Archive for the ‘Animal life’ Category

Spring Peeper

Spring Peeper

Spring Peeper

Spring Peeper

Would you guess that this tiny frog makes a huge noise? Once the Wood frogs and Chorus frogs have sung the first verse of the spring song, the Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) and American Toads (Bufo americanus) take over. I strolled down to our wet spot behind the barn the other evening to make this recording of peeps and trills. The peeps are the song, of course, of the Spring Peepers, while the extended trills are American Toads.

Beautiful, an annual miracle. Near the end of the recording, you can hear a flock of Canada Geese passing overhead. At the beginning and end of the recording are a few notes of birdsong. Seabrooke, with her more attuned ear, informs me that the former is a Song Sparrow, and the latter is a Common Yellowthroat. Thanks to Seabrooke for the photos of Peepers and Toads.

For more on Spring Peepers, follow this link to Seabrooke’s post This ones for my peeps.

For more on American Toads, follow this link to Warts and all.


American Toad

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On the weekend, Seabrooke and I cleaned out the swallow boxes and other birdhouses around the property. That is, Seab cleaned and I offered support and encouragement.


Most of the houses had a swallow nest from last year’s season. This one had a lot of cattail fluff and soft bedding on top of the nest. It was probably the winter home of a mouse.


This box had been filled right up to the top with soft grasses. When Seabrooke began to remove the bedding she realized there was still an occupant…or two.


A tiny red squirrel baby! Seabrooke carefully reinstated the inhabitant and replaced the bedding.

We were none too soon with our Easter clean-up. The very next day, Tree Swallows came swooping and gliding and chittering, anxious to lay claim to the best boxes.


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Wood Frog (Rana sylvatica)

Wonderful though it is to hear the voices of the returning migrant birds, the Song of Spring is not sung by birds. Rather, it is sung in trills and peeps and quacks by thousands of tiny frogs as they awaken from a long winter and seek to renew life itself.

I heard the first frog music a week ago, on the evening of Tuesday, April 15, after a lovely mild day. Since then, we’ve had some cooler days, even a dusting of snow, but the frog chorus is growing more persistent, more insistent.

Yesterday, I recorded a homophony of Western Chorus frogs and Wood frogs when I stopped by a wetland on my way home. Listen here:

The trilly voices are the chorus frogs, while the clacky, quacky voices are the wood frogs. It’s hard to believe that such tiny beings create such a clamorous outpouring. Chorus frogs range from about .75 to 1.5 inches long, while wood frogs are a bit larger, 1.4 to 3.3 inches in length.

Thanks to Seabrooke for the use of these two photographs of the tiny singers, which she took last Tuesday night.


Western Chorus Frog (Pseudacris t. triseriata)

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On Saturday, it snowed heavily all morning and another few inches of fresh snow cover accumulated. Sunday dawned bright, sunny and cold. In the morning, we took Pookie out for a walk on the road along the river, and these marks in the fresh snow caught my eye. They exited the culvert and continued down the river in a series of dots and dashes: the tracks of a river otter!


The dots are the otter’s footprints as it pushes off and inscribes a dash as it coasts along on its belly. It looks like fun! Judging from a distance, the belly dash looks about a foot wide, and about 6 to 8 feet long.


This is the first evidence I’ve seen of a river otter on our little section of creek. I was a bit surprised to find it because this is quite an agriculturally intensive area, with plenty of big corn fields emptying their load of fertilizers and pesticides into the river.

I followed these tracks until they disappeared over a stretch of ice. I found a second trail in one of the corn field drainage ditches.

For some cool photographs of otters and more information about these interesting critters, see Seabrooke’s blog, The Marvelous in Nature at L’Otter Fun, linked here.


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On Monday, it was still bitterly cold but bright and sunny, a good day for a drive, and we set off for the Montreal Botanical Garden. The MBG features a set of linked greenhouses that are like paradise on a cold winter’s day. The photo above shows a model of the greenhouses and gives you an idea of their layout. Each house features different plant species. We especially wanted to see the Butterflies Go Free exhibit, which opened February 20th and runs until April 27th.


When you step into the first greenhouse and are enveloped by the humid, earth-scented air, it is easy to leave winter behind.


This vivid orchid is xLaeliocattleya Ptarmigan Ridge ‘Mendenhall’. What a beauty!


Check out these fiddleheads! They belong to a tree fern.


You can get an idea of the size of this tree fern from the person standing to the right.


Here’s a bit of information about tree ferns provided with the display.


You can walk behind a waterfall and look out over a pond featuring two sculpted cranes.


Here’s yet another reason for banning plastic water bottles!


Look at these monster cones! They belong to a cycas.


I’ve gotten lazy about taking down information. The digital age makes it easy to record whatever information is on offer and read up on topics at your leisure back at home.


The begonia room may be my favorite. There are so many diverse varieties of begonias with all manner of interesting leaf patterns. One of my favorites was the one shown above. The leaves look green in the shade, but when lit by the sun, they are fired with red.


And how about this swirly pattern? This rex begonia is appropriately named Escargot.


After the warmth of the other greenhouses, the bonsai room felt distinctly cool. The bonsai are just awakening from a dormant period and many, such as this Chinese Elm, featured tiny leaves, just beginning to show.


Our last stop was the butterfly exhibit. It’s totally wonderful, with a large, bright, two-storey structure filled with beautiful flowering plants, a tall waterfall and brilliant butterflies everywhere. What a pleasure.


Here’s the chrysalis house, where you can look for emerging butterflies. The butterflies are easy to observe and photograph, a great spectacle. A helpful full-colour guide is included with your admission so you can identify different species. I’ll leave you with a few photos of some of the butterflies, and a giant moth!


Atlas or Cobra Moth (Attacus atlas)


Blue morpho (Morpho helenor)


Asian swallowtail pair (Papilio lowi)


Rice paper (Idea leuconoe) and Pink rose (Pachliopta kotzebuea)


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In the tiny hamlet of Oxford Mills, Friday evenings are Mudpuppy Night. The open water below the old mill dam offers an unusual opportunity to encounter Ontario’s aquatic salamanders in winter habitat. Dr. Fred Schueler, who has surveyed the mudpuppy population at Oxford Mills for a number of years, shares his expertise with visitors. You can learn more about the event at his website linked here. It is reported:

Since 1998 Mudpuppy Night in Oxford Mills’has been taking observers to the only place in Ontario where Mudpuppies have been repeatedly observed in large numbers throughout the winter, the longest-running winter hempetological outing in Canada.


Seabrooke and I had been trying to coordinate an outing for much of the winter and finally made it to Oxford Mills on the evening of February 21st. It drizzled for much of the day, but late in the afternoon the rain stopped and the sun came out just in time to set. We joined an intrepid group from the Kingston Field Naturalists who had made the long drive to attend.

The mudpuppies can be seen on the rocky bed of the river, highlighted by Fred’s flashlight. A few are gently netted and placed in a cooler so that visitors can get a better look at them.

This was a return visit for Seabrooke and I. We first attended Mudpuppy Night in 2011. You can find additional photos of the mudpuppies at my earlier blog post linked here.


Mudpuppies are amazing. This information is provided on the Mudpuppy Night website:

Mudpuppies, Necturus maculosus, are foot-long permanently aquatic Salamanders. They retain the gills and smooth skin of larvae as adults, and go undetected in many water-bodies because of their secretive habits. Mudpuppies are slow and cautious, though they can swim nearly as fast as a fish on occasion. In May females deposit 50-150 eggs on the underside of a flat rock. The female guards the eggs, and attends the larvae after they hatch.

About 25 years ago herpetologists realized that Mudpuppies are active, and feed actively, all winter, because they can be caught in baited minnowtraps in the winter but not in the summer. Mudpuppies were long famous for having more DNA in each cell than just about any other animal, and this winter activity has shown that the abundant DNA provides Mudpuppies with the array of temperature-adjusted enzymes they require to remain active in water from 0°-32° C. Mudpuppies are fairly common in the Ottawa River and its major tributaries, north to the Arctic Watershed, and the Canadian range extends through southern Quebec, Ontario and Manitoba.


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There’s stiff competition among the four-leggers for the best seat in the house: Curled up with Railguy on his recliner.

Merry Christmas to all from Willow House. May your holidays be merry and bright!


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I love this photograph of two pollinators visiting summer flowers. That’s a honeybee on the left, and a big, fat bumblebee on the right. I love to watch bees, all kinds of bees, and other pollinators enliven my garden. But you have probably heard that honey bees are severely threatened by a syndrome that has been named Colony Collapse Disorder. Although multiple causes may be implicated, the smoking gun points to one major culprit: neonicotinoid pesticides. And you can bet that it’s not just honeybees that are being affected. Other pollinators, birds and aquatic life are all at risk as well.


In Europe, precautionary bans of some neonicotinoids are being instituted.

The Ontario Beekeepers’ Association is supporting a call for a ban of neonicotinoids in Ontario. The banner, above, is from their website. You can sign their petition and read more information at ontariobee.com.

The Sierra Club of Canada is also supporting a ban. You can sign their petition and read more information at Sierraclub.ca.


The American Bird Conservancy have looked into the effect of neonicotinoids on birds.

ABC commissioned world-renowned environmental toxicologist Dr. Pierre Mineau to conduct the research. The 100-page report, “The Impact of the Nation’s Most Widely Used Insecticides on Birds,” reviews 200 studies on neonicotinoids including industry research obtained through the US Freedom of Information Act. The report evaluates the toxicological risk to birds and aquatic systems and includes extensive comparisons with the older pesticides that the neonicotinoids have replaced. The assessment concludes that the neonicotinoids are lethal to birds and to the aquatic systems on which they depend.

The beauty of bees and the desperate crisis that threatens them, and by extension, us, is documented in the award-winning video, The Vanishing of the Bees. I was able to borrow a copy from my local library and highly recommend it.


Another source is David Suzuki’s Nature of Things special, To Bee or Not to Bee. If you missed this show, you can still watch it online. Time well-spent.


In addition to becoming informed and supporting a ban on neonicotinoids, you can help by buying local organic honey. Did you know that a lot of commercial honey isn’t pure? It has been ultra-filtered to disguise ingredients:

Ultra filtering is a high-tech procedure where honey is heated, sometimes watered down and then forced at high pressure through extremely small filters to remove pollen, which is the only foolproof sign identifying the source of the honey. It is a spin-off of a technique refined by the Chinese, who have illegally dumped tons of their honey – some containing illegal antibiotics – on the U.S. market for years.

In the U.S., the Food and Drug Administration says that any product that’s been ultra-filtered and no longer contains pollen isn’t honey. However, the FDA isn’t checking honey sold here to see if it contains pollen.

Food Safety News found that more than three-fourths of the honey sold in U.S. grocery stores had been ultra-filtered.

Note: additional images here are copied from my facebook page where they arrived from unknown sources.


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As I was returning home along a country road, I could see something across the road ahead. As I drew closer, I realized the obstruction was a sting of Wild Turkeys. I stopped the car and took a photograph of the flock.


They seemed to be waiting for the mailman. I think they must have been expecting a cheque today.


They were reluctant to leave, but as I crept closer, they took off in a flurry of wings.

Closer to home, I spotted this handsome red fox. Seems like everyone was out enjoying the beautiful day.


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As we lingered on the shore of Beaver Dam Lake, encountered on the Marble Rock Trail, we noticed strange, alien shapes in the water. They looked a bit like big masses of eggs, but autumn isn’t egg season.

The largest of the blobs was about a foot long or more. The masses seemed to be anchored to branches or debris in the water. A closer look shows that the mass surface was divided into segments with star-like white markings discernable.


That evening, I sought out more information about the blobs. Dr. Fred Schueler of Pinicola kindly came to my aid and quickly identified the mystery mass as Pectinatella magnifica, a freshwater bryozoan. Please visit Pinicola.ca for a wonderful photo of a Pectinatella magnifica mass out of the water, glowing like Einstein’s brain with the sun shining through it (Page 17). It is part of a very useful guide ot freshwater species. About Pectinatella magnifica, this information is offered:

Our conspicupous Bryozoan is the vast jelly colonies of Pectinatella magnifica, filter-feeding colonies, up to two metres in diameter, that disintegrate into floating dot-like statocysts to pass the winter, and germinate into new colonies in the spring. Colonies are always composed of clearly recognizable rosettes of zooids on the surface of the jelly mass. In the water the surface appears white
from the zooids’ lophophores, and brownish when the lophophores collapse when the colony is lifted out of the water. As water temperatures fall below 20°C in the fall the zooids form into statoblasts which are saddle shaped with a single row of flattened barbed spines.


The Encyclopedia of Life offers this information:

Bryozoans, also known as ectoprocts, are a family of small filter feeding invertebrates that live as colonies in aquatic habitats. Of the several thousand species of bryozoans, almost all live in marine environments. A set of exceptions are the 19 species in class Phylactolaemata which are found exclusively in freshwater lakes and resevoirs (Ruppert et al 2004). Pectinatella magnifica, the magnificent bryozoan, is one of these unusual freshwater bryozoan species, conspicuous in that it forms the largest colonies of the fresh water bryozoans (Wilcox 1906).

While most bryozoan colonies form as an encrusting layer on algae, pilings, or other submerged surfaces, a Pectinatella magnifica colony lives on the surface of a gelatinous mass. When starting a colony, an individual animal (called a zoid) hatches from a hard seedlike “statoblast” and buds to form a small number of identical individuals. This founding clump of zoids secrete a watery fluid that hardens to form a firm gelatinous core upon which the colony spreads as the zoids reproduce (first asexually and then sexually as the colony ages ) into visible rosettes of 10-18 individuals across the surface. Before the gelatinous skeleton of a young colony hardens, colonies may fuse their masses together and form mosaic colonies from more than one genotype (Henchman and Davenport 1913). An early study found that young colonies can propel themselves across the slippery surface of their gelatinous substrate by creating water currents with coordinated beating of the ciliated tentacles on their crown-shaped lophophore organ, a specialized filter feeding apparatus common to all bryozoans (Wilcox, 1906; Davenport 1899). Pectinatella magnifica colonies can grow large, more than two feet (60 cm) across, and are found as a somewhat slimy translucent brown mass usually attached to an underwater substrate but sometimes free floating (Van Der Waaij 2009; Wikipedia 2013).


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