Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Tiger Spiketail is back!

Last year on July 27th I came across a rather large beautiful black and yellow dragonfly along a forest edge and didn't know what it was. I was just getting into dragonflies at the time and had no clue what it was - just that I thought it looked "cool". I took some mental notes to it's colouration and headed home to check some books (never take mental notes since they aren't reliable and tend to change with time!). I consulted a dragonfly book from Ohio and quickly decided that it was a Tiger Spiketail, no big deal. However, once I looked at reference material for Ontario I couldn't find this species anywhere! This meant one of two things: 1) I made a mistake, it was not a Tiger Spiketail, I'm misremembering the field marks. 2) It was a new species for Ontario and thus Canada!

I went back to the site daily until I confirmed it as a Tiger Spiketail on July 29th, and captured and photographed one on July 30th. I was pretty excited to say the least - a new record for Canada. Also encouraging was that I saw both a male and female in the area so I was pretty sure there was a small breeding population in the area.

I've checked this site several times this year hoping to prove there is a breeding colony here but hadn't found anything until today. This isn't surprising given that they fly later than our other spiketails, with July being the main month they fly in Ohio. Today I had just about given up hope when a male Tiger Spiketail appeared just a few feet in front of me, buzzing around some leaves and twigs, and not perching very often. I managed one "decent" photo before he disappeared. It will be interesting to check the site in early and mid-July to see if I can find more than just 1 or 2 individuals. It would be even better if I could find them at another location nearby.

 This is the individual from today, seen briefly on June 26, 2012.

The photos below are from a male I found last year.

Today I also found my first Comet Darner, and presumeably one of few if any for Norfolk County. This is a rare migrant as far as I know, but could and may breed in Ontario as well. I had brief looks at it as it flew along a forest edge, presumeably hunting. It appeared to be on the move and wasn't sticking around. It's bright red abdomen was distictive with the naked eye.

I also photographed (poorly) a Painted Skimmer today which was nice since I thought I had one earlier in June and another one on Saturday closer to Port Burwell. This is another uncommon migratory dragonfly that comes north in summer. 

 Edward's Hairstreaks were abundant today, nectaring on New Jersery Tea and Butterfly Milkweed. A few Coral Hairstreaks were mixed in, and lots of Silvery Checkerspots as well. One got caught by a yellow crab spider.
Edward's Hairstreaks (above and below)

 Coral Hairstreak

Camouflaged spider making a meal of a Silvery Checkerspot

I hope these Barn Swallow chicks fledge soon, my front stoop needs a good cleaning and I'm tired of getting dive bombed by the parents every time I leave the house.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Gray Ratsnake Norfolk

On Saturday I joined forces with Catherine Boothby and Trevor Stephenson for the Port Burwell Butterfly Count organised by the Otter Valley Naturalists. Butterfly wise we didn't find anything too exciting, but it was an enjoyable day regardless. While we were surveying some bicyclists rode by and chatted us up, alerting us to a "rather large snake just down the road that looks alive" We "speed walked" down the not so busy road expecting to find a Hog-nosed Snake sunning on the road. As we approached we realised it was actually an endangered Gray Ratsnake! Our excitement was short lived when we realised it was in fact dead - a roadkill.

Gray Ratsnakes are extremely rare in Southern Ontario, with very few individuals remaining, Surviving snakes are probably in several isolated populations making the situation even more dire. To say the population is critically endangered would be accurate. This is in contrast to the ratsnake population (special concern ranking) that occurs in the Kingston area/Frontenac Axis that is faring much better.

Not all is doom and gloom however. Several organisations work locally that will benefit this species. Nature Conservancy Canada (NCC) has recently protected thousands of acres of land in the area, working to connect forest blocks by retiring and restoring agricultural lands. The Long Point Basin Land Trust (LPBLT) also acquires and protects ecologically significant lands while also running a Carolinian Reptiles Project. Volunteers are encouraged to submit sightings, do road surveys, and partake in stewardship of their lands. The land trust also installs hibernacula and predator-proof snake nesting structures on secure properties. Hopefully this will keep more snakes off of roads! LPBLT' is my current employer and the website is here: http://www.longpointlandtrust.ca/

 This roadkill Gray Ratsnake certainly looks alive, but it's not. You can see some blood in the below photo.

 While the black and white colouration of this snake is distinct, Norfolk also has some very large, all black Hog-nosed Snakes, as well as black gartersnakes that get mistaken for this species. As you can see from the photo ratsnakes have a blunt nose as opposed to an upturned "hog-nose". Black (melanistic) gartersnakes don't reach this size, and juvenile ratsnakes are blotchy patterned.

 I added the lens cap for a sense of scale, but perhaps I should start carrying a ruler.

Notice the blotchy belly pattern. The pattern is unique between individuals and can be used to tell one snake from another.

 Even in large ratsnakes you can usually make out a faint blotchy pattern held over from younger days. Note also the smooth scales with no or little keel (ridge) down the middle. Gartersnakes have well keeled scales. Interestingly, the skin between scales appears orange in some spots and I've heard that about some ratsnakes down here. I wonder how that compares to the other Ontario population. Anybody know?

Time for a happy photo. One of ten Northern Map Turtles on the Grand River between Paris and Brantford this past Friday.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Hog-nosed Snake Nesting, and D-flies

Hog-nosed Snakes have been nesting for the last couple of weeks here in Norfolk. They basically dig a hole in the ground with their nose and sweep the sand out with their head and neck. Then they lay the eggs and fill in the hole.  I haven't actually seen it first hand, but I've seen the evidence. Below is a photo of an incomplete nest. It's pretty destinct and very cool to think that a snake created that. Did the snake abandon it? Or will she come back and lay the eggs before filling it in? I guess I'll have to keep checking it to find out. I suppose they dig test holes and would abandon sites if they thought it wasn't perfect. They will nest in "colonies" where the habitat is perfect, attracting females from all over.
 An incomplete Hog-hognosed Snake nesting site.

 Unfortunately this is what happens to a lot of our snakes. I pulled this one off the road yesterday.

Below are a bunch of Dragonfly shots I took recently. If I don't get them up now they may never see the light of day.
 Arrowhead Spiketail, a large colourful beast and my first for Norfolk.

 Calico Pennant, a colourful and common Ode of Norfolk.

Unicorn Clubtail (above) is a common clubtail of stillwater and ponds. Eastern Amberwing (below) is a small dragonfly that can be easily missed!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

Robin kills Gartersnake

I was out doing some reptile surveys at Long Point and watched this American Robin fly out of the some bushes and land on the road with a rather large (for a robin) Eastern Gartersnake in its mouth. It dropped it onto the road at which point I could see the snake was very much alive. It coiled into a defencive position and stuck out at the robin several times.  Unfazed, the robin began to thrash the snake against the road and nip at the snake with its beak. It wasn't long until the snake was clearly dead but the robin continued to attack it anyways. Then a large truck and trailer drove by scaring the robin away from the road. The driver even rolled down his window and told me that "He saved that snake's life!". Although the snake was already dead, I appreciated the fact that he saw the snake on the road and purposely went around it. At this point I suspected the Robin would not have come back, but sure enough he did! After much more snake bashing he picked up the snake and carried it off into some more bushes, never to be seen again. The fact the robin came back I found very curious.

Snakes of many species will take birds eggs and nestlings as meals so at first I just assumed this robin was protecting its nest, carrying away the gartersnake to protect his progeny. But the longer this ordeal carried on, and the more I watched the birds behaviour, I was beginning to wonder if the robin was going to try and eat it! A small snake would be about the size of a worm, so I could easily see that happening, but this snake was presumably way to big to swallow whole. The way it handled the snake at times made me wonder if he was trying to break off some more bite sized pieces. It's too bad I couldn't see what happened in the end, but there's at least one less gartersnake at Long Point.

Here are a few shots I also got that day. A Black Tern on a nest, a Sandhill Crane in the marsh, and two Dickcissels in weedy fields. One was at Long Point and the other was at Port Burwell. Dickcissels are rare breeders that have had a mini-invasion this year presumably due to dry conditions in the US Midwest. For some perspective this is my first summer sighting for Ontario, having previously only seen one at a feeder in winter many, many years ago. They are a bit more "regular" in the extreme southwest of the province, I've just never gone to see one before.

Black Tern and Sandhill Crane

 Long Point bird on the left, Port Burwell Dickcissel on the right.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Blanding`s Turtle and Foxsnake

Turtles have been up laying eggs for a while now (evident by all the predated nests) and many are still to lay. This is of course the most dangerous time for the turtles as gravid females are crossing roadways looking for a suitable nesting site and many get smucked by vehicles. Today in a very short span I came across 2 Blanding's Turtles and 3 Painted Turtles. They were very near to roadways either coming from or going to a nesting site. Blanding's Turtles are a threatened species and can wander very far from water. They can be identified by their high-domed, helmet-like shell, and bright yellow throat.

The big surprise of the day was finding a rather large (~4 foot) Eastern Foxsnake, an endangered species that I don't find too often. This guy was laying completely outstretched across the left tire track of a busy road so I was very lucky to find him before he got ran over. He wasn't headed anywhere in a hurry and I suspect he was just hanging out on the road absorbing the heat from the asphalt. I tried to encourage him off the road with my shoe but that just seemed to upset him so I quickly got a stick to help move him. I got him onto the shoulder, took some photos, and then moved him into some vegetation where he quickly slithered away. Hopefully it stays off the road...


Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Least Bittern and Carolina Saddlebags

Yesterday, while looking for turtles, I kayaked quite extensively through the Big Creek Marsh at Long Point. In the turtle department I had many Midland Painted Turtles and 3 Blanding's Turtles, a threatened species. Naturally I also saw many birds and dragonflies. I was wishfully hoping for a rare heron/ibis to make an appearance, or perhaps even a Lilypad Forktail (damselfly) which is known from Pelee. Neither materialised. I did however have several Least Bitterns calling and one even flew up into some Phragmites offering quite a stellar view. This might have been my first Least Bittern I have ever seen perched. They are so secretive I usually just hear them calling or occasionally flying by.

Dragonflies were a little disappointing with nothing that special flying around. Some clubtails were buzzing around but wouldn't offer any good looks and I didn't take my net with me. Below is a photo of an Orange Bluet (kind of an oxymoron no?). It is longer and more slender than orange female Eastern Forktails, and the ring of orange on abdominal segment 9 is a diagnostic feature.

Today I went out again to a few inland ponds to see what was lurking around and was pleasantly surprised to find 4 Carolina/Red Saddlebags at a fishless pond near Backus Woods. I caught one and identified it to Carolina Saddlebags, and I presume that is what they all were. This is the first record of this rare southern species for Norfolk County according to the Ontario Odonata Atlas that is online (I don't think this is considered up to date, so it's probably not the first record). Two were even seen in tandem and ovipositing so perhaps we will have a permanent colony here now. Also around were some Unicorn Clubtails, and a bunch of more common species one would expect to find.

Carolina Saddlebags 

Unicorn Clubtail

Last week I had my first Spot-winged Glider, a species that usually doesn't show up until Late Summer.

Turtles are up laying eggs now so keep a watchful eye out on roads. This Snapping Turtle was laying eggs at Big Creek Marsh yesterday. There were already around 50 predated nests, a number likely to grow as more turtles lay their eggs.