Birds of the Galapagos

Blue-footed Booby showing those namesake feet! Photo by Justin Peter

Blue-footed Booby showing those namesake feet! Photo by Justin Peter

by Marissa Carroll

Justin Peter, director of programs and senior naturalist for Quest Nature Tours and vice-president of the Toronto Ornithological Club, brought his extensive knowledge of fascinating Galapagos birds to the Ottawa Field-Naturalist Club’s monthly meeting this past Tuesday.

Host to unique and interesting species, the Galapagos Islands are home to the swallow-tailed gull, the albatross, the Galapagos hawk, a variety of Boobies, and Darwin’s finches. Although some of these species live on the islands year-round, others come and go with the seasons.

Interactions between these species are varied. The Nazca Booby is known for its antagonism toward other birds and its general lack of intelligence. Darwin’s finches’ claim to fame includes the slight differences between birds of different islands, variations that were key to the development of Darwin’s theory of natural selection.

Overall, the Galapagos Islands host an impressive array of interesting birds. Whether of historical importance, or present day comedy, the birds found on the islands draw ornithologists from all over the world. Luckily for us, the natural seclusion of the Galapagos means none of the species found there have learned to be afraid of humans. The Galapagos Islands are an incredible place to observe fascinating fowl up close.

"The Game of Love". This male Magnificent Frigatebird on North Seymour appeared to be exhausted from courtship duties. Photo by Justin Peter

“The Game of Love”. This male Magnificent Frigatebird on North Seymour appeared to be exhausted from courtship duties. Photo by Justin Peter

Mushrooms collected in the forest, photographed by the MacSkimming Centre team

Mushrooms of MacSkimming

By Julia Cipriani

Mushrooms collected in the forest, photographed by the MacSkimming Centre team

Mushrooms collected in the forest, photographed by the MacSkimming Centre team

On Saturday, October 1, well over 110 people met at MacSkimming Outdoor Education Centre to participate in the MacSkimming open trails event. There were members of the general public, of OFNC, and of les Mycologues amateurs de l’Outaouais (MAO). The enthusiasm was palpable.

Participants lay out their mushrooms at MacSkimming. Photo by Andrée Juneau

Participants lay out their mushrooms at MacSkimming. Photo by Andrée Juneau

Yolande Dalpé and Brett Stevens led the foray. After exploring the woods of MacSkimming for a couple of hours, participants returned with baskets overflowing with mushrooms. It was a stunning harvest. The MAO group placed laminated images of mushrooms on the tables which facilitated grouping and the initial identification of the harvest. Yolande and Brett worked with the participants to identify mushrooms that were puzzling.

It was great to see such a large range of ages interested in fungi and engaged with the outdoors. The OFNC would like to thank the MacSkimming Centre team for welcoming us to their site.


The Harvest

compiled by Yolande Dalpé, Research Scientist (AAFC) & Director (Mycologues amateurs de l’Outaouais)

BASIDIOMYCETES

Agaricales

Agaricaceae
Amanita amerifulva
Amanita citrina
Amanita flavoconia
Amanita muscaria var guessowii
Amanita vaginata
Amanita virosa
Lycoperdon perlatum
Lycoperdon pyriforme
Lycoperdon subincarnatum
Melanophyllum haematospermum
Plicaturopsis crispa

Coprinaceae
Coprinopsis atramentaria

Cortinariaceae
Cortinarius alboviolaceus
Cortinarius armillatus
Cortinarius caperatus
Cortinarius chrysolitus
Cortinarius claricolor
Cortinarius delibutus
Cortinarius semisanguineus
Cortinarius traganus
Crepidotus applanatus
Gymnopilus luteus
Gymnopilus penetrans

Entolomataceae
Fibropilus abortivum

Hydnangiaceae
Laccaria laccata s.l.
Hebeloma mesophaeum

Hygrophoraceae
Ampulloclitocybe clavipes
Cuphophyllus borealis
Cuphophyllus pratensis
Hygrocybe chlorophana
Hygrocybe coccinea
Hygrocybe conica
Hygrocybe marginata
Hygrocybe parvula
Hygrocybe punicea
Hygrocybe squamulosa
Hygrophorus pudorinus
Hygrophorus purpurascens
Porpolomopsis calyptriformis

Lyophyllaceae
Hypsizygus tessulatus
Lyophyllum connatum
Lyophyllum decastes

Marasmiaceae
Clitocybula familia

Mycenaceae
Mycena leaiana
Panellus stypticus

Omphalotaceae
Gymnopus dryophilus
Rhodocollybia maculata

Physalacriaceae
Cyptotrama chrisopepla
Hymenopellis furfuracea

Pleurotaceae
Pleurotus pulmonarius

Pluteaceae
Pluteus cervinus

Strophariaceae
Hypholoma lateritium
Pholiota lenta
Pholiota limonella
Pholiota spumosa
Pholiota squarrosoides
Stropharia hardii

Tricholomataceae
Clitocybe coniferophila
Clitocybe phleophthalma
Lepista nuda
Pseudoarmillariella ectypoides
Tricholoma aurantium
Incertae sedis: Cotylidia pannosa

Boletales

Harrya chromapes
Leccinum atrostipitatum
Leccinum holopus
Leccinum scabrum
Leccinum snellii

Hygrophoropsidaceae
Hygrophoropsis aurantiaca

Scleroderma citrinum, photographed by the MacSkimming Centre team

Scleroderma citrinum, photographed by the MacSkimming Centre team

Sclerodermataceae
Scleroderma citrinum

Cantharellales

Cantharellaceae
Cantharellus cinnabarinus

Clavariaceae
Clavulinopsis corniculata
Clavulinopsis fusiformis
Ramaria gracilis

Dacrymycetales

Dacrymycetaceae
Calocera cornea
Coltricia cinnamomea

Gomphaceae
Ramariopsis kunzei

Hymenochaetales

Inonotus obliquus

Fomitopsidaceae
Piptoporus betulinus

Ganodermataceae
Ganoderma applanatum
Ganoderma tsugae

Gloeophyllaceae
Ischnoderma resinosa

Meruliaceae
Irpex lacteus

Polyporaceae
Daedaleopsis confragosa
Fomes fomentarius
Lentinus levis
Polyporus badius
Polyporus squammosus
Postia stiptica
Trametes ochracea
Trametes versicolor
Trichaptum biforme
Tyromyces chioneus

Russulales

Auriscalpiaceae
Lentinellus cochleatus

Hericiaceae
Hericium americanum

Russulaceae
Lactarius affinis
Lactarius cinereus
Lactarius deceptivus (Lactifluus)
Lactarius deterrimus
Lactarius glyciosmus
Lactarius helvus
Lactarius pyrogalus
Lactarius rufus
Lactarius subpurpureus
Lactarius thyinos
Lactarius torminosus
Lactarius vinaceorufescens
Russula adusta
Russula aeruginea
Russula compacta
Russula emetica
Russula fragilis
Russula mariae
Russula variata

Helvellaceae
Gyromitra infula

SORDARIOMYCETES

Hypomyces chrysospermus

MYXOMYCETES

Liceales

Lycogala epidendron

Physarales

Fuligo septica

Peary Caribou: an iconic High Arctic species

OFNC monthly meeting, 13 September 2016

By Marissa Carroll

Dr. Micheline Manseau, an associate professor at the Natural Resources Institute of the University of Manitoba and an ecosystem scientist for Parks Canada, was the featured speaker at the OFNC meeting this September. She lectured on the iconic High Arctic Peary Caribou. Understanding the species’ origins and unique characteristics is key to the management and conservation of this fascinating animal.

Dr. Micheline Manseau (second from the left) posing with club members (left to right) Irwin Brodo (former OFNC president), Murray Citron (OFNC poet laureate), and Michael Davidson.

Dr. Micheline Manseau (second from the left) posing with club members (left to right) Irwin Brodo (former OFNC president), Murray Citron (OFNC poet laureate), and Michael Davidson.

Contrary to popular belief, caribou and reindeer are the same species, Rangifer tarandus, but different subspecies. The Peary Caribou is a subspecies found in the High Arctic islands of northern Canada. Although unproven, there is strong evidence to suggest they descended from populations that survived in a High Arctic, unglaciated region. Peary Caribou were named after Robert Edwin Peary who is known best for his three attempts to reach the North Pole. He learned from Northern peoples and used animal skins and traditional food practices on his expeditions.

Peary Caribou are small. Their short legs and large hooves are useful for dealing with the tough snow and ice that covers lichens and low-lying plants in the north. Peary Caribou are generally sedentary, but are known to move when necessary. Their main predators are wolves.

Many Aboriginal groups have their own names for caribou. For instance, the Mi’kmaq word for caribou is “Qalipu,” meaning “an animal that shovels snow.” Caribou dig through the snow to find lichens, one of their primary foods. Dene people have different names for caribou found in different habitats.

Early fall birding along the Ottawa River

Northern Flicker, photographed by Sarma Vishnubhatla.

Northern Flicker, photographed by Sarma Vishnubhatla.

On Sunday, 11 September, Jeff Skevington led an outing to Britannia and points west along the Ottawa River. At least 28 participants spent the day visiting the best birding spots along the river, looking for migrants and, especially, shorebirds.

As Jeff reports, “We had many groups of warblers and ended up with 20 species of warblers for the day. My personal highlight was a group of warblers at Shirleys Bay that were coming to a puddle to drink. We had 6 Northern Parulas, 1 Tennessee Warbler, 1 Magnolia Warbler and 1 Black-throated Blue Warbler all attending the puddle at one time.

“We also saw 11 species of shorebirds, with the highlights being Sanderling and Short-billed Dowitcher. The species total for the day was 85.”

Sarma Vishnubhatla was kind enough to share her photos with us, and Jeff uploaded the list of species seen to eBird – if you have an eBird account, click here for the day’s checklist

Some of the participants in Sunday's birding excursion, led by Jeff Skevington (at right with scope).

Some of the participants in Sunday’s birding excursion, led by Jeff Skevington (at right with scope).

The importance of snags and downed logs to wildlife

by Christine Hanrahan

Snags are standing dead trees. They are also known as den or cavity trees and increasingly as wildlife trees. (photo by Christine Hanrahan)

Snags are standing dead trees. They are also known as den or cavity trees and increasingly as wildlife trees. (photo by Christine Hanrahan)

Walking through our local forests and along trails at the city’s edge, your eye may be caught by the stark form of a standing dead tree or by a fallen log stretched across the forest floor. Perhaps you have seen a woodpecker fly from a hole in the tree’s trunk, or noticed a squirrel running along the log, using it as a sort of elevated highway through the forest, and recognized the value of this dead wood to birds and other forest creatures. To many people, however, standing dead trees represent a threat to their safety, or an eyesore to be felled. Yet these standing dead trees and downed logs are an important feature of forest ecology.

A forest is a living entity, constantly changing and evolving. Old trees die, new ones sprout up and, over many years, the very composition of a forest changes as climax species eventually come to dominate the early and middle succession periods of the forest community. An important component of all forests are dead and dying trees, whether standing as snags or lying on the forest floor as downed logs. So vital is their role in the forest ecosystem that it is not an exaggeration to say that dead trees give life to the forest. Norse (1990), writing of a Pacific Northwest rainforest, states:

“Rotting snags and logs provide the tunnels, dens, and nesting cavities needed by animals from black bears and spotted owls to land snails and springtails. They are the birthplaces for western hemlocks, Sitka spruce, and smaller plants…. They are sites of biological nitrogen fixation, adding to the nutrient wealth of the forest.”

Although writing of the Pacific Northwest, his words ring true for our forests as well, albeit with some species difference.

Snags or wildlife trees

Snags are standing dead trees. They are also known as den or cavity trees and, increasingly, as wildlife trees. The latter term is especially appropriate for their value to wildlife is immeasurable, as they provide food, safe nesting sites in the form of cavities and platforms, roosting and denning sites, hunting perches, display stations, and foraging sites for a wide variety of species (Guy 1994).

From the time a standing tree dies until it falls to the forest floor, its many stages of decomposition attract different birds, mammals and invertebrates. Charles Elton (in Kennedy, 1991) observes that “dying and dead wood provides one of the two or three greatest resources for animal species in a natural forest… if fallen timber and slightly decayed trees are removed the whole system is greatly impoverished of perhaps more than a fifth of its fauna.”

Not all snags occur within a forest. Sometimes isolated trees, left standing by design or chance, hold a lonely vigil over fields or cottage lots, or some other cleared area. These, too, represent an important wildlife resource, offering nesting platforms for Ospreys (if near water), or hunting perches for flycatchers, Eastern Bluebirds, swallows and other birds, as well as food in the form of invertebrates inhabiting the tree.

Death of a tree

How a tree dies In human terms, most species of trees are effectively immortal, but urban and suburban environments can be stressful in various ways, and trees may be killed by disease or insect pests, various problems with water, light, and nutrients, and especially by disturbances inflicted on their root system.  - Fred Schueler

How a tree dies
In human terms, most species of trees are effectively immortal, but urban and suburban environments can be stressful in various ways, and trees may be killed by disease or insect pests, various problems with water, light, and nutrients, and especially by disturbances inflicted on their root system.
– Fred Schueler

The primary “colonizers” of snags are insects and fungi, which soften the wood allowing it to be easily shredded by birds and mammals. If you usually think of insects as pests, you might be surprised to find out that they’re essential to all the other wildlife species that depend on or make use of cavities. The variety of invertebrates inhabiting dead and dying trees is staggering: millipedes, mites, earwigs, beetles, spiders, ants, and even earthworms These insects then attract woodpeckers and other forest-dwelling animals who in the course of excavating for food, create holes or cavities that become, in turn, nesting sites for birds and small mammals. Biologists call those species that greatly influence other species, “keystone species.” Woodpeckers are one such example, for the holes they create as they search for food provide homes for countless other creatures. Fungi also provide food for other creatures, as well as being used by many insects.

A standing dead tree can remain in place for many years. Smaller trees come down sooner, but even they can last for many years, and this should be remembered when considering the “safety” aspects of snags in public places.

Downed logs

Like snags, downed logs provide shelter and denning sites for mammals, birds, and for amphibians and reptiles such as salamanders and snakes.  (photo by Christine Hanrahan)

Like snags, downed logs provide shelter and denning sites for mammals, birds, and for amphibians and reptiles such as salamanders and snakes. (photo by Christine Hanrahan)

An old-growth forest is full of fallen trees, or downed logs, whereas in second-growth eastern hardwood or pine forests, logs are much less in evidence. Yet even here they form an important part of the overall ecosystem just as they do in any forest or wooded area. In fact, biologists are now calling logs the “hot-spots” of the forest ecosystem.

When a tree falls to the ground, it is quickly taken over by insects, especially beetles. Earlier, woodpeckers were referred to as a keystone species; beetles serve that same function in downed logs (Norse 1990). As they bore into the log they open up the way for fungi, which in turn help to decompose the inner bark. As the beetles tunnel further into the log they provide access for spiders, ants, millipedes, and salamanders and the process of decomposition initiated by the beetles continues.

Like snags, downed logs provide shelter and denning sites for mammals, birds, and for amphibians and reptiles such as salamanders and snakes. Small animals such as squirrels use logs as easy routes through the forest.

Logs also act as “nurseries” for plants, allowing them a nutrient-rich base in which to take root. Many plants take root on downed logs and it is a fascinating exercise to count the number of plant species growing on a single “nurse log.”

Ecologists have classified five stages of decay in a downed log, from the first stage when a log is intact and not yet decayed, to the fifth, where the log has crumbled into a mass of organic material. Because logs are more moisture-retentive than snags they decay more slowly since oxygen is excluded from wet wood (Norse 1990). Large old-growth logs can take 200 or more years to decompose completely. Smaller logs, such as those found in this region, will decay much faster.

“Coarse woody debris”  refers to all the woody debris on the forest floor, not just logs, but stumps and branches as well, rotting or otherwise. (photo by Christine Hanrahan)

“Coarse woody debris” refers to all the woody debris on the forest floor, not just logs, but stumps and branches as well, rotting or otherwise. (photo by Christine Hanrahan)

The term “coarse woody debris” or CWD, refers to all the woody debris on the forest floor, not just logs, but stumps and branches as well, rotting or otherwise. As Fred Schueler points out, our eastern forests are more full of CWD in recent decades thanks to the influx of invasive species such as the Emerald Ash Borer. He says:

“Now, largely due to Dutch Elm Disease, and successional squeezing out of Aspens, there seems to be a plethora of CWD, and when the Emerald Ash Borer is done with us we’re going to have huge quantities of both standing and fallen wood which will presumably make the woods much more old-growthy than their age would indicate.”

According to Owen Clarkin, it has also been pointed out that various woody plants require a good layer of coarse woody debris in order to regenerate.

Thus, not only standing and fallen dead trees, but stumps and other woody debris contribute to the overall ecosystem of the forest and the wildlife therein.

Wildlife using snags and downed logs

Woodpeckers are "keystone species" because the holes they create as they search for food provide homes for countless other creatures. (photo by Christine Hanrahan)

Woodpeckers are "keystone species" because the holes they create as they search for food provide homes for countless other creatures. (photo by Christine Hanrahan)

Birds
Many people perhaps do not realize that when they put up nest boxes each year they are offering homes to cavity-nesting birds whose natural nest sites are holes (or cavities) in snags; hence, the use of the terms den or cavity trees. Some of our most familiar birds are cavity-nesters along with numerous other species, perhaps less familiar. However, nest boxes can never be a complete substitute for natural cavities, for while certain species readily adapt to man-made nest boxes, many others will not, or cannot adapt.

Not all birds make use of the cavities in snags for nest sites. For some birds, such as the tiny Brown Creeper, it is the loose bark on dead trees that gives shelter for nests, while for others such as Ospreys, standing dead trees near water provide platforms on which to build their large, bulky nests.

Not all uses of wildlife trees are for nesting purposes. Ruffed Grouse use downed logs for “drumming” in their spring courtship ritual. And as noted earlier, many birds use snags as hunting perches or display stations.

Mammals
Mammals also make use of snags for both shelter and for rearing young. Martens, weasels, squirrels, other small rodents, bats, even bobcats will den up in cavities. Black bears may sometimes find winter refuge at the base of large snags, as well as in hollowed out downed logs. Squirrels and chipmunks and other small rodents use logs as forest highways.

Invertebrates
As noted earlier, a multitude of insect species thrive on dead and dying trees whether standing or down on the forest floor. In turn, these insects provide much needed food for a variety of wildlife. When these trees are removed from the forest ecosystem, the insects associated with them are also removed, and in turn, the wildlife that feed upon the insects.

Standing dead trees in your garden

A snag surrounded by lilacs. (photo by Fred Schueler)

A snag surrounded by lilacs. (photo by Fred Schueler)

Unless you live on wooded rural property, your backyard is certainly not part of a forest ecosystem. But if you are a gardener wanting to create a healthy, viable wildlife habitat in your own backyard, you will by now recognize the role that dead trees play in attracting birds and other species. As well as harbouring food for insectivores in the slowly rotting wood, snags also offer safe nesting cavities. In the winter these cavities are often used as roost sites, providing the necessary insulation that nest boxes cannot. (However, nest boxes are a suitable supplement to natural cavities in your garden.)

If your standing dead tree is quite large, you may be worried about heavy falling branches. Cut away some or all of them and leave the trunk. If you still think the snag is too tall and overpowering, topping the trunk to a reasonable height might be a solution. A “reasonable height” depends on what you feel comfortable with and what is in the immediate vicinity of the snag (i.e., your house, neighbouring houses).

But if you cut the snag back too much, you might as well fell it completely and leave it as a log; it will have little value as a nest site if it is only a couple of metres tall. Naturally the best thing to do is nothing, leaving the tree to take its own course, but in a small suburban lot, safety concerns must be evaluated.

If you’ve left the snag at 4.5 metres or better, but want to disguise it somewhat, plant lightweight climbers such as wild cucumber vine (Echinocystis lobata) or native clematis (Clematis virginiana) to twine up the trunk. You’ll need to provide some support for these vines to get started. Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) and wild grape (Vitis riparia) grow fast and can quickly cover a snag with a dense green cover, but these vines are very heavy and can hasten its collapse.

If you want to “dress up” your snag, you can hang seed feeders from its branches or from simple hanging brackets. Suet feeders can be affixed right to the trunk. If you really want to turn your snag into a work of art, hang flower baskets as you would the feeders. Plant them with nectar-rich flowers for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds (see the FWG information sheet on butterfly gardening).

When the snag eventually collapses you can either leave it where it falls, or move it to a more remote part of your garden where it will continue its work of feeding insects, birds, and your soil.

If your neighbours complain about your snag, tell them what you are doing and why; you might change their way of looking at standing dead trees. It is only by changing how we view the land around us that we can begin to help restore and nourish both it and its wildlife.

References

  • Guy, Stewart. 1994. More than dead wood. Protecting the wildlife tree resource in British Columbia. BC Naturalist 32(1): 4-6.
  • Kennedy, Des. 1991. Death of a giant. Nature Canada 20(2): 18-26.
  • Norse, Elliott A. 1990. Ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest. Island Press.

This is the third in a series of suggestions from the OFNC’s Conservation Committee for things you can do around your home in aid of wildlife and conservation. They are all based on personal experience – ours and colleagues’. We would love to hear your thoughts about these practices and your experience with them – good or bad. And your suggestions for further good practices are very welcome.

Other “Conservation how to” articles

OFNC’s 16th annual butterfly count

team

The butterfly count is an annual OFNC event organized this year by Jeff Skevington. Working in groups or alone, participants patrol the same location – a 24-km diameter circle centred on Manion Corners – each year from about 9 a.m. to about 4 or 5 p.m. Data are submitted to the North American Butterfly Association.

Ideal habitat for a large number of butterflies, the count site includes both alvar and swamp.

Ideal habitat for a large number of butterflies, the count site includes both alvar and swamp.

This year, the count got off to a delayed start when high winds on Saturday caused the organizers to postpone the event hoping for better conditions on Sunday, 3 July. They were rewarded with a sunny morning, with wind speeds of 7-25 kph, although it became windier later in the day. By 3 p.m., light rain was falling, ending the count early. A potluck dinner followed.

Many of our veteran area leaders were away this year, so coverage was below normal. The largest group included both experts and enthusiastic newbies: Jeff Skevington, Angela Skevington, Alexander Skevington, Rob Ellis, Li-Shien Lee, Derek Ellis, Julia Ellis, Celeste Cassidy, Elizabeth Gammell, Reni Barlow, Juliet McMurren, Gabriel McMurren, Sarma Vishnubhatla, and Lakshmi Vishnubhatla. Well know local butterfly expert Rick Cavasin covered two other areas with help from Ian Whyte.

The results were very good for the two groups that were out. Wetlands were dry as a result of the drought conditions in our area, so Sedge Skippers and related fauna were absent or not detected.

According to Jeff, “The Delaware Skipper is increasing its range and moving north. They were rare in our area a few years ago and are now regular on counts (you can see the change over time on the summary count sheet). The others are all regularly observed species.”

Thanks to Sarma Vishnubhatla for the photos of the participants above and to Reni Barlow for the gallery of butterfly photos below (be sure to click on them for a better view)!

Summary of this year’s count
Inventory of species for 1998-2016

Ducks and gulls along the river

by Roy John

Report of an Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club excursion on Sunday, 22 May 2016.

A dozen people went to Mud Lake to take advantage of the recent change from cold windy weather to lovely warm sunshine. This had brought in numerous, much delayed, migrants over the last few days.

Wood Duck photographed by Roy John

Wood Duck photographed by Roy John

As soon as we arrived at Mud Lake we were told that a rare Yellow-throated Vireo had been found in the woods. We plunged in and soon could hear it singing. It took a bit more effort to actually see it jumping around the tree tops, but we all eventually did. A little further in, the resident Screech Owl sat rigidly still for all to see. Dave Moore did his turkey call and pulled a Wild Turkey out of the woods.

We continued around Mud Lake, finding many new species. At the east fence we saw a Raccoon’s nose poking out the hole of a garbage skip, obviously trapped (the city were informed). So we had a beautiful morning with many good birds.

A number of species were strangely missing. Although we heard a Great Crested Flycatcher many times, we never could see it. We saw only a few Tree Swallows (a pair at a nest), but no others – very odd for Mud Lake. There were no Green Herons and only one Great Blue – yet Great Egrets were easy to find.

All in all, a warm, sunny day with 43 bird species seen (plus 4 heard).

DUCKS, GEESE, AND WATERFOWL
Canada Goose
Wood Duck (photo above)
Mallard

PHEASANTS, GROUSE, TURKEYS, ALLIES
Wild Turkey

CORMORANTS AND SHAGS
Double-crested Cormorant

HERONS, EGRETS, AND BITTERNS
Great Egret
Great Blue Heron
Black-crowned Night-Heron

GULLS, TERNS, AND SKIMMERS
Ring-billed Gull

Eastern Screech Owl photographed by Roy John

Eastern Screech Owl photographed by Roy John

OWLS
Eastern Screech-Owl (photo at right)

KINGFISHERS
Belted Kingfisher

WOODPECKERS
Downy Woodpecker
Northern Flicker

TYRANT FLYCATCHERS
Eastern Phoebe (heard only)
Great Crested Flycatcher (heard only)

VIREOS
Yellow-throated Vireo
Warbling Vireo
Red-eyed Vireo

CROWS, JAYS, AND MAGPIES
Blue Jay
American Crow
Common Raven

SWALLOWS
Tree Swallow

CHICKADEES AND TITS
Black-capped Chickadee

NUTHATCHES
White-breasted Nuthatch

THRUSHES AND ALLIES
American Robin

Gray Catbird photographed by Roy John

Gray Catbird photographed by Roy John

MOCKINGBIRDS AND THRASHERS
Gray Catbird (photo at right)

STARLINGS
European Starling

WAXWINGS
Cedar Waxwing (photo below right)

NEW WORLD WARBLERS (11 species + 2 not seen or confirmed)
Tennessee Warbler
Common Yellowthroat (heard only)
American Redstart
Northern Parula
(Magnolia Warbler – not confirmed)
Bay-breasted Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Blackpoll Warbler
Yellow Warbler
Chestnut-sided Warbler
Black-throated Blue Warbler
Pine Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler

Cedar Waxwing photographed by Roy John

Cedar Waxwing photographed by Roy John


BUNTINGS AND NEW WORLD SPARROWS
Chipping Sparrow
Song Sparrow

CARDINALS AND ALLIES
Northern Cardinal

TROUPIALS AND ALLIES
Red-winged Blackbird
Common Grackle

SISKINS, CROSSBILLS, AND ALLIES
Pine Siskin (very late)
American Goldfinch

Non-bird species
Racoon
Midland Painted Turtle
Water Snake
Spiny Baskettail (photo below)

Spiny Baskettail dragonfly photographed by Gillian Mastromatteo

Spiny Baskettail dragonfly photographed by Gillian Mastromatteo

Build a “home” for mason bees

In 2015, we learned how to build simple mason bee boxes out of recycled materials. Unlike many “gadgets” purported to help wildlife, these actually work. Mason bees laid eggs in the paper tunnels we made for them, the eggs hatched and completed the life cycle, and the progeny are busily pollinating our fruit trees right now (spring 2016).

About mason bees

Mason bees are named for their use of mud or clay in their “nests.” They belong in the genus Osmia in the family Megachilidae.

At the Fletcher Wildlife Garden, we have found Blue Orchard Mason Bees (Osmia lignaria) as well as at least one other unidentified Osmia sp. Species in this family are very good at pollinating fruit trees. They have only one generation per year, and the adults emerge from their overwintering nests just as serviceberries, wild plum, and cherries are blooming.

They are closely related to leaf-cutter bees, which will also use bee boxes, but emerge later in the spring.

Life cycle of Mason Bees

In April-May, adults emerge from overwintering sites and start looking for an appropriate place to lay eggs. Once they’ve found a tunnel, they gather pollen and nectar from fruit trees, and, in the process, ensure a crop of apples, cherries, plums, or berries for us humans. Mason bees also need a source of mud, which they use to seal each cell inside the tunnel after filling it with a pollen-nectar pudding and laying an egg. Adults live 4-8 weeks.

The eggs hatch in about a week and the larvae begin to eat the food left for them. By late summer, they are ready to pupate. In September, the pupae open and adults emerge but stay inside their cocoons all winter, coming out the following spring.

Bee houses

Mason bees do not dig tunnels; instead they look for “natural” tunnels, such as hollow plant stems or twigs or the abandoned nests of other insects. They are readily attracted to paper tubes. Drilled holes in wood are also an option, but both types of tunnels should be replaced every year to minimize parasites and disease. Drilled holes in wood can be lined with parchment paper to make replacement easier.

In spring 2015, we had a workshop at the FWG to learn to make a simple mason bee house using a milk carton and paper tubes (the instructions are below). The advantages of this type of nest box is not only the low cost, but they are also easy to make, long enough to hold many chambers, and they can’t be broken into from the sides. Jenny Sheppard was our instructor and her technique is based on a system developed over many years by Richard Scarth of Vancouver.

We put two of these nests into our “insect hotel” located on the south side of our Old Woodlot. The hotel gets plenty of sun and we’ve been planting fruit trees along that edge of the woods for the last few years. There are also many apple trees within a few hundred metres around the edges of our Old Field. In spring and when it rains, the security road along the south edge of the woods becomes muddy, giving the mason bees material to seal their nests.

These boxes are temporary, so the idea is to unroll the paper tunnels in the fall, gather the cocoons, clean them, and store them in the refrigerator or other cold, but not freezing, place. Bring them out in spring and put them into the back of a new nest box. Although this is certainly interfering with Mother Nature, it also increases the survival rate of these much-needed bees.

Alternatively, the boxes can be left in place outside if they are protected inside a wood or plastic outer container or placed in a protected place, such as a garage or shed.

Make a simple mason bee box

Instructions and photos from Richard Scarth

Materials

  • 1-litre cardboard carton from milk, cream, etc. Cartons with blue or yellow print or graphics are best.
  • typing paper (new or used)
  • a 5/16” dowel and a ½” dowel, both 7” long
  • elastic bands
  • Scotch tape or masking tape
  • sky blue latex paint
  • paper towels
  • scissors, stapler, box cutter

Make nesting tubes
Cut or tear the typing paper in half to make 2 pieces, each 5.5” by 8.5”. Put the 2 pieces together (with printed sides facing in) and position them with a short edge facing you. Tear off 3 pieces of tape, about an inch long, and keep them handy for fastening finished tubes.

paper-tubesPlace the 5/16” dowel across the paper about 3/4 of the way down the page. Lift the lower 1/4 page and fold it over the dowel and position it squarely over the upper 3/4. With your fingers, tuck the paper under the dowel while rolling the dowel up with your thumbs, as shown in the picture. (You may find it easier to tuck the paper if you moisten your finger tips.)

Once started, continue rolling the dowel up with the flat of your fingers, keeping steady pressure to ensure that the paper is tight against the dowel. As you near the end, pick up the dowel, finish rolling, then secure the tube by wrapping a piece of tape around its middle.

Inspect the two ends of the tube and wrap a second piece of tape around the end with the flattest surface, about 1/8″ in from the end.

Close the other end of the tube by pinching and taping. To do this, pull the dowel partly out so that its end is about 1″ inside the end of the tube, pinch the end of the tube and close it by taping over the end. It’s important to reduce, as much as possible, the amount of light entering the tube. Finally, to give the female bee more room to nest, push the dowel back into the tube against the pinched end while gripping the pinch with your thumb and forefinger.

Make 18 more tubes.

Bundle and insulate
Paint the ends of 7 of the tubes with light blue paint. When they are dry, distribute them randomly in the bundle of 19 tubes. Hold the bundle together with two elastic bands.

Wrap paper toweling around the bundle to insulate the bees against cold nights in early spring and hot days in summer and to prevent the bundle from moving around inside the milk carton. Use seven 2-ply sheets that are 27 x 23 cm each. Fold them in half lengthwise and wrap them around the bundle of tubes with the folded edge at the front. Secure with two elastic bands, if necessary.

milk-cartonsPrepare the shell
The shell of the nest is a 1-litre milk carton that contains the insulated tube bundle, the two exit tubes, and the two dowels.

With a pair of scissors cut off the 1-cm white border at the top of the carton. If the carton has a plastic spout, cut around it and remove it. Fold the top pieces into the carton and staple them in place. With a box cutter (or exacto knife), cut a V-shaped hatch on the upper side of the carton near the base. This is used to put last year’s cocoons into the carton behind the tube bundle.

Make exit tubes
The two exit tubes, which are placed in the upper corners of the nest, allow the bees to leave the nest after emerging from their cocoons.

Make two more paper tubes, as above, but this time use three half-sheets of printer paper and the larger, ½-inch dowel. Leave both ends open.

Assemble the nest
Place the insulated bundle of tubes into the milk-carton shell making sure there is space behind them (under the hatch).

Add the exit tubes in the two upper corners. We like to place the dowels in the lower corners to keep them from getting lost and to help hold the bundle in place.

Some sources of information about mason bees

BugGuide: Mason bees
USDA pollinators: Blue Orchard Mason Bee (Osmia lignaria)
Wikipedia

It works!

Two newly constructed Mason Bee boxes ready to install.

Two newly constructed Mason Bee boxes ready to install.

Mason Bee cocoons that have been stored in a refrigerator over the winter. Now that the weather is warming (end of April), it's time to return them to a more natural location.

Mason Bee cocoons that have been stored in a refrigerator over the winter. Now that the weather is warming (end of April), it’s time to return them to a more natural location.

I put the cocoons into the space at the back of one  of the new boxes through a small trap door cut in the top of the box.

I put the cocoons into the space at the back of one of the new boxes through a small trap door cut in the top of the box.

The four larger tubes in the corners of the box are open at both ends. When the bees emerge from their cocoons, they will use these to escape from the box.

The four larger tubes in the corners of the box are open at both ends. When the bees emerge from their cocoons, they will use these to escape from the box.

The two new Mason Bee boxes installed in our insect hotel. The hotel contains "rooms" for other bees, wasps, and insects. Residents have included Leaf-cutter Bees and Grass-carrying Wasps.

The two new Mason Bee boxes installed in our insect hotel. The hotel contains “rooms” for other bees, wasps, and insects. Residents have included Leaf-cutter Bees and Grass-carrying Wasps.

A Mason Bee exploring another box I made for my own backyard.

A Mason Bee exploring another box I made for my own backyard.

Success already. In this photo, taken on 12 May, you can see 8 holes in the left box and 1 in the right already filled with chambers holding eggs and pollen and sealed with mud.

Success already. In this photo, taken on 12 May, you can see 8 holes in the left box and 1 in the right already filled with chambers holding eggs and pollen and sealed with mud.

Naturalists in the making: 2016 OFNC award winners at the Ottawa Regional Science Fair

by Lucy Patterson

ScienceFair
What is the most endangered bird species in the world? What is the best way to contain an oil spill? Will the emerald ash borer begin attacking lilacs once ash trees have died out? These questions and many more were tackled by students on April 8 and 9 this year at the annual Ottawa Regional Science Fair. Since 1961, this volunteer-run event has encouraged students from grades 7 to 12 in the Ottawa-Carleton region to design, develop, and present research projects in science and engineering. The students with the best projects are then invited to participate in a Canada-Wide Science Fair. This year, the Ottawa Regional Science Fair was held at Carleton University’s “Raven’s Nest.”

Every year, the OFNC presents awards to the creators of two or three outstanding projects that “demonstrate a knowledge of some aspect of natural history, field ecology, or wildlife conservation.” This year, I judged the projects with Kathy Conlan, a research scientist and the section head of zoology at the Canadian Museum of Nature. Students self-nominate themselves for the award, and this year there were 17 entries. In a world where interest in nature seems to be losing ground to technology, it was wonderful to see so many entries for this award!

Winners of OFNC awards this year were Dexter McIlroy, for his project demonstrating the effects of acid on mollusc shells (“L’acidification des océans’’ or “Ocean Acidification’’); Daniel Anderson, for his invention to prevent wildlife from being struck by tractors during haying season (“La chair de poule” or “Goosebumps”), and Maizie Solomon and Tara Hanson-Wright, for their project demonstrating the role of earthworms in soil decomposition (“Nature’s Gold Mine”). Each project was awarded a $100 prize. Congratulations to Dexter, Daniel, Maizie, and Tara for their exceptional projects!

Dexter McIlroy  with his project, “Ocean Acidification.”

Dexter McIlroy with his project, “Ocean Acidification.”

Daniel Anderson with his project, “Goosebumps.”

Daniel Anderson with his project, “Goosebumps.”

Maizie Soloman (left) and Tara Hanson-Wright in front of their project, “Nature’s Gold Mine.”

Maizie Soloman (left) and Tara Hanson-Wright in front of their project, “Nature’s Gold Mine.”

The search for flower flies – an exploration of Australia and its wildlife

by Danielle Chiasson

For the OFNC’s March monthly meeting we were pleased to welcome Jeff Skevington and his family for a presentation on the natural history of Australia and stories from their recent trip down under.

For the OFNC’s March monthly meeting we were pleased to welcome Jeff Skevington and his family for a presentation on the natural history of Australia and stories from their recent trip down under.

Jeff Skevington is a research scientist with the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. He is also an adjunct research professor at Carleton University and an active member with the OFNC.

Jeff, along with his wife and son, Angela and Alexander, embarked on a five-month research trip across Australia last year to study insects. Jeff, who completed his PhD in Australia, returned to Australia with his family to collect, study and identify flower flies as well as give talks across the country.

Alexander, a boy of 11, began the night with his own presentation of photos and anecdotes from their Australian adventures. It was a heart-warming and informative account from a young boy with a growing passion for wildlife and photography. He recounted the numerous species they came across, some common and tame and others that were out of the ordinary.

A few animals he featured included:

The short-nosed echidna – an anteater native to Australia and New Guinea. The Skevingtons had an interesting encounter with this creature. When threatened the echidna will curl up into a ball similar to a hedgehog and begin to dig downwards into the earth.

The short-nosed echidna photographed by Alexander Skevington.

The short-nosed echidna photographed by Alexander Skevington.

The echidna burying itself in the sand. Photo by Alexander Skevington.

The echidna burying itself in the sand. Photo by Alexander Skevington.

Plains-wanderer. Photo by Jeff Skevington.

Plains-wanderer. Photo by Jeff Skevington.

The plains-wanderer – a bird species endemic to Australia and of particular interest to the Skevington family. Their plumage gives them great camouflage and when threatened they puff out their cheeks. Similar to sand pipers, the plains-wanderer will run away instead of flying when disturbed.

The Lumholz’s tree kangaroo – There are many different species of kangaroo. This one (below) was spotted by the Skevington family in the northeast rainforest of Australia. Unfortunately many species of tree kangaroo are threatened because of habitat loss.

A Lumholz's tree kangaroo photographed by Jeff Skevington.

A Lumholz’s tree kangaroo photographed by Jeff Skevington.

Alex taking a "selfie" with a quokka. Photo by Jeff Skevington.

Alex taking a “selfie” with a quokka. Photo by Jeff Skevington.

The quokka – A cute little macropod with little fear of humans and a face that seems to smile. Alexander recalls this as his favourite part of the Australian trip. They took many photos with the quokkas and had the chance to give them water.

After Alexander’s presentation Jeff discussed the more technical side to organizing a 5-month cross-country research trip. He said that the trip had been very difficult to arrange and was surprised to find Australia had gotten more expensive since he and his wife were there last. They decided to camp during their stay and were faced with many challenges, the main one being the dangerous road conditions in the Australian outback.

Simosyrphus grandicornis< (Syrphinae). Photo by Alexander Skevington.

Simosyrphus grandicornis< (Syrphinae). Photo by Alexander Skevington.

Jeff then continued to present the main reason for the trip, insect research! Many insect species in Australia are undescribed. Jeff’s research brought his family across Australia, finding insects in the desert outback, across the wet East coast of Australia and the heights of hilltops.

Flower flies (also called hover flies) make up the insect family Syrphidae. Jeff talked about three subfamilies: Eristalinae, Microdontinae, and Pipizinae.

Collection methods for these flies include the use of traps, many of which are ongoing, maintained and emptied by others. More tedious collection methods include hand collecting and flower collection. These insects are great pollinators!

They also set off to collect more rare species and to hopefully find undescribed ones at higher elevations. Many insects are found on hilltops because it is an ideal place for them to find food and mate.

Austalis pulchella (Eristalinae). Photo by Jeff Skevington.

The presentation ended with a further exploration of many bird and mammal species they came across during their trip. Australia is home to many endemic birds. Here are a few examples (click on images for a full-size slide show).

Jeff and his family brought a beautiful array of photographs from their trip and many stories to accompany them. They presented many unfamiliar species of birds, mammals, insects, reptiles and amphibians and gave a wonderful introduction to the natural history of Australia.

For more information on Jeff Skevington and his research please visit his web page at the Canadian National Collection of Insects, Arachnids and Nematodes.