Jun 082017
 

When it comes to seeing new species of plants and animals, a certain amount of effort is usually required. This might mean traveling to new locations and walking considerable distances. There is, however, a way to enjoy nature’s diversity that can appeal to even the most sedentary among us. Welcome to the gentle art of moth-watching. “Mothing” can be as simple as leaving the porch light on and checking periodically to see what is clinging to the screen door.

With 165,000 described species worldwide, moths are among the most diverse and successful organisms on Earth. Their colours and patterns range from bright and dazzling to so cryptic as to define the very idea of camouflage.

Let’s begin by distinguishing moths from butterflies. Butterflies have club-like knobs on the ends of their antennae and usually perch with their wings held upwards. Moths, on the other hand, tend to perch with their wings outspread and have antennae that closely resemble bird feathers. Both moths and butterflies make a protective covering for the pupal stage of development. Moths, however, make a cocoon, which is wrapped in a covering of silk, while butterflies make a chrysalis, which is hard, smooth and has no silk covering. Unlike their sun-loving cousins, most moths are nocturnal.

Local moths

Moths are common just about everywhere there are trees and shrubs. This makes the Kawarthas a veritable moth paradise. Over 1000 species have been identified in Peterborough County, but they are probably many more. Basil Conlin, a Trent University student, has observed 560 species on the Trent campus alone!

Different moth species fly at different times of year. The season begins in late March or April with sallow moths like “The Joker” (Feralia jocosa) and extends right into December when the autumnal moth (Epirrita autumnata) can be common. Late May, June and early July, however, is the most exciting time of year for “moth-ers”, since this is when the spectacular giant silkworm moths are on the wing. From the bright yellow of the Io, to the bold eye-like markings of the Polyphemus and the palm-size wingspan of the Cecropia, these moths are truly exceptional.

Giant silkworm moths take their collective name both from their impressive size and from the fine silk they use to spin their cocoons. (Note: Commercial silk comes from the silkworm moth, which belongs to a different family.) They can turn up just about anywhere and are most active on warm, still nights after 10 pm. One of the best places to look for them is on large buildings with bright lights that shine onto walls.

Probably the best known of our silk moths is the Cecropia. Its body is red with exquisite white bands around the abdomen. Each of the dark brown wings boasts a stunning red and white crescent spot. Cecropias ride the June breezes in search of romance. The females release tiny quantities ‑ literally billionths of a gram ‑ of airborne sexual attractants called pheromones. These are still sufficiently potent to attract males from great distances. The male’s large, feather‑like antennae are covered with sophisticated olfactory sensors that sift the sweet night air for the female’s scent. If the breeze is right, males can follow a female scent plume for several kilometres. When male and female finally meet, they join at the abdomen and remain attached for up to 24 hours. The female will then begin to deposit 100 or more eggs on the undersides of leaves of trees such as cherry, birch and maple. Adult silk moths exist for the sole purpose of reproduction; in fact, they have no mouthparts and don’t eat.

A mating pair of Cecropia moths. Note the second moth below. (Ruthanne Sobiera)

Another spectacular species to watch for is the Luna. Pale green in colour, its hindwings end in a long curving “tail”. Other relatively common silkworm moths in the Kawarthas include the Polyphemus, the Promethea and the Columbia.

Sphingids and Catacolas

A group that warrants special attention from spring through fall is the sphinx and hawk moths (sphingids). Sphingids are often brown or grey in colour, moderate to large in size, and have narrow wings and sleek abdomens. This makes them fast flyers. Many have an impressively long proboscis for feeding on nectar. Although most Sphingids are either nocturnal or crepuscular (active at dusk and dawn), some species fly during the day. These include the gallium sphinx and the hummingbird clearwing moth. Night-flying sphingids are often attracted to tube-shaped white flowers with a strong scent.

Hummingbird clearwing moth nectaring at butterfly bush flowers (Rick Stankiewicz)

A few other sphingids to get to know are the one-eyed, elm and big poplar sphinxes. The latter has a wingspan that reaches 12 centimetres and, when at rest, it resembles a fighter jet!

Moth-ers also look forward to mid-summer when the underwing (Catocala) moths start flying. Unassuming at first glance, they are called underwings because of the remarkable contrast between the nondescript forewings and the bright, colourful hindwings (underwings). In many species, the underwings are boldly marked with black bands on an orange or yellow background. When the forewings close, however, the insect effectively “disappears.” Some common local species include the pink, scarlet, once-married and sweetheart underwings.

Moth identification

To identify moths, start by focusing on the larger species and those that stand out from the rest because of their distinctive colours or markings. Pay special attention to how the moth holds its wings when at rest. Are the wings spread out to the side or tent-like over its back? A moth with tent-like wings probably belongs to the Noctuidae family. Once you have an idea of what family the moth might belong to, look more closely at the patterns on the wings and try to compare these to the photographs on a website or in a field guide. I would recommend purchasing the new Peterson Field Guide to Moths of Northeastern North America by Canadians David Beadle and Seabrooke Leckie.

Io moth – Michael Gillespie

The guide shows you the time(s) of year each moth flies as well as its geographic range. It also gives you the host plant(s) the moth requires. If, for example, a given species lays its eggs on oaks and they are plentiful in your area, this is important information. Two excellent moth websites for identification purposes are BugGuide at www.bugguide.net and the Moth Photographers Group at http://mothphotographersgroup.msstate.edu/ You can also view local moth sightings by going to my website at drewmonkman.com Go to the topics page and scroll down to “Moths”.

Attracting moths

To bring moths to you, purchase a bulb that projects light in the UV spectrum such as a black light CFL. Screw the bulb into a lamp – a floor lamp works well – and place in front of a white sheet. The moths will land on the sheet, making them easy to see.

Not all moths, however, are interested in lights. Some are nectar-feeders and will come to a sugary bait. Mix together an over-ripe banana, a dollop of molasses, a scoop of brown sugar and a glug or two of beer. Spread the concoction on a tree trunk or hanging rope and check regularly to see what shows up. This is a great way to attract underwing moths.

Two typical underwing moths of the Kawarthas – Tim Dyson

A lot of the fun in mothing comes from photographing and identifying the insects. Be aware, however, that a flash can sometimes create washed-out images. A way to get around this problem is to carefully catch the moth in a small container and put it in the fridge overnight. You can then take a picture of it the following morning using natural light and a pleasing background such as a leaf or piece of bark. You may also wish to place a ruler beside the moth (a useful size reference) for one of the shots. You’ll only have about 30 seconds, however, before the moth warms up and flies away.

Moth atlas

Unlike birds and mammals, there are still large gaps in our knowledge of Ontario’s moths. It is for this reason that the Toronto Entomologists’ Association (TEA) recently launched the Ontario Silk Moth and Sphinx Moth Atlas to gather data on their distribution, abundance and seasonal patterns. The TEA is asking people to contribute photo records of silk and sphinx moth sightings, including those needing an ID, to inaturalist.ca/projects/moths-of-ontario. The atlas already contains about 4,200 silk observations -many of them from older databases. It can be seen online at ontarioinsects.org/moth/. The hope is that the moth atlas will evolve into a rich dataset like the Ontario Butterfly Atlas, which can be seen at ontarioinsects.org/atlas.

Researchers are seeing a disturbing decline in silkworm and sphinx moth populations across northeastern North America. This has been especially notable in species like the io moth and great ash sphinx. A possible cause is Compsilura concinnata, a tachnid fly that was introduced from Europe to control gypsy moth populations. The fly is known to also attack native moth species like giant silkworm moths.

Peterborough Field Naturalists event

On June 10, Basil Conlin and the Peterborough Field Naturalists will be holding an evening of mothing at the Camp Kawartha Environment Centre, starting at 8:30 pm. The Centre is located at 2505 Pioneer Road. Basil will give a talk on moth identification, as well as methods for attracting, collecting and observing moths. In addition, participants will be able to sit and watch moths coming to a light sheet and to bait. Bring boots, a flashlight/headlamp and maybe a blanket and snacks. The evening will wrap up by 11:30.

 

 

 

Nov 202016
 

New app

We are constantly striving to improve the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas and are currently in the process of revamping the smartphone app. The new version of the app will include interactive features that allow users to see when their record has been accepted and when certain records require more information. While we are working on making these updates, the app is currently “out of order.” In the meantime, all records can be submitted using the online online form. Thank you for your patience as we are working on these changes.

Chorus Frog -Tim Dyson

Chorus Frog -Tim Dyson

Send in your data for 2016! 

With the arrival of autumn we are sad to see the herping season come to a close. To assist us with updating our database and online maps, please send us your reptile and amphibian sightings from this year by November 30. Large data sets can be submitted using our Excel template while single records can be submitted using the online form. If you have records saved in the old app that haven’t been submitted yet, they will need to be entered using the online form. The total number of verified submissions entered from January to September 2016, using the online form and app online is 1,676 – that’s 592 new records since our July newsletter!

Gray Treefrog - Wkimedia

Gray Treefrog – Wkimedia

Engaging youth in salamander monitoring

To promote citizen science and the herp atlas, our staff participated in Ontario Nature’s 7th annual Youth Summit for Biodiversity and Environmental Leadership held on Lake Couchiching. A total of 107 youth from across the province were registered in this year’s summit.  Atlas staff led two workshops focused on monitoring salamanders for 41 youth participants who recorded 40 new records to the atlas including 35 eastern red-backed salamanders, 1 ribbonsnake, 1 green frog, 1 snapping turtle and 2 northern leopard frogs.


New Directory of Ontario Citizen Science

This summer Ontario Nature was fortunate to have two dedicated and hardworking volunteer interns from York University, Lynn Miller and Allison Nicholls, to assist with various atlas projects. Lynn helped develop evaluation materials for our summer outreach events and compiled these results. Allison helped research for the upcoming ORAA publication as well as launching the new Directory of Ontario Citizen Science. We are indebted to Lynn and Allison for their help moving these projects forward!
Interested in volunteering for Ontario Nature and the ORAA? You can find out more information by emailing: atlas@ontarionature.org.

Spotted Salamander - Oct. 23, 2016 - Catchacoma Lake - Peter Currier

Spotted Salamander – Oct. 23, 2016 – Catchacoma Lake – Peter Currier

Feb 112016
 

With the El Niño weather phenomenon warming Pacific waters and contributing to record-warm temperatures this winter, participants in the 2016 Great Backyard Bird Count (GBBC) may be in for a few surprises. The 19th annual GBBC starts tomorrow, February 12, and continues through Monday, February 15. Information gathered and reported online at birdcount.org will help scientists track changes in bird distribution, some of which may be traced to El Niño storms, unusual weather patterns, and accelerating climate change.

The common redpoll is a species that should turn up on this year's count - Missy Mandel

The common redpoll is a species that should turn up on this year’s count – Missy Mandel

“The most recent big El Niño took place during the winter of 1997-98,” says the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s Marshall Iliff, a leader of the eBird program, which collects worldwide bird counts year-round and also provides the backbone for the GBBC. “The GBBC was launched in February 1998 and was pretty small at first. This will be the first time we’ll have tens of thousands of people doing the count during a whopper El Niño.”

“We’ve seen huge storms in western North America plus an unusually mild and snow-free winter in much of the Northeast,” notes Audubon chief scientist Gary Langham. This means some species are turning up in unexpected places. For example, a Bullock ’s oriole was seen in recent weeks in Pakenham, near Ottawa. GBBC organizers are curious to see what other odd sightings might be recorded by volunteers during this year’s count.

Though rarities and out-of-range species are exciting, it’s important to keep track of more common birds, too. Many species around the world are in steep decline and tracking changes in distribution and numbers over time is vital to determine if conservation measures are needed. Everyone can play a role. The count provides insight into the dynamics of bird populations and helps to answer questions such as:

  • How how big is this year’s movement of northern species such as pine siskins, purple finches, common redpolls and bohemian waxwings into the Kawarthas?
  • What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban and rural areas?
  • Are any new birds undergoing worrisome declines that point to the need for conservation attention? Any readers who attended the screening of “The Messenger” at the recent Reframe Film Festival in Peterborough will be aware of the many threats faced by songbirds. Increasing the database by taking part in the GBBC is one tangible way that you can help them.

RegularPoster_WBNuthatch_230px

How to participate

A joint project of Bird Studies Canada and Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Audubon in the U.S., the GBBC is open to anyone of any skill level and welcomes bird observations from any location, including backyards, cottages, parks and urban landscapes. The four-day count typically receives sightings from tens of thousands of people reporting more than 600 bird species in Canada and the United States alone. Anyone visiting the GBBC website will also be able to see bird observations pouring in from other parts of the world. Just follow these simple steps.

1. Register for the count or use your existing login name and password. If you have never participated in the GBBC, you’ll need to create a new account. If you don’t have a computer, try to arrange for someone else to enter the data for you.

2. Count birds for at least 15 minutes – or longer if you wish – on one or more of the days. Count birds in as many places and on as many days as you like—one day, two days, or all four days. Submit a separate checklist for each new day, for each new location, or for the same location if you counted at a different time of day. Estimate the number of individuals of each species you saw during your count period.

3. Enter your results on the GBBC website by clicking “Submit Observations” on the home page. Alternatively, you can download the free eBird Mobile app to enter data on a mobile device. If you already participate in the eBird citizen-science project, just use eBird to submit your sightings. Your checklists will count toward the GBBC. Online maps and lists are continually updated throughout the count, making it easy to see how your sightings compare to what is being seen elsewhere in the city, province, country or world.

4. You can also enter the photo contest, win prizes, and share your experiences on the Facebook and Twitter social networks. To follow the reporting in real time on Twitter, use the #GBBC  hashtag.

5. The GBBC website also has special materials for children. In fact, you may want to go one-step further and take part in the count with your children or grandchildren. This would be a great way to celebrate Family Day, which is on February 15.

2015 GBBC

In last year’s GBBC, participants from more than 100 countries submitted a record 147,265 bird checklists and broke the previous count record for the number of species. The 5,090 species reported represent nearly half the possible bird species in the world. As for Canada, 241 species were recorded on more than 10,000 checklists. In Peterborough County, 62 observers submitted 224 checklists, which included some less-common species like the trumpeter swan, evening grosbeak, brown-headed cowbird, Carolina wren and red-bellied woodpecker. It is expected that participation this year will eclipse the 2015 numbers. The weather last February was bitterly cold and tough on both birders and birds.

The evening grosbeak was a nice find on last year's GBBC in the Kawarthas - Gord Belyea

The evening grosbeak was a nice find on last year’s GBBC in the Kawarthas – Gord Belyea

Don’t be shy

Don’t feel intimidated if you’ve never taken part in the GBBC before or doubt your ability to identify birds. In a survey of participants who took part in 2009, more than 36% were doing so for the first time. Only about a third of participants considered their skill at identifying birds to be “advanced or expert.” However, the majority of respondents said that they enjoy watching birds every day and that by doing so they experience a satisfying connection with nature.

Please consider taking part this year, and encourage your family, friends and neighbours to do so as well. Remember, too, that the Great Backyard Bird Count is a great way for kids to participate in a real scientific study as junior citizen scientists and, who knows, begin to develop a life-long interest in the natural world. We need as many new conservationists as we can get.

Citizen science

The Great Backyard Bird Count is just one project in the rapidly expanding field of “citizen science.” This is scientific research conducted in whole or in part by volunteers, usually with no formal background or experience in the area. Citizen science projects make you look more closely and really pay attention to all that surrounds you. Participants can become the “eyes” and “ears” for professional scientists. Increasingly, many areas of science such as conservation biology have a huge need for citizen scientists in order to properly do their work. Dentists are becoming lepidopterists, plumbers are contributing to our knowledge of lizards and grade three students are tracking monarch butterflies. In the process, people feel more engaged with the scientific process and with the natural world in general. Participants also develop a new sense of what a specific plant or animal is going through as human impact on the environment increases.

Clouds on horizon?

A post-GBBC survey done by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology after last year’s count found that only 15 percent of participants in the GBBC are less than 50 years of age. This is troublesome, since it is another sign that engagement with nature is far less common among younger people. Participation on the part of non-whites was also extremely low at less than 10 percent. In a continent as multi-cultural as North America, we have to be concerned that more people who identify as non-white don’t take part. On a more positive note, most participants were very happy with their GBBC experience, and found  counting birds and submitting and exploring data to be enjoyable. Ninety percent said that they were very likely to participate again.

As parents and grandparents, we need to do more to help young people develop an interest in nature. It is also important that we do what we can to reach out to new Canadians and share our love for the natural world. If we don’t, it’s hard to imagine who  tomorrow’s conservationists will be. Who will speak out for threatened species and habitats, when the formative experiences that make for caring stewards are no longer part of so many people’s experience?

It's essential for the future of conservation to cultivate an interest in nature in young people - Drew Monkman

It’s essential for the future of conservation to cultivate an interest in nature in young people – Drew Monkman

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jun 112015
 

Watching wildlife can be entertaining, relaxing, exciting, confusing, stressful, or all of the above.  Many people are fascinated by the stories going on in their gardens, urban greenspaces, conservation areas, and parks.  The backyard squirrels leaping from one precarious branch to another, as they race through the treetops at top speed, is heart stopping.  The struggle of fledgling birds, as they tentatively wobble out of the nest, can have you on the edge of your seat.  Maybe you are following the triumphs and tragedies of Ozzie and Harriet (ospreys) playing out on the Audubon’s osprey-cam streaming live from Maine over the web 24/7.  Around the world, people are rivetted by these unscripted ‘reality’ shows, a variety of new nature ‘apps’, and citizen science websites that are now accessible from anywhere.

This curiosity about the world around us helps us to better understand the plants and animals we share our local ecosystems with.  E. O. Wilson believes this type of learning makes us value all life more.  Contemplating our place in a complex ecosystem like the Kawarthas, for example, can make us feel alive and part of something bigger than ourselves.  This can be a good thing when we’re feeling stressed or having a bad day.  Learning about natural history may even enhance our personal happiness (there is research linking environmental education and well-being).

It’s impossible not to root for our local turtles and their painstakingly slow and deliberate efforts to cross our region’s roads and highways.  It seems equally impossible not to celebrate their successes when they make it across unharmed (my husband unabashedly does what he calls his ‘turtle dance’ – a spontaneous and rather amusing expression of joy at seeing the turtles succeed).

Personal observations are becoming increasingly useful – even essential – for tracking events like the spread of invasive species, seasonal changes in migration patterns, loss of wildlife habitat, and the survival of at-risk species.  The volume of information needed to monitor the health of our natural world is beyond the ability of researchers, but average citizens are making substantial contributions and collaborating in this endeavour.  Commonly referred to as citizen science, the information gathered by bird counters, water sample collectors, turtle and frog watchers, just to name a few, helps experts to learn about these happenings in places they can’t easily get to.  Citizens like you and I can collect information and send it to far-off researchers compiling information from across the globe.

This is a win-win situation for us, for the researchers, and for nature.  Average citizens contribute to scientific knowledge as well as learn more about their local environment.  Have you ever wondered why the turtles cross the road?  Or exactly what kind of turtle you just avoided?  Where do turtles go in the winter?  What are the most dangerous roads for our local turtles?  Our very own Kawartha Turtle Trauma Centre (KTTC) has excellent advice, information (Turtles 101), and guidance on how to best help these fascinating critters, many of which are at risk (http://kawarthaturtle.org/blog/get-involved/roads/).  Personal encounters with nature frequently trigger our fascination, inspiring us to learn more.  Until I transported an injured turtle to the KWTC, I didn’t know about Blanding’s and their threatened status.

The curiosity, interest, and other emotions we feel about nature can motivate us to preserve our cherished places.  I challenge you to watch a group of tiny rescued turtles learning to swim and not feel protective and hopeful.  My turtle experiences in the first few years of living in Peterborough gave me a new appreciation for the challenges faced by local wildlife and also a sense of pride in local education initiatives.

Citizen science projects are as diverse as species on our planet (or maybe even off it!).  Zooniverse is a collection of such projects, the earliest and most notable being Galaxy Zoo where millions of volunteers help to categorize images and thus contribute to actual science.

A bit closer to home, literally, my colleague, Dr. Scott Smedley at Trinity College in Connecticut, is investigating animals’ scavenging behaviour.  Many people compost kitchen scraps in a pile on their property and Dr. Smedley is interested in how this practice influences scavenging wildlife.  Not unlike Galaxy Zoo, the Wildlife CSI (Compost Scene Investigation) tool allows volunteers to categorize the thousands of camera trap images from animals visiting the experimental compost piles.  This allows researchers to answer questions about human-influenced environments.  Who scavenges with who? At what time of day, night, and year? Does the content of compost influence animal behaviour?

Some citizen projects are hands-on, providing science skills to volunteers.  Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation (and other similar organizations) train average citizens in non-invasive tracking and data collection techniques.  Over a weekend, citizens might gather hair collected from fenceposts, take measurements of grizzly bear footprints, and learn about how researchers will use this valueable ecological data on wildlife corridors.  ASC teaches middle school children from California how to look for signs of pika (the smallest member of the rabbit family) and how this species is struggling to survive.  The potato-sized furry creatures are alpine specialists, unable to adapt to temperature changes, and thus considered a climate indicator species.  The effects of climate change may be subtle or imperceptible to humans so a citizen science approach gives these students real and tangible examples of adaptation (or imminent extinction).

Citizen science is flourishing, and this detective work we do – counting birds, butterflies, or turtles – is good for our own well-being, as well as the critters we are learning about.  At the end of their expeditions, ASC citizen scientists report more vitality, positive emotions, and a greater sense of connection with nature.  Taking time to get outdoors and explore is important for our physical health, but also to foster a sense of connection with our surroundings.  We benefit from cultivating a sense of wonder and awe, from discovering new features of our environment, and from learning new skills.  Not only is citizen science an efficient way to share information among researchers and community members, but honing our citizen science skills may be the most important contribution we make to improving human and environmental health.  So, unlike the frightened turtles we see crossing the road, let’s try to get out of our shells more, to look around, and discover everything we possibly can about our wonderful world.

 

Oct 092014
 

At the rate I’ve been going through sunflower seed this fall, a second mortgage is looking like a distinct possibility. The dozen or so Purple Finches that have been with us since mid-September have been particularly voracious eaters. However, I’m not complaining. Although these attractive birds show up at our feeders most falls, rarely do they linger this long. Anyone who feeds birds on a regular basis knows that the number of individual birds and the variety of species showing up at feeders varies widely from one year to the next. Last year, for example, things were quiet. In 2012-2013, however, large numbers of winter finches – redpolls, siskins, grosbeaks, etc. – graced us with their presence. Why is it that finch numbers fluctuate so widely? The short answer is food.

Pine Grosbeak - Wikimedia

Male Pine Grosbeak – Wikimedia

Winter finches move southward when there is a shortage of wild food – mostly seeds and berries – in their breeding range in the boreal forest of northern Ontario and Quebec. If seed crops are good in the north, the birds stay put. If food is lacking, however, they will sometimes fly thousands of kilometres to find it. Whether they actually choose to spend the winter here in central Ontario and the Kawarthas depends mainly on the abundance of wild food crops here.
Since the fall of 1999, Ron Pittaway of the Ontario Field Ornithologists has prepared an annual forecast of what winter finch species are most likely to make an appearance in southern and central Ontario during the upcoming fall and winter. The forecast is based on information he collects on the relative abundance of seed crops in the boreal forest. Much of the data comes from Ministry of Natural Resources staff. The key trees affecting finch movements are spruces, birches and mountain-ashes.
So, what is the seed crop situation this year? According to Pittaway, spruce cone crops are excellent in the southern James Bay region and east across north-central Quebec. However, they are mostly poor elsewhere in the province, including the Kawarthas. As for birches, the amount of seed is poor to average. American Mountain-ash trees, on the other hand, have produced a bumper crop of berries across much of the north, with the exception of northeastern Ontario. What all of this means depends on the bird species.

Pine Grosbeak – One of our most beautiful finches, Pine Grosbeaks should make a small flight into the Kawarthas this winter, given the lack of mountain-ash berries in northeastern Ontario. Some may turn up at local feeders looking for sunflower seeds but most often you will see them feeding on European Mountain-ash and ornamental crabapples. This surprisingly tame species can be quite common right in Peterborough.
Evening Grosbeak – Small numbers of Evening Grosbeaks should move south this winter into southern and central Ontario and may show up at feeders. Their numbers, however, are now much reduced from the population peak that occurred from the 1940s through the 1980s. The high population was linked to large outbreaks of spruce budworm, which occurred at this time. Budworms provided an unlimited source of protein for the grosbeaks, allowing them to raise a lot more young than usual. A decline in grosbeak numbers began in the mid-1980s when the size of annual budworm outbreaks decreased. Ontario’s breeding population of Evening Grosbeaks is now believed to stable.
Purple Finch – Due to poor seed crops in central and northeastern Ontario, most Purple Finches are likely to migrate out of the province this fall and south into the U.S. Many are passing through the Kawarthas right now. In the 1960s and 70s, Purple Finches were much more common than they are today. As with Evening Grosbeaks, the principal cause of the decline may be the absence of large outbreaks of spruce budworm.

male Purple Finch - Wikimedia

male Purple Finch – Wikimedia

Crossbills – Red and White-winged crossbill specialize in removing seeds from the cones of conifers. We may see some Red Crossbills this winter in areas of the Kawarthas where Red and/or White pines have produced a heavy cone crop. As for White-winged Crossbills, they will be mostly absent this winter from central Ontario, given the lack of cones on spruce trees. White-winged Crossbills move east and west like a pendulum across North America searching for bumper cone crops.
Common Redpoll – Because the seed crop on birches varies from poor to only average in the boreal forest, a moderate to good flight of redpolls is expected this fall and winter as the birds leave the north in search of food. The question is whether there is sufficient seed on the birches of central Ontario to persuade them to linger here. At feeders, redpolls prefer Nyjer seeds. Watch for Hoary Redpolls, too, mixed in with the flocks of Common Redpolls.
Pine Siskins – Siskins are expected to move east and west this fall searching for areas with abundant spruce cone crops. This means that many will probably spend the winter in north-central Quebec where spruce crops are excellent. However, those birds that fail to find adequate cone crops will probably wander south and some may turn up at local feeders. Like redpolls, siskins are attracted to silo feeders offering Nyjer seeds.
Blue Jays – According to Pittaway, the acorn, beechnut and hazelnut crops were fairly low in northeastern, central and eastern Ontario this summer. We can therefore expect fewer Blue Jays at feeders , since most will migrate out of the province in search of these food items elsewhere. That being said, I’ve certainly noticed good acorn crops on many of the oaks in the Kawarthas, so it will be interesting to see if a number of our local jays decide to stay put.
Red-breasted Nuthatch: This is a species that depends primarily on conifer seeds, so cone crop failures can cause these birds to move elsewhere in search of food. Some Red-breasted Nuthatches began wandering southward in mid-summer this year and more are expected to follow. Movements of Red-breasted Nuthatches into southern and central Ontario is usually a sign that some of the northern finches will also be showing up. At feeders, this species prefers black oil sunflower seeds, chopped peanuts and suet.

Bohemian Waxwing: Most Bohemians should stay in the north this winter, because of the large berry crop on mountain-ash. That being said, we almost always see at least a few flocks of this species in the Kawarthas in winter. This may be partly due to the local abundance of European Buckthorn, a non-native shrub that produces a large berry crop nearly every year. Bohemian Waxwings are also attracted to European Mountain-ash and ornamental crabapples. In recent years, these handsome birds have expanded their breeding range east across northern Quebec.

Bohemian Waxwing (Karl Egressy)

Bohemian Waxwing (Karl Egressy)

Project FeederWatch
If you feed the birds, you can support bird research and conservation at the same time. Join Project FeederWatch and share information about which birds visit your feeders between November and April. This will help scientists at Bird Studies Canada and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology track changes in bird numbers and movements. Participating is easy. Just count the numbers and kinds of birds at your feeders, and enter the information on the Project FeederWatch website (or on printed forms). Last season, more than 3100 Canadians took part in this North America-wide program. More information can be found at http://www.birdscanada.org/volunteer/pfw/ or by calling Bird Studies Canada at 1-888-448-2473.

Mar 202014
 

The spectacle of bird migration that occurs twice each year in Canada has few equals anywhere on Earth. Billions of birds leave Canada every autumn for locations to the south, only to return the following spring and once again announce the change of season. Many of these migrating birds depend on a network of crucial feeding, resting, breeding and overwintering sites scattered throughout the Americas. Collaborative efforts that span international boundaries and focus on full life cycle conservation are therefore essential to ensure the long-term survival of bird populations.

 

Black-bellied Plovers near Point Pelee IBA - Mike Burrell

Black-bellied Plovers near Point Pelee IBA – Mike Burrell

The Important Bird Areas (IBA) network represents one such effort. The IBA Program is a global initiative coordinated by BirdLife International to identify, monitor, and conserve a network of the world’s most important sites providing habitat for birds. The program uses scientific criteria to identify potential IBAs. Sites can qualify based on the regular presence of significant numbers of species at risk, species with restricted ranges, habitat-specific species and species that gather in significant numbers (greater than 1% of their continental or global population). IBAs range in size from tiny patches of habitat to large tracts of land or water. They may encompass private or public land and sometimes overlap legally protected sites. The majority of IBAs, however, have no formal protection.

Because IBAs are identified using criteria that are internationally agreed upon and science-based, they have a conservation currency that transcends international borders. This, in turn, promotes international collaboration for the conservation of the world’s birds. About 90 percent of Canada’s birds migrate within and beyond our borders, so it is essential to protect these species throughout their annual migratory range. By working alongside partners in the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America, the IBA Program does this.

In Canada the IBA Program is managed jointly by Bird Studies Canada and Nature Canada. To date, nearly 600 sites have been designated. Most sites in Canada qualify for IBA designation because they regularly host globally or continentally significant numbers of a given bird species. Most Canadian IBAs are located along our Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic coasts, on the Great Lakes and on the Prairies. Some are extremely remote, while others are actually located within our largest urban centres. These sites are not only critical for birds, but also for many other kinds of plants and animals. They are also a great place for the public to connect with nature. Ontario’s 70 IBAs cover more than 23,000 square kilometers, and are located mostly along the Great Lakes and the coasts of Hudson and James Bays where birds naturally concentrate. To see a short video of huge numbers of migrating Hudsonian Godwits in James Bay, go to bit.ly/1lLZSOa

IBAs near Peterborough

Whimbrel - Mike Burrell

Whimbrel – Mike Burrell

1. Presqu’ile Provincial Park (Brighton) – At least two species are regularly present during spring migration in globally significant numbers. They are Greater Scaup and Whimbrel. In addition, the park supports globally significant breeding populations of Ring-billed Gulls and Caspian Terns.

2. Carden Plain (Kirkfield) – This is one of the few areas in eastern Canada that still supports nesting Loggerhead Shrikes, a nationally endangered species. Several other nationally threatened species nest in the area, too, including Red-shouldered Hawk, Short-eared Owl, Least Bittern and Red-headed Woodpecker.

3. Napanee Limestone Plain (Napanee) – This site is very similar to the Carden Plain and together they provide nesting habitat for most of the remaining Loggerhead Shrikes in eastern Canada.

Carden Plain IBA - Drew Monkman

Carden Plain IBA – Drew Monkman

4. Prince Edward County South Shore (Picton) – The number and diversity of landbirds that concentrate in this small area during spring and fall migration is outstanding. A total of 162 landbird species (excluding raptors) have been recorded at this site including 36 species of wood warblers. The shoals and deep waters off the tip of the peninsula represent a globally significant waterfowl staging and wintering area for Greater Scaup, Long-tailed Duck and White-winged Scoter.

5. The Leslie Street Spit (Toronto) – Ring-billed Gulls and Common Terns nest on “the spit” in globally significant numbers. There is also one of the largest Black-crowned Night Heron colonies in Canada. Large concentrations of migrating songbirds can be found here in the spring and fall as well as migrant ducks from fall through spring.

Other nearby IBAs within a two- or three-hour drive of Peterborough include the West End of Lake Ontario (Hamilton), Wye Marsh (Midland), Tiny Marsh (Elmvale) and Matchedash Bay (Waubaushene).

 

Tundra Swans at Long Point IPA - Mike Burrell

Tundra Swans at Long Point IPA – Mike Burrell

Website

One of the recent accomplishments of the IBA program in Canada is the development of a comprehensive website (www.ibacanada.org) which provides detailed information on Important Bird Areas across the country. By using the website map viewer or site directory, you can easily access a great deal of information on each IBA, including a site description, a summary of the most significant bird life, a discussion of conservation issues, a printable map of the area and an eBird link to report your own sightings while visiting the IBA. There is also a very useful seasonable abundance chart for all bird species found there.

 

 

Volunteers are needed for the IBA program - Mike Burrell

Volunteers are needed for the IBA program – Mike Burrell

Get involved

Getting involved in the IBA Program can be as simple as visiting an IBA and using eBird Canada (www.ebird.ca) to report the bird species you find there. However, a current focus of the IBA Program is to develop a national Caretaker Network to engage citizens in conservation actions. These volunteers can monitor bird populations, conduct IBA assessments, report on threats, work with partners on stewardship activities, and/or help build community awareness about the importance of IBAs. Caretakers can be clubs, individuals, or groups of individuals that share the common goal. Volunteers are equipped with the tools they require to be effective observers, advocates and citizen scientists. If you or your group would be interested in helping in this regard please contact Mike Burrell, Important Bird Areas Coordinator, Bird Studies Canada at 1-888-448-BIRD(2473) x 167 or by email at mburrell@birdscanada.org

 

 

Spring Peeper (John Urquhart)

Spring Peeper (John Urquhart)

Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Atlas Needs Volunteers 

The familiar voices of frogs and toads will soon fill the day and evening air throughout the Kawarthas. Sadly, though, Ontario’s reptiles and amphibians are becoming increasingly rare. In fact, three quarters (18 of 24) of Ontario’s reptile species are already listed as species at risk. More information is needed, however, to monitor changes in the ranges of these animals as well as fluctuations in their populations. The data also helps to identify and manage important habitat for rare species. Volunteers can play an important role in this effort. Please consider sharing any observations you make of Ontario’s reptiles and amphibians. Observations can be submitted via an online form, an Excel spreadsheet (useful for submitting multiple observations) or a printable data card that can be mailed in. Visit the Atlas website by going to ontarionature.org, clicking on Protect and scrolling down to Species. You can also contact Jon Boxall at (705)743-6668 or by email at jbboxall@hotmail.com Presentations and training workshops for groups that are interested in participating in the Atlas project are also available.

 

Jan 092014
 

 

Between mid-December and early January, birders from across North, Central and South America take a break from the holiday season excess to spend a day in the fresh air, identifying and counting birds. Dating all the way back to 1900, Christmas bird counts represent the biggest organized birding event in the world and a holiday tradition for over 50,000 birders each year. They first began from a desire to count birds rather than shoot them. In doing so, they effectively gave birth to North America’s modern conservation movement.

Chemong Road Snowy Owl  (Jeff Keller)

Chemong Road Snowy Owl (Jeff Keller)

We have two local counts. One is centred in Peterborough and the other in Petroglyphs Provincial Park on the north shore of Stony Lake. Both counts cover a circle 24 kilometres in diameter and take one day each to complete. Working in small groups and covering the circle by car, foot and sometimes even snowshoe or ski, birders work from dawn to dusk identifying and counting all of the birds they can find within the circle on the selected day.  The Peterborough count usually produces about 50 species, while the Petroglyph count averages 34 species. Numbers are lower on the Petroglyph count because there are fewer types of habitat – most of the territory is forested – fewer feeders and most years there is almost no open water. The Petroglyph count circle (including the six areas surveyed) can be viewed by going to:  http://goo.gl/maps/LmG0B

The 62nd Peterborough Christmas Bird Count was held December 15th in temperatures of -15 to -10 C. All areas of still water were frozen. The 35 participants found 51 bird species which is slightly below the ten year count average of 54. The 10189 individual birds recorded was about average for the count.  One new species for the count was discovered, namely a Red-necked Grebe found on the Otonabee River between Beavermead Park and the Little Lake Cemetery. Some other notable birds included a Short-eared Owl, a Snowy Owl, 5 Bufflehead ducks (last seen 2004) and three Long-tailed Ducks. The only other time this Arctic-nesting duck turned up on the count was in 1996.

Belted Kingfisher (Karl Egressy)

Belted Kingfisher (Karl Egressy)

As for numbers of birds, record highs were tallied for Bald Eagles (4), Cooper’s Hawks (10), Red-bellied Woodpeckers (8), Common Raven (10) and Dark-eyed Juncos (453). Snowy Owl (1), Short-eared Owl (1), Belted Kingfisher (3) and Pileated Wood pecker (14) equaled previous records. As is the case every year, there were also notable misses. Observers failed to find any American Black Ducks, Sharp-shinned Hawks or Great Black-backed Gulls.

The most remarkable low number belongs to the once-abundant House Sparrow. Only 39 were recorded, which is the lowest number since the count began.  House Sparrows appear to be declining in Ontario, possibly as a result of changes in farming and building practices as well as increased numbers of bird-eating hawks in urban areas. Finch species that were common on last year’s count such as Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls were completely absent this year, having elected to remain in northern Canada where seed crops are abundant. When these birds move southward in late fall and winter and turn up at our feeders, it is usually because of a lack of wild food in their northern breeding range.   

Male House Sparrow

Male House Sparrow

The 28th Petroglyph count took place on January 2nd. The 30 participants braved frigid -27 C temperatures in the early morning as well as strong winds that lasted all day. There is little doubt that these difficult conditions contributed to the relatively low number of individual birds recorded (2165).  Even Black-capped Chickadees were largely unresponsive to the pishing, squeaking and owl call imitations that usually bring them in close to observers.

Despite the weather, species of note were still recorded. Among these were two spectacular Golden Eagles that were seen feeding on Beaver carcasses that a local trapper had put out. Also of special interest were three American Robins – only the fifth time robins have been found on the count – and a Black-backed Woodpecker. Observers stumbled upon this handsome but uncommon woodpecker at Petroglyphs Provincial Park. As for high numbers, a record 126 Wild Turkeys turned up, virtually all of which were at feeders. The 564 Blue Jays recorded was close to the record high of 653. Large numbers of jays took a pass on migrating south this past fall, electing simply to stay put and to take advantage of central Ontario’s abundant crop of acorns and beech nuts to get them through the winter.  Above average numbers of Dark-eyed Juncos and American Tree Sparrows were also noted.

                  For the fourth year in a row, no Gray Jays were found. Although single birds have been recorded in both Petroglyphs Provincial Park and the Kawartha Nordic Ski Trails earlier this fall and winter, no family groups have been noted for several years. Prior to 2010, the average count for Gray Jays was 5, and they were recorded every year with the exception of 1990. Gray Jays are one of many species that are expected to decrease in number as the climate warms, especially at the southern edge of their range such as here in the Kawarthas.

Black-backed Woodpecker

Black-backed Woodpecker

Low numbers was the order of the day for Ruffed Grouse. Only nine grouse were recorded which is below the 10-year average of 19 and well below the record high of 77.  As in the Peterborough count, finch diversity was also poor with only three species tallied, namely Red Crossbill, American Goldfinch and Evening Grosbeak.

 

Peterborough Count data  

The first number is the number of birds counted this year, while the number in parenthesis is the average number recorded over the past 10 years. NR stands for “new record,” ER for “equals record, NFC for “new for count”, LE for “lowest ever” and CP for birds seen during the “count period” but not on the day of the count. Red-necked Grebe  1 (0.1) NFC,  Canada Goose 314 (649), Mallard 826 (850), Lesser Scaup 1 (0.1) CP, Common Goldeneye 211 (62), Bufflehead 5 (0.7),  Hooded Merganser 3 (3), Common Merganser 7 (42), Long-tailed Duck 3 (0.3) NR, Bald Eagle 4 (0.9) NR, Sharp-shinned Hawk 1 (3) CP, Cooper’s Hawk 10 (5) NR, Red-tailed Hawk 32 (34), American Kestrel 1 (2), Merlin 2 (2), Ruffed Grouse 3 (7), Wild Turkey 147 (119), Ring-billed Gull 13 (114), Herring Gull 9 (245), Glaucous Gull 1 (1) CP,  Rock Pigeon 1141 (955), Mourning Dove 858 (644), Eastern Screech Owl 2 (1), Great Horned Owl 6 (4), Snowy Owl 1 (0.1) ER, Short-eared Owl 1 (0.2) ER, Belted Kingfisher 3 (1) ER, Red-bellied Woodpecker 8 (2) NR, Downy Woodpecker 68 (52), Hairy Woodpecker 61 (38), Northern Flicker 3 (2), Pileated Woodpecker 14 (6) ER, Northern Shrike 7 (7 ), Blue Jay 281 (282), American Crow 568 (424), Common Raven 10 (2) NR, Black-capped Chickadee 1500 (1560), Red-breasted Nuthatch 4 (23), White-breasted Nuthatch 55 (65), Brown Creeper 5 (6), Golden-crowned Kinglet 8 (7),  American Robin 222  (202), Cedar Waxwing 258  (173), European Starling 729 (1334), Northern Cardinal 83 (83), American Tree Sparrow 413 (326), Song Sparrow 2 (0.9 ), White-throated Sparrow 3 (3), Dark-eyed Junco  453 (284) NR, Snow Bunting 1392 (419), Red-winged Blackbird 1 (2),  House Finch 61 (118), American Goldfinch 327 (524), House Sparrow 39 (253) LE, Total birds: 10,179 (10,413), Total species: 51 (54)

 

Golden Eagle (left) & Common Raven  (Tim Dyson)

Golden Eagle (left) & Common Raven (Tim Dyson)

Petroglyphs Count data

Canada Goose 3 (2), Ruffed Grouse 9 (19), Wild Turkey 126 (33) NR, Bald Eagle 6 (6), Red-tailed Hawk  1 (2) CP, Golden Eagle 2 (0.4),  Rock Pigeon 41 (65), Mourning Dove 23 (21), Barred Owl 3 (2), Downy Woodpecker 26  (20), Hairy Woodpecker 55 (39), Black-backed Woodpecker 1 (1), Pileated Woodpecker  9 (11), Blue Jay 564 (307), American Crow 3 (6), Common Raven 80 (105), Black-capped Chickadee 775 (798), Red-breasted Nuthatch 48 (96), White-breasted Nuthatch 35 (61), Brown Creeper  4 (10), Golden-crowned Kinglet 16 (17), American Robin 3 (0.8), European Starling 7 (24),  American Tree Sparrow 73 (24), Dark-eyed Junco 21 (5), Red Crossbill 4 (11), American Goldfinch 202 (187), Evening Grosbeak 4 (40) Total birds: 2165 (2231), Total species: 26 (33)