As far as nature and wildlife are concerned, Rondeau is one of the most productive Provincial Parks in Ontario – especially when it comes to birds and butterflies. Sara and I had been once before – back in the fall of 2012 to catch sight of the warblers migrating back south for a warmer winter.
We returned over the August holiday weekend. Our expectations were not as high as the heady days of 2012, because the weather was predicted to be unkind to us and this trip was not in the middle of a busy migration period – but we were still quite excited.
We began by hiking the short “Tulip Tree Trail” beginning near to the Visitor’s Centre, which was closed due to Covid-19. I can’t wait until I don’t have to mention that virus in my blog posts anymore! The birding was most active towards where the trail loops back, near to the beach. Prior to this, I looked out for insects and plants of interest. A large variety of fungi grew throughout the forest. I’m not particularly learned when it comes to fungi, but am aware that successful identification often lies in examining the gills on the underside. One of the more vibrant and interesting specimens was Candy Apple Waxy Cap.
In marshy areas, we saw many Northern Leopard Frogs, Green Frogs and American Bullfrogs. As with our trip to Goderich last week, there were many male Gypsy Moths flitting around wooded areas. Appalachian Brown butterflies were also quite plentiful. If you are not a fan of arachnids, the following spider might be slightly terrifying. Initially, I thought the spider had caught some oversized prey that was half-eaten. Turns out that the spiky portion in the photograph below is actually the rear end of the spider. Delightful! It is within the family of Micrathena spiders, or “Spiny Orbweavers”. According to the website Bugguide.net, the only genus of this family seen in Ontario is Micrathena Sagittata, “Arrow-shaped Spiny Orbweaver”.
Okay, let’s talk birds. As the trail looped back on itself, birds were quite active. We saw several Cedar Waxwings including an awkward-looking juvenile. There was also a juvenile Rose-breasted Grosbeak accompanied by its parents.
The usual common birds were around: Grey Catbirds, Robins, Mourning Doves and Yellow Warblers. There was also a Northern Flicker.
We had a little wander around one of the beaches and a short boardwalk. A few large Swallowtail Butterflies would pass by without landing and with a rather urgent flight pattern that made photographing them unfeasible. That was unfortunate because I suspect they were Giant Swallowtails which I otherwise haven’t seen before. I did, however, see a Spicebush Swallowtail in the parking lot, which I pursued until it finally landed near a puddle.
After we ate lunch (and I ate too much icecream – what else is new?), we walked the first few hundred feet of The Marsh Trail, as most of it was closed for renovation. There were many Monarch Butterflies, but among them, was a Viceroy Butterfly.
The Monarch’s main defence against predators like birds is that it tastes awful enough to cause vomiting. The Viceroy does not have this defence and so instead mimics the appearance of The Monarch to dissuade predators. This is a prime example of Batesian Mimicry. There are a couple of differences in appearance betweem the species. The Viceroy is usually quite a bit smaller. The Viceroy also has a “U” shaped vein across the lower portion of the hindwings, as shown above.
That was it for day one. Storm clouds rolled in and so, other than getting dinner, we spent time at our Bed & Breakfast. We spent a couple of hours on the balcony during a gap in the rain and saw fireflies lighting up near some trees in the backyard. An Opossum skirted the edge of the grounds and a bat flitted past us a couple of times as it hunted gnats, many of which were also attracted to the light on our balcony.
Keith Mclean Conservation Area
The rain pelted down through the night like marbles on a tin roof and it was forecast to continue for much of the weekend. Keith Mclean Conservation Area was across the street, so we took a look during a break in the rain.
We weren’t able to use the hiking trail due to the amount of mud, but even the grassy area near the entrance provided a few species. There were many Barn Swallows, a pair of Killdeer, several Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets, Wood Ducks, a Common Gallinule and the usual common “backyard birds”. Turkey Vultures flew overhead and another raptor flew by. I suspect it was a Northern Goshawk. That would be a lifer as I haven’t seen one before, but I’m not able to count it as I’m not 100% sure what it was.
A juvenile Spotted Sandpiper was running around the edge of one of several ponds at the Conservation Area.
Back to Rondeau
The rain seemed to hold off, so we ventured back into Rondeau, but just briefly. I wanted to try to spot a Fowler’s Toad, which is “Imperilled” throughout Canada and Rondeau is one of the last places it is holding on. No such luck finding one, but we returned to the beach to look for gulls. I’m not a huge fan of differentiating gulls that are all so similar! However, I’d never seen a Bonaparte’s Gull and they are common enough here. After a little difficulty photographing them as they swiftly flew past at distance, I finally got a couple of shots.
The above photo shows an adult breeding Bonaparte’s Gull and the image below shows a Bonaparte’s Gull in it’s “first winter” plumage – no longer a juvenile. The juvenile looks a little different again, and this is why I try to steer away from gulls! This is a new lifer and takes me to 189 species of bird. If I am to get to the 200 mark I will either need to head to somewhere exotic or start learning those gulls!
Erieau and McGeachy Pond Conservation Area
We drove to nearby Erieau where we would later have dinner on a socially distanced patio. Before that I parked the car and we walked in the light drizzle along a path beside Lake Erie where the waves smashed against rocks. I’m not sure why I enjoyed it, I suppose there was something elementally raw about it. Or at least there was until I got too close and a much larger wave splooshed over the rocks and soaked me from head-to-toe. Sara even took a video of it happening, which I will NOT be sharing!
We moved on to McGeachy Pond Conservation Area, where a trail navigates you between a marsh on one side and the lake on the other. I managed to dry out because I was wearing dry wick clothing and blasted my car seat butt-warmer.
We saw lots of Song Sparrows, a Downy Woodpecker and some ducks in the marsh that were tough to identify from distance, but were probably Wood Ducks. We had a couple of odd sightings. The was a Herring Gull wading around in an algae-filled pond. It looked particularly grumpy, though they often do, and gave the impression that it might be unable to unwilling to fly. I’m not sure this is typical habitat for them, but the right wing looks like it might be in bad shape.
An adult Song Sparrow fed insects to one of its offspring before flying away for more. Another landed on a stump and I was able to get a quite pleasing shot.
John E. Pearce Provincial Park
We were in no rush on our way back to Toronto, and so we took a bit of a scenic route, stopping in Elgin County for a much-needed coffee and a walk around John E. Pearce Provincial Park. We skirted around a meadow and small marsh. There is also a forested area that currently consists of only White Cedars as part of a long term rejuvenation effort. Their shade will eventually create a habitat more suitable to hardwood trees. Eventually, some White Cedars will be removed to add a better variety to the area.
There were a lot of butterflies around including more Viceroys, Monarchs, Cabbage Whites, Spicebush Swallowtails and, below, a Clouded Sulphur feeding on a clover flower.
There were a couple of House Wrens and, hiding in the reeds as they like to do, I spotted a Marsh Wren. On the north side of the marsh, there were Purple Martins. Like swallows, they hunt insects on the wing, are fast and agile, and… hard to photograph. I didn’t get any good shots, but this is also a new bird for me. Lifer number 190.
Look away again if you don’t like insects, but I spotted an absolutely huge monster of a wasp and had to do some digging to find out what it was.
The Eastern Cicada-killer Wasp, as the name suggests, hunts for Cicadas. For my European readers, Cicadas are insects that live on trees and make an annoying buzzing sound throughout much of summer – though this seems to be a quieter year for them. The wasp lives underground and drags the Cicada into her burrow. She lays her eggs onto it and the resulting grubs feed on the Cicada. Despite how terrifying it looks, it is extremely reluctant to sting unless harmed, and like most wasps, only the female can sting. This was a very fortunate sighting. The Eastern Cicada-killer Wasp is “Critically Imperilled” throughout Canada.
There were, once again, a lot of Gypsy Moths around. I’d like to share a photo of one of the males who managed to find himself splashed out on someone’s windshield, mainly because I’d like to share how funky his “eyebrows” (antennae) look.
And that was that! We continued back to Toronto and had to stop by my in-laws on the way home. We used to live with them when I first came to Canada and I cultivated an elaborate array of bird feeders. My father-in-law has started to maintain a couple of the feeders in the last couple of weeks and he has started to get a steady stream of customers – Cardinals, Robins on the ground, a Downy Woodpecker and a Northern Flicker have been by. I stopped to watch for a while and a pair of Cardinals came for a snack before the heavens opened one last time.
Nothing planned for a couple of weeks, so I’ll be swinging by some local spots for a change. I’ve heard reports of some good butterfly action out towards Windsor and I am crazy enough to drive that far. Maybe in a couple of weeks!
Helps me to let you know when there is a new article, instead of hoping you catch me posting about it on those horrible social media websites 😉
I was interested in visiting a few nature spots in the Huron County area, so we ended up booking accommodation in Goderich to hit a few places that would otherwise be too far for a day-trip.
The Neowise comet has been visible in the Northwest night sky for much of July, and with Goderich positioned on the east coast of Lake Huron, I had the opportunity to try to photograph it away from the light-polluted skies of Toronto. On the evening of Friday 24th July, we drove to the beach. I hadn’t tried astrophotography before, but I did manage to get some images of the comet and it is something I’d like to attempt in the future to perhaps get a nice shot of The Milky Way. In the image below, the comet is towards the bottom-left, the only object with a tail. I have drawn in part of “The Big Dipper” constellation for reference.
Hullet Provincial Wildlife Area
The following morning we got an early start and an early Tim Hortons coffee and drove to Hullet Provincial Wildlife Area, which promised 2200 Hectares of mixed habitat, including some open water – always a little more promising during the heat of summer.
The drive out was lovely. Dew had formed during the night, but the heat was already beginning to rise – the ideal ingredients to create magical wisps of mist that played over the farm fields.
We heard plenty of birds here, but the tree canopy is high and the leaf cover is dense making them hard to spot. One bird that seems to be particularly plentiful this year is the Indigo Bunting. I have probably seen more this year than several previous years all combined. Today, we may have seen half-a-dozen of them (the females are a bit harder to spot).
Something else that is very plentiful this year: Gypsy Moths. They have a bad rap. They are an invasive species brought to North America from Europe and the larvae (caterpillars) are destructive through their vast appetites, consuming the leaves of many species of many trees. This year has been a bumper year of Gypsy Moths which can now be seen in their adult (moth) form. The females (in the photo below) do not fly and remain near where they emerged from their pupa. The males flit around rapidly, not often landing, making them harder to photograph. As adults (moths), they only live for about one week.
The mosquitoes and the sun were both out in force, so we only walked “The Blue Trail” which is listed as the most promising for birding. Before leaving, we drove to a different access point (there are several) that was nearer to a marsh. A short walk from the parking, we saw many Canada Geese, a few Killdear, many Mallards, a pair of Hooded Merganser, and several Lesser Yellowlegs. The Lesser Yellowlegs is a new addition to my life-list. I suspect I may have seen them earlier this year on a visit to Delaware, but this time I was able to confirm with certainty. I have now seen 188 species of bird. Of those, 40 were seen this year. Not a bad year!
We returned to Goderich and took a little look around the town, whose motto is “the prettiest town in Canada”. The Maitland River runs through the town, exiting into Lake Huron. We walked some of the Goderich to Auburn Rail trail which crosses the river via the Menesetung Bridge, offering views over the river valley.
In anticipation of the evening sun setting over the lake, we paid a visit to Goderich Lighthouse. I planned to photograph the sun setting over Lake Huron while getting the lighthouse in the foreground. Sara humoured me for a couple of hours while I set up my angles and aligned tripods and God knows what else! I think the wait was worth it to get the shot below.
Bannockburn Conservation Area
We also visited Bannockburn and walked a nice wooded trail with lots of boardwalk. The trail is a loop and there are around a dozen educational signs describing the landscape. We heard lots of Common Yellowthroats, another bird I am seeing a lot of this year. There were also a few insects around. This Striped Hairstreak is a new butterfly for me. We watched it perched on the boardwalk rubbing its wings, which released pheromones to attrack a mate.
The below Appalachian Brown is also a new sighting for me.
Finally, the funky looking moth below is called a Confused Haploa Moth.
Point Farms Provincial Park
The following day we visited this provincial park (and picked up an annual pass, as we have several more provincial parks planned). We did a quick trail that is quite good for birding and saw a number of wading birds near a lagoon (including some more Lesser Yellowlegs). I have heard so many Common Yellowthroats this year that I have become quite accustomed to their song. I heard one that was probably nesting in a shrub near a parking area and tried to “pish” the bird into view. He peeked out looking slightly confused and I took the opportunity to snap my best photo of this species so far.
I also heard the song of an Eastern Towhee and shortly spotted it high in a bare tree.
We spent a couple of hours at the beach on the shore of Lake Huron, taking some time to have a relaxing swim in a lake that’s a little more appealing than Lake Ontario (which had six times higher than acceptable levels of e-coli on this weekend). I guess I spent a little too long drying off in the sun afterwards, as my chest is a nice shade of lobster-red. I can be a little blasé about the sun. I work as a mailman and my skin is generally much darker during the summer… but I’m constantly seeking out the shade and do occasionally apply sunscreen. On this occasion, I did neither.
West Perth Wetlands
Final stop, partly on the way home. West Perth Wetlands are known on EBird (a bird spotting website) under the slightly less appealing name of Mitchell Sewage Lagoons. In any case, it consists of three bodies of water that used to be used for sewage but have since been repurposed as a wetland habitat.
We saw more Lesser Yellowlegs, Killdeer, Canada Geese, Mallards and Wood Ducks. There were some flowers attractive to pollinators, and so we saw a handful of Monarch butterflies and a Question Mark butterfly. Question Mark and Comma butterflies look similar and are named for a small mark on their underside (not shown) that looks like the respective punctuation marks for which they are named. They can also be discerned from the top by slight differences in the black spots.
We ran into another couple who were taking part in a local Monarch Butterfly count. Due to Covid-19, nature research has been impacted with field researchers being less able to get to sites. We talked about how the Monarch population is much smaller this year, after a slightly more promising year in 2019.
The Question Mark butterfly pictured above is perched on a thistle, and there were many more of these plants growing around the wetland. They also attract American Goldfinches who will eat the seeds.
An unusual sighting was (what appears to be) a mallard in the middle of the wetland a little far away to get a good look at. Unlike the mallards it paddled alongside, it is predominantly white in colour. There is some dark pigment in the bill and it has a dark eye-line like a mallard. The reddish colour on the chest is probably just a result of diet (swans also get a brown-reddish colour in their front as a result of an iron-rich diet). Otherwise, there is just some colour in a few feathers in the tail and wing. I’m not sure what the situation is with this duck. If anyone reading has any thoughts, feel free to leave a comment. My thoughts are that it is possibly leucistic, which is a condition similar to albinism. Alternatively, it may contain some genes from a domestically bred duck such as a Welsh Harlequin, which is bred to be mostly white.
That concludes the weekend trip. I’m taking a brief break from blogging for the rest of this week, since this post is a little longer and took more work. We have a trip booked to Rondeau, which has been good to us with birds in the past. I will write about that trip next week.
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