Thursday, 21 August 2014

Great Blue Heron eats a Gartersnake

Yesterday while working away I noticed a Great Blue Heron in the pond I can see from my desk. I quickly noticed it had something in its beak and a look through my binoculars revealed it had caught an Eastern Gartersnake. I grabbed my scope and took a couple shots through my phone:


I even managed to catch it on video. I like how once the heron finally gets it into its throat it takes several gulps of water to help wash it down - must be a bit squirmy still!!

The gartersnake isn't the only tasty treat I've seen a Great Blue Heron catch recently. Last week my sister and I watched as a (the same?) Great Blue Heron walked through the pasture across from my house and captured then swallowed a small mammal - possibly a meadow vole.

Friday, 1 August 2014

Mantidflies

A couple weeks ago when I went to check my black light (for moths) first thing in the morning I noticed a Mantidfly on my trap (that's just a fancy word for a cotton sheet). I got pretty excited because I had only seen two previously, so I carefully moved it onto a more natural background to get some pictures:


I even remembered to take a video of it (seemed to be preening, possibly trying to rid itself of the piece of spider web). The video is nice because it gives a better sense of its true colours, as it was taken without the use of a flash:

As you can tell, I was pretty excited to find this Mantidfly. In my experience they are a rarely seen insect, but very cool to see. Not only are they bizarre-looking and generally rare or uncommon, they've got a pretty cool life history as well. I didn't know much about them before so did some research and came across this excellent paper by Rob and Syd Cannings. All of the following information comes from this paper and should be credited to the authors, not me.

Like many insects, Mantidflies (Order: Neuroptera; Family: Mantispidae) are at the northern edge of their range in Canada with only four species in all of the country (all of which are found in Ontario). Only one species, Climaciella brunnea (the "Wasp Mantidfly"), is relatively widespread. The Wasp Mantidfly is, you guessed it, a wasp mimic and is the only species I had seen (twice) before in Ontario:
Wasp Mantidfly at Deloro, Hastings on 15 June 2008
Wasp Mantidfly at Backus Woods, Norfolk on 3 July 2010
The Wasp Mantidfly is not only the most widespread species but the easiest to identify. It's fairly large and its body is striped brown and yellow similar to that of many species of wasp. The other three Canadian species are quite similar and require very good photos, preferably showing close-ups of the pronotum and the wings. My most recent observation is clearly one of the remaining three and judging from my photos, it looks to me like the pronotum is mostly smooth (lacks "numerous short setae over its entire length") which means it is one of the two Dicromantispa species.

The separation of those two species is done by the presence/absence of dark spots on the "wing tips and some crossveins of radial cells", which my specimen appears to lack. That puts the ID tentatively as Dicromantispa sayi. This is exciting because, according to the paper referenced above, this would be a (known) range extension for the species in Ontario, which, based on examined specimens, was restricted to the north shore of Lake Erie. I'm waiting to hear back from some folks who know more than I do to see if I can get that confirmed or find out more.

As I mentioned earlier, Mantidflies have a pretty cool life history. Their raptorial forearms give them away as predators as adults (feeding on a variety of other insects). As larvae, most develop in spider egg sacs where they feed busily on the individual spider eggs. In some species the larvae actively search out spider eggs sacs, but in others they board adult spiders and enter the egg sac during the construction phase. The eggs are stalked, similar to these Green Lacewing (Chrysopidae) eggs:
Green Lacewing eggs at Heidelberg, Waterloo, 12 August 2005

References:

Cannings, R.A. and S.G. Cannings. 2006. The Mantispidae (Insecta: Neuroptera) of Canada, with notes on morphology, ecology, and distribution. Canadian Entomologist 138: 531-544.

Bug guide Mantidfly (Mantispidae) page

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Northeastern Ontario Breeding Bird Surveys

A couple weekends ago Ken and my Dad and I headed north to do some Breeding Bird Surveys. Two of the routes Ken and my Dad had done last year and the third was a new one we were going to set up. Our three routes were all in northeastern Ontario - two northeast of Cochrane and one northwest of Elk Lake. Here's a map showing all fifty stops of each route:


As you can see, we got pretty well as far north as roads can take you in northeastern Ontario. We even made a "detour" to see the end of the road:
The Detour Lake Mine
This was a great chance to get up to some real boreal habitats and enjoy some of the birds (and a few other things). Here's my Dad and Ken setting up for our first night:

And here's a shot of a beautiful boreal wetland. Last year Ken and my Dad had a pair of Greater Yellowlegs here (not this year, though we did have some elsewhere).
Photo: Ken Burrell
The photo above is a bit deceiving as that was the only nice sunny time we had. The rest of the trip was quite grey with frequent rain. Luckily the weather cooperated for the the bird surveys each morning.

Most of the birding on the BBS is done by ear, but we did see a few birds too :) below is a female Ruffed Grouse that was carefully guiding her young across the road.
Momma Ruffed Grouse
 We saw several females with young of Ruffed and also Spruce Grouse. Here's a momma Spruce Grouse:

Momma Spruce Grouse
female Spruce Grouse close-up
And here's a shot of a young Spruce Grouse. I'm always surprised to see such small grouse chicks fly.
young Spruce Grouse
There are a couple species of shorebirds that breed in the boreal forest (besides Killdeer and Spotted Sandpipers that also breed in southern Ontario). We were lucky to find several pairs of Greater Yellowlegs and even one Solitary Sandpiper. Both species were extremely vocal/agitated suggesting probable nests/young nearby.
Greater Yellowlegs
Solitary Sandpiper
Despite the mostly crappy weather I did see a few interesting insects too. I saw several large "ringed" type Somatochlora emeralds, but unfortunately wasn't successful in catching any (I did catch a Williamson's Emerald but that was pretty disappointing considering all the other species it could have been). Here are a couple highlights for a southern Ontario guy:
Western Tailed Blue
Greenish Blue (upperside)
Greenish Blue (underside)
All through the trip I was checking out the flowering Evening Primrose, hoping to find some primrose moths. Finally, near Elk Lake we found a few:


This was early in the morning and quite overcast, so the flowers hadn't shut yet. Normally, the flowers of Evening Primrose close during the day, providing a convenient day time roost for the moths that bear the same name. At night, when the flowers open, the moths feed on the nectar and serve as important pollinators for the plant.

Anyways, here are the combined results from the three BBS surveys. The top five species were White-throated Sparrow, Nashville Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Hermit Thrush, and Magnolia Warbler; all of which were detected on more than 50% of the stops.

Species Name Frequency
Canada Goose 0.67%
Mallard 0.67%
Common Goldeneye 1.33%
Hooded Merganser 0.67%
Ruffed Grouse 2.00%
Spruce Grouse 0.67%
Common Loon 8.00%
American Bittern 0.67%
Broad-winged Hawk 0.67%
Wilson's Snipe 1.33%
American Woodcock 2.00%
Bonaparte's Gull 2.67%
Common Nighthawk 0.67%
Belted Kingfisher 2.67%
Yellow-bellied Sapsucker 3.33%
Downy Woodpecker 2.67%
Hairy Woodpecker 6.67%
Northern Flicker 19.33%
Pileated Woodpecker 4.00%
American Kestrel 1.33%
Merlin 0.67%
Yellow-bellied Flycatcher 5.33%
Alder Flycatcher 11.33%
Least Flycatcher 10.67%
Eastern Kingbird 0.67%
Blue-headed Vireo 15.33%
Philadelphia Vireo 0.67%
Red-eyed Vireo 63.33%
Gray Jay 6.00%
Blue Jay 1.33%
American Crow 8.00%
Common Raven 14.67%
Black-capped Chickadee 8.00%
Boreal Chickadee 1.33%
Red-breasted Nuthatch 6.67%
Brown Creeper 0.67%
Winter Wren 40.67%
Golden-crowned Kinglet 12.00%
Ruby-crowned Kinglet 14.00%
Eastern Bluebird 0.67%
Veery 14.00%
Swainson's Thrush 25.33%
Hermit Thrush 58.67%
American Robin 34.67%
Cedar Waxwing 28.00%
Ovenbird 19.33%
Northern Waterthrush 0.67%
Black-and-white Warbler 16.67%
Tennessee Warbler 8.00%
Nashville Warbler 68.67%
Connecticut Warbler 0.67%
Mourning Warbler 26.67%
Common Yellowthroat 9.33%
American Redstart 24.00%
Cape May Warbler 0.67%
Northern Parula 5.33%
Magnolia Warbler 51.33%
Bay-breasted Warbler 5.33%
Blackburnian Warbler 2.00%
Chestnut-sided Warbler 22.00%
Black-throated Blue Warbler 2.00%
Palm Warbler 4.67%
Yellow-rumped Warbler 28.67%
Canada Warbler 4.00%
Chipping Sparrow 37.33%
Vesper Sparrow 0.67%
Fox Sparrow 3.33%
Song Sparrow 5.33%
Lincoln's Sparrow 9.33%
Swamp Sparrow 6.67%
White-throated Sparrow 93.33%
Dark-eyed Junco 4.67%
Rose-breasted Grosbeak 0.67%
Red-winged Blackbird 0.67%
Rusty Blackbird 0.67%
Common Grackle 4.00%
Purple Finch 5.33%
White-winged Crossbill 2.00%
Pine Siskin 2.67%
American Goldfinch 2.00%
Evening Grosbeak 2.67%

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Luna, Io, Sphinxes and more!

It was a warm night last night so I set up my black light and sheet for the first time in a week. I got lots of new stuff at the light and my yard moth list continues to grow. I think about half the species I identified were new for my continually growing yard list.
That's one seriously covered sheet...
I thought I had likely missed them for the year but two Luna Moths were my first for the yard. Like most of the giant silkmoths (Saturniidae) these are big and showy so people get excited about them (myself included) but they're actually quite common:
Luna Moth (Actias luna)

Also in the big showy category was a nice male Io Moth:
male Io Moth (Automeris io)
And sphinxes as usual put in a showing:
Twin-spotted Sphinx (Smerinthus jamaicensis)
Give the abdomen a good tap and they'll show you their scary eyes!
A less showy sphinx, the Laurel Sphinx (Sphinx kalmiae)
But there were also some pretty cool less showy species out:
Sharp-lined Yellow (Sicya macularia)
Streaked Ethmia (Ethmia longimaculella)
Putnam's Looper (Plusia putnami)
Grape Leaffolder (Desmia funeralis)
And this little guy had to be my favourite. Looks like someone drew an angry/sad face on it!
Angry-face Moth AKA Elegant Grass-veneer (Microcrambus elegans)
A closer look at that sad, sad face :(
And if the moths weren't good enough entertainment, I had a Virginia Rail calling all night and my first Eastern Screech-owl for the yard as well!

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Lark Bunting on Amherst Island

Amherst Island is a well-known birding spot for many people. Most people know it as an amazing place to come see winter owls and it also hosts globally significant concentrations of waterfowl, for which it is designated an Important Bird Area. But the island is also a great spot for another group - grassland birds. A trip at this time of year will yield dozens of Bobolinks and Eastern Meadowlarks and scattered Upland Sandpipers at a few places. It's really a nice time to visit! And if that's not enough this is one of the best places in Ontario to see Wilson's Phalaropes which nest at the Kingston Field Naturalists' Martin Edwards Reserve.
Wilson's Phalaropes at the Martin Edwards Reserve
As of yesterday you can add another reason to visit Amherst Island - a Lark Bunting has been found! Sherri Jensen found it last Thursday and word made it to the broader birding community yesterday. So after work I picked up James Barber and Erica and we made the trip out. We weren't disappointed as he popped up onto the telephone wire and started singing basically as soon as we got out of the car.
Most of the time the bird spent in the field but flew up several times to sing from an exposed perch.

Lark Buntings don't throw their head back when singing like most sparrows, but rather lean forward.
Having never heard a Lark Bunting in person before but it was striking to hear how similar this bird's song was to that of a Northern Cardinal. Check it out in the video below:

Anyways this was a pretty cool little bird. Normally, Lark Buntings are found in the grasslands of central North America - Ontario has 29 records accepted by the OBRC to date. This is my second in as many years having twitched one near Clarendon in northern Frontenac County last May.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

More moths

I've been thinking about moths a lot lately. Besides leaving my lights on more at night (on purpose!) I got an Ontario moth list from David Beadle and another one from the Natural Heritage Information Centre. I combined the two and linked it to the taxonomy that is downloadable from the Moth Photographers Group - if you'd like a copy of the finished product just email me and I'll send it to you. It's just shy of 3000 species!

Anyways, moths sure are photogenic, have awesome names and there's new stuff every day. Here are a few from this week:

Green Marvel (Agriopodes fallax)
Viper's Bugloss Moth (Ethmia bipunctella)
Anna Tiger Moth (Grammia anna)?
Hummingbird Clearwing (Hemaris thysbe)
Blinded Sphinx (Paonias exxcaecata)
Yellow-collared Scape Moth (Cisseps fulvicollis)
Butterflies have also been good on the yard with Silver-spotted Skipper being new for me for the year and up to four Giant Swallowtails:

And here's an Emerald Spreadwing (female) that I scared up from the low veg:


Sunday, 8 June 2014

Just a typical day in eastern Ontario

I'm lucky enough to live in one of the most biodiverse parts of Ontario in the Frontenac Arch; Right in the middle of the transition between the southern deciduous forests and agricultural fields and the mixedwood forests of the Canadian Shield. I had a busy day on Saturday exploring and I wasn't disappointed!

I started by leading a group of folks from the Quinte and the Prince Edward County Field Naturalists Clubs to one of eastern Ontario's best kept secrets - the Napanee Limestone Plain Important Bird Area. This place is basically an eastern version of Carden Alvar. We met in Napanee then headed for our first stop just south of Newburgh:
Alvar south of Newburgh
As you can see, it's beautiful alvar habitat with thin soils over limestone with scattered trees and shrubs. Typical alvar plants like Prairie Smoke put on a great show as did this provincially rare Balsam Ragwort in full bloom:
Balsam Ragwort
The plants didn't disappoint and neither did the birds. We saw all of our target species: Grasshopper Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, Wilson's Snipe, Upland Sandpiper, Eastern Meadowlark, Bobolink, and of course, Loggerhead Shrike. The Loggerhead Shrike is the "trigger species" for the IBA status here with usually about 1/3 of the eastern Canadian population breeding here.
Phone-binned shot of an Upland Sandpiper
After lunch I headed to Charleston Lake Provincial Park to help with the afternoon leg of the annual Butterfly and Dragonfly count. Butterflies were slow as we seemed to be a bit late for the early species and too early for the next wave this year but dragonflies put on a good show and there were a few other highlights too.

The rarest sighting of my afternoon was probably the young Gray Ratsnake that coiled up on the path in front of me - the park is one of the best places in Ontario to see this rare snake. My two butterfly highlights were probably as follows:
Juniper Hairstreak
Baltimore Checkerspot caterpillar
As I said earlier, dragonflies were out in good numbers and in the couple hours I was out I managed to find 26 species including some provincially rare species like Harlequin Darner, Cyrano Darner, and Lilypad Clubtail.
male Harlequin Darner
Springtime Darner
Lilypad Clubtail
Add in a couple of Cerulean Warblers and the Brewster's Warbler (hybrid) that I also had and it was really just a typical day in one of the richest parts of Ontario.