Great Egret

Great Egret

Tuesday, 22 May 2018

Tis the season for caution

I had intended for this post to be made several weeks ago. Regardless, it is never too late to advise readers that the risk of encountering ticks that may carry the dreaded spirochete that gives one Lyme Disease, is high. Anytime the temperature is above freezing there is a risk, but more so in the spring through autumn seasons.

May is Lyme Disease Awareness month in the USA. It hasn't been officially declared that in Canada as far as I am aware. However Lyme Disease (LD) is on the increase in many parts of this country, especially eastern Canada. Southwestern Ontario has been a hotbed for it for several years now. My first encounter with it goes back to 1976, although it was not confirmed as such at the time.

The Black-legged Tick is considered the primary vector of the disease. They are much smaller than other ticks found in the area such as the Wood or Dog Tick, which also may appear on humans and pets.
Adult Black-legged Tick
 Even the adult is small, as shown beside this ruler. An adult is typically only about 2-3 millimetres in length. Immature ticks are much smaller.
Clearly people are becoming more aware of LD, as they should, and are searching for information on it. In fact, one of my earliest blog posts discussing LD is by far my most often visited post of the 350+ posts I have made. It has received almost 6000 visits to date. If you haven't seen it, you can read it here.

An update on LD on another post can be seen at this link.

Or you can just do a search using key words such as Lyme Disease on this blog to see the other posts.

If you or your pets spend any time out of doors, sometimes even in your own back yard, you may encounter a Black-legged Tick that could transmit LD. They can occur in various types of habitat. Grassy/shrubby areas are popular, partly because rodents and deer, which are typical hosts for both immature and adult ticks, are more abundant in these areas.

But much less forested habitat can also harbour Black-legged Ticks and their hosts. If you spend any time in such areas, it is advised to do a tick check as soon as possible to remove any potential critters.

In spite of careful tick checks, there is the possibility that an immature or adult tick may go unnoticed. If one happens to lock on to you and begin to engorge on your blood, the transmission of the spirochete may occur, and then you may be susceptible to early stage LD, which may occur a few days after being bitten. First stage symptoms of LD may include flu-like symptoms, such as fatigue, fever, chills, aches and pains. When you experience this in a season where catching the flu is much less likely or even highly unlikely it should be an important warning. A bull's-eye rash, or something similar, may be noticed, although there are varying opinions on how often this may occur. Some people say it may occur in less than 30% of the cases; others suggest it may occur in more than 50% of cases. Clearly not having a rash is not indicative of LD not being present. The flu-like symptoms are much more reliable.

Rashes can vary. Here are several that I have had.

On my lower leg
On my side
One of the most important web sites to refer to on Lyme Disease is the Canadian Lyme Disease Foundation. Please check it out for more information. And above all, don't shy away from being outdoors, but be vigilant and stay safe!

Friday, 18 May 2018

Soggy Mid-May action

It has been wet this last week or so. How wet you ask? In about a 5 day period, we had approximately 10 cm (4") of rain. Many farm fields were saturated, and there is still standing water in places. Rondeau was subject to high water levels to begin with, but with the latest rain fall, there is no where for the water to go. As a result, trails are as wet as I have ever seen them for this time of year. The South Point Trail in particular is flooded. This first photo shows what it is like as you begin the east side access.
 A closer look, and maybe you can see that something has been added to this sign.
 If you get this far, you probably already have boots on, or have very wet feet!
 Much of the trail, probably about 90% of it, looks like this.
While walking through the water, it was quite obvious that the earthworms actively crawling on the flooded road and were trying to escape the deluge.
There aren't a lot of birds either, but it looks promising for Swamp Sparrows!
Even the north part of the park hasn't been spared. Some cottages are surrounded by water, and water is flowing or standing over the road in places. This is the first time in my memory, and perhaps ever, that the campground has been closed on the Victoria Day weekend! Campsites and especially the roads are flooded.

But bird migration continues, and there have been some days with good numbers of birds. On one of those days I spent several hours on the maintenance trail loop, as well as on the ridge leading south of it, and had 72 species including 21 warblers. It started off as a dull day with heavy overcast and the continued threat of rain, so for awhile I didn't even bother with the camera. However a bit later I had it out, and got some shots of Wilson's Warbler.

 A bright male Scarlet Tanager showed up through the shrubbery for a few moments.
 Eventually I got a less obscured view and photo.
 A pair of Wood Ducks were very close to the trail.
Squirrels were spending more time in the trees than on the wet ground.
A bit later the sky cleared. Someone had noticed a bump on a branch ~ 23 metres (75') up in a tree. This first photo is the equivalent of a 10X binocular.
A cropped view, below, shows the long tail and the heavily barred sides. Even though there had been some birders conclude this was a Whip-poor-will, the features shown as well as the extreme height of the bird clearly makes this a Common Nighthawk.
On another occasion, I had the privilege of accessing a private property just south of Mitchell's Bay. A Cattle Egret and several Yellow-headed Blackbirds had been sighted in the area from time to time. The access I had gave me the opportunity to see and photograph both. Cattle Egrets are not native to North America, but a few landed in the southern USA several decades ago, and have gradually expanded. They show up periodically in Ontario, and on very rare occasion, have nested. Nonetheless it is not a species one normally expects to see here.

The egret was having a lot of success finding earthworms that were trying to escape the very saturated soil.
I saw three adult male Yellow-headed Blackbirds as well as six females. The females were in a group farther away and I didn't get any satisfactory photos of them this time. This species is very much a western one, but due to the similarity of the Lake St. Clair marshes and adjacent flatlands, a few have been present annually for several decades. Their nesting site has changed over the years, and is becoming increasingly difficult to pin down.

I noted that several birds would make an exit heading due west, presumably out to a part of the marsh where they were nesting. I hope to get my kayak out one of these days and see this first hand.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Natural Areas of Chatham-Kent, Part 14 (Clear Creek Forest)

Clear Creek Forest is one of the most recent additions to the provincial park system. It has an interesting recent history, being privately owned up until a few years ago. I first encountered this impressive woodland in the early 1980s, when I was the regional coordinator for the first Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas. I had been roaming around looking for places to find breeding birds, and came across this site, which had an unofficial trail into it. I wandered along the trail and was immediately impressed with the condition of the forest. It was relatively untouched and had an assortment of impressively large trees, especially along the trail which followed along the top of the bank overlooking a creek and floodplain.
There was a project called Significant Natural Areas of Kent County underway at the time. We added this site to the project, and gradually its importance became better known. It was part of a much larger natural area of varying vegetation types and conditions, stretching all the way to Lake Erie. This length of an area, complete with one of the better examples of what was considered a cold water stream, was unusual in C-K.

Eventually the owner of the property, who lived in Michigan, passed away, and the executors of the estate were trying to decide what to do with it. There was an interest by local environmental groups and individuals to see it retained in its natural condition and together with the Nature Conservancy of Canada and Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources, managed to acquire this site. It became regulated as a provincial park in 2014, classified as a Nature Reserve. Some signs like the following identify its provincial park status. There are no staff on site; however it is under the administration of Rondeau Provincial Park.

The most accessible area is the part north of Hwy 3/Talbot Trail, near the corner of Duart Road and Cochrane Line. There is a small parking area marked on the next photo by an 'X' along the roadside across from the entrance to the trail, which is shown as the blue line.
As mentioned, there are some impressive trees in part of this site. Most of them are species typical of the hardwood forests of southwestern Ontario, and include American Beech, Sugar Maple, Black Cherry, Basswood, Bitternut Hickory, White Ash and several oak species, although the ash trees have been almost obliterated due to the invasive Emerald Ash Borer.
One of the largest American Beech trees in Ontario is here. It is close to a metre in diameter.
The forest floor is rich with spring wildflowers.
Dutchman's Breeches
Large-flowered Bellwort
Wild Blue Phlox
Skunk's Cabbage...not common but present in the early part of the season
Wild Geranium
There are birds, of course, both migrants and breeding species. It has not been birded heavily, but even so there are at least 117 species of birds known for the site to date. Warblers are a highlight in the spring, most of which are migrants.
Black-throated Blue Warbler

A possibly breeding warbler is this next one.
Baltimore Orioles are well represented.
Eastern Towhee is certainly present in various parts of the park.
Pileated Woodpeckers are present in small numbers. A pair had a nest right beside the trail a year ago.
 Ruby-throated Hummingbirds are seldom seen, but it is prime habitat for them.
The more extensive woodland area is sought after by Wood Thrush, a declining species and officially at risk.
Blue-spotted Salamanders, and their Red-backed Salamander relatives, are found throughout the higher quality forest but seldom seen as they spend the majority of their time underground or under logs.
On the north side of Cochrane Line is a very different part of the park. It is an old gravel pit complex, and there are several ponds, some of which have been there for several decades. I remember swimming in one as a teenager back in the 1960s. This next photo is of one of the largest ponds.
At the upper level of the site is another pond, which has more trees and shrubs around it.
There have been a couple of new ponds constructed in the area, which will gradually develop into something more valuable for wildlife.

With so much water present, it is a great spot for dragonflies. This first one is a Halloween Pennant.
 This next one is a White-faced Meadowhawk, which is chowing down on a midge type of insect.
The open areas have many later season flowering plants, and are popular with butterflies.
Common Ringlet on Black-eyed Susan
Hickory Hairstreak
Clear Creek Forest is a valuable addition to the provincial park system, and a worthwhile site to explore in Chatham-Kent at any time of the year!

This concludes the Natural Areas of Chatham-Kent series as per my presentation earlier this year at the Chatham Public Library. However there are other natural areas which were not covered at that time, and I hope to expand this theme to include some of them in the future.