May 302019
 

Cuckoos eating Eastern Tent Caterpillars: Today, May 31, I came across a pair of Black-billed Cuckoos near Burnt River  that were eating tent caterpillars. I was not aware that birds eat these caterpillars. Carl Welbourn, Kawartha Camera Club

Black-billed Cuckoo eating tent caterpillars – Burnt River – May 31, 2019 – Carl Welbourn

Black-billed Cuckoo 2 – Burnt River – May 31, 2019 – Carl Welbourn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) (2)
– Reported May 30, 2019 12:25 by Sheila Collett
– Lakefield Marsh, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “Large white swans with long necks and orange/black bills.”

Mute Swans – Sept. 26, 2016 – Drew Monkman

Sora (rail) – Wikimeda

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sora (Porzana carolina) (1)
– Reported May 30, 2019 11:02 by Matthew Tobey
– Peterborough–Fairbairn Street wetland, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:

Clay-colored Sparrow (Spizella pallida) (3)
– Reported May 30, 2019 08:55 by Dave Milsom
– Cavan-Monaghan–Jones Quarter Line, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Comments: “Singing. Regular at this location.”

Clay-colored Sparrow – Wikimedia

Blue-winged Warbler – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora cyanoptera) (2)
– Reported May 30, 2019 08:55 by Brian Wales
– Cavan-Monaghan–Jones Quarter Line, Peterborough, Ontario
– Map: http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&t=p&z=13&q=44.2567769,-78.5402148&ll=44.2567769,-78.5402148
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56913976
– Comments: “Pure birds. Both singing typical BWWA song.”

Gruesome discovery: I had a rather gruesome but interesting discovery this morning, May 30, at about 6:30. I went to fill one of my bird feeders and found the decapitated head of a female Rose-breasted Grosbeak in one of the feeder holes. I found the body a few feet away atop a fence row of grape vines and Virginia creeper. One wing was mangled and there looked like a puncture wound on the abdomen. The body was cold but not yet stiff, so I’m guessing she died sometime early this morning. My hypothesis is that she was feeding when a hawk or owl attacked; when there was the resistance from the head detaching, the predator dropped the body??? I don’t know, but that’s all I can think of. It’s sad, because she was probably sitting on eggs or hatchlings.  Annamarie Beckel, Lakefield

Note: I suspect an owl got the bird. Decapitation is common owl behaviour. That being said, it could also have been the work of a cat or, from what I’ve read, even a grackle. D.M.

Sparrow-like female Rose-breasted Grosbeak – Cindy Bartoli

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Least Sandpiper (Calidris minutilla) (2)
– Reported May 27, 2019 14:20 by Brent Turcotte
– Mather’s Corners Meltwater Pond, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:

Least Sandpiper – Wikimedia

Semipalmated Sandpipers – Drew Monkman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Semipalmated Sandpiper (Calidris pusilla) (6)
– Reported May 27, 2019 14:20 by Brent Turcotte
– Mather’s Corners Meltwater Pond, Peterborough, Ontario
– Map: http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&t=p&z=13&q=44.2269157,-78.2073089&ll=44.2269157,-78.2073089
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56866100

Short-billed Dowitcher (Limnodromus griseus) (1)
– Reported May 27, 2019 14:20 by Brent Turcotte
– Mather’s Corners Meltwater Pond, Peterborough, Ontario
– Map: http://maps.google.com/?ie=UTF8&t=p&z=13&q=44.2269157,-78.2073089&ll=44.2269157,-78.2073089
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56866100
– Comments: “continuing individual”

Short-billed Dowitchers – Blenheim Sewage Lagoon – May 12, 2016 Drew Monkman

Cliff Swallow building nest – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cliff Swallow (Petrochelidon pyrrhonota) (2)
– Reported May 29, 2019 15:16 by Olivia Maillet
– Trent University, Peterborough CA-ON (44.3577,-78.2907), Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56874182

Orchard Oriole (Icterus spurius) (1)
– Reported May 28, 2019 07:30 by Roy Burton
– STEWART HALL, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56884990
– Comments: “brick red male”

Orchard Oriole – Wikimedia

male Blue-winged Teal in flight (Wikimedia)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blue-winged Teal (Spatula discors) (1)
– Reported May 28, 2019 18:52 by Olivia Maillet
– Lakefield–Sewage Lagoons, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56851453

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher (Polioptila caerulea) (1)
– Reported May 27, 2019 15:33 by Warren Dunlop
– Squirrel Creek–4th Line Bridge, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
– Media: 2 Photos
– Comments: “Calling and singing from treetops. Very active.
Have had at this location previously.”

Blue-gray Gnatcatcher – Karl Egressy

Red-headed Woodpecker – July 2018 – Kingsley Hubbs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) (1)
– Reported May 27, 2019 08:00 by Joe Latour
– Smith-Ennismore-Lakefield, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56833702
– Comments: “Landed on our sunflower seed feeder for a few seconds, then flew up into an ash tree. Gone by the time I got my camera. First Red-headed woodpecker I’ve seen around here in over 20 years.”

Greater Scaup (Aythya marila) (1)
– Reported May 27, 2019 15:35 by John Bick
– Lakefield–Sewage Lagoons, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56814701
– Comments: “onging bird”

Greater Scaup (male) photo from Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Red-headed Woodpecker (Melanerpes erythrocephalus) (1)
– Reported May 27, 2019 12:41 by Thomas Unrau
– 130–182 Fire Route 10, North Kawartha CA-ON (44.5658,-78.1252), Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
– Checklist: https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S56798531
– Comments: “Silhouetted on a tall dead tree calling repeatedly. ”

Blue-winged Warbler (Vermivora cyanoptera) (1)
– Reported May 27, 2019 07:57 by Dave Milsom
– Peterborough–Hubble Road, Peterborough, Ontario
Map:
Checklist:
– Media: 1 Photo
– Comments: “Apparent pure BWWA seen well singing typical BWWA song.”

Red-necked Phalarope: Seen May 27 on Stony Lake near the centre of Lower Stony near some islets. It was swimming in deep water (catching surface insects) and more than 50 metres from an islet. Rob Welsh

Red-necked Phalarope – Rob Welsh – Lower Stony Lake – May 27, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

American Chestnut project: – May 23, 2019 – Last Fall I harvested a total of six plump, seemingly viable chestnuts from two of my American Chestnut trees up near Crystal Lake, three from each tree. I put them into moist (but not wet) sawdust in the refrigerator for the Winter and then planted them in seeding medium on the Vernal Equinox. I’m happy to report that as of today (May 10, 2019), five of the six chestnuts have sprouted and I hold out hope that the last will also. I plan to harden the seedlings off and put them in the ground after the last frost. I now have proof that my trees can produce viable nuts. What remains to be seen is whether or not they can propagate successfully in the wild. My trees are now quite large and I’m hoping that all three produce nuts this year, for the first time. I will collect as many viable nuts as possible and share them with you, if you would like. I will keep some to plant as I did last year but I would also like to do the penultimate test: Plant some directly in the ground in the Fall. The ultimate test will then be to have the squirrels, etc., plant the nuts and have American Chestnut trees come up as a result.  Michael Doran, Peterborough

American Chestnut leaves and nuts (Wikimedia)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Brown Thrasher: This morning, May 20, my wife and I noticed a bird we haven’t seen at our feeder before and after looking it up online we found it to be a Brown Thrasher. Dave Bosco, Fairmount Blvd, Peterborough

Brown Thrasher – May 20, 2019 – Peterborough – Dave Bosco

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Northern Parula – On May 20, this bird drew my attention with its lovely song. I couldn’t get more than one photo with it sitting still as it was very “flitty”. I think there was more than one in the trees of our yard. I believe it’s a Northern Parula. A new bird for me!  Nancy Cafik

Northern Parula – May 20, 2019 – Nancy Cafik

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sightings on Rotary Trail: This morning, May 18, was a busy day for birding on the Rotary Trail behind TASSS. I was able to photograph an American Redstart, Northern Parula, Blackburnian Warbler, Gray Catbird, House Wren and a Least Flycatcher. Carl Welbourn

Blackburnian Warbler – Rotary Trail at TASSS – May 20 – Carl Welbourn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Busy morning in Bridgenorth: The migration today was amazing! These are all from this morning, May 17. Jeff Keller

Yellow-rumped Warbler – May 17, 2019 – Jeff Keller

Baltimore Oriole – May 17, 2019 – Bridgenorth – Jeff Keller

Scarlet Tanager – May 17, 2019 – Jeff Keller

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Baltimore Oriole at feeder: Just reporting that we had a Baltimore Oriole at one of our hummingbird feeders at 7 p.m. on May 13. I couldn’t grab my camera fast enough. Wendy Marrs, Ridgewood Road, Peterborough

Baltimore Oriole on hummingbird feeder – Doug Gibson

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Busy morning at the feeder: I just wanted to forward you some of pics from our backyard visitors. We have been pleasantly surprised by the number of new visitors this year.  Nima Taghaboni

Note: I don’t recall a spring in which so many people have had Rose-breasted Grosbeaks and Baltimore Orioles at their feeders. I suspect that the cold weather has meant that there is little insect food available, which would make life especially hard for orioles. We had one on our feeder that was eating peanut bits! A first for me. Other people have seen them eating suet. D.M.

Baltimore Orioles – May 14, 2019 – Nima Taghaboni

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks – Nima Taghaboni – May 14, 2019

Indigo Bunting – May 14, 2019 – Nima Taghaboni

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Grosbeaks and oriole at feeder: I saw some amazing birds at our feeder this morning, May 10. There were 5 male and 1 female Rose-breasted Grosbeaks as well as a Baltimore Oriole. Bet Curry

Nesting Great Horned Owl and Merlin: I went looking for the Great Horned Owl that’s been popping up on e-bird near Airport Road… and found it! I’ve attached pictures of the adult and chick that I was able to see. They were quite far so these pictures are as close as I could get. There’s also a big nest on one of the trees on the Sacred Heart Church property (across from the New Canadians Centre parking lot) on Romaine Street. At first I thought it was a hawk, but a birder friend said it’s a Merlin because of its size and calls. Reem Ali

Merlin – May 10, 2019 – Reem Ali

Great Horned Owl chick – Ptbo Airport – May 10, 2019 – Reem Ali

Great Horned Owl – Ptbo Airport – May 10, 2019 – Reem Ali

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Black-crowned Night Heron – I managed to get a picture of this bird today, May 7, on the Rotary Trail. Carl Welbourn

Black-crowned Night heron – Carl Welbourn – May 7, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Broad-winged Hawks: On May 5th, we saw a pair of Broad-winged Hawks perform their courtship display up over our heads while we were working outside. The pair hooked talons and spun around before flying off together. That was a real ‘WOW’ moment.   Stephenie Armstrong, Warsaw

Broad-winged Hawk – Wikimedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Greater Yellowlegs and Wilson’s Snipe:  I found these birds on a trip along Brown’s Line on the morning of May 5. Carl Welbourn

Greater Yellowlegs – May 5, 2019 – Brown’s Line – Carl Welbourn

Wilson’s Snipe – May 5, 2019 – Brown’s Line – Carl Welbourn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great Bald Eagle shots from Lower Buckhorn Lake: I kayaked this morning, May 5, on Lower Buckhorn Lake and took these photos. Robin Williams Blake

Bald Eagle – May 5, 2019 – Lower Buckhorn – Robin Williams Blake

Bald Eagle – May 5, 2019 – Lower Buckhorn – Robin Williams Blake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bald Eagle on nest – May 5, 2019 – Robin Williams Blake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Indigo Bunting at feeder: I had my first sighting ever of an Indigo Bunting.  I first spotted him yesterday, May 3, in my backyard around 6:15 p.m. and he hung around for over an hour.  He’s been back this morning and this afternoon too!  Are they common in our neck of the woods? I’m in the Old West End near Queen Mary. (Note: The bird was still around as late as May 26.) Monique Beneteau

Note: Yes, they are fairly common and sometimes show up at feeders in the spring. If you know the song, you can hear them all over the Kawarthas, especially in open, brushy areas. D.M.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

 

 

Jun 242017
 

The tent caterpillar activity is quite evident in the Millbrook area this year, but at our summer home near Bon Echo Provincial Park, the damage done by Forest Tent Caterpillars is devastating. In many areas up to 80% of the canopy on elms and maples has been devoured.

Ralph & Elaine Cole, Millbrook

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

Forest Tent Caterpillar defoliation of aspens – Government of Manitoba

Forest Tent Caterpillar defoliation (photo: State University of New York – Cortland)