Saturday 20 April 2013

Welcome to winter

The snow is falling as I type this. It is April 20 in southwestern Ontario and it is SNOWING. It is during weather like this that I reminisce about a different time - back when it was hot and sunny, with a gentle south breeze blowing spring migrants north to us. A time when Eastern Comma and Mourning Cloak butterflies flitted through the woodlands. And a time when reptiles and amphibians awoke from their months-long slumber to bask in the rays of a spring sun. I will take you all the way to April 18, 2013.

It was a beautiful spring day with the thermometer reaching the low 20s, so after my four day trip in the Point Pelee area I made a stop at a local herpetofauna goldmine near Cambridge. I have talked about this site many times in the past and have seen 25 species of reptiles of amphibians that call this place home. However there was one species that makes its home here that I had not yet seen - the Blanding's Turtle. Despite visiting the site several hundred times in the past, this was the one species that eluded me. So despite the promise of a hot shower and warm meal not in the too distant future, I first made a stop at this site to search for ol' yellow-chin.

Long story short, I wasn't successful despite checking some sizable wetlands in the area. However it was not in vain as I observed several reptiles out for a bask.

This Midland Painted Turtle was out for a cruise and was partially across the road when I rescued it. Turtles move around a lot early in the spring as they navigate to favorite ponds for feeding and basking. Since I saved her life, I figured that I could bother her for a few moments to take some photos before releasing her in the nearby wetland.

Midland Painted Turtle - April 18, 2013

Midland Painted Turtle - April 18, 2013

A wary grackle or two kept an eye on me as I released the turtle.

Common Grackle - April 18, 2013

One of my favorite things about this site is the huge population of Northern Ribbon Snakes - a species designated "Special Concern" in Ontario. This is the lowest designation of a Species at Risk. Northern Ribbonsnakes can be common in some areas of the province though they are absent in most of southwestern Ontario away from some large wetlands. This population here is holding strong, and it was not long until I encountered the first Northern Ribbonsnake basking alongside a wetland.

Northern Ribbonsnake - April 18, 2013

At this site, Eastern Gartersnakes and Northern Ribbonsnakes (both in the genus Thamnophis) coexist, though they occupy slightly different niches. I find that I encounter both species about equally here, though perhaps with a slight edge being given to the generalist - the Eastern Gartersnake.

Several of the garters were basking along the hillsides, or crawling along, smelling the air. I followed a male for some time as it appeared he was on the scent of a female. In the past this has led me right to a large female, often with several smaller males in the vicinity, vying for a chance to mate with the female.

Eastern Gartersnake - April 18, 2013

Several more individuals of each species were seen, with the final tally being 5 Northern Ribbonsnakes and 9 Eastern Gartersnakes. 6 other species of snake occupy the site, listed here from most abundant to least abundant (and with the total number I've found here in brackets). Northern Brownsnake (~40), Northern Redbelly Snake (~30), Northern Watersnake (8), Eastern Milksnake (2), Smooth Greensnake (1), and Northern Ringneck Snake (1).

Northern Ribbonsnake - April 18, 2013

Most snakes have relatively poor eyesight. If one moves slowly without any sudden movements it is possible to get quite close to these snakes without disturbing them. All of the snakes in this post were photographed "in situ", translated to "as is" or "in position" (meaning I did not disturb them prior to the photograph).

Northern Ribbonsnake - April 18, 2013

And of course, some Mourning Cloaks were flying around. These butterflies will overwinter and appear on the first warm days of the spring.

Mourning Cloak - April 18, 2013


margriet said...

From whom did you inherit your photography skills? Mom or Dad?

Great have a new fan! (a cousin, no less!

Unknown said...

Great photos! Saw my first Eastern Gartersnake of the year rather early.. March 29, though it was at Long Point so was sort of a cheat...