Posts Tagged ‘wetland’


Misty Wetland

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Whose swamp this is I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his swamp…

Okay, that’s a bit of a stretch. But I think of Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening whenever I stop to appreciate this wetland that is bisected by a paved road on my route to Prescott. It evokes the same sense of stillness that Frost’s poem deftly captures.

If time allows, I park my car on the shoulder, turn off the ignition and climb out to gaze over the water. On a hot summer’s day, the heat of the sun envelopes me and a deep, penetrating silence settles into my bones. Soon the abundant life of the wetland becomes apparent, the quiet sounds of birds and frogs, dragonflies zipping back and forth, littles intensely living out their lives.

On the west side of the road, the wetland runs toward swamp, with dead trees and snags punctuating the water surface. To the east, the wetland is more marshy, with cattails and open water. In winter, it is dotted with muskrat houses.


I especially enjoy watching the dragonflies. The cast of characters changes across the season. When I visited early in July, the water surface was alive with bluets, brilliant blue damselflies. (There are a number of bluet species, difficult to differentiate.) Many were curled into copulation wheels, whereby the male transfers a packet of sperm to the female. This can take a few minutes or as long as an hour. Soon after mating, the female will lay her eggs in water or on plant material.


This weekend, Easter Pondhawks (Erythemis simplicicollis) predominated. They’re members of the Skimmer family, Libellulidae.


As I watched, I could see many females skimming the surface, dipping into the water, depositing their eggs.

>Female Eastern Pondhawk

Others were wrapped in copulation wheels, the female in the rear or lower position.

Eastern Pondhawks

I was startled when a heron that I hadn’t even noticed suddenly flew up with an extended loud expression of its annoyance. It flew across the road and settled far along the edge of the east marsh, away from my prying eyes.


When I crossed to the east side of the road, a little flock of Killdeer (Charadrius vociferus) kept a close eye on me and let out their distinctive alarm shrieks before whirling away to a more distant mudflat. They were keeping company with some Upland Sandpipers (Bartramia longicauda). You can just see one peeking out to the right of the Killdeer.


The water surface was dotted with little yellow flowers, bladderwort (Ulticularia sp). Can you spot the frog watching me?


I could hear a bird sound coming from the cattails and walked up the road to get a better view. I thought it might be a bittern, and didn’t really expect to see anything. Bitters are very hard to spot in vegetation. I was surprised to find instead this chicken-sized bird strolling along the water’s edge.


A Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)! In spite of the name, moorhens aren’t a very common sight and I was delighted to encounter this one. There was some movement of something dark behind her, but I wasn’t able to make out what it was. Perhaps she had chicks with her. What an exciting find!


I was sorry to leave, but I had errands to run. Miles to go…


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We’ve been enjoying a string of beautiful fall days. I’m not a huge fan of fall, mostly because autumn means winter is around the corner. However, there is no denying that some of the most gorgeous days of the year come along in this shoulder season. On Sunday, it was too nice to stay inside. After getting some chores looked after, we headed up to Nepean, at the edge of Ottawa.


With an inviting array of 100 km of trails, the National Capital Greenbelt offers hikers many choices. Since it was mid-afternoon when we arrived, we explored a couple of the shorter loops. The Sarsaparilla Trail is an easy hike on a level, gravelled pathway. It is just .8 km long, but it proved to be very rewarding.


The trail circles through attractive, open woodland with many beautiful big trees. The Y in this tree was clearly a favorite posing spot for hikers. A large branch was propped up behind the tree so that photo subjects could climb up to the opening.


Near the trailhead, we looked up, way up, and saw two dark shapes in a treetop: two porcupines dreaming in the afternoon sun high above hikers.


Dogs aren’t allowed on the trail and this probably explains the dozens of chipmunks that dart boldly across the trail.


There were also squirrels, both little red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) and their larger cousins, gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis). Black squirrels are just a different colour morph of gray squirrels, not a separate species.



About half way around the loop, the trail opens onto a deck overlooking a large wetland.


As we stepped out onto the lookout deck, ducks and geese hurriedly retreated to a safer distance.


We gazed out over the water, admiring the sun sparkling on the surface. At the far side of the swamp, there was a tall white bird, a Great Egret (Ardea alba), not a common species in this region. Cool!


Near the parking lot, was an inviting picnic pavilion. We were struck by how perfect the Sarsaparilla Trail is for introducing young children to nature and hiking. It offers a short, easily traversed trail, plenty of little critters, an interesting lookout over water, and a great place for a picnic.


We had time for another trail, and travelled a short distance to the nearby Beaver Trail loop on Moodie Road. The Wild Bird Care Centre is near the trail parking lot. It is open to the public between noon and 3:00 PM, and an interesting place to visit. For more information, visit their website at Wild Bird Care Centre.org.


Like the Sarsaparilla Trail, the Beaver Trail loops through open woodland and leads to another wetland lookout.


Here and there along the trail were little caches of mixed seed and sunflower seed left behind by visitors. Near the lookout, a family with two youngsters were feeding chickadees. The young girl kindly stood patiently until I was able to get a photograph of one of the chickadees helping himself to a seed from her outstretched hand.


Chickadees and nuthatches were flitting about near the trail, obviously accustomed to handouts. Another time, we’ll take some sunflower seed or peanuts with us. Both these trails had a number of families visiting, which was nice to see.


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It’s hard to believe that it has been two years since I first viewed the display of Showy Lady’s Slipper orchids (Cypripedium Reginae) at Purdon Conservation Area, northwest of Perth. This weekend, the weather was beautiful, and we enjoyed a family excursion on Father’s Day to see the orchids, which are just reaching their peak period of bloom.


Thanks to the efforts of Joe Purdon, a pioneer in conservation stewardship, the colony of a few dozen orchids, which he discovered on his property in the 1930s, has grown to 16,000 blooms. It is probably the largest display of Showy Lady’s Slipper orchids (Cypripedium Reginae) in North America. A well-maintained boardwalk allows visitors to stroll through the wetland and enjoy the remarkable display.


Fens are very special places. A fen forms when layers of peat (dead plant matter, such as sphagnum moss) build up to form a mat around the edge of open water. The mat slowly grows as live moss at the surface dies and drifts to the bottom of the water. As the open water is gradually filled in, a peatland is formed. While slow-moving water is still flowing through the fen, it rinses out some of the acidity of the peat. Fens support sedges and grasses and low to medium-height shrub cover along with a sparse covering of trees. Fens may require 5,000 years to form. When movement of water is completely obstructed, the fen becomes more acidic and develops into a bog.


A specialized plant community thrives in a fen. The Pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea) is carnivorous and uses insects for food. Rainwater collects in the hollow leaves of the plant, where an insect-digesting enzyme is mixed with the water. Insects are attracted into the leaves and are unable to escape because of smooth hairs at the opening. In this way, pitcher plants are able to survive in nutrient-poor environments where other plants could not. In early summer, wine and green-coloured flowers are produced on stems separate from the tubular leaves. The photograph above shows a birds-eye view looking down past the wine-coloured flower into the pitchers formed by the leaves.


Slender Cotton Grass (Enophorum viridi-carinatum) is actually a member of the sedge family. The long silky bristles of its fruit clusters give them the appearance of soft cotton. Cotton Grass is found in bogs and fens across boreal North America.


Tufted Loosestrife (Lysimachia thyrsiflora) features yellow globe-shaped flowers. Also known as False Buckwheat, it is found in swamps and fens across temperate North America. Other interesting plants that we observed include the Northern Green Orchid and Twinflowers. Below, Seabrooke (The Marvelous in Nature) captures a view of a Showy Lady’s Slipper.

(Just a note: The highly invasive alien, Purple Loosestrife, isn’t related to native loosestrifes and belongs to a totally different plant family. It should more properly be called Purple Lythrum (Lythrum salicaria))


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On the weekend, RailGuy and I were out in Cornwall, and after finishing our shopping, decided to check out Cooper Marsh Conservation Area. The marsh is located about 18 kilometres east of Cornwall, at the edge of the St. Lawrence river, south of Lancaster. Cooper Marsh is part of a larger wetland, the Charlottenburgh Marsh.

Interestingly, the land wasn’t originally wetland. The marsh was first created in the mid-1800s by navigational water-level control structures, and was further impacted by the Seaway Project in the 1950s. The land was acquired in the 1940s by the Coopers, who worked with the Raisin Region Conservation Authority in the 1970s to protect the marsh. A network of dykes, dams and channels were constructed by Ducks Unlimited and partners to improve the quality of the marsh habitat for wildlife.

There were four different trails to choose from and we decided to take the boardwalk trail. It is an ambitious boardwalk that loops in a long curve through a swampy wet area with plenty of plant life and standing water. The boards were beginning to show their age. In between many of the boards was a dense growth of Cladonia spp lichen.

The shrubby areas were alive with small birds, but it was hard to get a good look at them, let alone a photograph. Most views looked like this glimpse of a Common Yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas), below.

I did get a few better shots. Here is a Marsh Wren (Cistothorus palustris).

And a Swamp Sparrow (Melospiza georgiana).

Of course, there were the usual wetland residents, such as Red-winged Blackbirds, as well. But the highlight of the walk were the Green Herons (Butorides virescens). I’ve seen Green Herons before, but only a brief glimpse as the bird disappeared out of sight into heavy shrubbery. Here they were right out in the open.

At the end of the boardwalk is a blind from which we were able to watch the herons, and also spotted these ducklings.

The ducklings seemed to be on their own. Where was their mother? When I later looked more closely at this photograph of a heron, surprise! There’s Mother Mallard, peaking out from the top left corner.

The boardwalk offered lots to see. We only had time for a quick walk, but look forward to revisiting both the boardwalk and the other park trails on another day.

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Strictly speaking, the quote should be “If you build it, he will come”. It’s from Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella, but was made famous by Kevin Costner in the movie Field of Dreams.

Three years ago at dusk on a spring evening, when the sky was a robin’s-egg blue and the wind as soft as a day-old chick, I was sitting on the verandah of my farm home in eastern Iowa when a voice very clearly said to me, “If you build it, he will come.”

Of course, the voice speaking to Ray Kinsella wanted him to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield. I can’t say I’m a baseball fan, but I enjoyed the book, and the movie too. A bit corny, but hey.

Tony, former owner of Willow House, oversaw the construction of the pond. He’s never mentioned any voice prompting him to begin work nor anything about sitting on the verandah.   The pond was built for the practical purpose of supplying water to the nursery operation Tony ran. Nevertheless, Tony built the pond and they came: a wonderful assemblage of plants and animals that have turned the once-flat piece of farmland into a natural wonder. The first step was the removal of the topsoil from the site, an area of about 175 square feet. This was completed in the autumn of 1993.

Next, a layer of sand was removed, and the pond was sculped into the underlying clay. On average, the pond is about four feet deep, but some areas are up to eight feet deep. The pond captures water from precipitation and spring runoff from the surrounding fields. By May of 1995, the pond was full and providing Tony’s young sons with a place to practise their canoeing skills.

The pond is no longer used as a water source, and the naturalization process that I imagine began almost immediately is still ongoing. Fish live in the deeps, painted turtles bask on a log, bullfrogs call, dragonflies zip around the cattails that line the shore, tree swallows gracefully dip and weave over the water. Even if there was no voice guiding Tony, I’m glad he found the inspiration to build the pond, and even happier to be the beneficiary, as I regularly visit the pond to see what’s new.

Special thanks also to Tony for sharing the history of the pond and his photographs of its development.

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Limerick Forest is composed of 175 scattered compartments of land, which together total 58 square kilometres dispersed throughout Leeds & Grenville Counties, southwest of Kemptville. The area was settled in the late 1840s, mostly by Irish survivors of the Great Famine. Andrew Forsythe named his 200 acre farm Limerick, after his former home in Ireland. The forests in the area were cleared and replaced by agricultural fields, but the soil was soon exhausted. Much of the exposed land became stony plains and sandy dunes.


From 1910 until after the Great Depression, families who were no longer able to scratch out a living on their poor farmland deserted their homes. With taxes due, ownership of the land reverted to the Counties. Reforestation was begun by the Counties in the 1940s, and Limerick is now a mix of plantations, wetland and natural forest.


RailGuy and I recently visited Limerick Forest South (Area 3) and followed the Boardwalk Trail. The approach to the boardwalk leads through a forested area. The plantation trees are now an impressive size and the forest has a peaceful, strong and abiding feel. The pines are arrow-straight and tall.


Parts of the forest are very swampy. In fact, we had to give up on the east end of the trail to the boardwalk as it was totally submerged at one point. We retraced out steps and entered the boardwalk from its west end.


After walking through the forest, it is surprising to step out onto the boardwalk and find a large open area set out before you.
To the north of the boardwalk, the wetland is heavily vegetated with a mix of floating and emergent plants and woody shrubs. To the south, the wetland opens up into a large expanse of open water and sedges.


The marsh was quiet and still, but a number of birds were on the wing, with swallows swooping over the water and Red-winged Blackbirds calling from cattails. A Mink frog (Rana septentrionalis) watched us from the floating plants beside the boardwalk.


As we headed back to the parking lot, we agreed we would return, perhaps with picnic supplies, with a view to enjoying the tranquility of this pretty spot another day.


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A few weeks ago, Railguy and I drove out to the Alfred region, about 70 km south and east of Ottawa, to check out the Alfred Bog. The current Alfred Bog encompasses about 10,000 acres, a remnant of the original wetland that once covered more than 30,000 acres. Intensive land use, including drainage for agriculture and peat extraction have greatly reduced the original wetland, but what remains is still the largest and highest-quality bog ecosystem in Southern Ontario. To reach the Bogwalk, you drive up a long road, through a flat, agricultural landscape, and you would never guess there is a bog anywhere close by. The above photograph was taken from the Bogwalk parking area.


At the entrance to the Bogwalk, a sign features information about the bog and the logos of the groups involved in preserving the remaining wetland. The Nature Conservancy of Canada became involved in conservation of the bog ecosystem in 1986 and worked with many partners, including the South Nation Conservation Authority, the Alfred Bog Committee, the Ottawa Field Naturalists, the United Counties of Prescott and Russell, the Vankleek Hill Nature Society, Environment Canada and the Ministry of Natural Resources. Today, about 90 percent of the Bog is under conservation ownership.


The sign reads, in part: Alfred Bog is a domed peat bog, which is rare this far south. It includes three wetland types: bog (85%), swamp (12%) and marsh (3%). Peat depths range from a metre (3 feet) to 7 metres (22 feet) in the interior. Many of the plants and animals that live in the bog are rare and some species are at risk. For instance, this is one of a few isolates sites in Ontario where the yellow race of the Palm Warbler regularly nests. In addition, Alfred Bog is home to a moose herd representing one of the most southerly moose populations in Ontario. If you look closely during your stroll along the 272 metre boardwalk, you may see bog plants such as the Northern Pitcher-plant, Pink Lady’s Slipper, and Cottongrass. The peat in this bog is the result of thick layer of moss that have built up over time. The most common moss in Alfred Bog is sphagnum moss, which can be seen along the boardwalk.


After driving through a landscape of flat agricultural fields, and then following the boardwalk through a line of forest, it is startling to come out into the open and view the grand panorama of the bog spread out before you. Protected by a screen of trees from the surrounding farmland, the bog seemed quiet, peaceful, even a little other-worldly.


I think we were a bit early for Lady’s Slippers or Pitcher-plants, but we did see Cottongrass (Eriophorum sp.), actually a sedge. There was also, of course, moss. Except for a few puddles near the edge of the bog, no water was visable. The brownish coloration of much of the vegetation made the bog look deceptively dry. However, by gently pushing down on the moss, you could see the true state of the surface as water immediately appeared in the opening.


You can buy big bags of peat moss at most garden centers and I used to use it as a soil amendment for heavy soil. However, since learning more about bogs, I have stopped. There are other things that work as well or better and don’t involve sensitive wetland habitat. The peat moss industry has been working hard to defend their industry as responsible. It is claimed that peat bogs can be renewed in as little as 5 to 10 years. I remain sceptical. Probably, just as a forest plantation is not the same thing as an undisturbed forest, a reclaimed bog is not the same thing as an untouched bog. Given the easily replaceable nature of peat moss for garden uses, why take a chance? There is a good discussion of the peat moss issue at Natural Life.


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