Wednesday, 23 July 2014

A winter trip to the wilds of Panama (intro)

Last summer I began my first full-time consulting job, and during the busy spring season I was lucky to bank a number of weeks of overtime. I took some time for trips to Nova Scotia, Scotland, Portugal, and James Bay, but I still had two weeks left over which I wanted to devote to a trip somewhere warm. I can't take these Ontario winters like I used to....

As the fall approached I began to formulate plans with several others, and when it was all said and done, I had a rough itinerary to Panama with David Bell and Steve Pike. David I had known since second year at the University of Guelph, and in the years since we had birded a lot together, with a highlight being finding a Barn Owl in Stoney Creek. In February 2011 I accompanied him and two others to a Reading Week trip to the southwestern US, which you can read about here. Steve is a birder/naturalist in Windsor who I have birded with quite a bit in the last four years. He usually does at least one big trip a year.

David was taking two months in the winter to do some solo travel to Central America, starting in Mexico and birding his way south. Steve, who had been to Costa Rica earlier in the winter, was planning on flying down about 5 days before me, to bird the Western Highlands in Panama with Dave. I flew in on a Thursday evening, and the plan was to bird the Canal Zone and work our way east, culminating in a few days hiking and camping in the mountains of the Darien Province.

Here is a Google Map showing some of the locations we visited, with the lighter colored baloons representing locations further west and the darker baloons representing location in the Darien. While I was limited mostly to the central and eastern parts of the country, I did get one day in at El Cope, in the western foothills (White Baloon).


The next posts will be daily recaps of our time traveling, birding, herping, insecting, and mammaling in sunny Panama. Here is a sneak peak...

Crane Hawk - Old Gamboa Road


Golden-collared Manakin - Pipeline Road

Anolis sp. (frenatus?)

Yellow-tailed Oriole - Ammo Ponds, Gamboa

Harpy Eagle - near Rancho Frio, Darien

Glass Frog species - Rancho Frio, Darien

Saturday, 19 July 2014

A typical morning in northern Ontario

Some more photos from northern Ontario - the last of them!

These were all taken one morning near Matheson, Ontario. The habitat was cleared Jack Pine plantation with several bogs interspersed. Dominant groundcover in the wetter areas included Sheep Laurel, Labrador Tea, Leatherleaf, and Bog Rosemary. In the drier areas I recall a lot of Sweetfern, Low-sweet Blueberry, and the ubiquitous Bracken Fern. Various willow species, Green Alder, and Pin Cherry (among other shrubs) had filled in most of the open areas as it had been several years since the site was last logged.

Pin Cherry

Habitat like this is perfect for Mourning Warblers and Chestnut-sided Warblers!

male Chestnut-sided Warbler
Some nice areas of spruce surrounded the logged portion of the site, and as a result I saw a few species that are closer associated with this habitat type, such as Black-backed Woodpecker, White-winged Crossbill, Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, Blue-headed Vireo, and Magnolia Warbler.

male Magnolia Warbler

Bear tracks! I ended up seeing two bears on this site, though unfortunately both took off about as quickly as possible into the woods. These northern bears are a little less tame than your typical cottage-country garbage-dump bear.

Black Bear tracks

One of most common species of wildflower in any open area - the Ox-eye Daisy, still with some early morning dew on its petals.

Ox-eye Daisy (Bird's-foot Trefoil in background)

Here is a recently fledged Hermit Thrush. Without a doubt the most common bird-song heard throughout this habitat type (or really, any open habitat in the boreal forest) is the White-throated Sparrow. Most point counts will have at least five or six different males singing, and some point counts will have up to 10. The second most common bird seems to be the Hermit Thrush, though they are more likely to be heard earlier in the morning. I found a few recently fledged baby Hermits during my travels.

fledgeling Hermit Thrush

As the morning wore on the bird song slowly decreased while the solar-powered species made their presence known. I identified about 8 species of dragonflies, however there were several others whose identification will remain unknown since I don't yet own an insect net...

Butterflies were a little more straightforward and I turned up about ten species. I photographed two common species for up here - White Admiral and Pink-edged Sulphur. Pink-edged Sulphurs are a northern species that seems to prefer open areas, as long as their host-plant Blueberries (Vaccinium species) are present.

Pink-edged Sulphur
I photographed this moth which is an underwing of some sort - any ideas?


The always abundant White Admiral during my early summer trips to the boreal forest.


That's all she wrote for the 2014 breeding bird season in Ontario! I'm already looking forward to 2015.

My next few blog posts will have something a little more interesting - the long overdue Panama photos from earlier this year! I'm not sure how many posts they will cover, but I'll probably do one post for each day of the trip. 

Monday, 14 July 2014

Insects eating things and warbler nests

I am back home after another long week and a bit up north looking for birds, plants, rattlesnakes, and more! I had been taking my camera with me more often on this July trip than I had earlier in the year, as the bugs weren't quite as bad this time around. Well, I guess they were pretty bad on some sites, but the Black Flies at least had really died down. The deerflies had definitely replaced them, however. It was a common theme to take a photo of a dragonfly that had just flagged one of the fighter-jet shaped Tabanids.

Slaty Skimmer

getting a better grip...
Racket-tailed Emerald

Racket-tailed Emerald

With all the walking through shrubby areas and woodlands that I do, every now and then I stumble across a bird's nest. Some are easy, like a raptor's nest or a woodpecker's tree cavity, but other ones are more subtle.

This Black-throated Blue Warbler nest was cleverly tucked into the top of a Sugar Maple seedling at about waste height, and only visible from one angle.


My highlight of the week however was this Ovenbird nest that I located. The Ovenbird is named for it's nest that it builds - a little oven shaped nest dug into a hillside or against a fallen branch, accessible from walking in through the side. I had never found one of these before and they can be very well hidden. One afternoon, a mouse-like bird scurrying away from my feet and flying up briefly to go into a thick black berry patch caught my attention. The nest only took a second to locate, just 30 centimeters from my foot.

Ovenbird nest
Inside were four speckled eggs...


I left after a few moments so that I would not lead other animals towards the nest. Given how easily I found the nest, I wonder if her nest had failed already once previously if the eggs are this new. Most species had youngsters out of the nest already by this date.

Back to the insects eating things theme - here is a totally bad-ass Crab Spider knowing down on an unfortunate fly! I believe this is a female Misumena vatia, a species that is normally found on goldenrods (Solidago).


I thought that the pink stripe along the crab spiders abdomen was interestingly the exact same shade as the Common Milkweed flowers it was on. Interesting to think if that feature evolved due to the species close association with Common Milkweed?

I took the time to nab photos of these Dot-tailed Whitefaces. This is a common species, but I had never photographed one well before so I took the opportunity.

female Dot-tailed Whiteface
male Dot-tailed Whiteface

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

This and that in northern Ontario

I'm back in the north for another week and a bit. Unfortunately this will be the last of my breeding bird surveys until next year, but such is life!

On one of our sites (near Parry Sound) I lugged around my camera for an afternoon. That proved to be a good idea as several dragonflies made themselves photogenic, despite the mid-day lighting. At any given point at least a couple deerflies were hovering around me, but luckily the dragonflies made short work of them! I photgraphed three different species chowing down on deerflies that they snagged above my head.

Om nom nom

The most abundant dragonfly, as is the case pretty much in any semi-open habitat in this part of Ontario during summer, is the Chalk-fronted Corporal. These guys (and gals) were also quite common in this habitat type (edge habitat consisting of rock barrens and mixed pine/oak/maple woodland). I believe they are Slaty Skimmers, but I don't have a decent dragonfly guide with me at the moment!




At one point I pished in a male Pine Warbler who checked us out.


Northern Ontario just wouldn't be the same if there weren't fanatical religious signs on the side of the road. This has been my favorite so far! Unfortunately I haven't had any Virgin Mary sightings on this trip, real or otherwise.


Speaking of signs, here is one from some small town somewhere west of Sudbury. I wonder what is the story behind this one, and how Wife feels about her name not being included!


Somewhere an hour or two north of Thessalon we came across this bear along the roadside. I have to say, Black Bears are one of my favorite species that call Ontario home, but rarely do I get such a good look at one! Almost all of my Black Bear encounters are of individuals I come across in the bush or along a road, and every single one high-tails it out of there as soon as it sees me. This one was probably hoping for a free meal...




My favorite one of the group!


That's all for now!

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Some Georgian Bay herp photos...

Here are a few of the herps from the weekend at Beausoleil Island in southern Georgian Bay.

We found a few Red-bellied Snakes, including four under one rock!




Shoreline in the late evening light...


While sitting around the campfire and making dinner in the evenings, we heard several Whip-poor-wills, a few species of frogs, and had single American Woodcocks (a flyby) and Barred Owl as well. Gray Treefrogs were perhaps the loudest of the species heard, and one particular male had taken residence in the wooden gazeebo that was built out in the open.




During mid-morning the bugs were pretty bad and the sun had warmed the rocks substantially. Luckily the lake was never far away so we frequently headed for the brief respite from the mosquitoes in the waters of Georgian Bay. At one such point we tried catching a few dragonflies afterwards, as they were cruising along the shoreline. Here are my feeble attempts at IDing them.

Stream Cruiser
looks like it would be easy to ID, but I'm tired...

Clubtail sp. (Ashy?)
Common Baskettail

Snakes were hard to come by for the most part. On previous trips I had seen close to 30 species, but then again those trips were a bit longer, I was with a group of about 15, and we were earlier in the year (late May/early June is usually much better than early July). We did come across one Ring-necked Snake, a species that usually can be found in higher numbers. 




Northern Leopard Frogs were commonly seen throughout the day, wherever there was water. This one was absolutely massive, and in the late evening light I snapped a few photos. 


Northern Leopard Frog eye!




Todd looking for snakes...



Cell phone pic taken from near our campsite, looking out over the water.


We were rained out for part of Tuesday, our final day on the island. With the mosquitoes in full bloom, the rain clouds continuously passing over, and the snakes being few and far between (just the odd Northern Watersnake chowing down on fish near the shoreline), we decided to head out early, and by 2:00 PM were back on the mainland. Instead of going straight home, we decided to check out a nearby spot for Massasaugas!

The spot did not disappoint, and it took about 45 minutes of searching before Todd spotted the sauga, a gravid female basking in the mottled sunlight. It was a beautiful snake and looked very similar to my "lifer" Massasauga back in 2008.




Eastern Massasaugas are found in the upper Midwest east to Georgian Bay. Throughout most of their range, they are found in fens, prairies, and similarly damp habitats, and are known by some as "Swamp Rattlers". In the Canadian Shield area of Georgian Bay, Massasaugas are found in more open habitats, often on open rock barrens or alvars, though always in relatively close proximity to wetlands. They have a stronghold throughout "cottage country" in Ontario, while the few remnant prairie populations in southern Ontario are declining to critical levels. Eastern Massasauga is afforded habitat protection in Ontario and is listed as a Threatened species. Fortunately, large chunks of good Massasauga habitat still exist in this part of Ontario, and continued education of people living there may help reduce mortality as well. Hopefully as time goes on and more people move to that part of Ontario, that Massasaugas continue to hold on.

The location where we found the basking female was the exact spot where I had found a recent "litter" of rattlesnakes one year - I think I found 6 in the area, and 5 more later in that same day. 



We watched the Massasauga for a while and continued on, though the deer flies would not stop harassing us. We turned up a handful of Five-lined Skinks (the first of the weekend), heard some Mink Frogs, and then headed home!

Not a bad way to celebrate Canada day, with one of Canada's iconic herp species.