Wednesday 28 October 2020

Blue Sedge (Carex flacca) and Railways

Back in May, Will Van Hemessen mentioned to me that he has observed Blue Sedge (Carex flacca), a non-native sedge, in two locations in Ontario: Kelly Stanton ESA in London, and Fletcher Creek Ecological Preserve in Puslinch, near Cambridge.

Blue Sedge (Carex flacca) from Kelly Stanton, May 2020

Blue Sedge from Fletcher Creek, July 2019

Will noted that, interestingly, the same railway, the Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR) passes right beside the both of them. CP lines are indicated on the map in red.  Adventive (non-native and not yet well established) plants are well known to show up along railways, carried there by the trains.

Looking at sightings on iNaturalist, you would see that there are also sightings of this sedge in the vicinity of Puslinch, as well as in the Peterborough area, near Douro. While the railways do not directly run beside where these observations were made, they are close enough to raise an eyebrow. The species has also been recorded at the Forks of the Credit in Caledon, which has a railway running through it (The Orangeville-Brampton Railway, connected to the CPR) Also on iNat, there is an observation in Sherbrooke, Quebec, and sure enough, the same railway passes by there!

Note: Observations from Vermont and Connecticut are misidentifications

I had seen a couple observations of Blue Sedge in Vermont as well, and got a little excited because the CPR passes through that area too, but upon closer inspection, the sightings turned out to be what looked like Twisted Sedge (Carex torta) (one to keep an eye out for in Ontario by the way!)

Also on iNat you can see there are a few observations in the Grey/Bruce area. According to the Canadian Railway Atlas, where I got the maps, there are currently no railways in that region of Ontario. However, I have been informed that historically, the CPR ran into that region. Apparently, the observations shown on the map are quite close to former CP lines!

There are a few observations of the species on Nova Scotia as well. While again currently the CPR doesn't seem to run out there, apparently it historically did. Based off satellite maps, I can tell that these sightings, while not directly adjacent to railways, they have a similar proximity to some of the sightings in Ontario.

According to the Flora of North America, there are also records of the species in Michigan and New York. I can also find resources that say it occurs in Ohio. The CPR likely doesn't have anything to do with those records (other than maybe the first Michigan collection of Blue Sedge in Wayne County in 1896, near Detroit). There aren't any legit iNat observations for the USA of Blue Sedge, so its hard to see exactly where these records are, but based off county maps, there are definitely railways running through each of the areas, so it is very possible they are close in proximity.

Interestingly, the Canadian National Railway (CNR), which is indicated by blue on the maps, also may have an influence on Blue Sedge distribution. The CNR happens to run right beside Kelly Stanton ESA, where there is Blue Sedge, and had also historically run up into Grey-Bruce. I know that Blue Sedge has also been found in the floodplains of the Nith River near Paris, and low and behold, the CNR runs right through that area! There is also an observation of Blue Sedge in Halifax just across the river from a CNR line.

So is there a correlation between the CPR, and CNR, and Blue Sedge, at least in Ontario and the surrounding area? Maybe. It might be interesting to visit areas along these rail lines, and see if Blue Sedge can be turned up! It is a fairly distinctive sedge, especially when mature, so it should stick out!

Monday 26 October 2020

Hawks and Finches, Oh My!

As many birders in the northeast, and beyond, there is an irruption of some winter finches going on right now. It started back at the end of August, when we began to get daily Purple Finches, soon followed by Pine Siskins. More recently, Evening Grosbeaks, Common Redpolls, and both crossbills have been on the move. I anxiously awaited a change in the weather that would bring them to the London area, and Saturday looked like the day things would begin to show up!

But before going into that, throwback to last Tuesday. The winds (NW) weren't bad, so I figured I would give a backyard hawkwatch a shot. I was hoping to nail down a Red-shouldered Hawk. Finally, after about two and a half hours, and only five minutes before I was going to go inside, I spotted this young bird going over. Nice to not have to worry about it anymore! A solid 158th bird for my neighbourhood year list! I haven't really had the opportunity to do much in the way of hawkwatching in ideal locations during the right time of year, so this just so happens to only be the second time I have ever seen this species! My other sighting was of a couple adults migrating over my yard last March.

I did a short hawkwatch yesterday too. I only had a very short flight (over the course of 15 minutes) of five Red-tailed Hawks. The highlight was when a group of small shorebirds flew over, either Pectoral Sandpipers or Dunlin. They never vocalized, and I couldn't get on them in time in order to get an identification. Very frustrating! Either species would be new for my neighbourhood, #178.

Back to this past Saturday. I arrived at Fanshawe Conservation Area early, and set up at the lookout. My first duck of the day happened to be a Red-breasted Merganser. This isn't an unexpected species, but is certainly uncommon in the county. I have only seen them on a handful of other occasions. Other than the merg, the lake was quiet. There were many migrant crows as well, and I tallied over 1500. After a couple hours, I heard an Evening Grosbeak go over! My predictions were right (though I later found out 15 had been seen the day prior!). Several other individuals were also seen that day in the county. I called Bill Lindley, and he told me he had also just seen some up near Parkhill. We figure we had observed ours at about the same time!

Evening Grosbeaks (Algonquin Park, 2017)

I continued to walk down the length of the reservoir, much not much to report. I had a couple of late birds, like a Black-throated Green Warbler (my first in October), and a couple Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. I ended up with 68 species, a good count for late October. eBird checklist here.

I spent yesterday morning running around hoping to come across an Evening Grosbeak in the neighbourhood, but it was not to be. Bill called me to say he had found 12 Common Redpolls at the conservation area, so they are coming!

I went back out this morning to Fanshawe CA, with thoughts of rare ducks (scoters) and finches on my mind. I struck out with the ducks (though I did see a Horned Grebe). Things were too quiet for my liking, so I packed up my watch early and began to walk. I didn't get too far before I heard something I hadn't heard in awhile. Red Crossbills! A flock of seven flew over in short order. A call to Bill was in order, and he later arrived and had four, along with two Evening Grosbeaks!

Red Crossbill (Algonquin Park, 2018)

It seemed a lot of birds had cleared out. Not much else of interest, other than Pine Siskins. eBird checklist here

Bill and I ended up birding around in the afternoon, going to Strathroy and Parkhill. We were hoping for scoters, but unfortunately we had no luck. We did have our first Tundra Swans of the fall at the sewage lagoons, as well as a Cackling Goose among hundreds of Canada Geese. A good day!

The next few weeks should prove interesting!

Wednesday 14 October 2020

Thanksgiving Birding

I have managed to get out pretty much daily for the last few days. It seems the continuing trend is that I don't take many photos, but I think I have enough to pump out a blog post!

On Friday I went down to south London, in hopes of coming seeing the reported American Golden-plover, a species that has managed to evade me in Middlesex county. I struck out, but did see a variety of other shorebirds.

Stilt Sandpiper

Killdeer and Black-bellied Plover


There was also a number of Cackling Geese present, with all the Canadas. A Snow Goose had been seen up until the day prior as well.


The next day I started off birding the Uplands North Wetland, one of my favourite, and often most productive local spots. So far this year, birders have tallied 130 species there, myself having seen almost 120. I didn't add anything new to the list, but I did have some decent success, including five species of ducks. Despite having seen 15 species of ducks here, I rarely see more than two or three on any given outing!

Northern Pintail and Green-winged Teal

Great Blue Heron

I had scarcely gotten home and sat down when I got a call from Bill Lindley that he had seen a Hudsonian Godwit at Fanshawe Conservation Area! I was off again! Unfortunately upon my arrival, he had lost it, and despite spending almost five hours looking, it never reappeared. He had also found three Long-billed Dowitchers, which I saw. After he left, I found a Stilt Sandpiper, its getting late, and a good bird for Middlesex regardless.

The next day I was back at Fanshawe for a few hours hoping the godwit would appear again, but no luck. The dowitchers were still there however.

The next morning I was back at Fanshawe first thing, with plans of doing a stationary count at the lookout over the lake. I  didn't see much in the way of active migration, but I did have a couple of nice birds including Cackling Geese and Peregrine Falcons. The best birds were a pair of Trumpeter Swans, which didn't stick around unfortunately, but I called Bill who was able to get on them. Unbeknownst to me, he had been doing a stationary count from a different vantage point, and he looked up after my call and saw them go over! 

The next morning I was there at Fanshawe again, with the same plan. Other than some Eastern Bluebirds, another Cackling Goose, and my first Hermit Thrushes of the fall, there wasn't really anything to write home about. Hopefully as the fall progresses we will be able to see some cool stuff on the reservoir. 

Late that day I went back to south London, and this time was successful in seeing the golden-plover. 

Digiscoped plover

It just so happened to be my 199th species I have seen this year in Middlesex, with relatively very little effort (I had no intentions of year listing!). It had been an exceptional year for birding in the county. Bill smashed his own big year record of 225, and he is currently sitting at 233!

Lovely time of year! 

Sunday 4 October 2020

Recent Odds and Ends

School has kept me pretty busy over the last few weeks, but I have still managed to get out here and there. 

Last weekend, a Long-billed Dowitcher showed up just south of the city. I hadn't bothered to get the one that showed up last year, so I went. I got brief looks, but it was a new one for me in Middlesex nonetheless. I also saw Amethyst Aster (S.× amethystinum), my first time seeing it. It is a hybrid between White Heath Aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) and New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae).

Amethyst Aster (Symphyotrichum × amethystinum

A few days ago I went to Kilally Meadows in the north part of London. I was mostly looking at plants, but I did flush a Black-billed Cuckoo at one point. I think this is the latest I have ever seen one.
Black-billed Cuckoo

Here are a couple of the plants I saw.

Silky Wild Rye (Elymus villosus)

River Wild Rye (Elymus riparius)

Arrow-leaved Aster (Symphyotrichum urophyllum)

Smooth Blue Aster (Symphyotrichum laeve)

New England Aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae)

American Hog-peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata)

Canada Clearweed (Pilea pumila)

Fast forward to yesterday, I visited one of the most productive places in my neighbourhood for birds. I spend a good two and a half hours there, as there were plenty of birds to sort through. I had several first of season birds including Winter Wren (neighbourhood year bird #150), American Pipit (neighbourhood year bird #151), Blue-headed Vireo, and White-crowned Sparrow. eBird list.

Dotted Knotweed (Persicaria punctata)
American Kestrel

Today, Reuven Martin had some great luck (he has been on fire this fall around here), and found a Nelson's Sparrow and a couple of Hudsonian Godwits in Komoka Provincial Park. I called up Bill Lindley to let him know, and shortly thereafter the two of us were on route. Both of us had had Hudwit on the brain for the last few days, and I always have thoughts of Nelson's Sparrow at this time of year, so we were keen to see these birds!

The godwits had just been a fly by for Reuven, but we checked some nearby ponds to no avail. We arrived in the rain at Komoka, and soon began our search. We were joined by others soon as well in the form of Gord Payne, Pete Read, Mike Cowlard, and Nancy Douglas. We scoured the area, but came up empty, flushing a Sora and a couple snipe in the process. We also had a Long-billed Dowitcher, always a great record for the county. The others left, leaving Bill, Gord, and myself. Bill and I were going to start walking the perimeter of the pond when Gord called us back, saying he had seen a bird skulking around the edge of the water. Soon, the Nelson's Sparrow popped up for some brief looks! It was a new Middlesex bird for all three of us.

Nelson's Sparrow (Longridge Point, August 2018)

Afterwards, Bill and I went to the Strathroy Sewage Lagoons. No godwits there either, but we did have another Long-billed Dowitcher and some Stilt Sandpipers. 

This evening before it got dark I went to check the local wetland. Nothing unusual, but I did score two more neighbourhood year birds, Northern Pintail and American Black Duck. 

It is one of my most favourite times of year! Looking forward to see what else will pop up.