the woodpecker’s tongue 

PHOTO POST

If I hadn’t gone grocery shopping on bicycle, I probably would have missed the oversized woodpecker checking out some local trees. But as I pedaled down the street towards home I heard a bird speaking a language I didn’t recognize, and I turned my head just in time to spot the flashy red crest of Dryocopus pileatus.

The colourful sight was a welcome treat given that nearly all migratory birds have left, vegetation is now mostly faded, and the sun’s glancing rays are often dulled by clouds. The views across marsh and lake often present in a nearly black and white palate.

Light Curves (click images for full-size views)

The Lesser Yellowlegs was one of the last traveling birds to come through from shores far to the north. On a cloudy evening the shallow muddy water made an austere background for this wader.

Dotted Lines

But in the afternoon sun the waters picked up reflected colour from surrounding plants.

Soft Splash

And a nearby stand of sumach turned the surface to crimson.

Red Dive

Warm days soon gave way to chillier mornings and the welcome sight of steam rising off the lake.

Sunrise Parade

The autumn still held a surprise, though, for the spectacular Pileated Woodpecker made a sudden appearance just a few days ago. Since this is not a migratory species, perhaps she has moved in nearby.

Listen Here

A bird this large needs to carve a deep hole for a nest, and the Pileated Woodpecker is up to the task. “Pileated Woodpeckers use their long necks to pull far back from the tree, then make powerful strikes with their heavy bills, pulling with their feet to increase the strength of the blow.” (allaboutbirds.org)

It’s convenient that some of the tastiest food lives in trees: “The birds also use their long, barbed tongues to extract woodboring beetle larvae.” (allaboutbirds.org)

Woodpecker’s Tongue


Photo at top of page: Exploration (click here for full-size image)

 

october’s glow

PHOTO POST

It’s the time of year when the afternoon sun feels as warm as summer – and then darkness sets in when the evening has barely begun.

One last ray of light steals into the secluded cove where mallards are settling for the night.

Light from the Horizon (click images for full-screen views)

Just minutes of subdued light remain as a Great Blue Heron flies high across the sky.

Sunset Arrow

The Night Heron crouches in the shadows, quietly awake.

Ready For Night

This low light suits a small shorebird – but makes positive identification difficult.

Solitary Stroll

My best guess is that this is an olive-legged Solitary Sandpiper, though it also looks much like a Lesser Yellowlegs. (And truly, if a Yellowlegs is walking in the mud after dark, does it still have yellow legs?)

Solitary Double

While most bright flowers have long since faded, bursts of New England Asters (aka Michaelmas Daisies) still decorate roadsides.

Purple Daisy

Out in the marsh, fall colours are deepening with the occasional lily pad turning to red.

Structure of Colour

A lily pad, an overnight shower, and the early morning sunshine work together to create a collection of liquid rubies.

Rubies

In October the photographer’s “golden hour” – when a low-shining sun bathes everything in a warm glow – lasts a good bit more than an hour each morning and again at the end of the afternoon.

It’s a great time to slow down and behold one of the smallest birds in the marsh, the Swamp Sparrow.

Swamp Sparrow Two

Working the rich mud where roots meet water, the Swamp Sparrow darts from one tiny insect to another. 

Swamp Sparrow One

A muskrat’s siesta ends and it’s time to open those eyes.

Siesta’s Over

A Night Heron moves into hunting territory at water’s edge.

Sunset in Green

And for a brief moment the Wood Ducks put on a light show that rivals any sunset.

Iridescent Autumn


Photo at top of page: Belted Kingfisher, Touched by Colour (click here for full-size image)

 

summer’s flight

PHOTO POST

In the shadowy woods autumn has already arrived, while sunshine on the marsh still reflects summer’s heat.

One More Fruit (click images for full-screen views)

The striped berries of Starry False Solomon’s Seal – if that’s too much of a mouthful, just say Smilacina stellata – make good food for birds, mice, and perhaps for a plump-cheeked chipmunk.

Facing Fall

Migratory birds are already passing through from the far north. Both the Greater and the Lesser Yellowlegs are likely to pass through here, and I can only guess that the bird below is a “yellowlegs, more or less”.

Pointed South

We are right on the edge of year-round habitat for Wood Ducks, so this female could be planning a short flight south or getting ready for winter here.

One Gold Ring

The young ones that were born here this summer are now full-grown. One of them appears to have done fine so far in spite of missing an eye.  

Three birds, two eyes

The Black-Crowned Night Herons are much easier to find lately, now that their young ones are just as big as the adults and no longer so vulnerable.

Great Hair Day

Green Herons are also easier to spot, as they stalk along the marsh edges for a quick meal.

Slowstep

Swift and Swifter

As summer gives way to fall, the damselflies and dragonflies are growing scarce. A damselfly, below, is warmed by the morning light while resting on a hydrangea paniculata leaf.

Balancing Light

The Green Darner, too, moves only slowly in the early morning cool. But unlike most other dragonflies, this species can migrate as far south as the West Indies to prolong summer.

Green Darner on Hosta


Photo at top of page: Trending Orange – a Pearl Crescent butterfly on yellow echinacea flower (click here for full-screen view)

putting your best foot forward

PHOTO POST

If you were a beautiful Mallard you’d probably be happy to stand on a pair of coral-orange webbed feet …

Art of Contemplation (click images for larger views)

and perhaps you’d take care to keep them clean.

Pedicure

A mallard’s webbed feet are great for swimming along the surface of a pond. But if you eat by beating fish at their own game – diving down and out-swimming your catch – you’d like the even bigger flippers at the end of a Double-crested Cormorant’s legs. Never mind that they only come in basic black.

Ready to Dive

For walking in the muck of a marsh, though, you need something altogether different – footwear that spreads out effectively, but that you can just as easily lift out of the sticky goo if you need to move in a hurry.

And so it is that many birds in Bowmanville Marsh have long slender toes, like those of the Virginia Rail and the Least Sandpiper.

Mudwalker I

Mudwalker II

Whether you are the smallest of the sandpipers or the largest of the herons, it’s great to be able to walk through deep mud – but lift into flight in an instant.

Mudwalker III

Clean Getaway

Each of our local heron species have similar feet. The short and stocky Night Heron, below, has long, strong toes that propel it from its perch fast – whether that’s to strike at a fish or frog in the water or burst into flight.

Striking Distance

The Green Heron is even more versatile, with long toes that allow it to patrol the shoreline one minute, and make like a squirrel the next, grabbing slender twigs and swaying in the breeze at the top of trees.

Get a Grip I

Treetop Heron

Get a Grip II


Composite at top of page, clockwise from left: Green Heron, Mallard, and Virginia Rail. All photos taken in Bowmanville Marsh during the last six weeks.

gazing into the reeds

PHOTO POST

On an evening in late April as I walked along the road, my eye was drawn to a bird swimming across the marsh in a peculiar, herky-jerky fashion.

Gallinule the First (click images for full-screen views)

When I zoomed in with my camera and saw the distinctive black and white markings plus the brilliant red beak, it was clear that this bird was hitherto unknown to yours truly.

Upon learning the bird is called a Common Gallinule, and it is indeed a common, summer-long resident in marshes throughout North America, I felt like a particularly inept amateur ornithologist. If it’s so common why had I never spotted one in five summers of prowling this marsh?

Thus began a long quest to learn the habits of the gallinule. Before long I’d caught many fleeting glimpses, in all corners of the marsh, and I learned to recognize some of its extensive vocal repertoire when it was lurking out of sight. Months went by without my ever capturing a reasonably good picture.

But this frustration was such fun! While I peered into the reeds where the gallinules dwell, I saw many other birds including several that I had never known before.

The nimble Marsh Wren is a good bit more numerous than the gallinule, but is likewise hard to catch in a still photo.

Slanted Perch

Somewhat bigger are the various sandpipers that feed on the mudflats and occasionally walk across lily pads.

Piper Two

I can’t be sure of the identity of this piper spotted just this week. To me it looks like a Greater Yellowlegs, which typically move through here only on their way to and from nesting areas far to the north. I’d be grateful to any reader who can identify this bird; please send me a note here.

Piper Three

Gazing into the reeds, you might also spot a juvenile Green Heron, like this one seen in the bright light of the setting sun.

Sunset in Green

The Great Blue Heron is not typically shy, but even they will sometimes hide in the tall reeds.

Great Blue Sky

A Great Blue Heron inadvertently played a key role in allowing me to finally get a good close look at the gallinules. As I watched this heron swoop down on a convenient log and nail the landing, we both had a surprise.

Don’t Scare Me Like That

The heron’s landing startled a female Wood Duck, tucked almost out of sight at the left end of the log. The Duck gave a loud quack, which prompted a louder squawk from the Heron, who re-launched from the log with great comic effect.

And all this high drama distracted a gallinule family who hang out behind this log, as they didn’t notice a photographer slowly drifting closer.

Walking Home

For once I got more than a fleeting glimpse, and I was thrilled to see an adult with two chicks. Clearly, feet which can straddle floating sticks or reeds are essential equipment, as the young ones had already grown toes nearly as long as their downy bodies.

Little Bigfoot

When I’d had time to take several photos my presence was duly noted. The birds disappeared into the shadowy reeds and left me with their squeaky serenade.

Who You Calling Common?


Photo at top of page: Piper One (click here for full-screen image)

 

watching the web

PHOTO POST

The onrushing summer engulfs us with new blooms, hot winds, welcome rains, and a procession of insects that each play their role in the march of seasons.

Milkweed leaves, above, may soon be eaten to shreds by monarch caterpillars. Meanwhile a Black & Yellow Mud Dauber Wasp uses the vantage point to look for any unwary spiders who might soon be food for wasp larvae.

Some plants are as beautiful while they bud as when in full bloom. Below, a Bergamot flower begins to open; it will soon attract not only bees but hummingbirds.

Two Story Bergamot (click images for larger views)

For many long days we feared the dry heat was so intense that many plants might falter. Few sights were so precious as raindrops on foliage.

Variegated Rain

One of the minor pleasures of rain, to a photographer, is that a drop of water can serve as a free magnifier lens, highlighting details in leaf structures.

Such trivia aside, you might well ask how the underside of a poppy leaf, below, managed to capture rain drops and reflect the morning sunshine.

Wet Leaf

Fortunately a gentle breeze had turned one floppy leaf down-side-up.

An early morning mist brought out otherworldly colours and shapes of a poppy bud.

Strange Dream

The rains did come when most needed, and many flowers have grown to their showiest. Below, a Red Soldier Beetle (aka Hogweed Bonking Beetle) prepares for launch from a feral Daisy.

Upward Spiral

Evening Primrose flowers and Green Metallic Sweat Bees are spectacular in their own rights and doubly so together.

Double Flash

A Bumblebee sitting on a raspberry leaf looks as prickly as the canes beneath the canopy.

Bramblebee

Many flowers, of course, are working towards the production of seeds. A Chipmunk is enjoying the bounty of a previous year, in the shape of a sunflower seed.

Seedy Side of Town

Few seed heads are quite so intricate as that of the Yellow Salsify, below. Did spiders get the idea to weave their mesmerizingly symmetrical webs from watching the formation of Salsify seeds – or was it the other way around?

Salsify’s Web

And then there are the wings of the Dragonflies. These graceful denizens of the marsh don’t often land in our gardens, but perhaps the hot pink Hollyhock was an irresistible draw.

Patterns on Pink


Photo at top of page: Yellow & Black Mud Dauber on Milkweed (click here for full image)

 

regarding the ways of the marsh

PHOTO POST

A long period of hot dry weather has hastened the fullness of summer in the marsh. Where you and I might see a smelly mess, many creatures are seeing a fertile, fecund, bountiful bouquet of life.

The dropping water levels have exposed squishy mudflats – great dining areas for pipers including the Killdeer.

Killdeer Goes to Dinner (click images for full-screen view)

Turtles both Painted and Snapper can frequently be seen floating near the surface with just their heads sticking up.

I’ve Got Time

Flies, mosquitos, water boatmen, and many other insects are flying just over the water or propelling themselves across the surface. They help feed hungry frogs, birds, fish, turtles – and larger insects such as dragonflies.

On a hot summer evening, the dragonflies are also busy laying their eggs just below the surface.

Dragonfly Arch

When a dragonfly pauses its rapid zig-zag flights an emerging water lily also makes a good perch.

Observation Post

The White Water Lily is one of the showiest plants in the marsh. But in full sun its white is so blinding that you may choose to see this flower through dark glasses.

Shadow Play

Another beautiful flowering plant, alas, contributes little but colour to the marsh. The Bitter Nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), introduced from Eurasia more than 150 years ago, is poisonous to almost every local animal. With nothing to keep it in check it has spread widely throughout the Great Lakes area, and has become the dominant vegetation in sizable sections of Bowmanville Marsh.

Bitter Nightshade

For the time being, though, there is enough other tasty foliage to feed a thriving population of muskrats.

Reflections in Green

On a warm evening this beaver couldn’t be bothered to take supper home to the lodge.

Finger Food

One of the Great Blue Herons, perched at the edge of the reeds, caught sight of a Mudcat in striking distance.

Mudcat Special

Early in the spring I had two sightings of the gaudily spectacular male Wood Duck – but then concluded that this bird had just carried on in its migration. To my surprise, though, I spotted this Wood Duck hen and duckling swimming to cover in the reeds just before sunset earlier this week.

Swimming to Shelter

There is more to know in the marsh than can be learned in a few years, or even in a few human lifetimes. After six summers here there are still birds I’ve rarely or never glimpsed. The Virginia Rail has a reputation for being heard much more than seen, as it moves slowly and carefully through the shadows where the reeds meet the water. With patience and luck you may get your first sighting – and with extra luck I hope to get a second sighting some day soon.

Virginia Rail

There are few marsh dwellers as beautiful as this Green Frog1 – especially as frogs are known as Marsh Canaries, who are so sensitive to pollutants that they provide a warning system of unhealthy conditions. Frogs have been scarce in this marsh, but in recent years they seem to have made a bit of a comeback. May the bright yellow flash and the deep twangy call of the Green Frog be seen and heard through the coming days and eons.

Five O’clock Frog


Photo at top of page: Close-Up, Five O’clock Frog (click here for full-screen view)


1This helpful name distinguishes true Green Frogs from mere green frogs. The website naturewatch.ca explains that a Green Frog may also be bronze or brown, with a white belly, and the males have a bright yellow throat.

 

pairings

PHOTO POST

If you want to see some scary exotic creatures on the hunt, you could buy yourself a camera with a lens as long as its price tag, then book an even more expensive safari to the far side of the world.

Or, you could pick up a half-decent magnifying glass, lie down in your backyard or in a weedy vacant lot, and take a close look at the passing pageant of insects.

For this post I ventured no further than my yard, at most about 30 meters from the house.

The great thing about looking closely for small insects is that you will also see more of the beautiful detail in leaves, grasses and flowers.

Red and Green (click images for larger views)

Above, the tiny leaves of a new shrub willow catch the morning sun. Below, one of many varieties of grass now going to seed.

Seeds of Grass

While I studied grass seed a bright beetle came in for a landing.

Pinnacle

The same creature landed on an Alfalfa plant a few minutes later.

Eye Spy

Since I’m not sure what kind of beetle this is (perhaps a Longhorn Beetle?), I can’t be sure if it was chewing the holes in the leaves, or waiting to chew on the bug who was chewing on the leaves.

There was no such ambiguity in another scene of combat.

Candy Stripe Cobweb Weaver

Some wasps eat spiders and some spiders eat wasps, but in this case a Candy Stripe Cobweb Weaver was methodically wrapping up what appeared to be a Blackjacket Wasp, who soon gave up struggling.

The wild Yellow Salsify flowers attract early-rising pollinators – but they gradually close up when the sun gets hot in mid-morning.

Salsification

Daisy Fleabane, on the other hand, takes a few hours to unfurl in the morning and its purple-pink petals gradually take on a bleached appearance by mid-afternoon. Like the Salsify it makes a great photo backdrop for many insects, in this case the beautiful Musca Domestica.

Wings of Pink

The Calligrapha beetle is named for the distinctive patterns on its shiny shell. The Calligrapha Amator, below, is popularly known as the Ontario Calligrapha though it is also reported in Quebec.

Calligrapha Amator

Perhaps the flashiest bug in our yard is the Green Metallic Sweat Bee, here photographed on a chive bloom.

All That Glitters Is Green

But this unidentified spider, spotted on the same alium, is awfully photogenic too.

Pink and Gold

keeping watch

PHOTO POST

From the least of the sandpipers to the greatest of the owls, today’s post is all birds.

Even while they’re out looking for food – whether seeds, bugs or fish – the birds around the marshes also need to look out for other birds who are looking for food. There’s always a chance that a bigger bird might swoop down and make a meal of a smaller bird.

Goslings are now roaming the marshes, shorelines and meadows in great numbers.

Soft Focus (click photos for larger views)

The Eastern Kingbird waits on high perches where it can spot its primary prey – flying insects.

Flycatcher

On the mudflats in Westside Marsh or on the rocky lakeshore, Least Sandpipers and Spotted Sandpipers can often be spotted probing for insects.

Least Sandpipers

The Least Sandpiper (above) has the distinction of being the world’s smallest shorebird, with an adult weighing in at about one ounce (28 grams). The Spotted Sandpiper (below) is the most widespread sandpiper in North America.

Spotted Sandpiper, Early Summer Evening

The Green Heron is much harder to find as it tends to hide in the shadows along wooded creeks.

Green Heron in the Shadows

You can’t help but wonder how this bird got its name. I imagine it went like this:

After the Great Blue Heron began to attract so much attention, their smaller cousins decided it was time to hire their own branding consultant. They advised this professional, “You’ve got to know we’re secretive birds, not at all flashy. We like to keep a low profile, so we need a modest, low-key name.”

After a thorough round of focus groups the naming consultant unveiled the new brand: “I propose you are henceforth known as the Green Herons!” And when the grateful clients had stopped laughing, they responded, “Brilliant! If people are out looking for a Green Heron, they are very unlikely to spot us.”

“And yet there’s a smidgen of truth to the name – if you see one of us in the bright sunlight and you squint just right, there is a green-ish tinge on a few feathers.”

Green Heron by Morning Sun

Branding trivia aside, however, the Green Heron along with all the smaller marsh birds have good reasons to keep under cover and keep watching the skies. Only seconds after I photographed the Green Heron, I caught a glimpse of huge wings gliding through the canopy above. Moments later I spotted a large predator gazing down through the branches: the Great Horned Owl.

Great Horned Owl

The Great Horned Owl is the largest owl that resides in this area. The Great Horned Owl also has the most varied diet of all the raptors – from mice to rabbits to waterfowl to other raptors.

Whoever you may be in the marsh, you’d best look out for those who are looking for you.


Photo at top of page: Young Green Heron Takes the Sun Editor’s note, Aug 27 – I believe my original identification here was wrong, and this is actually an adult Least Bittern. (click here for larger image)

bloomin’ weeds

PHOTO POST

Full disclosure: not all the plants pictured here are wildflowers strictly speaking. Some have been introduced to the area, have escaped from gardens, and now roam the countryside, feral.

The Wood Anemone at the top of the post grows across North America, including local meadows and at the edges of some marshes.

A beautiful Flowering Cherry, on the other hand, may well have been brought in by a long-gone nearby nursery.

Flowering Cherry

Another flowering shrub, which I believe is a Nannyberry (a type of viburnum), also grows near the former nursery.

Nannyberry

The Barberry is much closer to home, having taken a post in our yard. Though most people grow it for its foliage its flowers are spectacular too – though at just a few millimeters in diameter you need to get really close to appreciate them.

Barberry in Flower

The beautiful Speedwell is just a wee bit bigger. If you google it you may learn as I did that this flower thrives in some lawns, giving fits to those determined to eliminate botanical diversity from their expanses of grass.

Speed Thee Well

And let us not forget the noble Dandelion, here looking resplendent after a morning dew.

Tall Dandelion Syndrome

On our marshes, a very different bloom often happens – an algal bloom. According to NOAA, the vast majority of algal blooms do not produce toxins. This patch of vivid green appeared at one end of Bowmanville Marsh and disappeared just as quickly a few days later. It may or may not be a reflection of ecosystem health, but it did not appear to concern the muskrats.

Muskrat Quest

Very few other aquatic blooms have appeared so far this summer, but these grasses and water catch the evening light as beautifully as any flower.

Spectrum

In wet woodlands beside the marsh, the Starry False Solomon’s Seal is widespread. (It should hire a spin doctor – surely it deserves a name of its own rather than being named by what it is not.)

What’s Solomon Got To Do With It?

At sunset in a meadow, you can savour the delicate colours of the Wood Anemone, which will soon be submerged in waist-high vegetation.

Wood Anemone Two


Photo at top of page: Wood Anemone One (click here for larger image)