Wednesday 31 March 2021

Middlesex Biggish Year: March Update

Hard to believe we are already three months into the year! The Middlesex Biggish Year continues. A bout of warm weather brought in some migrants perhaps a bit earlier than normal, although I didn't capitalize too much off this (I'll get them later anyways). In total, I added 19 new species to my year list, which now stands at 112 species, or about 82% of the birds recorded so far this year in Middlesex County. I nabbed a couple tough species, I missed a couple of my targets this month: Lapland Longspur and Red-shouldered Hawk. Certainly still time to cross paths with them! The finches that graced us last fall have yet to make a northward return. This next month will prove critical. I was hoping to get some rare waterfowl this month, but it never happened. There is still time I guess. 

The breakdown:

Code 1: 76 species (12 new)

Code 2: 21 species (4 new) 

Code 3: 10 species (3 new)

Code 4: 3 species

Code 5: 2 species

Code 1s consisted of the typical spring migrants. Killdeer, Tundra Swans, and Turkey Vulture were all, as expected, checked off in the first week of March. Gadwall and Northern Shovelers were found in the first half of the month as well, with Blue-winged Teal coming in within the last week. I saw my first Eastern Phoebe the same day as my first Eastern Meadowlark. American Woodcocks showed up about halfway into the month. An early Common Loon was seen on Fanshawe Lake, with a Double-crested Cormorant appearing that day as well.

I guess I didn't take many pics this month,
so here is a record shot of my FOY vulture

Code 2s were some of the expected but harder to find migrants. These included Horned Grebe and Lesser Scaup on some of the larger bodies of water, as well as a Peregrine Falcon, which was chasing down some Northern Pintails. A singing Tufted Titmouse, still uncommon in Middlesex, was nice to get out of the way early.

Code 3s included two of the North Middlesex specialties: Ruffed Grouse and Common Raven. I also saw two different Snow Geese this month, a nice bird and not always a guarantee to be seen every year.

Snow Goose

Well, that's the month of March for you! It has been fun so far, and I anticipate that it will continue to be that way. Onward to one of my favourite months!

Sunday 28 March 2021

Spring Came Early

 Yesterday I went out in search of Ruffed Grouse and spring plants. My first stop was Parkhill Conservation Area, in northwest Middlesex. This is a well known spot for both of the things I was seeking. Last June, I visited Parkhill CA in search of plants, and flushed a bird in the bushed I was 99% sure was a grouse, but since it would be a county bird, I obviously wanted to be sure. 

I arrived at the CA shortly after 7:30 (I checked out the reservoir first, but there wasn't any waterfowl). It was about 5 degrees out, so not super warm, but pleasant. It wasn't long before the Western Chorus Frogs and Spring Peepers started calling.

As I was walking through the woods, I found a single plant of what I believe is Spreading Sedge (Carex laxiculmis var. laxiculmis). The glaucous leaves make it var. laxiculmis

I continued along the top of the ravine. Plantain-leaved Sedge (C. plantaginea) was common.

The short red bracts are evident here!

Wide Leek (Allium tricoccum var. tricoccum) was another numerous species. I might cover this species in more depth in a future post.

The first of the "Hey, that's early" moments came with this Early Meadow-Rue (Thalictrum dioicum). 

Finally, I managed to hear a Ruffed Grouse drumming. New county bird! I heard it a couple times again later. I could now just focus on the plants :)

The first hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) plant I looked at was this "four-leaved" oddity. Perhaps it was a good luck omen?

Lots of the normal looking plants as well, including some in flower.

Eventually, I decided to descend down into the ravine and head back. Seems I picked the right spot to go down, because I ended up coming across a big patch of Carey's Sedge (C. careyana)! This was one of my most wanted plants, and I was keeping a sharp eye out for it on this day. It is similar to Plantain-leaved Sedge, but the leaves have a more "unwrinkled" appearance. I didn't end up getting any good pictures of it, but the bract (basically a specialized leaf) is much longer and is green on Carey's Sedge, whereas it is short and red on Plantain-leaved. Carey's Sedge is ranked S2 in Ontario, meaning it is very limited in distribution, but it is known to occur in this area. 

You can sort of see the green bracts here...

An assortment of other spring plants, several of which I don't normally see until mid-April!

Early Blue Cohosh (Caulophyllum giganteum)

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Trout lily (Erythronium sp.)

Cut-leaved Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)

Broad-leaf Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum canadense)

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)
probable Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla)

I photographed a couple mosses as well, including Bright Silkmoss (Plagiothecium laetum), a new species for me.

Bright Silkmoss

Dwarf Anomodon Moss (Anomodon minor)

I finished up at Parkhill, and the decided to stop into Coldstream CA on my way home. I had just under an hour to explore it.

There was a large naturalized population of Japanese Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis) along the river. This is a non-native species. I am not sure how invasive it is, but it is one to be aware of.

I added another species of toothwort to the day list, Two-leaved Toothwort (Cardamine diphylla).

False Mermaidweed (Floerkea proserpinacoides) was just one of the species found in the floodplains.

As I was on my way out, I spied this sedge, which stopped me dead in my tracks. It looked like Carey's Sedge! I am not sure if it is known to occur in this location, although I do know it is known to be found further down the Sydenham River. Although I am pretty sure it is indeed this species, I'll have to go back to confirm it once it grows a bit more.

What an enjoyable few hours! I even managed to get a few plant lifers. I'm sure I'll be back out there soon...

Thursday 25 March 2021

More March Birding (feat. Moths)

This past week has been rather nice. On Tuesday, I didn't have in-person school (one advantage of the global pandemic I guess, if we look at it from a glass half full perspective), so of course I went birding. 

I went for a long walk at Fanshawe CA in the morning. Waterfowl numbers were way down, I doubt I even broke 100 individuals. I didn't get there until a bit later in the morning, so maybe earlier in the day would be better.

I came across a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker in the day use area. Perhaps it is an early migrant, or it could be the same bird I had in the campground, a kilometer away as the sapsucker flies, back in January. I'd like to think its a new arrival. If that's the case, I believe its close to record early, if not record early.

There was a Common Loon on the lake as well, which was reported the day prior. Quite distant, but I was pleased to see it. Additionally, I had my first of year Double-crested Cormorant. 

In the afternoon I went for a bike ride down to the Thames River. Nice enough day for it. I didn't really have much of a plan, but ultimately ended up checking up on a couple of our local celebrities. 

First up was the long-staying Harlequin Duck. His molt is coming along nice. He remained asleep on the opposite side of the river.

Next I went to go see the Spotted Towhee. It came out after about half an hour of waiting.

As I was waiting, I spied this interesting Dark-eyed Junco. 

I identified it as a cismontanus Dark-eyed Junco, also known as a Cassiar Junco. This is a different "subspecies" than our usual Slate-colored (hyemalis) Dark-eyed Juncos. Some authorities consider Cassiar to be an intergrade between Slate-colored and Oregon (oreganus group) juncos. I have been looking for one of these western juncos for quite awhile, so I was pleased to finally find one. 

Last night I decided to set up the moth sheet. It was about 12 degrees Celsius with no threat of rain, so why not? The Spring Peepers sang in the distance, and I heard a displaying woodcock twittering overhead a couple times. 

All I got for the longest time were midges and other small flies, but finally just as I went out to take down the sheet, a moth showed up! It was a Speckled Green Fruitworm Moth (Orthosia hibisci), my first lifer moth of the year. A Nameless Pinion Moth (Lithophane innominata) showed up right after, another lifer which happened to be my 550th moth for my yard list. 

Nameless Pinion Moth

I had been expecting maybe a Phigalia moth at best, so two noctuids were very exciting! I did end up getting a Small Phigalia (P. strigataria) as well. I had a couple of these last April.

I got out for a bit today as well. Nothing too much  to report other than my first of year Tree Swallows, as well as some Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara).

Bring on spring!

Sunday 21 March 2021

Mid-March Birding

I have gotten out here and there for the last couple of weeks. Not too many photos, but some notable sightings.

I got out to Fanshawe CA for the first time in over a month a couple weeks ago. The lake was finally opening up after being frozen, and ducks were starting to show up. On the 10th, I had my first of year (FOY) Gadwall, as well as my first Snow Goose for Fanshawe. On the 11th, I had my first of season (FOS) Wood Duck, Ruddy Ducks, and Green-winged Teal, as well as my FOY Lesser Scaup. I had a couple small flocks of Tundra Swans, nothing compared to the over 800 I counted migrating through the neighborhood earlier that week. 

On the 12th I got out to Fanshawe again, and it was one of my best days yet this year, with 45 species recorded recorded in the four hours I was there. Pied-billed Grebe was a FOS, and I also had a Peregrine Falcon in pursuit of pintails. The highlights were undoubtedly a Tufted Titmouse (pretty uncommon to rare in this area of the county) and a migrating Golden Eagle. Believe it or not, this was actually the first Golden Eagle I have ever seen in active migration! Before I had only ever seen wintering individuals.  

I got out locally with not too many highlights over the next week. I did see a couple Common Ravens while driving up near Lucan though. 

This past weekend I got out in search of FOYs. I checked out Fanshawe yesterday morning, but only succeeded in finding one FOY, a Horned Grebe. Waterfowl numbers are down, maybe as a result of the higher water.

I checked out a couple ponds after, as well as the airport (in search of meadowlark), but only was able to find one other year bird, a couple Northern Shovelers. 

I wanted Lapland Longspur, so I opted to drive some backroads around Lucan in the afternoon. No dice. After getting a little lost, I ended up at Wildwood Lake, where I was disappointed to find that there were basically no birds. Certainly not worth the 30 minute detour lol.

That evening, I finally got my first American Woodcock of the year, although it only called twice then shut up! 

Today I wanted to find Sandhill Cranes, but ultimately failed. At least I found a Cooper's Hawk nest, which was pretty cool. 

Lots of signs of spring out this weekend. Chipmunks and groundhogs are out and about, lots of turtles, some Spring Peepers, a garter snake, and several butterflies. Shouldn't be too long before the spring wildflowers start to pop up. Nice weekend to be outside.

Things are looking up!

Thursday 11 March 2021

Dragonflies and Damselflies of Middlesex County

I recently wrote an article on the dragonflies and damselflies (odonates) of Middlesex County for The Cardinal, the publication put out by Nature London (formally the Mcllwraith Field Naturalists). I thought I would share it here as well. The bonus if you get to see more photos than what was in print! Enjoy! 


While many are familiar with the birds, plants, and butterflies of Middlesex County, seemingly very few are aware of the diversity of damselflies and dragonflies, known as odonates, or simply odes, that can be found in the county. In fact, as of time of writing, 98 species of these insects have been found within Middlesex. Not much is known about odes in the county, and new discoveries happen all the time. I will walk through the checklist taxonomically, and discuss a few of these awesome odonates.

First up, we have the damselflies (Zygoptera). Four species of broad-winged damsels (Calopterygidae), all of the ones that knowingly occur in Ontario, can be found in the county. Ebony Jewelwings, with their striking all black wings, are quite common along streams and rivers. These can start to be observed at the end of May. River Jewelwings are similar in appearance, but are apparently much more uncommon. We have two species of rubyspots as well, American Rubyspot, which is fairly common, and Smoky Rubyspot, very rare and local, restricted to the Thames River in the extreme southwest of the county. 

American Rubyspot

Next we have the spread-winged damsels (Lestes), represented by eight species. Slender Spreadwing is one of our most numerous spreadwings, followed by Emerald Spreadwing. Amber-winged Spreadwing is much more local, with one of the best spots to see it in Middlesex being the Sifton Bog. Later in the season, you may come across the Spotted Spreadwing, which is also one of our latest flying odonates. 

Slender Spreadwing

The dancers (Argia) are always a favourite, and six species can be readily seen around almost any flowing watercourse, with some of the best spots being the Thames River, the Ausable River, and Medway Creek. Our most common species is the Powdered Dancer, which can number in the hundreds at the right time of year. Violet and Blue-fronted Dancers can often be found mixed in as well. Rarer and more local species include Blue-ringed, Blue-tipped, and Dusky Dancers, all of which are provincially uncommon. 

Violet Dancer

Bluets (Coenagrion and Enallagma) are often something that casual ode enthusiasts dismiss, as to identify them, you often need to catch and examine the genitalia of the males. It may come to a surprise to some that 16 species of these damselflies have been recorded in the county. Many are quite common, such as Familiar, Marsh, Stream, Skimming, and Orange Bluets. Others, such as Tule, Double-striped, Azure, and Rainbow are much more uncommon. The best places to see bluets are often around ponds, and the many stormwater management ponds in the London area are a great place to start!

Stream Bluet

Rainbow Bluet

The forktails (Ischnura) and sprites (Nehalennia) are our smallest damselflies, the sprites especially. Three species of forktails have been recorded, with Eastern Forktails being the most common, followed by Fragile Forktails. Citrine Forktail, an uncommon to rare vagrant to Ontario, has been recorded once, but is very likely to be found again. We have two species of sprites. Sedge Sprites are quite common, but Sphagnum Sprites are much more local, restricted to sphagnum bogs, such as at the Sifton Bog.

Next, the dragonflies (Anisoptera). The darners (Aeshnidae) are often a crowd pleaser, with ten species having been reported from the county. The season starts off strong with the return of Common Green Darners in late April to early May, and these migrants can be seen throughout the summer into the early fall, which is when they head south. Springtime Darners and Swamp Darners start to appear near the end of May, with Springtime finishing up for the season by the end of June. Another early flier is the Spatterdock Darner, a provincially rare species first found in 2019 at the Sifton Bog. This is a striking insect with its bright blue eyes. Later in the summer, the Aesha darners start to appear, and may gather in feeding “swarms” in the evening. Shadow Darner is the most common. Occasionally, a Lance-tipped may be mixed in. A rarer species is the Black-tipped Darner, which can be found in the Sifton Bog. Along streams and rivers, watch for Fawn Darners working the edges looking for their next meal.

Fawn Darner

Common Green Darner

One of our most unique groups of dragonflies are the clubtails (Gomphidae), and 13 species have been seen in the county. These dragons are by no means common, and are always a treat when they are come across. Stormwater management ponds can be good places to look for Unicorn and Pronghorn Clubtails, both of which are provincially uncommon. Along rivers, keep an eye out for Black-shouldered Spinylegs and Midland Clubtails. Rusty Snaketails have only been seen once, but should be looked for along the Sydenham River, where they were first discovered in 2019. Later in the summer, you may come across an Arrow or Zebra Clubtail, members of the highly sought after Stylurus genus. There was a flurry of excitement in June 2020 when the provincially rare Rapids Clubtails were discovered for the first time along the Ausable River, representing the first record of this previously thought extirpated species in the county since 1989. Green-faced Clubtails, another provincially rare species, were also found for the first time in Middlesex County. 

Rapids Clubtail

Spiketails (Cordulegastridae) and river cruisers (Macromiidae) are a pair of unique dragonflies, two species of which have been found in the county. Delta-spotted Spiketails are apparently uncommon and local, with Komoka Provincial Park being a good spot to see one. Swift River Cruisers can be seen along most of the major rivers in Middlesex, with its large yellow spot on the tip of its abdomen making for easy identification. 

Swift River Cruiser

Emeralds (Corduliidae) are represented by five species. The most numerous is Common Baskettail. Prince Baskettails can be found in smaller numbers. Beaverpond Baskettails are rarely encountered, and may just be vagrants, but should be looked for. The only member of the rare genus Somatochlora we have is Mocha Emerald, a provincially rare species found mostly in the southwestern part of the county, but has also been seen along the Ausable River. Racket-tailed Emerald has been seen once at the Sifton Bog, and an eye should be kept out for more! 

Our largest group of dragonflies is the skimmers (Libelluidae), of which 25 species have been recorded. Many are very common, such as Common Whitetails, Widow Skimmers, Eastern Pondhawks, Blue Dashers, Twelve-spotted Skimmers, Eastern Amberwings, Black Saddlebags, and Dot-tailed Whitefaces. Halloween and Calico Pennants, Slaty Skimmers, Chalk-fronted Corporals, and Carolina Saddlebags are more uncommon. Painted Skimmer, a rare vagrant, can occasionally be seen. Ponds are great places to see all of these species. Six species of meadowhawks have been seen as well, with Ruby, White-faced, and Autumn Meadowhawks being the most common. Band-winged, Cherry-faced, and Saffron-winged Meadowhawks are much more local. Two species of gliders, Wandering and Spot-winged Gliders, can also be found, but numbers of this highly migratory species vary year to year. 

Black Saddlebags

Wandering Glider

White-faced Meadowhawk

Of course, there are many holes in the Middlesex County list. There are several species that may occur in the county that have not yet been found, which I have listed. Many occur in neighbouring counties, some along the same rivers. Habitat and flight periods are from The Dragonflies and Damselflies of Algonquin Provincial Park and the Surrounding Area by Colin D. Jones, Andrea Kingsley, Peter Burke, and Matt Holder, as well as Dragonflies and Damselflies of the East by Dennis Paulson. Provincially uncommon to rare species are indicated by an asterisk: Vernal Bluet (ponds and rivers, May-July), *Lilypad Forktail (ponds and slow streams with water lilies, June-September), *Comet Darner (ponds, June-August), *Cyrano Darner (wooded wetlands, June-July), *Harlequin Darner (conifer swamps and bogs, May-July), Variable Darner (ponds, June-September), Mottled Darner (ponds and bogs with abundant emergent vegetation, June-October) , *Flag-tailed Spinyleg (rivers, July-August) *Riverine Clubtail (slow moving creeks and rivers, July-August), *Elusive Clubtail (rivers, June-October), *Arrowhead Spiketail (wooded streams and seepages, May-July), Twin-spotted Spiketail (fast flowing rivers and wooded streams, June-August), Stream Cruiser (rivers, May-September), *Royal River Cruiser (wooded streams and rivers, July-September), Spiny Baskettail (ponds and slow streams, May-August), Williamson’s Emerald (quiet forest streams, June-September), *Clamp-tipped Emerald (forest streams with rapids and pools, July-September), Brush-tipped Emerald (streams through wetland habitat, June-August), and *Variegated Meadowhawk (highly migratory, breeds in ponds and slow streams, April-November).

Elusive Clubtail

Watching dragonflies and damselflies is a very enjoyable, and addicting, pastime. Much like birding, you never know what you may find! Hopefully your eyes have been opened to the amazing world of odonates right on your doorstep!