Thursday 28 August 2014

Sewage Lagoons!

Well it's that glorious time of year again! Time for birders everywhere to flock to their local sewage lagoons to look for shorebirds.  At this time of year, many shorebirds can be found at these fecal ridden cesspools where they fuel up for the long migration south to Central and South America where they will spend the long winter wandering beautiful beaches. The past few days I have checked sewage lagoons in Port Stanley, Aylmer and today I stopped in at the Strathroy Sewage Lagoons prior to starting my work for the day.  I was hoping to see the red-necked phalarope that was reported here but unfortunately didn't find it.  I did however find several other shorebird species.  Here is the full ebird checklist:

I unfortunately was not close enough to get any good shots of the shorebirds but here are a few other pictures I took.

Swallows adorned the wires at the lagoons

Most were young tree swallows, but there was also a few bank swallows in there

Solitary Sandpiper, not the best shot, but he was far off.
That's it for today.  If the weather holds out I may be up to Algonquin for the weekend and should have some good shots for you to look forward to.

Monday 25 August 2014

Late Summer Miscellania

I was out at sites today in Brantford and Guelph and although I didn't see anything mind blowing, I snapped a few cool shots that I thought might be of interest to some of you.  Enjoy!

Female Common Green Darner
Note the obvious blue and black "bulls-eye" that this species always carries.
Interesting fact: the common green darner is a highly migratory species that travels from breeding sites in Ontario as far as the Gulf Coast of the U.S, Mexico and possibly further!  I almost did my M.Sc. research on this critter but instead opted for the poster child of insect migration, the monarch.

A big Katydid!  Such great camouflage I would have missed it if he didn't move! 
A Gray (green!) Treefrog sitting nicely on the leaf, good spotting Charlotte! 

Sunday 24 August 2014

More Montana: Sitting above Lake at the falls

This video doesn't do this spot justice, but it gives you a small sense of the beauty of this spot.  The rock strewn river tumbles past and then disappears over the cliff.

Stay tuned, I will have some bird stuff hopefully mid-week!

Monday 18 August 2014

Rare Turtle Photo Op!

I was at a site after work today near Long Point and had a quick second to snap this picture out the car window.  Not the best picture, but the chance was too good to pass up!  One 'Species of Special Concern', the Northern Map Turtle, sits atop a 'Threatened' species, the Blanding's Turtle.

Quite the balancing act!

Saturday 16 August 2014

Beartooth Wilderness 2014

After months of anticipation, I finally undertook the drive out to Montana with 3 of my friends where we met up with Kyle who was coming from B.C.  The Ontario crew passed through 3 time zones on our journey to the Beartooth Wilderness, a vast stretch of rugged mountains located just north of the Wyoming border near Yellowstone National Park.  Because this trail is linear and not a loop, we had to drive 1.5 hours from our hotel in Red Lodge to drop off Kyle's Jeep at the Clark's Fork Trailhead, which is located over 40km from our starting point at the East Rosebud Trailhead.  I anticipated that this was going to be a pretty relaxed trip since we had 6 days scheduled to be on the trail, however, I have had the epiphany that if you are backpacking through the mountains, it's going to be tough going in parts, and this trip was no different.

Starting out at the East Rosebud Trailhead

Initially the hiking was very easy and I was quite happy with my route selection.  The guidebook recommended completing this trail from north to south, and described the climb as "a rather gradual ascent". We met several groups on the first day coming the other way, and all of them had a good chuckle that we were in for "a bit of a climb".  Shortly thereafter, the trail took off vertically, with switchback after switchback up the mountainside, a climb that would ultimately take us from 6,000 ft at East Rosebud up to over 10,000 ft near Fossil Lake.  The camping areas I had marked off in my head followed a string of crystalline alpine lakes, each one higher than the next, and connected by tumbling mountain streams and waterfalls.

A curious Golden-mantled Ground Squirrel
By the early afternoon, we had made it to our target destination for the night, Rainbow Lake.  All of us were struck by the beauty of this spot, and we quickly looked to find a suitable site to rest for the remainder of the day.

View from nearby our campsite
Campsite for the first night
Mushroom-eye view of the forest
The next morning, we continued our ascent, and were once again greeted by stunning panoramas at every turn.  Lake-at-the-falls was particularly scenic.
Entering Lake-at-the-falls
Below one of the falls
Despite the beauty of the falls, we came to realize that when we saw or heard a waterfall, it meant we had a climb to get up to our next lake.  Hiking a few hundred feet higher, and our efforts were immediately rewarded with one of the single most beautiful spots I have been.  The trail visited the river which cascaded down the cliff face, giving us great views of the valley we had just hiked up.

At the edge of the falls

At this elevation, trees were still common, and the alpine forest was dotted with beautiful meadows carpeted with wildflowers.

Waterfall entering Dewey Lake
After a solid day of hiking, we arrived early at Dewey Lake, happy that we had blasted by the obnoxiously loud group of people who were camped near us the previous night.  Our fast hiking paid off as we found the best site on the lake.
Dewey Lake
Bird life at this altitude is modest, with the most abundant birds being the loud and charismatic Clark's Nutcracker, a bird renowned for it's incredible ability to remember where it has stashed tens of thousands of pine seeds during the winter months when food is scarce.
Clark's Nutcracker-  want to play the memory game anyone?
We were surprised to find the mosquitoes at Dewey Lake were worse than the previous day at lower elevation, a pattern that was bound to repeat itself over the following days much to our dismay.  Nonetheless, we had a great time at this scenic little spot in the mountains!
Our site on Dewey Lake
Dewey Lake at sunset
The following day was our last day of climbing upwards on the trail, and we set out early, arriving at Fossil Lake early, a spot I was anticipating that we could leave the trail and find a private campsite all to ourselves. We finally got above the treeline and were greeted with the stark beauty of rocks, snow and the alpine tundra.  I was also happy to see that the most people had left, largely leaving the plateau to ourselves.  Although it may look like there was plenty of campsites at Fossil Lake based on the pictures, there was very little tree cover and no flat spots to put the tent.  Hence, we went off trail for a bit to nearby Fizzle Lake, where we found an acceptable spot.

Fossil Lake
Fossil Lake panorama
Multi-coloured lichen stitched into the rocks
Adult Bald Eagle was a surprise visitor to the area!
Fizzle Lake was another beautiful lake, and our site was beyond scenic.  However, the biting mosquitoes made it difficult to get out and enjoy the beauty without getting eaten alive! Although not quite as bad as boreal Ontario in June, they were still pretty bad.  Despite the bugs, I managed to get out and take some photos!

Fizzle Lake
Fizzle Lake
Fizzle Lake wildflowers

That night as Mike and I sat around the campfire, we heard footsteps and turned around to see a large Mule Deer buck staring back at us.  Surprisingly, they stuck around all night, waking us occasionally with their stomping.  The next day we decided to try to drop in elevation to find a spot that might be less buggy.  On the way down we followed this mountain stream that tumbled down the mountain side.  Soon I was rewarded with a lifer (new bird for my bird list), an American Dipper!  This species is known to swim through the strongest rivers in search of invertebrates to glean off of rocks.

American Dipper
 Butterflies were plentiful in the alpine meadows, and numerous fritillaries, blues, ladies and coppers were seen flitting about.  I still need to ID these species, that can be another blog post!

 We made camp that day at Ouzel Lake and found a really nice site to stay at!

Female Pine Grosbeak at camp

Painted Lady
Camp at Ouzel Lake
 After unpacking our gear and having a quick lunch, we hung our food from a cliff to keep it safe from bears or other hungry animals and decided to climb one of the nearby peaks called Bald Knob.  This rose an additional 700ft above our campsite.

Heading around Ouzel Lake to climb Bald Knob
 After about an hour or so, we had reached the top and had the best view of the trip!

View to the south.  The distant mountains on the horizon is where our final destination for the trip was

View to the north.  Fossil Lake is in the background.
Mountains around Fossil Lake
We could even see our tents, 700ft below!
On top of Bald Knob we found plenty more wildlfowers and pollinators, which I photographed at every turn.

Later that night in our campsite, I woke Mike up and told him I could hear something outside the tent.  We grabbed the flashlight and I just got out in time to see a shape disappear over the rise in the hill by Kyle and Jensen's tent.  I went back to sleep and heard it again.  This time we made out a ghostly shape wander behind some nearby trees, but I still wasn't sure what it was.  The third time was the charm and we were able to see that it was a Mountain Goat! He stood there in the rain munching on spruce branches while we watched for a few minutes.  I snapped this awful shot of the goat.

The next morning we woke up to a steady rain and decided to try and wait it out.  It slowly cleared towards lunch and we packed up quickly and decided to head to Russell Lake where I was planning on making our camp for the next night. However, we were disappointed to find campsites few and far between and right beside the trail at this lake, so we made the decision to push on.  

Stream near Russell Lake
Along the way down the mountain I was finally able to get decent shots of Hoary Marmot and American Pika that inhabit the rock piles at the base of the mountains.

Hoary Marmot 
American Pika! Cute little teddy bears that are found in talus slopes
Unfortunately we didn't find a good site further down, and we decided to just push on to the trailhead and leave a bit earlier than expected.  We made great speed since it was mostly downhill, covering the remaining 15km to Clark's Fork Trailhead by the early evening.

Tired, but happy after another great wilderness adventure!
Soon we were on our way out of the mountains, crossing the great plains of the American west, heading back home, another great trip under our belts!