Friday, September 16, 2011

American Golden Plover in Peninsula Harbour

In the Marathon area, where shorebird habitat is widely dispersed, sixteen is a good count for any particular species. That was the total of two flocks of American Golden Plovers I found resting on the rocky shore of Peninsula Harbour today.

Other new arrivals include American Pipits and Orange-crowned Warblers.

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Day trip to Oiseau Bay, Pukaskwa National Park

Oiseau Bay is one of many spectacular coastal features in Pukaskwa National Park. It's accessible by paddling or by hiking from Hattie Cove. We hired Keith McQuaig, the local marine operator, to run us - Martha, Martha's parents and me - down to the area to spend the afternoon. Oiseau's features include a kilometer long sandy beach, significant fen habitats, extensive swales between dunes and several very rare plant species, including Pitcher's Thistle.

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Shorebirds at Neys Provincial Park

I stopped in at Neys Provincial Park for an hour or so.

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An unexpected treat was the sight of an Osprey (not terribly common on the north shore) snagging a good sized fish (Pink Salmon? Lake Whitefish?) off the mouth of the Little Pic River.
There were few shorebirds- just a single Killdeer, a Buff-breasted Sandpiper and a trio of Sanderlings.

It's getting late in the season for dragonflies. I saw only a few Shadow Darners and Common Green Darners on the beach.

Monday, September 5, 2011

White-winged Dove in our Marathon yard

A White-winged Dove showed up in our yard yesterday and is present today.

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Sept 6 update: The White-winged Dove has fallen in with our gang of Mourning Doves and together they sunbathe, roost, feed and drink, thus providing a great opportunity to compare these closely related species.

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Of approximately 35 occurrences in Ontario, ten have been documented from the Thunder Bay District for all months between April and November (see below), according to OBRC records. Remarkably, perhaps, four of these have shown up at the Thunder Cape Bird Observatory.
  • April 26-27, 1986. Thunder Bay.
  • August 16, 1995. Thunder Cape.
  • June 27 - July 1, 2001. Lappe.
  • June 14 - 19. 2003. Kakabeka Falls.
  • October 13, 2006. Thunder Cape.
  • August 15 - September 3, 2006. Rossport.
  • November 15-28, 2007. Manitouwadge.
  • May 27, 2008. Thunder Cape.
  • May 22-23, 2009. Thunder Cape. 

For a species that is non-migratory through most of its breeding range in the southern US, central America and the Caribbean, it is a surprisingly regular vagrant to the north and particularly, to New England and the Maritime provinces.

A gallery of vagrant White-winged Doves from Surfbirds can be viewed here.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

New to the Thunder Bay District...the Spot-wing Glider (with notes on the Wandering Glider)

The recently compiled odonata checklist for the Thunder Bay District was derived from more than 1700 records involving 63 dragonfly and 18 damselfly species. The dragonfly total increased by one on August 12 thanks to Haliburton naturalist Ed Poropat.

As Ed describes it:
The Glider was caught during the late morning hours of Friday, August 12. While camping at Neys, I needed to go out to the park store to pick up some ice. On my way out of the park near the highway, I remembered there was a large open field adjacent to the tracks, just east of the entrance road. I believe this field is mowed by park staff. I zipped down there for a quick look, mostly for darners and butterflies. There was very little flying....a few Variable Darners, several meadowhawks, and a handful of leps including a Western White, Atlantis Fritillaries, and some European Skippers. As I was preparing to depart, I spotted a larger "reddish" looking ode flying quickly toward me. I swung and remarkably captured it as it went tearing by about a meter above my head! Upon opening the net, I was very surprised to find the Glider. It was photographed and immediately released. I figured it was a good record but had no idea it was a first for the district! Interestingly, Spot-winged Gliders have turned up on the James Bay shoreline this summer near Moosonee. Perhaps the very warm summer further ignited their already vagrant tendencies and pushed them north of their known range?
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Many thanks to Ed for sharing the photo and the story behind it.

Closely related to the Spot-winged Glider (Pantala hymenaea) is the Wandering Glider (Pantala flavescens). The Wandering Glider is a very wide ranging skimmer known from all continents except Antarctica. It is an irreuglar, sometimes common migrant to southern Ontario but until last year it had only been observed twice in our district: in 1999 and 2001, in Shesheeb Bay on the Black Bay Peninsula and at the Pigeon River, near the Minnesota Border. Last summer (2010) I observed a third Wandering Glider flying up and down a beach at the Prairie River Mouth Provincial Nature Reserve. 

During this summer (2011), between July 22nd and August 27th, I observed Wandering Gliders on five dates near the shore of Lake Superior, between the Black Bay Peninsula and McKellar Harbour, east of Terrace Bay. In most cases, they have been flying over open water, more than three metres above the ground. They tend to fly quickly and they're next-to-impossible to photograph. Usually they fly well out of net range. An exception was a female I caught foraging over a bog on the Black Bay Peninsula on July 24th.

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On July 2, 2011, Rob Foster and Darren Elder enountered another Wandering Glider near Lake Superior during The Dragonfly Dash, a Thunder Bay Field Naturalists' field trip to the Pigeon River watershed.

New to me...the Zigzag Darner!

Inspired by Brandon Holden's account of the darners he encountered late last month at Netitishi Point on the James Bay coast, I headed out to a favourite peatland along the Trans-Canada, about a half hour NW of Marathon. The weather wasn't ideal - increasingly overcast with temperatures in the high teens.

The peatland is small,  only about a square kilometer, and the treed area, about 2/3 of the total, was logged about five years ago. The most low-lying portion is open, treeless fen and this was my destination today. As I bush whacked through the slash piles and dense thickets of black spruce and cedar, I was not encouraged by the scarcity of insects on the wing. I flushed a few Black Meadowhawks (Sympetrum danae) and a lone Lake Darner (Aeshna eremita). The only damselfly I saw all day was a single Spotted Spreadwing (Lestes congener). By the time I reached the open fen, the sun had disappeared behind a huge bank of clouds.

I sat down atop a mossy hummock and took note of the interesting flora. While chewing on my sandwich I was cheered by the reappearance of the sun. A blue-ish darner flew low past me before hovering over a small shallow pool among the sedges. The fly-by impression was that of a smallish mosaic darner with a bright, almost luminescent, blue abdomen contrasting with a black thorax.
I netted it and was delighted, but not surprised, to be holding my first Zigzag Darner (Aeshna sitchensis). Over the next hour, I caught and released several more (all males) and observed perhaps a dozen individuals exhibiting the characteristic low, undulating flight over and between pools …puddles really. Several perched on the shrubs and grasses - none on the ground, a habit often reported in the literature.

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In the hand I noted some of the Zigzag Darner's distinctive features - the thin squiggly stripes on the sides of the thorax, the unmarked dorsal surface of the thorax, the dark clypeal suture and the concave base of the dark "T" on the top of the head. [The base of the "T" forms a straight line on the closely related Azure Darner (A. septentrionalis) of the northern boreal forest.]
It was also interesting to note that the more abundant mosaic darners - Canada (A. canadensis), Lake (A. eremita) and Interrupted (A. lineata) - were inactive on this relatively cool afternoon.

Ontario is home to about 170 species of damselfly and dragonfly and fewer than half of these have been documented from the Thunder Bay District. Many of those I have yet to see are, like the Zigzag Darner, uncommon denizens of bogs and fens. Who knows what the next trip will turn up?

Canadian odonata enthusiasts will welcome the recent publication of Dragonflies and Damselflies in the hand: An identification guide to boreal forest odonates in Saskatchewan and adjacent regions. This slim, attractive volume is available from Saskatchewan Nature.

Hutchings, G. and D. Halstead.2011. Dragonflies and Damselflies in the hand: An identification guide to boreal forest odonates in Saskatchewan and adjacent Regions. Special Publication #29. Nature Saskatchewan, Regina.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Shorebirds at Penn Lake Park

I did a quick check of Penn Lake for shorebirds this morning and was pleased to find the following:
  • Least Sandpiper 3
  • Pectoral Sandpiper 1(photo below)
  • Stilt Sandpiper 1
  • Killdeer 1
  • Semipalmated Plover 3
  • Lesser Yellowlegs 1
  • Wilson's Snipe 1(photo below)
[click on images to enlarge]

Friday, September 2, 2011

Chain-dotted Geometer in open fen

I came upon this somewhat worn Chain-dotted Geometer in an open fen along the Trans-Canada Highway yesterday. Distinctive features of this male include the highly pectinate antennae, yellow head and tegulae and checkered wing margins.

According to Bug Guide the larvae "feed on a variety of shrubs and trees: alder, bayberry, birch, blueberry, bog laurel, cranberry, fir, huckleberry, leatherleaf, maple, oak, pine, poplar, sweetfern, sweet gale, tamarack, white cedar, willow."

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Thursday, September 1, 2011

Rock pools, ancient crucibles of life

A common feature of our rocky coastline are the innumerable rock or splash pools. These pools vary greatly in size, depth, exposure and nutrient status so not surprisingly they present a range of opportunities for aquatic animals. At this time of year, the pools are teaming with larval salamanders, small crustaceans, dragonfly nymphs, snails and myriad other invertebrates - fascinating places for naturalists to explore.

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