In honour of World Wetlands Day, I thought I would contribute a collage of my experiences in various wetlands. Wetlands (bogs, fens, marshes, swamps, and shallow open water) filter our water, prevent flooding, provide habitat for various wildlife, and add to the beauty of our natural world, amongst other ecological services. I am glad that spending time in wetlands is a part of my life.
Parulidae – There seemed to be a yellow-brown-grey theme with the warblers we saw visiting both of the natural areas. The only warbler I did not manage to photograph was a Hooded Warbler, a life bird along with the Common Yellowthroat and Ovenbird. The Yellow-rumped Warbers were the most abundant in the forested areas we visited, and the Palm Warblers were most common in the wetland of the Edwin M. Griffin Nature Preserve. Apparently, my partner and I missed a big push of warblers into the area about one or two weeks before our arrival. Perhaps these birds had carried on in their migration and are now joining us further north in Canada. It is also possible I just missed them completely. My ear is rusty from the winter, and I still have a lot to learn when it comes to bird song.
During my stay at the Daring Lake Ecosystem Research Station (111°35´ West 64°52´ North) I attempted to keep track of all of the butterfly species I came across. Because I wasn’t overly familiar with the species in the area, I used the ID method of taking pictures in the field and nailing down the identification later with the help of the internet and a great little butterfly ID booklet put out by the Environment and Natural Resources, Government of the Northwest Territories. eButterfly (http://www.e-butterfly.org/) was another tool that was instrumental in tracking my sightings and confirming my identifications, with the added bonus of getting to contribute to a citizen science initiative. I spent relatively little time in the field looking for butterflies, and I can only imagine how many more species I may have come across if they had been my main priority.
Here are the species I was lucky enough to find:
* not pictured: Nymphalis antiopa, Mourning Cloak Butterfly. They fly faster than I can run 🙂
Link to NWT butterfly guide: http://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/sites/default/files/documents/butterfly_book_2013.pdf
I have officially returned to school in Ontario after my long stay in the Arctic. The final few weeks of my stay at Daring Lake were rather hectic and I was not able to find time to complete a final set of blog posts. As such I will continue to post about Daring for another week or two until I have exhausted all of my photos. To start with, here is the second instalment of the Tundra Blooms series.
COMPOSITAE: The aster/daisy/sunflower family
Alpine Arnica – This wildflower was restricted to a single south facing slope on the south shores of Daring Lake. The blooms I photographed were present in the first week of July, but the start of blooming probably took place a week or two earlier.
Pussytoes – This unfortunately named flower began to bloom in the third week of June. Typically Pussytoes was found on dry, bare esker tops.
LENTIBULARIACEAE: The bladderwort family
Hairy Butterwort – Butterwort blooms appeared in the third week of June in wet areas dominated by Sphagnum mosses. This particular plant is carnivorous. The small basal leaves are covered with a sticky liquid on their upper surfaces that is used to trap insects.
ROSACEAE: The rose family
Snow Cinquefoil – One of the earliest flowers to bloom, I captured these pictures of Snow Cinquefoil in the second week of June. Snow Cinquefoil was located on dry, bare esker tops, often growing in clusters with Pussytoes pictured above.
Swamp Cinquefoil – Swamp Cinquefoil was found blooming in wet riparian areas in the third week of June. However, like the Arnica, I found these flowers late and guess that blooming began one or two weeks earlier.
Cloudberry – One of the many delicious berries present on the tundra, Cloudberry flowers first appeared in the third week of June. Cloudberry could be found across most tundra types, from heath tundra to shrub tundra.
LEGUMINOSAE: The pea family
Locoweed – Locoweed blooms were found in the third week of June. These wildflowers were located on the tops of dry, bare eskers, often growing intermixed with Alpine Bilberry.
Last summer I didn’t start my field season until early July. The tundra was lovely and green when I arrived, but unfortunately I missed seeing most of the wildflowers bloom. This year I was lucky enough to start my adventure in late May and I got to enjoy the bulk of the flowering season.
I thought I’d put together a recap of all the flowers I’ve seen. Here is part one.
ERICACEAE: The heath family
Alpine Azalea – The first blooms appeared in the first week of June. Alpine Azalea grows in large patches on rocky, south-facing esker slopes and heath tundra.
Alpine Bear Berry – Alpine Bear Berry blooms are quite subtle and easy to mistake for new leaves. These flowers appeared in the first week of June. Bear Berry coats the esker tops and also occurs in heath tundra.
Alpine Bilberry – Bilberry blooms first appeared in the second week of June. Alpine Bilberry can be found growing tall in shrub tundra or crawling along the ground on exposed esker faces.
Lapland Rosebay – I found Lapland Rosebay flowers in the second week of June. These plants cultivate bare, rocky esker faces.
Labrador Tea – Labrador Tea began to bloom in the third week of June. It is a widely distributed plant, occurring prominently in most vegetation communities with the exception of the fens and gravel-faced esker tops.
Bog Laurel – I found Bog Laurel blooms in the third week of June. One group was found in a wet area that was once the location of a small pond. The second group was found in a riparian area near our stream research site.
Bog Rosemary – Bog Rosemary began to bloom in the second week of June. It most abundantly occurs in wet areas dominated by Sphagnum mosses but can also be found in dry tundra communities.
Arctic White Heather – I found a patch of blooming Arctic White Heather on the last day of June. This plant can be found on steep north-facing esker slopes.
Dry Ground Cranberry – Dry Ground Cranberry began to bloom around the last week of June. This plant is probably the most widely distributed plant at Daring Lake (in competition with Betula glandulosa). It occurs in wet and dry conditions, on the eskers and throughout the valleys.
Bog Cranberry – I found the first blooms in the first week of July. Bog cranberry is not as widely distributed as Dry Ground Cranberry. It occurs in patches of Sphagnum mosses in wet areas.
Mountain Heather – Mountain Heather blooms were found in the first week of July. This plant was found in the riparian area near our stream research site.
Normally I would not bother making a full blog post to showcase some rather non-remarkable photos, but there is always room for an exception. Much to my embarrassment, I’ve had to admit many a time to various people that I had never seen a wild moose in person. Growing up my family did all of our camping between Long Point and Turkey Point on the shores of Lake Erie, so my chances of seeing a moose were pretty much squat. I came closest to seeing a moose last September at the Alfred Bog in Eastern Ontario. After a day of research I came across a large pile of very fresh scat, but alas, no moose.
Well, I can now happily say that my mooseless state has been erased. About two weeks ago I was out at one of my study sites with two other students, when we saw a large dark animal climb down the side of an esker. Instinctively we all thought caribou, but that didn’t really make sense because at this time of year the caribou are all much further north. The dark colouring and large size of the animal tipped us off that it might be a moose. We jumped up to grab our binoculars and cameras and promptly lost sight of the animal. After a quick (15 minute) scramble over the hummocks and up the esker, we relocated our specimen in a riparian area and confirmed its identification as a moose, a young bull moose to be exact.
A few days after my first moose sighting, I was hiking with another student to a study pond and like usual we were on the lookout for any large animals. As we approached, the other student pointed out two large brown objects lingering near the opposite shore. Out came the binoculars, but we were still a bit far to get a good identification. We got on the radio and let the others in the field know that we were potentially looking at two bears hanging out near our study site. However we ate our words almost immediately when one of the large brown animals stepped out of the water and onto shore. The long slender legs and great height of the animal tipped us off that it was not two bears. We were actually looking at a cow moose and a calf. So I have officially seen a male, female, and baby moose. I couldn’t be more pleased!
The Herring Gull is the only gull that calls Daring Lake home during the breeding season. I believe there are at least nine pairs of nesting gulls that live within boating distance of the Daring Lake camp. I don’t seem to see Herring Gulls as often as I’d like to in Ottawa, so it has been a treat to observe the local pairs that surround camp.
Typically the gulls of Daring Lake choose to nest on the small islands scattered throughout the lake, or even on large boulders exposed from the water, such as the one pictured below. Egg laying took place sometime around June 14th, and the gulls have been busy minding and protecting their nests since. When not on the nest, the pair nesting on the pictured rock can been seen each evening on the beach of Daring Lake at the mouth of a adjacent stream fishing for invertebrates.
The gulls that have attempted to nest on Yamba Lake, the larger lake to the north-east of Daring Lake, have been less successful. As of July 1st the Yamba still had at least 50% ice cover with the only open water around its margins. When the winds pick up, which happens here quite often, the ice is pushed towards shore and buts up against the boulder islands that the Herring Gulls preferentially choose for nesting. At least one Yamba Herring Gull nest has been abandoned due to the ice intrusion.
Last week an ornithologist from Yellowknife came to Daring Lake for a short stay. His main work for the week was to collect eggs from the local Herring Gull nests. Six eggs were collected from unique nests on Daring Lake. The eggs are being sent to Environment Canada in Ottawa for a series of contaminant analyses. I’m always grateful to be included in the work of the other researchers and northern government officials that visit Daring Lake. The learning opportunities here are amazing!
Feisty Mr. Fox that I wrote about earlier in June has officially been confirmed to be a father! Shortly after I wrote my last post, researchers started to see activity near the den as the pups became old enough to venture out for the first time. I have wandered past the den on a couple of occasions and seen four different pups. I’m told that there is a fifth pup who seems pretty shy. If it took us a couple weeks to make acquaintance with the fifth pup, who knows, maybe there is a sixth.
Fox pup one is the most blond of the group. It was curious about my presence, but still rather timid.
Fox pup two seems pretty confident compared to the other pups. Fox pup one and two get their looks from Mr. Fox.
Fox pup three is the lighter of the two dark pups. Fox pup two and three’s appearance is more similar to the mother, who is brown with a black face mask.
Fox pup four is the darkest of the pups I’ve seen.
I look forward to watching the pups grow up!
In the fens of Daring Lake, Least Sandpipers are busy watching their nests. Breeding season seemed to reach a climax in the middle of this month. The males could be heard calling to the females while performing aerial displays of short bursts of flight followed by a glide back to the ground. Now there are eggs to be watching. In particular there is one Least Sandpiper nest that was built quite close to the boardwalks of our fen research station. There is a clutch of four eggs nestled snugly in the grass atop a large hummock. A single puff of Cottongrass marks the nest that is otherwise difficult to see. I would never have found this nest if it wasn’t for the protective parent attempting to distract me and lead me away. Similar to the “broken wing act” of the Killdeers back home, the Least Sandpiper adult (not sure whether it’s the male and/or female that watches the eggs) attempts to remove me from the nest area by puffing up their feathers and calling while walking in the opposite direction of the nest location, hoping I’ll follow. One of the sounds made by the Sandpiper during this behaviour sounds quite similar to a sneeze. I feel quite guilty when this scenario occurs because I know I’m causing the sandpiper a lot of stress. Now that I know where the nest is located, I try to spend as little time in that area as possible. It is my goal to live harmoniously with the local wildlife.
The Least Sandpiper looks very similar to the Semipalmated Sandpiper which also calls Daring Lake home during breeding season. The Least Sandpiper is smaller than the Semipalmated Sandpiper, in fact the Least Sandpiper is the world’s smallest sandpiper, but size relative and difficult to discern when the two birds are not next to each other. An easier feature to use to ID is the colour of the birds legs. The Least Sandpiper has yellow-ish legs, while the Semipalmated Sandpiper has black legs. As well, the bill of the Semipalmated Sandpiper is slightly shorter and heavier than the Least Sandpiper, and it’s feathers tend to be more greyish and less brown. Interestingly, the term semipalmated refers to the structure of their feet. Palmated means webbed, so in the case of the Semipalmated Sandpiper, the feet are partially webbed. I have not yet been close enough to check their feet out for myself. I have only seen Semipalmated Sandpiper in the evenings while they are foraging along the beaches of Daring Lake. It is not uncommon for me to find both the Least Sandpiper and Semipalmated Sandpiper foraging in mixed groups along with the Semipalmated Plover.
The only other bird from the sandpiper family Scolopacidae that I have seen in the area is the Ruddy Turnstone. The Ruddy Turnstone doesn’t breed in the area, and I was told that my sighting is only the second time they have been seen at Daring Lake in the spring.
The Lapland Longspur is currently, in my estimate, the most abundant breeding bird at Daring Lake. A day in Research Valley isn’t complete without the constant song of the Longspur. Typically, the valley is where I find these birds. They do not seem very numerous within our camp boundary or on the eskers. The females I mostly see hopping amongst the hummocks, only flying when I get too close. On the other hand, the males are typically seen performing their breeding display; flying up into the air and then gliding back to the ground with their tails fanned and their wings held out in a V position. While they glide, the males sing their flutey tune that reminds me of either the beeps and whistles of Star Wars’ R2D2, or of an alien space saucer coming in for landing.
I suspect that once the young have left the nest, the adults are quick to leave the region. I say this because last year I have few recorded observations of any Lapland Longspurs after my early July arrival. However this could also be a product of my extreme newness to birding last summer, or the terrible weather that hung over us for the first half of July. I will try to keep good record this year of my daily sightings to track their migration away from Daring to their wintering grounds in southern Canada and the USA.
Where humans and wildlife intersect, there will always be interesting stories of our interactions. At one of the research sites in Research Valley there are a series of plots that contain cranberry shoots individually marked with twist-ties. These specific cranberry shoots are being monitored weekly for the timing of specific phenological (life cycle) events. Recently when we’ve been arriving at these plots to find some of the twist-ties removed from the shoots and casually thrown aside. Blame has been placed on the Longspurs who perch on out plot posts and watch us cheekily (anthropomorphizing a bit). Birds against plant science. Though perhaps it is the American Tree Sparrows or the Savannah Sparrows that also occupy the valley who deserve the blame.