Saturday, 29 April 2017

Sunday and Monday at Pelee

I touched on the birding during Sunday morning briefly in my last blog post. Obviously the Lark Sparrow was the main highlight but I did see a few other birds.

This Point Pelee Mississippi Kite, errr I mean Northern Harrier,  flew over me as I was walking down the main park road. Always a species I enjoy seeing as they have to be one of our more unique hawk species in Ontario.

Northern Harrier - Point Pelee National Park

Shortly after finding the Lark Sparrow this little Marsh Wren flushed from some nearby grasses. It wasn't until we were done nearly filling up our memory cards with the Lark Sparrow that we decided to check in on the wren. I always get a kick out of seeing this species in the dune grasses around the tip as it isn't the habitat one immediately thinks of with Marsh Wren.

Marsh Wren - Point Pelee National Park

Eastern Towhees have infiltrated the park in numbers and its impossible to walk any stretch of the west beach, or the Sparrow Field area, without hearing one or two do their distinct "Tow-hee!" call. This one below is an Eastern Tow-she.

Eastern Towhee - Point Pelee National Park

Butterflies have really emerged (or in the case of some species, arrived on south winds) in the past couple of weeks. This "Spring" Azure was one of several seen throughout the park. Some taxonomic revisions are going on with this species complex, so who knows what species this population will end up being!

Spring Azure - Point Pelee National Park

Among the diversity of woodland flowers was this Bloodroot, a common species that we often see early in the spring.

Bloodroot - Point Pelee National Park

The warm temperatures on Sunday were quite conducive to snake activity and I was happy to observe this Dekay's Brownsnake as it traversed one of the crushed gravel paths throughout the park.

Dekay's Brownsnake - Point Pelee National Park

This melanistic Eastern Gartersnake drew my attention as I walked one of the trails at De Laurier, the sound of it slithering through the dry grass beside the trail catching my ear.

melanistic Eastern Gartersnake - Point Pelee National Park

While normally a rare genetic mutation in a population, several island/peninsula populations of Eastern Gartersnakes near Lake Erie have a much higher proportion of these nearly all black individuals. Both selective and non-selective forces contribute to this. A selective force includes the increased thermoregulatory advantage that melanistic individuals show (black snakes soak up sunlight more efficiently than striped snakes). Non-selective forces include the effects that islands can have on genetics - as melanism is a recessive trait, having a "closed" population such as an island or a peninsula can cause recessive traits to become more prevalent in a population due to inbreeding.

Pelee Island is one place that is famous for this, and between 1/3 and 1/4 of the individual Eastern Gartersnakes there are melanistic. I am not sure if any sort of formal study has been conducted with the snakes at Point Pelee National Park, but anecdotally perhaps 10% of the Eastern Gartersnakes I see there are melanistic. Below are a few photos of one from a few years ago; this one was from the Sparrow Field area.

melanistic Eastern Gartersnake - Point Pelee National Park (May 17, 2014)

melanistic Eastern Gartersnake - Point Pelee National Park (May 17, 2014)

In the evening, I met up with Jeremy Bensette and Emma Buck to go on an evening hike on the marsh boardwalk. Our main goal was to check out the extent of the fire that had raged through the marsh on March 29, but we also happened to see a few other things of interest!

This beaver was patrolling the area near the canoe launch, allowing great looks. Beavers appear to have become a little more common in recent years within Point Pelee.

North American Beaver - Point Pelee National Park

Certainly the highlight for us was this American Bittern that flushed out of the marsh! Originally we heard a Black-crowned Night-Heron call, and after a few seconds we spotted it to the west of us. Emma, facing east, noticed the bittern as it rose out of the marsh!

American Bittern - Point Pelee National Park

This Red-winged Blackbird was dealing with some pigment issues, yet that did not get in the way of it vigorously singing and defending its territory from the other males. I wonder if it will find a mate this year?

Red-winged Blackbird - Point Pelee National Park

Monday was my last day in the Pelee area and I only had until early afternoon until I had to begin my drive back home as I had plans to be at my parents' place in Cambridge for dinner. I birded for most of the morning in the national park, and while it was a beautiful day the birding was somewhat slow. There were still a good number of sparrows to sift through as well as decent numbers of Yellow-rumped Warblers and other typical mid-April migrants.

Upon leaving the park I drove over to the Harrow lagoons where a Greater White-fronted Goose had been hanging out for several days. Quite a few individuals of this species had been seen in Ontario earlier this spring but by mid-April most of the unusual geese species we see (Ross's, Cackling, G. White-fronted, etc) have moved through. I was happy to finally connect with this lingering individual, my first of the year. Many thanks to Donny Moore for providing daily updates on this bird!

Greater White-fronted Goose - Harrow lagoons

Greater White-fronted Goose used to be so unexpected in Ontario that it was a reviewable species by the Ontario Bird Records Committee. However like most other geese species, Greater White-fronted Goose has been doing quite well and as a result Ontario is seeing more and more records. It is expected now that flocks totaling several dozen birds will pass through the province in spring and autumn, as has been the case over the last few years.

Harrow was my last stop before beginning the long drive back home. It had been an awesome weekend!


Fleetwood Bird Observatory said...

A great read and stunning shots as always Josh!



Josh Vandermeulen said...

Thanks, Seumus!