Thursday 29 May 2014

Beausoleil Island!

From Monday to Wednesday of this week I was up on sunny Beausoleil Island in Georgian bay for work, taking the Ontario Reptile and Amphibian Training Course offered by Ontario Nature, the Nature Conservancy of Canada and the Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources.  We stayed in Camp Kitchikewana, a YMCA camp, and made day trips throughout the island to see all the amazing herpetofauna (reptile and amphibian) species!  I was blown away by the rich diversity of species here.  Half of Ontario's 48 herp species are found on this relatively small island!  I was able to photograph most of them for your viewing pleasure.

Beausoleil Island!
On our first outing on Monday I found my first Massasauga Rattlesnake ever, as well as Hog-nosed Snake and numerous other species!  This is the only venomous snake in Ontario and it is also Threatened.

Massasauga Rattlesnake
This species is shy and only rattles when you are very close to warn you not to step on it! Biting is a last resort, and no one has died of a snake bite in Ontario in around 50 years.  Definitely a misunderstood species!

This guy rattled as our large group walked by, and we found him under some cover.
A beautiful hog-nosed snake found by another member of our group! What a beautiful creature!
This is the one I found shortly after.  Note the upturned "hog-nose"
Immature Hog-nosed Snake
Hog-nosed snakes have a full bag of tricks to try and dissuade a would be attacker such as humans.  These include rattling of the tail to imitate rattlers, puffing up the neck, and if all else fails, playing dead as you can see here!  This species is also a Threatened Species in Ontario.
What great acting!
Immature Northern Map Turtle, named for the lines on the face, legs and shell.  This is a species of Special Concern in Ontario
Eastern Musk Turtle, also called stinkpot for the smelly musk they exude when frightened
Adorable little Musk Turtle!  This species is Threatened in Ontario
Northern Watersnake were common on Beausoleil
This Blanding's Turtle was missing both front legs! and still managed to get around!  This species is Threatened in Ontario
Wetlands were very productive for finding many herp species
Eastern Ribbonsnake, found out on the bog mat.  This is a species of Special Concern in Ontario.
The red-eft stage of the Eastern Newt.  The orange colours warn that this species is toxic to eat!
The tiny four-toed salamander!
Even the area around the camp was productive and we were able to find rattlesnakes and this Eastern Foxsnake.  This is a younger individual, apparently around 8-9 years old.
Eastern Foxsnake.  A Threatened species in Ontario
One of the instructors was releasing the foxsnake that was captured and stumbled across newly emerging Map Turtle hatchlings!  Some of the instructors helped dig out the babies while we watched.  Afterwards we helped the little guys into the water.

Hatchling map turtles!
4 of the 6 hatchlings that we dug out. 
Adult, map turtle that was caught the next day.  Notice how it's right eye is missing! 
Rattlesnakes were as common as any other snake on the island.  I lost count, but think I personally saw around 20 individuals.

Watching us intently.
One of the instructors, Joe Crowley, found this tiny immature rattlesnake.  I'm surprised he could hear it rattle, since it was so quiet!

The young ones are much more nervous, and this guy even opened his mouth a bit.
Another young one.  Look at that camouflage!
There is a rattlesnake somewhere in this shot in plain sight. Can you see it?
One of my favourite snakes.  The colourful ring-necked snake!
A tiny baby ring-necked snake I found under a rock.  This guy could have fit on a loonie.
Gray tree-frog trying to blend in, in some grass.
Overall this was a wonderful trip, and one I learned a lot on!  I would be amiss if I didn't mention that Ontario's herpetofauna species are in trouble from habitat loss, road mortality and other human impacts.  Most of the species we found on the island are Species at Risk in Ontario.  The reason they thrive on this island is because such impacts are reduced or absent all together.  Help out by reporting your sightings to the Ontario Nature Reptile and Amphibian Atlas and by watching out for these guys on the road!

Wednesday 28 May 2014

Bruce Peninsula Bird Big Day 2014

Each May, some of my colleagues at work go up to the Bruce Peninsula to bird for the entire day, starting at 5am and ending at around 10pm, with the goal of seeing as many different bird species as possible within a given day.  We started our day at Macgregor Point Provincial Park and worked our way northward along the Bruce Peninsula to Dyer's Bay Road.

Last year on the trip, I saw 131 species (i think the group total was around 135).  This year proved to be even better, with the group tallying 141 species!  Of these, I personally observed 139!  This included 22 species of warblers.  The highlights included great views of golden-winged warblers, sedge wrens, American bittern and Brewer's blackbirds!

Here is our complete ebird checklist, don't let your finger get tired scrolling to the bottom of the list!:

Here are a few shots from our "big day".

The pond at Macgregor Point.  We had sora, common gallinule, and other water birds here!

A nice Golden-winged Warbler.  This guy faked us out for about 15mins when we were trying to find him by calling with a perfect blue-winged warbler song, a species that hybridizes with this golden-winged warblers.

One of three American bittern seen at Dyer's Bay road!
One of two Endangered Piping Plovers seen at Sauble Beach!!

Stay tuned, I have a great post to get ready about my trip to Beausoleil Island!

Wednesday 21 May 2014


I was in Prince Edward County yesterday and was lucky enough to hear a chuck-wills-widow!  For those of you who don't know what this bird is, it is a close relative of the whip-poor-will.  Both are nocturnal species that are notoriously hard to actually see.  Fortunately, they are easy to hear!  Below are links of video clips I took while I was out:

The call gets loudest at around 25 seconds in.

Here are several whip-poor-will calling for comparison.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Columbia Lake- Today

This morning for approximately 45 minutes I felt like I was back at Fish Point on Pelee Island.  Before work I birded Columbia Lake in Waterloo and had an excellent diversity of songbirds.  I came across a great mixed flock of 15 warbler species including golden-winged, canada, northern parula, bay-breasted, Tennessee, blackburnian among others!  Overall a great start to the morning, and a reminder to myself that you don't need to be down at the best birding spots to see some good birds (although that helps, see Brandon's blog here:  Unfortunately no pictures this time, the warblers were flitting around too much.

Here is the ebird checklist:

The golden-winged warbler was my 200th species of the year!  I'm shooting for 250 though, so I had better pick up the pace, since each bird gets progressively harder to find as you knock off all the easy ones.

Sunday 11 May 2014

Pelee Island!

I visited Pelee Island from Thursday to Sunday with some friends from work to see if we could find some exciting birds and other wildlife.  For those of you who don't know where Pelee Island is; if you travel down to Leamington near Point Pelee National Park you can take a 1hr ferry ride to this wonderful spot at the border of the United States.  This island creates the feeling of going back in time.  Much of the island is agricultural and the landscape is dotted with various woodlands, alvars, wetlands, and meadows.

In total I saw 123 bird species, which is pretty good considering the birding on Friday was pretty slow.  Highlights included 24 species of warblers, yellow-throated vireo, yellow-billed cuckoo, lots of cool reptiles and countless species at risk which are rare elsewhere in the province!  Unfortunately, the abundant warblers are really tough to get decent photos of since they have a habit of constantly hopping around in dense vegetation or the tops of trees.

One of our favourite spots to go birding on the island is Fish Point.  At this time of year the forest floor is carpeted with spring wildflowers and lush greenery, and of course, birds!

Fish Point Trail

Ruby-throated Hummingbird nectaring on Dutchman's Breeches
Scarlet Tanager
Endangered Small-mouthed Salamander were present in good numbers
After walking on the trail through the forest at Fish Point, you will eventually come to the tip of this sandy spit that sticks out towards Ohio.  Here there are often good numbers of migrating songbirds.

Fish Point sand spit
Blackpoll Warbler
Blue-headed Vireo

Yellow-billed Cuckoo! Gave us great looks!
Red Admiral sits on Prickly Pear cactus! You know you are in Canada's deep south when...

Wilson's Warbler.  Note the black cap.
The fiery throated Blackburnian Warbler
We also really enjoyed the birding at Lighthouse Point on the north end of the island.  On Friday evening, this trail was incredible! In just over an hour of birding I saw 18 warbler species including Cerulean and Mourning warbler.  Someone saw a Kentucky Warbler right before we walked by, but despite frantic searching, we were unable to come up with it.

Lighthouse Point beach. 

We hiked several of the Nature Conservancy's trails.  This one went through forested and open habitats, and we had our eyes peeled for snakes and other wildlife along the way.

During the walk, Pat discovered an Eastern Foxsnake, a Threatened species in Ontario.  What an awesome find!  This guy was even vibrating his tail in attempts to imitate a rattlesnakes, which used to be found on the island.  Shortly afterwards, I found another one, curled up with several gartersnakes.

Although Caitlyn may not agree, this is a beautiful animal!!
This wasn't the only snake we saw on the trip.  We also found several Lake Erie Watersnakes near the southern beach.
A young Lake Erie Watersnake.
Great snake habitat along the beaches!
Melanistic (black) gartersnake
We also took some time to walk around the Stone Road Alvar.  This is a really cool habitat that has lots of rare plant species.  Plant nerds who went along with us really enjoyed this spot!

Riddell's Goldenrod, a species of Special Concern in Ontario.  Thanks to Pat for the ID!
We looked for the Prothonotary Warbler which was spotted by several other staff before we arrived, but it was nowhere to be seen, despite the great swamp habitat!

However, we did get lucky enough to spot this Threatened species, a Blanding's Turtle!

Blanding's Turtle. Check out that obvious yellow throat.
Pelee Island is a great spot to visit, and I can't wait to return next year!