Wednesday 26 February 2014

Back From the Dead: Timber Rattlesnake

This year I am planning on doing some more surveys for rare and at risk species in Ontario on my own time.  This includes extirpated (extinct within a given region) species previously known from Ontario.

I thought it might be interesting to look at a few ultra rare species that would be interesting to look for.  One species that has long been gone from Ontario is the Timber Rattlesnake, a species which was once found largely throughout southern Ontario from the Niagara Escarpment to Pelee Island as well as a few other scattered locations.  Now by no means do I think that it is reasonable that the Timber Rattlesnake will be re-found in Ontario any time soon, the Environment Canada 2010 recovery strategy has effectively put that one to rest.  At the end of the recovery strategy, they say that "The recovery of this species is considered not feasible because sufficient suitable habitat is not available."  However, lets look at a little about this species, and where it might be found, just for fun. 

Timber Rattlesnake. Photo Credit JD Taylor

Historic Range of Timber Rattlesnake.  Last sighting was from the Niagara Glen in the 1940s.

Unfortunately, this species range is found within some of the most densely populated and heavily used agricultural areas in Ontario which has largely contributed to its demise, in addition to persecution.

According to the recovery strategy, this beautiful snake species used to be found in "forested areas with rock outcrops, dry ridges and second growth deciduous or coniferous forests with southern exposures (Brown 1993; Smith 2001). The most common overstory trees include red oak, eastern hemlock, sugar maple, white ash, white pine, American beech, birch, American basswood, and eastern red cedar (Brown
1993).  Most of the hibernaculae were located along the Niagara Escarpment.

The last spot this species was observed was in the Niagara Glen in the 1940's, with unsubstantiated reports from as late as the 1960's.  However, natural habitat along the escarpment and Niagara river has dwindled rapidly.

Niagara Glen area showing only a small strip of natural habitat along the edge of the river.
Currently, the nearest locations of Timber Rattlesnake are found across the border in Tompkins and Ontario counties in New York state.  So what do these areas have that southern Ontario doesn't? Much larger, more intact forested areas with associated rocky areas.  Unfortunately for Timber Rattlesnake (and many other species), Ontario has pillaged much of the forest cover in the south.  According to the recovery strategy, Environment Canada says that there should be approximately 50km squared of suitable habitat to support a viable populations of Timbers.

Nonetheless, I plan on doing some digging next time I take a hike into the Niagara Glen, at the very least to see the kinds of habitats that Timber Rattlers may have enjoyed back in the day.  What is left of the Niagara Escarpment is still very beautiful.

Gotta love those boulders!

I love the green colour to the water in the Glen, looks like something out of Lord of the Rings!

Monday 24 February 2014


It has been very slow on the birding front lately! I have tried hard to get some good material for the blog but to no avail.  I was home in Kingston this weekend to visit my family and took a quick look at the Invista ponds which remain open.  However, all I found were the regular ducks and coots.  So that's all you get for now, coots!

On the way back to Fergus I stopped at the Whitby marina to look for the previously reported Harlequin Ducks, but no luck.  Anyways, this post was just to say that I have not given up on posting, I'm just low on material.  Spring is coming!

Monday 17 February 2014

Strathoy Area Birds

Today I was up at 4am to go to a job site near Strathroy to do some birding.  A little early for a holiday monday, but I did manage to see quite a few good birds including a nice adult snowy owl, northern shrikes, snow buntings and a couple lapland longspurs.

Lapland Longspur pecking seeds


The longspur was hanging out with a bunch of these guys. Horned Larks, which were everywhere

Snowy Owl silhouette. 

Saturday 15 February 2014

Random Cool Shots!

Well the birding and nature outings have been pretty slow lately, so I decided to post some of the more interesting shots that I have taken over the years.  Here is a small sampling of some that I really like.

Porcupine reaching for a twig Frontenac Park

Fascinating parasitoid wasps Megahyssa genus in Algonquin Park. The huge curved thing sticking into the log is both a stinger and an egg laying device.  They can sense the presence of beetle larvae which they paralyze with the stinger and lay eggs in the larvae which will eventually hatch and consume the hapless prey from the inside out.

Ribbon Snake. Frontenac Park

Zebra Clubtail Algonquin Park. Aptly named.

Bombus vagans Algonquin Park

Black-backed Woodpecker Algonquin Park

Silvery Blue. Kingston

Bull Moose. Algonquin Park

Bull Moose. Algonquin Park.  Perhaps the best shot I have ever taken.

Red Fox. Presquile Provincial Park. Check out the vole in his mouth!

Tuesday 11 February 2014

Big S-Rank Challenge!

Ever heard of a "big year" for birds? This event is where a birder tries to see as many bird species in a year within a given area.  At my work we have a friendly competition to see who can see the most birds, herps (reptiles and amphibians) and mammals in a given year.  This year, a few of my friends decided to make things even more interesting by including all organisms in a game that we like to call the Big S-Rank year.  Here's how it works, rare species get you more points.  The beauty of it is that the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources assigns each Ontario species with an S-Rank or sub-national rank ranging from S1-critically imperiled to S5- secure.  For the purposes of our little game, S-Ranks of S1-S3 get you points, because these species are considered critically imperiled, imperiled or vulnerable and are tracked by the OMNR.

Here is a little summary of the scoring system from least to most points:

S3- 1 point
S2- 2 points
S1- 3 points
SH or SX (extirpated from the province)- 5 points!

In addition to being good fun, it will motivate you to get outside and find rare species.  Government agencies rely heavily on observations submitted by citizen scientists and other biologists.  All sightings can be submitted to relevant agencies, so it's like charity work, but more fun!

Here are some photos I have taken of animals that I have seen in previous years that would get you some points!

Incurvate 'war-paint' emerald. S1=3 points!

Cyrano Darner. S3=1 point.

Ski-tailed Emerald. S3=1 point.

Wilson's Phalarope. S3B=1point if seen during the breeding season

Snapper! S3=1 point

Blanding's Turtle giving the thumbs up for the S-rank challenge. S3=1 point.

Monday 10 February 2014

Bronte Harbour Revisited

Today Andrew and I were at a job site in Oakville and had a few minutes to check out the nearby Bronte Harbour.  As I mentioned before, this is a great spot to see all sorts of waterfowl species, and today was no exception.

We saw a wide variety of species including Greater Scaup, goldeneye, long-tailed duck, redhead, bufflehead, white-winged scotor and red-breasted merganser.

I love redheads! Don't be jealous Caitlyn ;)
Assorted raft of Greater Scaup, redheads and others
Not many ducks look as nice as a male Long-tailed Duck
I also saw my favourite gull: Glaucous Gull! They are really big as you can see in this picture.  This bird is a 1st winter individual.

Big, pale guy standing in the center.

Unfortunately this time we didn't see any Snowy Owls or any Mink.  But so far Bronte Harbour has always delivered something of interest!

Tuesday 4 February 2014

Varied Thrush- Guelph!

Yesterday Ken tipped me off about a report of a female Varied Thrush at the Guelph Lake dam that Andrew Bailey found.  This is a western species that breeds from Alaska through BC and down into the US and winters in California.  Having missed one that showed up in Fergus earlier this year, I jumped at another chance to get this bird!

I woke up early and decided to go for it before work.  The report said it was at the end of the dam by the road, which I took to mean that it was on the far side of the dam.  So I trudged through the snow and bitter cold and came across a large flock of cedar waxwings and robins feasting on the abundant berry crop.  Since Varied Thrush feed on berries in the winter, I thought I was in the right spot and searched here for about 45 minutes to no avail.

I then left and headed back to the car.  At the car it dawned on me that maybe they meant by the main road instead of the road that runs along the dam.  So I checked around some shrubbery for 5 minutes, spotting a red-bellied woodpecker in the process.  I heard the woodpecker call behind me and turned to see the Varied Thrush perched at the top of a crab apple tree! So exciting!

I snapped a few photos and would have got better ones, but a group of birders had showed up and I didn't want to risk scaring it off before they had a good look.  Besides, I had to get to work!

Isn't she beautiful! Female Varied Thrush.

Varied Thrush eating crab apples.
Guelph Lake Dam that looks cold! I would have stayed in California.
Cedar Waxwing. Common, but a looker nonetheless!

Sunday 2 February 2014

Niagara River- Birthday Birds

I was down in Stevensville (near Fort Erie) with my in laws and Caitlyn to celebrate our birthdays which both fall on February 1st and I decided to do some birding on our way out today.

I started in Fort Erie and birded up to Queenston, sifting through the abundant waterfowl. I looked for the black vultures at the Queenston overlook but to no avail.  I have never once had luck looking for those guys there!

The most abundant duck on the river was Greater Scaup followed by a smattering of goldeneye, redheads, mergansers, bufflehead, and the occasional canvasback.
Red-breasted Merganser

An odd pair, a male Hooded Merganser and a female Common Goldeneye in the background

Male Hooded Merganser on the right.

I made my way towards the falls and stopped at the Control Gates above the falls to check for gulls.  There was a ton of Great Black-backed Gulls and also as many as 5 Glaucous Gulls.

Great Black-backed Gull was eating a fish and he was not sharing with the Glacous Gull to the right

As I was getting ready to leave the Control Gates, a young male King Eider floated by near the wall! An exciting find! Unfortunately the current was so strong it sucked him out of view before I could get a picture.  He could be at the bottom of the falls for all I know!

Niagara Falls steams in the background


This is what an adult Iceland Gull looks like from the top at Adam Beck