Carden Field Journal: Amphibians, reptiles and insects

It’s starting to feel like summer here in Carden! Over the course of weeks five and six, I continued working with species at risk and partook in an invasive species control effort with the Nature Conservancy of Canada. This is meaningful work which will help Carden Alvar Natural Area thrive ecologically. Aside from work I had encounters with various wildlife.

Amphibians, reptiles and insects delivered much excitement while I was driving down or exploring the back roads. One rainy day I was driving on a road which passes through a swamp, and I came across a snapping turtle. Unfortunately, it scurried off the road so quickly that I didn’t have time to take a decent photo. The good news is he made it off of the road, safe from passing vehicles.

On the same road, the next week, I had to assist a blandings turtle across the road. This animal posed for a few photos which was cool, and it had a decent sized leech attached to its shell. I took a moment to peer into the swamp, adjacent to Lake Dalrymple, where the turtles had been travelling to and from, and admired the details and colour the wetland had to offer.

In addition, I handled my first smooth green snake on the warmest day of this two-week span. The snake was approximately 30cm in length. It didn’t mind being handled for a brief moment, so we had time for a photo-op. I also saw a spittlebug for the first time; many times I see evidence of it which looks like saliva on grassy vegetation. The foam-like substance, essentially bubbles, acts as the bugs natural defence mechanism.

Other neat moments from weeks five and six include seeing a natural nesting cavity  of an American kestrel, observing the changing wildflower colours and finding karst geology on the Carden plain. Oh and I can’t forget the turkey hen that I startled unintentionally while hiking… it caught me off guard majorly and I laughed it off.

Carden Field Journal: Wildlife and The Carden Challenge!

Week two was action-packed and full of exhilarating wildlife sightings! Highlights of the week included watching nesting birds with their young, attending the 10th annual Carden Challenge, and coming across several painted turtles.

Throughout the week my co-workers and I saw several nesting birds. Some nests contained eggs, while others were home to already-hatched chicks! We had flushed an Eastern meadowlark from its nest on Windmill Ranch in Carden to find 4 healthy looking eggs in the grass-based nest. This was a unique find that will be reported to the Royal Ontario Museum. Next, Eastern phoebes had hatched and were being safely guarded by their mother. Upon two visits, I was able to see the chicks as the female was off foraging. Lastly, a favourite bird of mine, the Great blue heron, was seen feeding at least 3 young on its nest near the north shore of Lake Dalrymple. I was able to snap a photo with my cell phone through a viewing scope. My week was made by having the opportunity to capture these birds from 100s of meters away.

The Couchiching Conservancy fundraiser, the Carden Challenge, took place over the span of 24 hours starting on Friday, May 22nd, 2015. Teams assembled to compete in different categories, to see who could come across the highest number of species within a set buffer zone on the Carden Plain. I got partnered with 3 experts from Bird Studies Canada, so I was fortunate to learn the songs, calls, and physical characteristics of tens of new birds I had never seen or known. To the Bittern End was our team name, which near the end of the competition, served to be appropriate.

In total, our team found 111 birds. Of special note, we saw a Merlin, a Whip-poor-will, and a Blue-winged teal. I learned the sounds of birds such as the American bittern (Glug, glug), and the Least bittern (heh, heh, heh). As our team name suggested, we left taking the chance to observe the Least bitterns to the very end of the challenge… half an hour before the end at Prospect Marsh. We were very certain we heard one, but couldn’t say for sure… leaving it out of our count. We were excited to receive second place in the competitive category, and were awarded the Teeter-Ass Trophy for best sportsmanship. Overall, the Challenge was an amazing learning experience which raised over $15,000 through pledges for the Couchiching Conservancy.

Despite their abundance in South-Central Ontario, I am still excited to find painted turtles. On Alvar road, I saw 8 painted turtles during one car ride. They were basking on dead, fallen trees in a swamp landscape. This made for a great photo-op. These turtles were very shy as one-by-one, they’d fall into the water as I crept closer with my camera.

Painted turtle
Painted turtle

Another day I helped remove (so heavy…) another Painted turtle, which wasn’t shy, from Victoria road. There are many chances to see turtles which never fail to amaze me. Enjoy my other photos from week 2:

Post-Storm Commotion in Carden : Eastern Screech Owls

Learning about species that I have never encountered in the past is one of the main factors that drives my desire to keep exploring!  The evening of Saturday, June 28th, 2014, around 10:30p.m. was no exception; I observed my first owls.

While sitting around a campfire with family and friends, strange moaning-like noises were travelling across to our site from an adjacent field lined by a patch of forest. Specifically, the noise sounded like 2 animals were engaging in a life-ending fight. This is not uncommon in the Carden area, and so I wasn’t expecting anything out of the ordinary.

In the evenings I often hear wild animals such as coyotes, common loons, and amphibians.

However, this time, after the second or third occurrence of the bizarre sound coming from the bush/ field, it was decided (by family, friends and I) that I should go and investigate. Exciting! 

I slowly approached the area in which the distinct noises were originating from, keeping in mind not to startle or disturb whatever wildlife may be in the area. Within a couple of minutes, I determined that this animal was a bird, as silhouettes of small, but stout flying creatures periodically filled the fresh twilight sky.   

This was one of the first times I had ever engaged in night photography of an animal and so my method of capturing images was being created ‘on the fly’.  With the brief help of a flashlight I was able to pinpoint the exact spot the bird would sit before flying from tree to tree. This enabled me about a 10 second window to photograph; a fun challenge!

Once the bird was located, I used my 75mm-300mm telephoto lense, on manual focus to take fairly close-up photos of the mysterious avian creatures. After taking the first photo, I immediately knew I was seeing an owl for the first time in my life. The adrenaline from this moment was powerful.

 Having had no experience with owls and little knowledge about them, this encounter without question intrigued me. Upon capturing the first photo, I had no idea of what species I was dealing with. It wasn’t until capturing a few more photos that I began to think I was dealing with either a Northern saw-whet owl or an Eastern screech owl.

I was able determine that I was observing 1 adult owl, and 2 owlets based on feather development (fledging).

Basic identifying characteristics that I observed of these mystery owls included:

  • Sound: a ~3 second long whining noise (sounded painful)
  • Size: Appeared to be approxiamtely 15-20cm in height
  • Color: Adult: Brown/ beige/ white/ Grey — Young: Grey/ beige
  • Other: No apparent ear tufts

It was after I captured the photos and analyzed them on my computer that I realized what type of activity was occurring while I photographed the owls. The birds were perched within surrounding maple trees and would occasionally fly from branch to branch.

Additionally, I noticed that the owls were swooping/ flying down to the ground and then back up into the trees. I wasn’t sure why; if the young were just failing at making ‘the leap’ to another perch.

It was when the owlets returned from the ground to the tree  that I realized they had been preying on the abundant supply of northern leopard frogs in the field. Their method was to stalk the frogs from above, and then swoop down to capture them in their talons.

By using my Birds of Ontario book I was still undecided as to what specific species I was dealing with so I enlisted the help of others.

It was confirmed that this animal was an Eastern screech owl because of its 1) sound 2) size & physical characteristics 3) behaviour.

Being able to observe wildlife such as the Eastern screech owl was a special opportunity, and I was privileged to do so.

Go out and explore for yourself! On that note, I thought this was appropriate for this blog post: “Flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” — Douglas Adams

“Miss[ing]” in the case of exploring the natural world, to me, is exhilarating.

— Cameron

Mud Inspired Photography | Nature Harmlessly Captured

* Thank you to Andrew MacDonald, Kathy Jones (Ontario Volunteer Coordinator at Bird Studies Canada), and Denis Lepage (Senior Scientist at Bird Studies Canada) for helping confirm this species to be Eastern screech owl. *