desk. It takes the reader through a typical year in nature, species group by species group, and will please the skilled naturalist as much as the nature neophyte. You will also find important background information on key concepts like photosynthesis, mating rituals, frog and toad calls, incomplete vs. complete metamorphosis and seed dispersion. Highly recommended!

8. Pollinators of Native Plants: Attract, Observe and Identify Pollinators and Beneficial Insects with Native Plants – By Heather Holm (Pollinator Press, 2014)

If you are interested in bees and pollinator gardens, this book is a must. Holm explains in detail the specific relationships between native pollinators and native plants. Organized by plant communities, the book profiles over 65 perennial native plants, many of which are native to central and southern Ontario. It also lists the pollinators, beneficial insects and flower visitors that each plant attracts. With over 1600 photos of plants and insects, this is my go-to book for identifying the native bees, moths, beetles, flies and butterflies that turn up in my garden.

Environmental education

9. How to Raise a Wild Child: The Art and Science of Falling in Love with Nature – By Scott D. Sampson (Mariner, 2015)

Sampson is Dr. Scott on the PBS kids how “Dinosaur Train”. In “How to Raise a Wild Child”, he explains how kids connection to nature changes as they mature. The emphasis is on the importance of nature mentors and how to become one yourself. You need not be a nature expert – just a source of enthusiasm and support. Story-telling, too, is a skill he recommends cultivating. Children will value what you value, so start noticing and appreciating nature yourself. Sampson explains the importance of unstructured outdoor play, risk-taking and asking questions. He argues that kids need to know the story of how the Universe began and how evolution explains everything we see around us in living nature – including ourselves.

Climate Change

10.  Climate Changed: A Personal Journey through the Science – By Philippe Squarzoni (Harry N. Adams, 2014)

This  pen-and-ink graphic novel  is basically the author’s personal  journey in understanding the science and multiple impacts of climate change. As he educates himself by talking to experts, he educates us, too. The book also weighs the potential of some solutions and the false promises of others. The result is a balanced view of the magnitude of the crisis. If you’re new to graphic novels, pick this one!

Jul 102017
 

I live in Ennismore on 4 acres in a century home. The article you wrote about declining bat populations and White Nose Syndrome is old but I thought I’d reach out to you since I found it interesting and I’ve got bats – Little Brown Bats, I think. They’re living in my barn which is probably typical for this area, but I’ve also got them in my soffit and behind a pillar at the front of my house. I’m a nature lover and don’t want to hurt them, I wouldn’t mind building a few bat houses if that would entice them out of the soffit.

David Hrivnak (Dave@prismdev.ca)

Note from Paul Elliott, a local bat expert: “Bats very rarely cause any damage to the structure of a house. They only use available access points and spaces and are incapable of gnawing through stuff and so on. Their droppings are very dry and they produce only small amounts of urine because their opportunities for drinking are limited. The only circumstance in which the droppings may become a problem is if the space they are in is not watertight. A leaky roof can cause the guano to become moldy and smelly. As long as your roof is sound, you should not have any problems. Thanks for caring about bats.

Little Brown Bat with White Nose Syndrome (US Geological Survey)

 

Jul 092017
 

We had a pleasant surprise on Canada Day. A Snapping Turtle laid her eggs in our graveled turning circle in full view of the house windows. We watched her for about 50 minutes starting about 9:30 am though we don’t know how long she had been labouring. Interestingly, once she had covered the nest she proceeded to walk round the site, closely resembling a figure of eight movement, seemingly sniffing the air a few times before heading off back to the river. Had she briefly lost her sense of direction after her long labours and was searching for the scent of water? The nest is now well covered with chicken wire held firmly in place by a line of rocks. Later that day, around 6 pm, what looked like a doe and a juvenile male White-tailed Deer with sprouting antlers also paid us a visit.

Stephenie Armstrong, Warsaw

Snapping Turtle – July 1, 2017 – Stephenie Armstrong

Snapper nest protected with chicken wire – Stephenie Armstrong – July 1, 2017

White-tailed Deer – Stephenie Armstrong – July 1, 2017

Jul 082017
 

I captured these photos during an early morning kayak outing on Lower Buckhorn Lake on the weekend of June 24. The Eastern Kingbird kept tossing the dragonfly (a skimmer) into the air, seemingly to kill it. I was struck with the size of the dragonfly.

Robin Williams Blake

Eastern Kingbird tossing skimmer dragonfly into the air – Robin Blake – June 24, 2017

 

Jul 062017
 

I have been watching two dark brown juvenile Bald Eagles for three mornings now, sitting on and beside a high nest  in a white pine in Wolf Island Provincial Park on Lower Buckhorn Lake.  They glared at me for about 15 minutes but never left. One of them was in the nest, then sat on the branch with the other one for 10 minutes, then back into the nest, which was getting nice morning sunlight around 9 am. I was in a canoe.

The nest has been there for two or three years. I’ve dropped a Google maps pin in the nest location, and hope it shows you the right spot (big white pine). I can watch the nest from the lake side, and from deep in the bay on the north side, but lakeside is better.

There is now a heronry with three Great Blue Heron nests on Three Islands (west of the eagles) where Ospreys used to nest.
Janet Duval, Deer Bay Reach Road

Juvenile Bald Eagle – Drew Monkman

 

Jul 062017
 

Do you have a pollinator garden? Would you consider registering the garden in the Peterborough Pollinators 150+ Garden Challenge? Our goal is to register 150+ gardens in Peterborough and area. This is a celebration of both the importance of pollinators and of Canada’s 150th birthday. If you register before the end of August 2017, you will also receive a free sign (see below) and a 2017 Peterborough Pollinators calendar. The calendar is a treasure-trove of information on pollinators and local garden resources.

Be sure to register your pollinator garden in the Peterborough Pollinators 150 Garden Challenge – Drew Monkman

Cover of Peterborough Pollinator’s new 2017 calendar (photo by Ben Wolfe)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A pollinator garden is simply one that takes into account the needs of pollinators – bees, moths, beetles, butterflies and hummingbirds – by providing nectar and pollen. In doing so, the garden should be pesticide free, include plants of different colours, shapes and sizes, offer species that bloom from spring through fall, include a variety of native plants and provide some other habitat features such as a water source, bee nesting sites and larval plants such as milkweed for Monarch Butterfly caterpillars. If you feel that your garden meets at least three of these criteria OR you are willing to work towards meeting three or more criteria, please register at peterboroughpollinators.com/register

After you register, you can pick up your sign and calendar at GreenUp Ecology Park (weekends 10 to 4 pm & Thursdays 12-6 pm), located next to Beavermead Park on Ashburnham Drive. You will also receive a 10% reduction on the purchase of native plants. Alternatively, we can deliver them.

For more information, please visit peterboroughpollinators.com or send us an email Thank you for doing your part to help protect pollinators, and we look forward to seeing the sign proudly displayed in your garden.  Please invite friends with pollinator gardens to participate, as well!

Common Eastern Bumble Bee nectaring on apple blossoms – Margot Hughes

Green sweat bee on sundrop blossom – Drew Monkman

Jul 062017
 

As a tide of green leaves transforms the landscape each spring, a near limitless smorgasbord of food is offered up to leaf munchers of all kinds. Among the most noticeable of these are tent caterpillars. Eastern tent caterpillars – the ones that make an actual tent – were especially abundant in the Kawarthas this spring and stripped both apple and cherry trees of their leaves. In the Ottawa area and in Frontenac County near Bon Echo Provincial Park, closely-related forest tent caterpillars have defoliated large expanses of deciduous woodlands. This has caused people to ask, “Why are there so many caterpillars all of a sudden?” This week, I’ll try to answer this question and provide an overview of the fascinating natural history of these two species.

Eastern tent caterpillar

The eastern tent caterpillar (Malacosoma americana) is the species people are most familiar with. It spins the well-known silken tent we see in the crotch of apple and cherry trees. Eastern tent caterpillars emerge in mid-May from “varnish-coated” egg masses wrapped tightly around the twigs of their host trees. The caterpillars are hairy, with blue, white, black and orange markings and a white line down the back. They exit the tent three times during the day to feed – before dawn, in mid-afternoon and just after sunset. The tent is used only for resting, protection and for heat regulation. They have a layered structure, which allows the caterpillars to adjust their temperature by moving from one layer to the next. Even though they may completely defoliate their host tree, new leaves emerge soon after and the tree usually recovers. When fully grown, the caterpillars spin a cocoon in some sheltered location. By summer, they will have transformed into three centimetre-long, reddish-brown moths with two pale bands on each fore wing.

Eastern Tent Caterpillar on surface of “tent” – D. Monkman

Forest Tent Caterpillar with clearly separated “snowmen” down the back (photo from Wikimedia)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forest tent caterpillar

Like its tent-building cousin, the forest tent caterpillar (Malacosoma disstria) is dark with blue stripes down the sides. Along the centre of the back, however, it has distinctive markings that resemble tiny snowmen.

The timing of events in a forest tent caterpillar’s life cycle varies from year to year. This year, caterpillar development was a little later than usual because of the relatively cool spring weather. The eggs hatch and caterpillars appear as the buds open on their host trees, usually sugar maple and red oak. In central and eastern Ontario, this is usually in early to mid-May. Once the host tree is defoliated, however, they wander widely in search of more food. This often takes them over roads, where they can become a slippery hazard when motorists apply their brakes. As the caterpillars wander, they lay down a scent trail, which is deposited as part of the abdomen drags against the ground or other substrate. The rest of the colony follows the scent trail to the new source of food. These caterpillars also set down silk trails, which help them to adhere better to the leaves and branches where they are feeding. When the light is right, it is possible to see hundreds of these silk highways in the treetops.

The larvae go through five growth stages called instars and can reach nearly three centimetres in length. Each instar takes seven to ten days to complete. Depending on the weather, the larval stage can last until late June. It is common to see 50 or more of these caterpillars clustered on pads of silk spun on leaves or on shaded bark surfaces. These are known as bivouacs and are used for resting and for heat regulation. In the case of eastern tent caterpillars, the tent itself serves as a bivouac. This is a good time to remove the caterpillars if you are concerned about your trees.

Having completed the fifth instar, the caterpillar seeks out a leaf, the side of a building or some other structure on which to spin a cocoon. The yellow cocoons are covered by loose silk webbing and are a familiar sight to many cottagers. The cocoon is impregnated with yellow crystals of calcium oxylate, which are secreted by the caterpillar. The caterpillar then transforms into a black and grey, hard-shelled pupa inside the cocoon. This past weekend, my wife and I removed dozens of cocoons from the walls of my brother’s cottage on Big Gull Lake, near Bon Echo Provincial Park. The calcium crystals blew off in the wind like dust.

Forest Tent Caterpillar cocoon – D. Monkman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven to 10 days after entering the pupal stage, the adult moth emerges. Forest tent caterpillar moths are similar to their “eastern” cousins, but the lines on the forewings are dark instead of pale. These moths are night flyers and come to lights in large numbers. After mating in early to mid-July, the females lay several clusters of 150 -200 eggs on the twigs of host trees like sugar maple and red oak. The clusters form a dark ring around the twig and are easy to see, especially in the fall after the leaves drop. They are anchored and protected by a bronze-coloured sticky substance called spumaline. It forms a casing, which protects the eggs from drying out. The eggs easily survive Ontario winters, even when temperatures drop to -30 C or colder. After laying their eggs, the moths soon die.

Moth of Forest Tent Caterpillar – photo by Andy Reago & Chrissy McClarren

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Defoliation

During large infestations, broad-leaved trees can be completely defoliated over large areas. Aspen are the preferred trees, although they will readily feed on other hardwoods, too, such as birch, basswood, oak and sugar maple. One exception is the red maple, which is not attacked by the caterpillars. I also noticed this past weekend that dogwoods, serviceberries and ironwoods had escaped the caterpillars’ wrath. Many of the oaks, birches and aspens, however, had been stripped of nearly all their leaves. Most trees can survive several years of defoliation and will produce new leaves within three to six weeks.

During outbreaks, the biomass (total weight) of forest tent caterpillars outweighs that of the collective biomass of all other animals in the forest. Dr. Jens Roland, of the University of Alberta, estimated that the weight of caterpillars in a square kilometer of aspen forest is equivalent to that of 657 caribou!

Defoliated trees along cottage road near Big Gull Lake in Frontenac County – Drew Monkman

Outbreak intervals

Like the eastern tent caterpillar, forest tent caterpillars are a native species. Outbreaks are therefore a natural event in the forest ecosystem and occur regularly. The actual cause of a given outbreak, however, is not well understood, nor can the interval between outbreaks be predicted. They do not necessarily occur “every ten years or so”, despite what many websites say.

From 1867 to 1987, province-wide outbreaks occurred in Ontario at intervals of 9-16 years. Caterpillars remained in outbreak numbers for 1-8 years (average 3 years). Some areas, however, seem to be able to go outbreak-free for decades. This means that historical data cannot be used to predict when an outbreak will occur or how many years it will last. This reflects the randomness of the elements that come together to cause population explosions. Clearly, more research is needed.

Outbreak collapse

Although populations of forest tent caterpillars may expand for several years in a row, they inevitably collapse. They are naturally regulated by factors such as late spring frosts, bird predation – cuckoos love them – and parasitic and predatory insects. Climate change, too, may work against them as increasingly warm winters can cause the caterpillars to emerge too early in the spring. If the eggs hatch too many days before the leaves emerge, the caterpillars can be left with nothing to eat and die from starvation. The downside, however, is that caterpillar mortality means far less food for the migrant bird species that return later in the spring.

The forest tent caterpillar’s worst enemy – and probably the main factor in stopping an outbreak – is the large flesh fly (Sarcophaga aldrichi), another native species. In early summer, flesh flies emerge from pupae in the ground and fly about looking for forest tent caterpillar cocoons. Right out of a horror movie, the female fly gives birth to a live larva (maggot), which it deposits on a cocoon. The larva then bores into the caterpillar pupa, feeds on its flesh and eventually kills it. The maggot then drops to the ground where it overwinters, pupates and emerges as an adult the following year. Flesh flies can destroy over 80% of the caterpillar pupae in a given season. This means their impact doesn’t become apparent until the following spring when caterpillar numbers are much reduced. The fly population, too, crashes because there are far fewer caterpillar pupae to feed on.

Large Flesh Fly (photo by Gilles Gonthier)

Flesh flies are black or dark grey with three black stripes on the thorax, similar to house flies. However, they are larger and have a checkerboard pattern on the abdomen. Their numbers often explode in the years following a caterpillar outbreak and people wonder where all the annoying flies suddenly came from. Although they like to land on people, animals and food, they don’t bite, nor do they spread disease. People sometimes wonder if they’ve been released by a government agency, hence the name “government flies” in some areas like New York state. This, however, is not the case. The flies are simply evolution’s response to an abundant food source!

It’s hard to predict when the next forest tent caterpillar outbreak will occur in the Kawarthas. Given outbreaks in eastern Ontario, however, it might be soon!