Friday, 27 April 2012

A Conservation Must-Read

Since bird migration is at a near stand still, I thought I'd take the time to pass on this article which I found very thought provoking, and likely interesting to many of you. It's from Breakthrough Journal and is called "Conservation in the Anthropocene" by Peter Kareiva, Robert Lalasz, and Michelle Marvier.The article basically talks about how the current model of furthering nature conservation - buying and protecting land - is not the best way to preserve species and ecosystems. Rather more could be accomplished if conservationists worked with development, and accepted that we cannot protect all wild spaces. Kind of mitigate the damage that will inevitably happen; but don't want to admit.

Here are some sample quotes from a summary of the article:

 "Kareiva, Marvier, and Lalasz write, "those protected areas will remain islands of 'pristine nature' in a sea of profound human transformations through logging, agriculture, mining, damming, and urbanization." "

"Conservationists need to work with development, not condemn it as leading to the end of nature. In truth, nature's resilience has been overlooked, its fragility "grossly overstated." Areas blasted by nuclear radiation are bio-diverse. Forest cover is rising in the Northern Hemisphere even as it declines globally."

Overall I think the article makes a lot of great points, but I think they over-simplify some things, and make some statements of their own that I don't think are entirely accurate. I'll let you read it and come to your own conclusions...

The article can be found at the link below. There is also a summary on that page if you don't want to read the whole article.

....And just for fun here are some wildlife pics from today.

Wood Frog at the Arthur Langford Nature Reserve (Long Point Basin Land Trust)

Dreamy Duskywing at my place near Long Point

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Port Burwell - April 21st

I could only spend 1.5 hours at Burwell this morning, but it was pretty quiet anyways. It was a struggle to even find a hermit thrush. New birds for me this spring included 1 Iceland Gull on the pier, 1 Black-throated Green Warbler, 1 Least Flycatcher, and 1 Green Heron. Port Burwell certainly didn't get the influx of migrants like Pelee seems to have gotten. I'll probably go to Long Point a few times next week before I make it back to Burwell again.

 Iceland Gull on the pier.

 Vesper Sparrow along the beach.

Green Heron flew out of a small wooded pond.

Friday, 20 April 2012

Waterthrushes and Port Burwell Provincial Park

A pretty quiet morning for new migrants, but I did find my first of the year Northern Waterthrush today at Port Burwell Provincial Park. In fact, that was the only warbler I laid eyes on. On a related note, where are the Louisiana Watherthrushes? Is it just me, or are Louisiana Waterthrushes scarce so far this spring? I think of LOWAs as being one of the earlier warblers back, but so far haven't had any myself, and it doesn't seem like there are many reports of them on ontbirds, or e-bird. Seems strange to me, but maybe this warm weather has got my sense of timing out of whack. What do others think?

O.K, so why did I go to Port Burwell Provincial Park this morning instead of the closer (for me) migrant trap that is Long Point? For one, I was there yesterday and found the park to be rather quiet so I thought I'd try somewhere else. More important however is that I believe Port Burwell could produce some really exciting birds. Take for example this list of birds from the past several years: Black-throated Gray Warbler, Yellow-throated Warbler, Black-throated Sparrow, Great-tailed Grackle, Harris's Sparrow, Spotted Towhee. All these birds were found in fall/winter at either the bird feeder of two local birders, or were found on the Christmas Bird Count. These rare birds were found when you have people looking - imagine that! So we have this incredible list of fall and winter birds, but nothing "crazy" from the spring as far as I know.

I believe this is a direct product of Port Burwell being well under-birded in spring. Sure, there are some great local birders there that regularly bird the park, but it doesn't get near the traffic of Long Point or Point Pelee. And having birded the park just this morning, I can attest that there is a lot of ground to cover for just one person ( I didn't see a soul this morning, not even a dog walker). There really aren't many people that live out that way, and people from larger urban centres are going to travel to well known hotspots instead. Even for myself, it's hard to justify going to Burwell when there are so many great spots in and around Long Point. Having said that, I'm going to force myself to check Port Burwell a bit more this spring to see how it stacks up to the other migrant traps on Lake Erie.
Extensive sand beach.
 Dune habitats.

 Flooded Red-Osier Dogwoods - where the Northern Waterthrush was.

 Fairly old beech and maple forest.

Forest habitats.

Thought I better put a critter photo in here somewhere. Brown Thrashers were singing everywhere.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Leucistic Robin - Turkey Point

Just thought I'd throw these photos up on my blog since it's a pretty cool looking bird. This partially leucistic American Robin was photographed yesterday by Gregor Beck behind South Coast Gardens along Front Rd at Turkey Point.

What's also interesting about this bird, is that it flew off high to the east towards Port Dover, where last year a similar looking Robin spent the summer. Is this him or her? Or maybe the offspring of last year's bird from Port Dover? We'll probably never know. Leucism occurs in many different species of birds/animals and it can really catch you by surprise when a bird like this shows up.

Leucism in birds is a condition where all types of pigments in the birds feathers are reduced, and is characterised by birds having patches of white feathers. Some birds are completely white, but the eyes and leg colour will remain normal. It differs from albinism in that albinos are affected by a reduction in melanin. Albinism affects the feathers, as well as the eyes, skin, and beak. Think of those white lab rats with the scary red eyes - that's albinism. If that rat had normal coloured eyes, it's a leucistic rat as opposed to an albino.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Eurasian Wigeon at Long Point

I was sitting at my computer looking over some e-bird reports and noticed that Stuart Mackenzie had a Green-winged Teal (Eurasian race), at Lee Brown's today (near Long Point). This race (sometimes called Common Teal) differs slightly from our normal Green-winged Teals and I thought I'd go try for it. When I got there, there were quite a few waterfowl to sift through - predominantly American Wigeon and Green-winged Teal. This place has consistently turned up Eurasian Wigeon over the years and I was actually thinking to myself that I might find one. No sooner had that thought crept into my mind and a beautiful male Eurasian Wigeon appeared in my scope! I couldn't believe my luck. It obviously wasn't there earlier in the day, and I tried to make it a "Eurasian double-header" but I couldn't turn up the Eurasian Green-winged Teal. I might try for it again tomorrow morning.

Eurasian Wigeon, as the name suggests, is a breeding bird of Asia and Europe that sporatically makes it way to North America. So far it hasn't been known to breed in North America, but it's not impossible. The bird I found either originated from Europe/Asia, or perhaps it escaped from someone's private waterfowl collection. There are several of these birds currently in Ontario.

Lee Brown's sign on the south side of Front Rd, west of Long Point and Port Royal.

This is basically what you see from the parking lot.

A view of the waterfowl. Mainly Canada Geese, American Wigeon, and Green-winged Teal.

 The Eurasian Wigeon is in this photo. Can you see him?

The Eurasian Wigeon's bright orange head has a yellowish stripe down the front, whereas the two American Wigeon it is with have a white forehead, grey cheek, and green mark behind the eye.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Another Hog-nosed Snake Bites the Dust...

Today, April 6th, I found another Hog-nosed Snake that was dug up and killed by an American Badger, not too far from the site where the other two were killed - see my previous blog post about this. The previous blog entry talks about this strange occurrence so I'm just going to throw up some pics about this most recent discovery.

These are the same diggings shown in my previous entry, only they have been revisited by the Badger or some other mammal and made larger. Likely it was the Badger coming back, hoping to find a rabbit or other mammal hiding in the previously dug tunnels. 

This is the site where the dead Hog-nosed Snake was found, not too far from the diggings in the first photo. Notice the fan-shaped sand pile.

This is all that could be seen of the Hog-nosed Snake. It was mostly covered in sand. 

The excavated snake.

The snake washed up and measured.

Quite a brightly coloured individual :(

American Badger digs up two Hog-nosed Snakes!

American badgers are an extremely rare and endangered member of the weasel family found mainly in southwestern Ontario. There are thought to be less than 200 of these amazing creatures left in Ontario, with one of their strongholds being Norfolk County. They are a powerful excavator, digging up various prey items like groundhogs, rabbits, rodents, and other mammals. They also sleep and give birth in underground dens. MNR has a lot of great information on these guys if you want to learn more about their biology and occurrence in Ontario.

On March 30th, while walking on a property in Norfolk County, I came across some diggings made by a foraging badger. After closer inspection I realised that the Badger had dug up two Hog-nosed Snakes! This is an example of an endangered mammal digging up and killing two threatened reptiles! Pretty bizarre stuff as it didn't decide to eat them, it just killed them. I didn't think the badger was that choosy since they don't mind eating skunks! My hypothesis is that the snakes were hibernating in the sand like they do, the badger could smell them, and then dug them out to investigate. I don't think the snakes has emerged yet since they were on the top of the sand pile as opposed to buried underneath it. Below are some pictures with explanatory captions.

These are a couple of diggings the badger made while foraging for prey, likely small rodents.

 This is the diggings where the two Hog-nosed Snakes were found. Notice the wide, broad sand pile created by the badger sweeping the sand out with it's strong limbs. A canine tends to throw soil straight back when it digs, and ends up created a hole taller than it is wide.

Another good indication that a badger has created this digging is by the claw marks made in the sides and roof of the tunnel. A badger will lay on its belly and scoop sand out over its shoulders.

 That's actually two dead snakes, laying in situ the way I found them.

 The two dead snakes after I dug them out of the sand.

 Here are two pictures of the snakes cleaned up and laying next to a measuring tape. One snake had its head chewed off while the other had injuries to its body. Notice the different colour patterns.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Eared Grebe at Long Point

The Eared Grebe found by Josh Vandermeulen and company was easy to spot in the channel at Sandboy Marina today. It was my first Eared Grebe for Long Point, and was a real beauty. It would seem that they saw the bird in the channel between the waterfowl viewing stand and Sandboy Marina, while I had the bird south of the marina building where the boat launch is. These channels are very close and it's easy enough for the bird to swim between the two channels via Long Point Bay. The bird seemed just as interested in me as I was in it. When I first saw the bird it was at the end of the channel with two Pied-billed Grebes but it quickly swam the length of the channel until it was no more than 10 metres from me! Below are four, full frame photos of the grebe - you can see how it progressively made it's way closer.

This last photo is cropped. I just thought it was an interesting photo...who is watching who?

Before this grebe showed up my goal for the day was to post a blog entry about two Hog-nosed Snakes that got killed by a Badger in the area. Check back soon for the photographic evidence of that interesting encounter.

Controlled Burn and another Hog-nosed Snake

On March 28th, a controlled burn was held at a site near Turkey Point in order to maintain some open clearings and to improve habitat for several species at risk. Due to the warm weather we have had recently, several volunteers including myself swept the area looking for reptiles. As soon as we started looking we came across a basking Hog-nosed Snake. Very cool snake, and a "lifer" for some of the volunteers. This particular individual was very dark showing no pattern at all.
Above is the habitat to be burned, and opened up.

Above is the basking Hog-nosed Snake.
 Superficially, the colour of this Hog-nosed Snake looks similar to a Black Ratsnake, an extremely rare snake in the Long Point area. Notice, the upturned "snout", a great feature that readily identifies this species regardless of colour. Hog-nosed Snakes also have keeled scales (ridges), whereas a Black Ratsnake is basically smooth scaled.

 Below are some shots of the burning process.

Unfortunately I couldn't stay until the end of the day, so I didn't get any shots of what it looked like after the burn, but I'm sure I'll be back to this site soon.