Monday, June 11, 2012

Amber-winged Spreadwing (Lestes eurinus)

Unlike other spreadwings the Amber-winged Spreadwing (Lestes eurinus) flies over open water, making this wary, elusive damselfly difficult to pursue and photograph. It also colonizes temporary – preferably fish free – ponds and pools, which may explain its sudden occurrence at a marsh where it hasn't been seen in the past four years. Conditions appear to be acceptable for breeding because a tandem pair was observed, so hopefully these striking insects will be around for a while.

Pruinosity has obscured the markings on the sides of the thorax of this older male; just a hint of yellow is visible.

A female Amber-winged Spreadwing; these robust damselflies are about 50 mm in length. Note the yellow patch and diagonal dark band on the side of the thorax.

Wildlife is best photographed in its natural habitat, but sometimes a closer look is warranted. The colors on the thorax of this relatively young male are the same as the female's.

The wings bear a distinctive amber wash – again, this is a young male and the amber tint may be difficult to see in older males and females.

And now we come to the main reason for capturing this damselfly – oblique and dorsal views of the claspers. The lower claspers are very short in this species.

The spreadwings hung around the marsh for about three days, then dropped out of sight and haven't been observed at that locale again. But about ten days later two female Amber-winged Spreadwings were encountered near a small sand bottomed creek in a shady forested area (a rather atypical habitat according to my field guides) about a kilometer east of the marsh.

This is an older female ... the amber wash on the wings is barely evident, the eyes are blue, and there's some pruinosity on the tip of the abdomen. But the damselfly's robust build and length – a good 50 mm – and the markings on the sides of the thorax leave no doubt as to species.

July 11th, 2012 ... this female damselfly was hanging out in the shade near the intersection of the trail and Lajoie Road.

The lighting was less than optimal and the photos aren't the best, but the characteristic band on the side of the thorax is clear enough ... this is an Amber-winged Spreadwing.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

A Snake in the Grass

It's said that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush – to which I could also add that a snake in the hand is worth one bite. Nerodia sipedon can be somewhat ill-tempered and tends to bite more readily than our other local serpents.

Not to worry, though, the Northern Water Snake is not venomous, and this individual was small, only about 30 cm long, so the bite amounted to little more than a couple of scratches on my finger. Naturally any wild animal will try to defend itself if it feels threatened. The snake was doing its best to flee and the bite was a result of my capturing and subsequent carelessness in handling it.

The snake is still somewhat riled up ...

... but perfectly safe to hold – no fangs whatsover.

After a minute or so it became accustomed to being handled and didn't try to bite or escape any more.

Looks like it had something for lunch. In contrast to the brown camouflage patterning on its upper side, the patterns on the belly of the snake are actually beautiful and pleasing to the eye.

After I released the snake it was in no hurry to leave, at one point it was trying to crawl into and take shelter in the cuff of my pants.

There were several Northern Water Snakes out and about in the vicinity of the marsh, and one individual was a good meter in length. This one, about 60 cm long, was trying its best to look inconspicuous.

Our most commonly encountered snake is the Garter Snake (Thamnophis sirtalis). Here's a lucky shot of that marvelous forked tongue that allows the snake to smell which direction a scent is coming from.

The color and patterning of Garter Snakes can vary – some have reddish-brown sides, and the dark stripes of this youngster are broken by pale spots.

The following two photos were taken in Presqu'ile Provincial Park on a warm day in mid-March. Garter snakes mate when they emerge from hibernation, and they do it as a group with several males attempting to mate with one female. There were three groups within a few feet of one another and six or eight snakes in this particular cluster (it was kind of tough to get an accurate count), with snakes constantly going into or leaving the mating ball.

Friday, June 1, 2012

The Ferns of our Fields, Forests and Fens

Ferns don't produce colorful blossoms to catch the eye, so they tend to be overlooked and get relegated to being just a part of the background scenery. The ancestors and relatives of these humble plants grew to the size of trees, and 350 million years ago during the Carboniferous Period they formed the coal beds we use to generate much of our electricity. Although it's still under construction, the Ontario Ferns Website created by Walter Muma is a valuable resource.

A group of Bracken (Pteridium aquilinum), showing their typical growth form. This fairly tall fern – the plants in the photo below were about 100 cm high – prefers an open, relatively dry habitat. The following photographs were taken in late May.

Bracken stems

A Bracken frond still in the process of unfurling.

The underside of the frond – sometimes the margins of the leaflets are inrolled, as seen in the photo below.

Bracken with the leaves fully open.

Closeup of an unfurled frond.

A picturesque group of Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) growing in a moist field in late May.

The cinnamon colored spike in the middle is the spore-producing fertile frond. This plant is a good 120 cm tall.

Fractals in nature – a Cinnamon Fern fertile frond.

Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana) found growing in a wet, almost marshy, open habitat in late May – the fronds of this striking fern were about 150 cm high.

The brown lumpy growths on the stems of Interrupted Fern are the fertile spore-producing structures.

Another photo of the stems of Interrupted Fern ... this plant comes by its name honestly, doesn't it?

The leaflets of Interrupted Fern.

Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis), late May, in a moist wooded habitat. A photo can't do this plant justice – the fronds were at least my height, but allowing for their curvature they would have been 180 cm long or better.

Royal Fern – fertile fronds in early June.

The leaflets of Royal Fern are distinctive.

Oak Fern (Gymnocarpium dryopteris) fronds have three main divisions, the middle one being the longest. This plant is about 30 cm high. Photographed in late May in a shady but relatively dry habitat.

Closeup of an Oak Fern frond.

Rattlesnake Fern (Botrychium virginianum) – the overall aspect and growth form are superficially similar to that of the Oak Fern.

Closeup views of a Rattlesnake Fern frond – very different from the frond of an Oak Fern. The fertile fronds of Rattlesnake Fern are also distinctive but this specimen doesn't have one.

A Rattlesnake Fern with a stalked spore-bearing fertile frond, photographed at the Vanderwater Conservation Area in late June.

The typical growth form of New York Fern (Thelypteris noveboracensis), about 60 cm tall, found growing in moist shady woodland in mid-May.

Since the pinnae grow almost to ground level while getting progressively smaller, the frond of the New York Fern appears to taper at both ends.

The sterile fronds of Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) are seldom over 60 cm high. Photographed in a moist, open field in mid-June.

The spore-producing fertile fronds of Sensitive Fern – this photo was taken earlier, in mid-May.

A patch of Polypody (Polypodium virginianum) growing in a dry, wooded area in late May. Groups of single fronds, about a 30 cm long, are the typical growth habit of this fern.