Friday 30 April 2021

Middlesex Biggish Year: April Update

Four months into my Middlesex Biggish Year! April is always an exiting time of year, and this past one was no exception. This past month I have added 42 species to my year list, which now stands at 154, or about 85% of the birds recorded in Middlesex this year. Nothing immediately sticks out as a "major miss", although Red-shouldered Hawk still evaded me—it might have to wait until the fall now! I also managed to see one of my outstanding targets, basically my only remaining one from the first few months of the year...Lapland Longspur! Finches still haven't really come through yet, so still holding out for some Evening Grosbeaks. 

The breakdown:

Code 1: 103 species (27 new)

Code 2: 34 species (13 new)

Code 3: 12 species (2 new)

Code 4: 3 species

Code 5: 2 species

Plenty of code 1 species were recorded this month, most of them typical April migrants with several warbler species, a few shorebirds, all of the swallows (other than Purple Martin), and some sparrows

Black-throated Green Warbler

Field Sparrow

As for the code 2 species, Lapland Longspur was a highlight, as well as a couple of the more uncommon shorebirds such as Wilson's Snipe and Least Sandpiper, as well as a Bonaparte's Gulls and a Caspian Tern. Some nice birds! 

Lapland Longspur

Code 3 additions were comprised of two species: American Bittern and Eastern Whip-poor-will. The bittern was a bit of a relief, it was in the same spot I had one in 2018 and 2020. Unlike last year however, it only seemed to stick around for a day—or its just good at hiding! The whip-poor-will was another great addition, a new Middlesex bird for me. 

Eastern Whip-poor-will

Well, that's all she wrote for April. Time for the most exciting and most anticipated month of the year— May! Should be plenty of year birds to come. I'm having a lot of fun birding around the county, and that's why I'm doing this! 

Wednesday 28 April 2021

It is Slowly Starting...

The last few days have seen us starting to get some of our most anticipated spring migrants in Southern Ontario. I have gotten out as often as I can, and as the weather allows.

Up until yesterday, first of year (FOY) birds were becoming hard to come by. One bird I finally was able to cross paths with was a Rusty Blackbird in my neighbourhood. They definitely seem to be much more uncommon in the spring as opposed to the fall, but I had half expected to come across several by that point! 

Stakes were looking high going into yesterday (Tuesday). A good south wind with very limited to no precipitation overnight—it was shaping up to be a good looking day!

My game plan for the morning was to walk around Fanshawe CA, which is what I did for five hours. Ultimately, it seemed that all the birds that showed up on the radar were White-throated Sparrows, Ruby-crowned Kinglets and Yellow-rumped Warblers! I only managed to see two FOYs: Purple Finch (my first since November) and a Chimney Swift. I managed to rack up 69 species at Fanshawe—I just couldn't find a 70th! Find the morning's eBird checklist here.

Broad-winged Hawk

Today, my original plan was to go to the Strathroy Sewage Lagoons first thing in the morning, as I had hoped the forecasted thunderstorms would push down some good shorebirds. When I woke up, however, I found that there was no rain in the immediate forecast! Since I had limited time, I just opted to go birding in the neighbourhood.

It was fairly slow, but I can't complain too much considering it is April 28th! By any means, it seemed clear that today had more potential than the day prior! My first stop was Northbrook Park.

I flushed a Wilson's Snipe in the wetland, a first for this location. I was unable to turn up any rails. Virginia Rails had been present here for over a month last spring, but the habitat had been changed dramatically since last year due to phragmites management. 

I made my way through the ravine, and came across a few warblers, most notably my first Black-and-white Warbler and Black-throated Green Warbler of the year.

Black-throated Green Warbler

Long-spurred Violet (Viola rostrata) is starting to flower.

Next up I went up to the Uplands North Wetland, always a good stop. My most notable bird was a Baltimore Oriole, which was of course a first for this year. There were also a couple Green Herons flying around, and some Common Loons and Double-crested Cormorants were migrating overhead.

As I was leaving the wetland and walking back home, I saw that I had a text from Reuven Martin. He had found an Eastern Whip-poor-will (a would be county bird for me) in Kilally Meadows ESA. It was 8:30. I had class at 9:00. 

I weighed my options, and decided that it would have to wait, so I told Reuven I would pop out after class. He told me that it was being mobbed by robins, and might not stick around. I reconsidered my choices. I had to go. So at 8:35, I was pulling out of my driveway.

I arrived at Kilally at 8:42, and found that I had gone to the wrong access point, which added another half kilometer of unnecessary running. By the time I had found the right spot and met up with Reuven it was 8:45. 

Reuven took me to the spot and pointed it out. Good thing he did, I probably would have had one heck of a time trying to find it otherwise! I snapped a few photos.

It was now 8:50. 

I pulled back into my driveway at 8:59, and managed to sprint up stairs in time to log into class at 9am. Not a minute to spare. 

It is a good thing I took the chance, because it seemingly disappeared later that morning! 

After class, there was rain in the forecast, so I opted to go to the Strathroy lagoons. Unfortunately, the rain was short lived, and it cleared up pretty fast :(  No rare shorebirds today.

I still had an okay shorebird count, with around 25 Pectorals, both yellowlegs, Solitary Sandpipers, Killdeer, Spotted Sandpipers, and a slightly early Least Sandpiper (although not too unexpected). 

Pectoral Sandpipers

There were several warblers along the edges of the cells as well, the best being a Northern Parula. The first time I have seen this species in April.

I also found my first Rose-breasted Grosbeak of the year.

I had a pretty good species count at the lagoons, which included several species of ducks, a Caspian Tern, and both the rails: Virginia Rails and Sora. 

It was a splendid day of late April birding, and I ended up with 80 species, not too shabby since I wasn't trying for a high species count. Looking forward to the days ahead (although I don't think we'll see a ton of movement until next week)! 

Thursday 15 April 2021

Mid-April Along the Ausable

On Tuesday I went up for a hike on the Ausable River Valley Trail near Sylvan, off Elm Tree Drive. This trail takes you into some of the best Carolinian habitat that Middlesex has to offer. It is still rather early for most of the notable stuff, but I wanted to take advantage of the good weather.

On my way in, I made a quick stop and checked in on the nesting Common Ravens. Both were present at the nest site. They also nested here last year, which I believe was the first nesting record for Middlesex County.

After I parked the car, I was greeted with the songs of Vesper Sparrows. Before this year, I don't think I had ever (knowingly) heard this species sing, weirdly enough. I tracked down a couple individuals, and photographed one.

I made my way into the forest, flushing a pair of Wood Ducks from a flooded section of the trail along the way. One of the first plants of note I saw was this American Gromwell (Lithospermum latifolium). This is very uncommon species in Ontario, although is to be expected in the right habitats. 

I was a bit surprised to see Yellow Downy Violet (Viola pubescens). Lots of things are early this year! 

American Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia) was occasionally seen, especially closer to the river. 

Black Maple (Acer nigrum) with the distinctive pubescent leaves was common.

 Pennsylvania Sedge (Carex pensylvanica) is a common colony forming sedge in forests. It can be separated from other members of its taxonomic section, Acrocystis, by its round perigynia (when present, in this photo they still aren't developed), narrow leaves, and the presence of rhizomes, which are modified stems which run underground, which give this species its colonial forming tendency. 

When I spotted this sedge, I had Acrocytis on the mind, so I tried to key it out to that, which didn't really end up working. That is because as it turned out, it wasn't in that section at all! It was actually Peduncled Sedge (Carex pedunculata), another common species. This particular plant wasn't very lax in appearance, as this species typically is, and its peduncles (stalks with the flowers) were very short, to the point I didn't even notice them in the field.

I continued on my merry way, and ended up coming across a cool cedar seepage area. I was getting limited on time by this point, so I'll have to go back to explore it further (it'd probably be best later in the growing season anyways). Ebony Sedge (Carex eburnea) was somewhat common, my first time seeing this species in Middlesex County.

Plantain-leaved Sedge (Carex plantaginea) was also pretty common. I will never tire of seeing this species.

I kept a sharp eye out, and as I expected, I was able to locate some Carey's Sedge (Carex careyana). Now that I have a search image, it is getting pretty easy to pick out. I am not sure if it is known from this exact location, but it is definitely known from the area. 

Pretty Sedge (Carex woodii) was also seen. Another species that now that I have a search image for, I am picking out all over the place.

Hairy Sedge (Carex hirtifolia) was also seen. This particular plant was further along than most of the others, which were still just vegetative. 

As for interesting wildflowers, this Purple Cress (Cardamine douglassii) was just starting to bloom.

Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) was also coming up, although no sign of any flowers yet.

On my way back home, I stopped along Fossil Road for a few minutes. Not too much of note, other than super early Seneca Snakeroot (Polygala senega). Usually, I don't think this species pops up until May. I did a double take when I spotted it!

And I'll throw this one in, Labrador Violet (Viola labradorica) from yesterday a site here in London. The fourth species of violet I have seen this week! 

Sunday 11 April 2021

Weekend Activities

Yesterday, after an excellent morning of watching migrant birds (highlighted by over 500 Northern Flickers), I went down to Ipperwash in search of Olympia Marbles. My friend Isabel was with me, as it would be a new butterfly for the both of us.

Not five minutes after pulling into the MNR parking lot (probably the bumpiest parking lot in Lambton County? Maybe Southwestern Ontario?), we found our target. There ended up being several individuals, which was a treat to see. 

There were a few Common Green Darners flying around as well, my first of the year, and probably my earliest ever. I managed to catch one. So far my 2021 swing to catch ratio is about 4:1, hopefully that improves as I dust off my skills...

A few plants of interest in the dunes. 

Bearberry (Arctotaphylos uva-ursi)

Lyreleaf Rockcress (Arabidopsis lyrata)

Rock Sandwort (Sabulina michauxii)

I also found this lichen. Pretty sure it is Sand-loving Iceland Lichen (Cetraria arenaria).

We went to the dunes and swales afterwards for a quick walk. We found another Olympia Marble, as well as come Cabbage Whites. I was hoping to finally get a Brown Creeper for Lambton, but nope...where are they?? I took photos of a couple plants of interest. I will have to come back for some more dedicated botanizing.

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)

Parasol Sedge (Carex umbellata)

Afterwards, I parted ways with Isabel and started on my way home. I planned to stop into the Parkhill CA on the way for a bit to look for plants, so that is what I did.

As soon as I got out of the car I heard a Ruffed Grouse drumming, and later heard a second. Nice to know they are here!

I made my way down into the ravine. The plants have really come along since I was there two weeks ago. Several species of native wildflowers were seen.

Yellow Trout-lily (Erythronium americanum)

Large White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla)

Cut-leaved Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)

Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) was one of the more abundant flowers. What a showstopper, it comes in a variety of colours.

Canadian Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) was beginning to bloom. The flowers lie on the ground, and this is because it is pollinated by ants.

There were quite a few sedges (Carex spp.) seen, and a few were identifiable to species. One of these was Long-stalked Sedge (Carex pedunculata). The long "stalks" (peduncles) were obvious on the plants which were further along. Another good way to identify this sedge is that the leave apices (tips) come to a sudden point, whereas in other species, the leaf comes to a sharp point more gradually. 

Pretty Sedge (Carex woodii) lives up to its common name. This is a species that I have really overlooked in the past. While I have seen this species once before (I recently realized I misidentified a sedge from a couple years back that was this species), this is the first time I have really appreciated and studied it in the field. This isn't a super abundant species, but can be common in the right habitats. 

Of course, Carey's Sedge (Carex careyana) was a highlight. This is a pretty rare sedge that I saw for the first time a couple weeks ago at this location. It is much further along now.

It could be confused with Plantain-leaved Sedge (Carex plantaginea), which also has wide leaves, and is the same taxonomic section, Carex sect. Careyanae. While the leaves are pretty distinct once you get a feel for them (typically a little less wide, and are noticeably unwrinked), if you can see the culms (the "stem" with the flowers), there is an easy way to tell them apart: the bracts. In Carey's Sedge, the bracts (a specialized leaf) subtending (below) the pistillate spike (female flowers) is green (although sometimes there can be a hint of red at the base) and leafy, and in Plantain-leaved Sedge, this bract is red and basically non-existent—there isn't really a leafy bit. Below is a comparison showing this, Carey's Sedge on the left, and Plantain-leaved Sedge on the right.

I am looking forward to keeping tabs on this population as the plants begin to mature! 

I also finally, after scouring the ravine for over an hour, stumbled across some Harbinger-of-spring (Erigenia bulbosa), my first time seeing this uncommon to rare in Ontario species (I have gone out about four times this spring looking!). Unfortunately, it was past flowering, and there were only like four plants. I was pleased, but admittedly a bit disappointed to have missed it in flower. I must have walked right by these plants when I was here a couple weeks ago. 

I ended up taking the long way back to the car. Pretty uneventful, but I got a nice view of Mud Creek.

Today, I had a tip on where to look for another population of Harbinger-of-spring in the Coldstream CA, so that is where I went. I hoped it would be in flower.

It took a bit of scouring, but finally I spotted some. This is a pretty small species, and is quite easily overlooked. Had I not stopped to look at a Carey's Sedge plant (more on that later), I probably would have missed them!

Luckily for me, there were still lots of flowers present, although the plants were past their peak.

I found some more Pretty Sedge as well. Must be indicative of good habitat.

With all the recent warm weather (it got up to at least 18 degrees today, and around 25 degrees yesterday), plants are way ahead of schedule. The forest floor looked like it was at least late April, maybe even early May. I am certainly not complaining, it was a long winter! 

Wood Anemone (Anemonoides quinquefolia)

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)

Red Trillium (Trillium erectum)


Dutchman's Breeches

White Trout-lily (Erythronium albidum)

Common Blue Violet (Viola soria)

I left Coldstream quite happy :)

On my way home, I quickly checked on a population of False Rue-anemone (Enemion biternatum), another rare species in Ontario. In more or less full bloom, as expected this year I guess! This is one of my favourite early spring species.

Things might come to a bit of a standstill with this week's weather forecast, but it won't be long now—great things are ahead!