Shiny Things

This week’s photo post is all about things that catch the eye with a flash of sunlight – even when that light is first reflected by the moon.

Campanula. This bellflower, one of the nearly 500 species of campanula, grows well on the shoreline sand dune. (click images for larger view)

 

Hang on. On a breezy summer afternoon this dragonfly keeps a steady grip.

 

Sequined wings.

 

Red currants.

In our garden the first of the summer fruits are just about ready to eat. Meanwhile out in Bowmanville Marsh the water smartweed (persicaria amphibia), whose seeds are snacks for waterfowl and raccoons, is sending up its flowers.

Water smartweed.

Just down the coast, the channel where Westside Marsh meets Lake Ontario is a favoured fishing spot for local birds. As night falls a Great Blue Heron often waits at water’s edge, and if there is still enough light you may catch a glimpse of a shiny fish before it is swallowed in one gulp.

Your turn.

The full moon rising over the lake is a spellbinding sight all on its own. But if a heron chooses that moment to leap from the gravel bar into flight, and you’re lucky enough to have your camera ready, you may as well press the shutter.

That was now.

 

Top photo: Squirrel-tail grass on sand dune. (click here for larger view)

Pollination Nation

There are many beautiful flowers in the meadows and marshes this month, and the insects that visit the plants are photogenic in their own right.

For today’s post we venture to some of the farthest reaches of greater metropolitan Port Darlington – from the east end of West Beach Road out to the meadow beyond Westside Marsh.

The beautiful plant below is sometimes called Blueweed, sometimes Echium vulgare, but I think Viper’s Bugloss is more suitably dramatic. Whatever the name, it attracts a variety of bees in addition to the Virginia Ctenucha moth.

Virginia Ctenucha moth on Viper’s Bugloss. (click images for larger view)

 

Yellow flash.

These flowers also attract lots of honeybees and bumblebees.

Bee on Viper’s Bugloss.

Just across the road from the stand of Viper’s Bugloss is a wetland meadow. Here the often-loathed Canada Thistles are showing just how tough they are. Even though they’ve been standing in at least 15 centimeters of water for the past six weeks, they are still coming into bloom.

Thistle in flooded meadow.

Four little flyers, ranging from about 1 centimeter to perhaps 2 millimeters in length, are attracted to this single thistle blossom.

Quartet.

Wading through head-high grass and flowers beyond the Westside Marsh, I saw a flash of orange which I mistook for a moth. After tracking it through the thicket and waiting for it to settle long enough to be photographed, I learned it was not a moth but a butterfly; just a frayed Freija Fritillary I’m afraid.

Freija fritillary.

 

Among the profusion of flowers here were yellow salsify, pink wild roses, white daisies, and lots of marsh marigold, below.

Goldbug.

As far as I know damselflies are not pollinators, but the beautiful specimen below was a thrill to spot nevertheless. The Tule Bluet frequents marshes across much of Ontario, and this one was just a stone’s throw from the waters of Westside Marsh.

Tule Bluet.

 

Top photo: Redhead click here for larger view.  This unidentified pollinator was spotted visiting American Bittersweet flowers. If you know the identity of this insect please drop me a note using the Contact page.

 

salsify etcetera

The colours of June: they’re often at their most intense at the smallest scales. Today’s photos feature wild and cultivated beauties growing around the yard right now.

Yellow salsify goes by many aliases. Goat’s beard. Johnnie-go-to-bed-at-noon (for its flower’s habit of opening in the early morning sunshine, but folding back into a bud in the midday heat). Oysterplant (for the taste of its root). Foragers say the buds and the roots are a delicious wild edible, but ours are scarce and so we’re happy to leave them grow in the meadow.

Yellow Salsify II (click images for larger view)

In the flower garden the cultivated irises are currently providing the most vivid splash of colour.

blue as midnight

 

all that glitters

The daisy fleabane, below, does well in full sun on our sandy dune. Although its ability to repel fleas is disputed it apparently attracts many other insects, as it is visited by a wide variety of pollinators.

pink wind

 

A few days of bright sunshine are enough to dry the small mushrooms that popped up in our rock garden, fracturing some into distinctly floral patterns.

rock garden

Along a fenceline a wild raspberry has taken root and is spreading rapidly. Time will tell if it bears delicious fruit, or merely delights us with the colour and texture of its leaves.

 

raspberry hedge

 

Top photo: Yellow Salsify Iclick here for larger view

birds birds birds

Today’s post features just a few of the birds seen in the waters, on the shore, and in the treetops in recent weeks in our neighbourhood.

Dive (click images for larger views)

 

Angles

 

Swimming in green

 

Perched

 

Killdeer in dune grass

 

Rocky shore

 

Portrait

 

Night falls

 

Motion studies, or Thanks for all the fish

 

tricks of the light

While the sun is low or storm clouds blow through, light beams bend and scatter, painting sky and water in extraordinary tints.

Purple Beacon – May 3, 2017, 8:30 pm (click images for larger views)

 

Fishing Party – May 27, 2017, 8:50 pm

Between thunderstorms last night, a vivid rainbow fragment held its place over Lake Ontario for twenty minutes or more.

Rainbow Rock – May 30, 2017, 8:20 pm

 

Rainbow Gap – May 30, 2017, 8:20 pm

The standard rectangular framing imposed by digital cameras is a reasonable default for most images. But the scene below vibrated on so many dimensions that it called for a less static framing.

What’s the buzz? – May 30, 2017, 8:15 pm

As a full moon ascended over the lake a few weeks ago, a kayaker simply needed to backpaddle patiently and hold the right position, waiting for the moon to rise behind the lighthouse. A thin cloud across the moon’s face was an additional lucky stroke.

moonrise – May 10, 2017, 8:35 pm

Higher Ground

With Lake Ontario at record high levels, coastal marshes have now spilled over large areas which are normally more or less dry land.

Edges (click images for larger view)

To take pictures along the walking trail along Bowmanville Creek at the north side of Bowmanville Marsh, you need to add hip waders to your photography kit – mere knee-high boots will only get you around the edges of this wetland.

Mirror

Suspension

Though the bare ground has been well under the waters for weeks now, many of the moist woodland species appear to be thriving.

 

In the Catbird Seat

Layers

Mollusc II

The meadow at the east end of West Beach Road, just 100 meters from the Lake Ontario shoreline, also teems with activity.

With masses of rotting wood from generations of huge willow trees along the edge of this meadow, there are billions of ants – now all flushed out of the ground to find a dry perch. Anything sticking out of the water – a blade of grass, stem of last year’s goldenrod, or the odd passing photographer – soon acquires a population of ants. Myrmecophobes be forewarned.

Colonies

But there are bigger animals making the grass rustle – schools of carp now swim and splash through this meadow.

Velocity

Patterns

If you are a bottom feeder this is fine dining.

Mouth

Top photo: Return (click here for larger image)

Coastal Engineering

Lake Ontario and the coastal marshes are near record highs this spring. While this can lead to sleepless nights due to fears of flooding, the high water also makes for great kayaking and wonderful views at sunset and sunrise.

Port Darlington cottages (click image for larger view)

 

Channel Sunset (click image for larger view)

 

Drydock (click image for larger view)

 

Breakwater (click image for larger view)

 

Electricallusion (click image for larger view)

 

Top photo: Westbound Express (click here for larger view)

Marsh monoculture – invasive phragmites and the threat to wetlands

We’ve all seen those amazingly tall reeds with the feathery seed heads that glow in the autumn sunset and last right through the winter, and which have appeared in dense stands on roadsides wherever there’s a bit of water.

Those beautiful reeds are phragmites, and they’re deadly to nearly every other plant, bird, amphibian and predator in our wetlands.

That was the message in a sobering talk by Janice M. Gilbert on April 19. Since there are two big marshes in my neighbourhood, and phragmites are scattered widely in this area, I was keenly interested.

The species of phragmites (pronounced frag-mite-eez) that is causing so much concern is the European common reed. Though it is closely related to a native variety of phragmites, the European version has no natural controls in North America and quickly multiplies into a dense monoculture.

Dr. Gilbert has been researching phragmites and working in phragmites control efforts for the past 10 years. She spoke at the Purple Woods Conservation Area this week, in an event sponsored by Scugog Environmental Advisory Council in partnership with Central Lake Ontario Conservation, Kawartha Conservation, North Durham Nature, Scugog Lake Stewards and Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Gilbert explained that the European common reed is awesomely prolific because nearly every part of the plant will sprout and grow if dropped in wet soil.

It produces a large seed head, and the seeds can be carried for kilometers by the wind – but that’s just one of its strategies for dispersal. Its rhizomes shoot out for many feet in every direction. And if a live stalk is knocked down, it will send up new shoots all along its length.

Dispersal methods of phragmites. (From Invasive Phragmites – Best Management Practices in Ontario)

This explains why phragmites have spread so widely along highways and rural roads. Heavy equipment used in road construction and maintenance, particularly tracked machinery, carries mud from one site to another. If pieces of phragmites are carried in that mud, and it doesn’t completely dry before being dropped in a new location, a new outbreak of the reed will soon be growing.

Spread of phragmites in the Great Lakes area. (From Invasive Phragmites – Best Management Practices in Ontario)

Habitat destruction

Phragmites take over a location so rapidly because they suck up nutrients and water faster than nearly all competitor plants, and because they are allelopathic – their roots secrete chemicals which are toxic to other plants.

Native insect species have not evolved to feed on phragmites – and that means insect-eating birds don’t find food in a phragmites monoculture. Muskrats don’t like phragmites, so they don’t build their characteristic mounds, surrounded by a bit of open water, within phragmites-dominated marshes. Birds will nest right around the edges of phragmites stands, but not very far within – the stands are too dense. And since a fully-developed phragmites monoculture can have 200 stalks per square meter, the growth is so dense that turtles trying to fight their way through are sometimes trapped, succumbing to starvation.

In short, the entire food chain from bottom to top is disrupted when phragmites take over a wetland.

A tale of two marshes

This ecological horror story is of more than passing local concern. There are two important coastal wetlands in my neighbourhood. In one of them – Westside Marsh – there are already major stands of phragmites all along the west side.

Phragmites are established all along the west edge of Westside Marsh, next to the St. Marys Cement quarry. Photo from Nov 2015.

The other local marsh, Bowmanville Marsh, appears to be phrag-free so far – but there are stands of phragmites barely 100 meters away.

This stand of phragmites is along West Beach Road, just north of Bowmanville Marsh.

 

A stand of phragmites on the south side of Hwy 401, near the Liberty Street exit, extends to within a few meters of Soper Creek. This creek flows south and joins Bowmanville Marsh.

 

A long and difficult battle

The good news is that phragmites infestations can be controlled. The bad news is that the process is labour-intensive, it sometimes requires specialized equipment, efforts need to be repeated at least two or three years in a row, and it is almost impossible to get large stands of phragmites knocked back without application of concentrated glyphosate.

Dr. Gilbert described her own gradual conversion to advocating the use of glyphosate – as a wetland ecologist, her first reaction was to recoil at the thought of using herbicides around wetlands – and her frustration that the glyphosate formulations used to great success in phragmites-control programs in the US are not usually available or permitted in Canada.

In our local area, Diana Shermet of Central Lake Ontario Conservation Authority (CLOCA) confirmed that to date, there have been no phragmites-control programs in Westside Marsh or Bowmanville Marsh. High cost is a major barrier, though CLOCA has received funding and carried out phragmites-control programs in a few areas in Durham region.

As Gilbert noted, successful phragmites-control efforts are usually co-ordinated between several agencies. It does little good to get phragmites out of a marsh if there are stands a few meters away along roadsides. And it does little good to get phragmites out of a ditch along a municipal road, if there are stands along a regional or provincial highway nearby.

The Ontario Phragmites Working Group is providing information and expertise to agencies across the province, and we certainly hope that the provincial government, Durham Region, Municipality of Clarington and CLOCA will find a way to take up this effort in the near future.

Top photo: a stand of phragmites in Westside Marsh, photographed in April 2017. (Click here for larger version)

Westside story

In Westside Marsh (just west of Port Darlington, on the north shore of Lake Ontario) the colour scheme is still mostly brown and blue. But the signs and sounds of spring are everywhere, with birds picking out nesting locations and a few already settled down on nests.

An osprey chows down on fresh fish. Unfortunately this bird appears to have a thorn or twig lodged in a nostril – it was clearly visible, sticking out at the same angle, on three different evenings in the past week. (Click image for larger view)

 

A real fixer-upper. The view from this platform is great but the furnishings so far are sparse. (Click image for larger view)

 

These nests are last year’s models but they’ve certainly held together through many strong winds. At left, this nest is only a few feet above ground in a dogwood bush, but its location on a narrow island makes it inaccessible to most predators. At right, this oriole (or possibly red-eyed vireo) nest hangs high in a tree on a hill overlooking Westside Marsh. (Click image for larger view)

Mute swans, which stay in the area through the winter, are already on their nests. (Click images for larger view)

 

These plovers splashing in the shallows at sunset may be just passing through. (Click image for larger view)

 

Beavers are a common sight here, especially in evening when they cross the open water to the wooded edges of the marsh.

Top photo: ospreys perched below one of several nesting platforms in the marsh. (Click here for larger view)

spectrum of motion

The swift coming of a cold front in recent days brought vibrant colour and motion to the lake shore.

 

‘Horizon’ – Bowmanville West Beach, Lake Ontario, March 10, 2017, 4:44 pm

 

‘Flight’ – Bowmanville West Beach, March 10, 2017, 4:46 pm

 

‘Rivulet’ – Bowmanville West Beach, March 11, 2017, 6:01 pm

 

‘Pier’ – St. Marys Cement docks, Lake Ontario, March 11, 2017, 6:18 pm

 

‘Speed of Light’ – Lake Ontario, Bowmanville, March 8, 2017, 5:31 pm

 

‘Slow Growth’ – Bowmanville Marsh, Lake Ontario, March 12, 2017, 9:36 am

 

‘Depth’ – Bowmanville Marsh, Sunday March 12, 9:45 am

Click photos above for larger versions.

Top photo: ‘Purple splash’ – Port Darlington Lighthouse, Lake Ontario, March 8, 2017, 5:20 pm (click here for larger version)