Sunday, December 9, 2018

Charlotte Lake, Renfrew County, Ontario July 2017 #3

Charlotte Lake, Renfrew County, Ontario July 2017 #3

What a biologically/ecodiverse/splendiferous region I live in. These qualities caused me to join the Board of Directors of the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust that purchases and creates easement agreements with landowners in the titled watersheds. Yes my American friends, Canada has its own Mississippi River.

The various land-forming processes (glaciers, huge rivers and even a salt water sea) have given shape to the surroundings, with a variety of wet/rich and not-so-rich habitats. This results in one of the most diverse collections of Odonate species (dragonflies and damselflies) on our continent.

Above, immature Male Common Whitetail Skimmer, Plathemis lydia. Charlotte Lake is getting quite north for this species, since it is uncommon in Algonquin Park and much more common south of the Canadian Shield.

Red Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis. This lovely wild flower grows, sometimes in large numbers, around wettish areas in the Ottawa Valley. If you get a chance, find a local grower and add it to your garden. What a splash of colour and form!

Spreading Dogbane, Apocynum androsaemifolium, note recurved lobes, distinguishes from Intermediate A. medium.  Compare to Indian Hemp and Intermediate Dogbane.

I need to take better notes!  I mis-identified this uncommon plant (above) in a previous version of this edition.  This is not the common Cornus rugosa (which I like very much!).  It is the very UNcommon Aralia racemosa, or Spikenard.  Spikenard is a very large round-leaved relative of the very common Aralia nudicaulis, or Sarsapirilla. You may have heard of a soft drink called Sarsapirilla, mispronounced in the US, sometimes, as Saspirilla. Strangely, the soft drink is not made from this plant! It is derived from Smilax ornata, a very different unrelated plant.

Both Aralia plants are in the Ginseng family. The size, leaves and cluster of flowers just emerging at the top of the plant are all indicative.

As seen in the last blog, ferns are abundant around Charlotte Lake. The Wood Ferns are the most frequently found ferns in rich forests locally, and they are very difficult to tell apart.  This one (above) is the most elegant of the Wood Ferns. Pinnae are cut and cut again. The fronds are very long and rich coloured this time of the year.  They arise from a central point. Pinnae are longest at the middle, and almost disappear towards the narrowing tip.  This is Lady Fern, Athyrium filix-femina.
My fingers are clutching one of the newly developed fertile fronds which will bear spores later in the summer.

A favourite woodland maroon 6-petaled flower (April-May), Blue Cohosh, Caulophyllum thalictroides, is shown above. The flowers have already been replaced by developing fruits, which do turn a spectacular blue.  Caution: these pretty fruits are poisonous.

For the bird-lovers, the sequence which begins with the above photo and continues below is, likely, a once in a lifetime opportunity which most of you may never experience.  I was very fortunate to spot this newly fledged Blue-headed Vireo (used to be called Solitary Vireo for you older people!), Vireo solitarius.

An adult, on the left has arrived to feed the fledgling. Note the young bird is spreading its new wings. Mom or Pop turns briefly and lets out a call, perhaps signalling to the other parent.

More ferns!  This one named itself when I looked on the underside of the fertile frond. The sori (the spore-containing bodies which appear as roundish and lighter than the pinnae above) are just developing on this Marginal Wood Fern, Dryopteris marginalis. And below, a more mature Lady Fern on my knee. Note the longer pinnae in the middle of the frond, and shorter ones toward the base..

The plant above with maple-leaf shaped leaves, and a large purple flower is Flowering Raspberry, Rubus odoratus.  These are also very common in our Eastern Ontario woods.  The berries do look like very large raspberries. These are only palatable to wildlife, so don't be trying one!
Back we go to the trials of fern identification. This is a big fern, as you are able to see my fern field guide in the photo above for size comparison. Note that the fronds emanate from a common point in the centre. Below, you see mature sori (which are the dark spots, and the are not at the margin, but rather clustered along the mid veins of the pinnae. So it is not Marginal Wood Fern, but it does look like another of the Wood Ferns.
Note that, like the Lady Fern, the pinnules are toothed, though not as delicately as in Lady Fern. Also, the longest pinnae are not at the centre of the frond. Note also that the stipe (lower leafless stem of each frond) is hairy and scaly.
I had not encountered this very large wood fern before, and I took home a piece of a frond to help with the identification.  It is now dried within the pages of my fern field guide. Even though it is more than a year since I collected the specimen, it rests within the field guide at the page for Goldie's Fern, Dryopteris goldiana.  After review at my desk, I am sticking to this identification!
Flowers and new creatures when we return for instalment 4 of Charlotte Lake soon!

Saturday, November 3, 2018

Whazzat? Or More Life at the Cottage.

Charlotte Lake, Renfrew County, Ontario July 2017 #2

Perched near the summit of the Algonquin Highlands, not very far from the highest point in the region, Charlotte Lake merges the boreal with the temperate:   conifer dominated forests and mixed forests. The understory is as diverse.

With a penchant for puzzle solving, I tackled a few of the more difficult classifications in the biological system: mushrooms (fungi) and ferns.

Those who have attempted 'Shrooms know the is s lot more to identification than colour and shape. Spore prints, structure,  texture, odor, and, to some extent, taste are also important. It is best to gather target mushrooms and bring them to a lab to identify.  To see how this works, several years ago, I was honoured to cover one of Richard Aaron's field courses at Queen's University Biological Station.

Click here to read about that if you would like more insight to mushroom ID:

If you would like ot know more about mushrooms, Richard continues to provide his field course in late September and early October at the Bio Station. Richard is also kindly providing an outing for the Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust at High Lonesome Nature Reserve:

I thought that the mushroom pictured below was a toothed mushroom. Closer inspection of the cut piece at the lower left shows this is a gilled mushroom.  There are two large genera of gilled mushrooms which account for a large propertion of our forest mushrooms: Lactarius and Russula. A young Lactarius will ooze latex when cut.  This one did not, which leads me to belive it is a common Russula.  I await with interest my "mushroom" friends input into this.

Many people want to know if a mushroom is edible or not.  After several experiences with experts like Richard, I prefer to BUY my mushrooms!  Recently, for example, at another High Lonesome Nature Reserve Event, we found a spectacularly beautiful full white gilled mushroom, which I was able to ID immediately: Amanita virosa, the Destroying Angel. It is well named.

Once you have been hooked by the challenges of mushroom ID, ferns don't seem to be quite as difficult. Since I took university niology back in the early 1970's, genetic research enabled by an explosion in technology and ability to parse DNA, has reclassified the ferns away from mosses and closer to flowering plants.

All of that science doesn't help much in the field.  I took the photo above mainly because of the plant in the centre of the frame.  It is flowing (three lobed leaves aboe, flower is in the V formed by the two flower stalks.  This is Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum.  Then the ferns took over my interest.  The one on the right is easy....Sensitive Fern, Onoclea sensibilis. The fern on the left, also pictured below, is one of the many Wood Fern (Dryopteris spp.).  They are more difficult.
The photos below help, because many ferns may be identified by their leaf (pinnae) structure, AND the positioning of the spore sacs (sori) on the UNDERSIDE of the fertile fronds (the fronds that carry sori).  One of our most common Wood Ferns is Dryopteris marginalis, so named because the sori are at the margins of the pinnae. This plant has sori just developing away form the margins.

Here is my field observation.  See if you agree:

"Note the newly formed sori are NOT at the margins. This is NOT marginalis. Likely Goldie's, Dryopteris goldiana,  which is big, dense and has scaly stipes (these look just "hairy" to me.)"

Taking a break from the botanical, insects at the water's edge always attract attention.  I was singing the blues after seeing these two, above Silvery Blue Butterfly, Glaucopsyche lygdamus, one of over a dozen North American species of the Blue tribe Polyommatini. Another genus, the Azures, also reflect blue grey.  The Spring Azure is a very commonly seen small butterfly.

The damselfly below also challenges the intrepid biologist, as there are many Bluets  damselflies.  They are often separated into groups by the amount of blue on the abdomen. Therefore, there are black types showing minimal blue stripes on the abdomen; intermediate types which are about 30-50% blue on the abdomen; and blue types which are about 75-80% blue in the middle part of the abdomen.

Immediately, we see this is one of the blue types of Bluet.  Then it gets difficult! There are 6 species, with small differences among them. Mostly, you tell them apart by the claspers (males) which are the naughty bits at the end (10th segment) of the abdomen.  This IS a male.  Note the eyespots (and yes I checked out the claspers). They are clearly tear-shaped, which is the field mark of the Familiar Bluet, Enallagma civile. Ta daaaaa (marching band).  Mystery is solved. That is until one of the experts points out something else that I missed!

Didja want some cheese with those quackers?  Keeping on the "bleu" track, this Blue-winged Teal, Anas discors,  and her three ducklings drifted past us several times each day. Teal are small ducks.  The close relative to this one, Green-winged Teal are even smaller.  The blue feathers are usually hidden unless the female duck is preening or flying.  At a distance females of both Teal species are difficult to tell apart, and the field guides would have me call this one a Green-winged Teal. So, just to say, it ain't always so!  I saw this duck close up and often enough to identify it by its size and blue feathers

A dragonfly's view of the lake may approximate these shots, with one of the ubiquitous Corporals eyeing me.  Of course, to get the insect view, you have account for the differences in eye shape, location and the differences in colours and shapes in an insect's eye. Yet, occasionally,  a photo from a different perspective provides a very different view of the world.

I love the above photo, as it is very high resolution and you can see very small details. When identifying plants, these small details are important and may elude you in the field. This is a very common (often named a "weed") member of the mint family: Self-heal, Prunella vulgaris. The purple flowers are typical of the mint family. In this case, you can see 4 or five flowers off of the compact spike or head, The mint family species are common in the woodland understory, roadsides, and fields/lawns. Some are native, like this one; many are escaped from gardens.  Familar varieties are used as herbs, such as Thyme, Bergamot, Peppermint, Catnip, Pennyroyal and Marjoram. This one's common name derives from application as a traditional remedy for a variety of ailments, including wounds, burns, insect bites and allergies. Most of its parts are edible, though flavour is questionable! Like so many of our traditional herbs, this one is being studied for a role in treating a variety of diseases:

Not too far away, just up from the lake shore, were these lovely rose nodding flowers.  A member of the Honeysuckle family, these are Twinflowers,  Linnaea borealis. Like many flowers in the coniferous forest, Twinflowers grow from a creeping long vine, and are therefore quite large plants.  You may not find them in the wildflower section of your guide. Look under shrubs! This is also true for the many members of the Heath family which also grow in our northern woods: cranberries, partidgeberries, bearberries, blueberries and wintergreen.
These are so hard to find. Any snake in the boreal forest is a rare discovery. These are so small and inconspicuous, most people are unaware that they exist. There are two wee brown snakes that eat mostly earhworms and slugs: Dekays Brownsnake and the Red Belly Snake. I think this is the latter. Just to be sure, I sent the photo to an expert for confirmation. And he did confirm! Thanks Nick.

Next time, even more cottage life, including a bird one rarely sees in southern Ontario except in migration.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

A Few Stops on the Way to the Highlands and Lake Charlotte

Bits of May and June 2017, our rainiest in memory....

In fact, it was so rainy that most of the container plants in my garden drowned, notwithstanding repeated attempts at draining the containers. Mosquitoes and under-story plants flourished all summer, even in dry areas. On the upside, we rented a cottage at Lake Charlotte for late June and most of July. The rains kept over-sized boats with large motors to a minimum, enabling frequent canoe and kayak fishing outings and quiet nature observation.

Our first stop - Prince Edward County.
Pleasing to see a huge colourful bud of a Shagbark Hickory while exploring “The County”. A May trip to "the County" wouldn't be complete without a visit to the Prince Edward Point Banding Station (covered in my May 30, 2014 blog). We found this Yellow-rumped Warbler hanging around awaiting the banding volunteer. Birds are handled so very carefully by trained volunteers, who pride themselves on their banding talents. Getting to the mist nets early in the morning affords learning bird enthusiasts the opportunity to get some nice close-ups of difficult-to-see birds in their glorious spring plumage. However, beware of some very nasty stares back from the "misted" birds!

I was dealing with a back ailment (you know the drill - physiotherapy, exercises, and tough slogging on most walks) that limited photographic moments. One flower always beckons; its unusual 7 glowing white petals contrast with the shiny green whorled leaves. It is worth the slog and the bend! This is Starflower (well named), Trientalis borealis. Borealis, in a Latin name, refers to the north. Trientalis means a third of a foot, which is about the height of most Starflowers.

I joined the Board of the Mississippi-Madawaska Land Trust in 2017. This is a charitable organization that seeks to conserve and protect land, through agreement and ownership, in the Mississippi and Madawaska River valleys of Eastern Ontario. One of its flagship properties is called High Lonesome, which is in the Pakenham Highlands just to the west of our home in Arnprior, Ontario. I wrote about High Lonesome in my December 2014 blog. You can also learn more about it here:

High Lonesome Nature Reserve

Above is the new Welcome Centre, built mostly through volunteer contribution.  Below is the crowd gathered for the opening of the Centre, including many of my fellow Board members, and volunteers, and Lolly, Shaun and Amelia's loyal pet.

The ceremony is hosted by Mary (Vice President) and Michael (hard-working former Board member).
Next stop - at the Cottage
Gathering our things, we are off to the cottage at Charlotte Lake, where the dragonflies abound at the end of June. Above, a Chalk-fronted Corporal, Ladona julia. Below, the first, if not the finest, of many canoe fishing experiences over the month.
The Ottawa Valley is home to a great diversity of Odonata (dragonflies and damselflies), due to its varied wetland habitats. It is also home to a diversity of ferns. The number of species of both of these organisms creates an identification challenge and also reminds me of the special ecological significance of the place I have chosen to live. Scroll down to sample a few of the living things found around our cottage.
Above is a freshly-minted, just out of the water,  damselfly. Identification of these is a challenge, since this is an immature male Powedered Dancer, Argie svelte which has yet to develop the "powder" that would easily ID him.  Thanks to the WEB, I am able to connect to experts all over North America who helped me.  The Internet CAN be useful!!
This American Toad, (Bufo) Anaxyrus americanus,  rubbed up against something blue.

One of North America's most successful songbirds is the Song Sparrow, Melospiza melodia, which can be found wherever there is a shrub. On a recent trip to Vancouver Island and Yukon, I learned that western populations of this bird are larger and more reddish brown in colour than their eastern counterparts. There are 24 sub-species of this bird on the North American continent. It is well-named, as its song welcome us at dawn in the spring.

Yes, I did mention FERNS. Here are the first two of this cottage stay:  the common Sensitive Fern, Onoclea sensibilis (so named because it browns and withers at the first hint of frost)
and the less common Cut-leaved Grape Fern, Botrychium dissectum, growing happily just centimetres away from the Sensitive Fern.I could just make out the latter uttering weak complaints about its sturdy neighbour.
Two commonly seen related flowers are the Yellow, Hieracium caespitosum,   and Orange, Hieracium aurantiacum,  Hawkweeds.  Both are European invaders which have found a home here and there.  The field guides say that these two plants are found in fields and roadsides.  These were growing happily in a rocky area just up from the shore of the lake.

What is an Ontario cottage without a dock and the impressive Dock or Fishing Spider? There are two species, and even the experts won't try to differentiate them based on a photo: Dolomedes tenebrosus and Dolomedes scriptus.  They are Canada's largest spiders.  

On our recent trip to Yukon, two of our friends recounted their life in Canberra, Australia where Donna had an "incident" with the world's largest spider, the Giant Huntsman, which has a legspan of 30 cms. Indeed, authorities in Canberra, upon viewing this particular spider guessed it to be even larger than 30 cms!  No wonder Donna was a bit nervous seeing it in the window.
Another view of the ubiquitous Chalk-fronted Corporal (there were hundreds of them at lakeside at end of June) and another damselfly which illustrates the fun of being a biologist....identifiying these critters!  The BLUE species of Bluet Damselflies are numerous and they look very much alike. Identification of these species requires a close up of the last few segments of the insect. Males and females are easily distinguished. Males of a half dozen species are only distinguished by the shape of their claspers (the very end of the last segment shown here).  I could not make out enough detail, but the experts could and told me that this (next two photos) is likely a male Hagen's Bluet, Enallagma hageni(quite common around marshes and lakes).

A Lancet Clubtail, Gomphus exilis, below, takes a break from chewing on mosquitoes. One of my FAVOURITE experiences, rivalled only by the OPP taking down that idiot who was tail-gating me, is having a Clubtail or other large dragonfly catching a mosquito, or, even BETTER, a DEER fly, and noisily chomping away at it as it rests on my shoulder.
Finally, two more Chalk-fronted Corporals holding down some granite.
More cottage tales next time.