Outdoors In The Land O' Lakes

by Steve Blight   It’s early May, and almost all of “our” birds are back and are settling into their important summer routines of foraging for food, seeking mates and building nests to raise their young. One group of birds is known as aerial insectivores – birds that feed primarily on flying insects, usually taken in flight. Known as a “guild” to bird scientists, aerial insectivores include swallows, swifts, nightjars and flycatchers. Nightjars are a small family of birds including Common Nighthawks and the Whip-poor-will, a bird familiar to many residents and visitors to the Land O’Lakes area. Although there is plenty of overlap in diet, each bird species exploits somewhat different food resources in different ways. Swifts, nighthawks, swallows, and martins remain aloft to…

Red Admirals and Painted Ladies

Written by  |  Thursday, 26 April 2012 11:01  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
By Lorraine Julien What happened to spring? Colourful butterflies were flitting around Frontenac County and probably the rest of southern Ontario the last couple of weeks but they must be shivering this past chilly weekend. In general, though, the early spring, of course, means an early start to the mosquito/blackfly season. Photo: Red Admiral, Sturgis McKeever, Georgia Southern University, Bugwood.org You’ve probably noticed around your property or heard on the news of the influx of colourful red and black butterflies recently. Chances are that the butterfly is the Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta), a well-known butterfly with red, black and brown wing patterns and small white dots at the tips of the wings. It looks similar to a Monarch except the colours are in reverse and…

Snapping Turtles of the Land O’Lakes

Written by  |  Thursday, 12 April 2012 10:57  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Steve Blight The warming temperatures of April trigger renewed life in the lakes, rivers and ponds in our part of the world. After months under ice, Ontario’s largest species of turtle, the Common Snapping Turtle, is cued by the thaw to come out of hibernation and begin another year. Unlike many other Ontario turtles, snappers spend almost all of their time in water – so much so that their upper shell (termed a carapace) is often covered in moss – hence the name “mossback” that these turtles are sometimes known as. They can be found across southern Ontario and beyond, where they spend their lives in shallow, weedy, mud-bottomed water bodies. Snapping turtles don’t seem too fussy about what they eat – plants, dead…

Unusual Bugs with Strange Names

Written by  |  Thursday, 29 March 2012 10:52  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Lorraine Julien When looking through my Ontario bugs book recently, I came across some really unusual bugs with strange names. Following is a small sampling of the really odd ones: The Stump Stabber – (Megarhyssa spp.) photo by Howard Ensign Evans, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org With a name like this, can’t you just picture this little fellow doing the Ompah Stomp? The Stump Stabber (a member of the Ichneumon family) has a long slender body with daddy long-leg type legs. It flies from tree trunk to tree trunk, all the while rapidly drumming its antennae while running around on the bark, obviously searching for something. Somehow the female has managed to find a wood boring grub deep in the tree. She strains and pushes her…

What’s in a Name?

Written by  |  Thursday, 15 March 2012 06:12  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
By Steve Blight Over the years, a number of people have asked me about names of plants and animals – why are they complicated and hard to pronounce, what do they mean, and really, who cares? In today’s column I’ll try to shed a bit of light on this subject. Why are Latin names used? It is important to recall that when nature study really took off in Europe during the period known as the “Age of Enlightenment”, Latin was the common language of the educated – the “lingua franca” of the day. Thus the use of Latin allowed scientists from across Europe to understand each other. Modern biological classification has its roots – so to speak – in the work of Carl Linnaeus, a…

Beaver Island

Written by  |  Thursday, 23 February 2012 05:11  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Lorraine Julien With ice covering our little bay, we’re able to walk to our island now, which is perhaps 100 meters off shore. The island is well treed and is about ½ acre in size. At least it was well treed until a logger moved into the area. Our mysterious logger has a warm fur coat, which is just as well because most of his logging is done at night. He’s a hard worker but he’s also kind of cute with his big brown eyes and buck teeth. In fact, his teeth are so large he can, and does, literally eat trees. Of course, as you’ve probably guessed, our night visitor is Mr. Beaver and, by the number of felled trees, some of his…

Snowy Owls

Written by  |  Thursday, 09 February 2012 05:10  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
By Steve Blight Photo: Pale Snowy Owl in flight -- likely an adult male. I remember seeing my very first Snowy Owl. It was in late January and I was standing beside my car squinting through binoculars at a silhouetted indistinct white bump at the far side of a large field. Snowy Owls are regular but uncommon winter visitors to the Ottawa area and my wife and I were trying to track one down. This was indeed a Snowy Owl, but mixed in with the excitement of a first was a sense of disappointment of the bird being so far away and hard to see. This was not my wife’s first snowy – several years prior to this she was traveling with work colleagues on…

Turncoats: Weasels in Winter

Written by  |  Wednesday, 18 January 2012 19:00  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
By: Lorraine Julien A small white face pushes up through the snow, its small black eyes gleaming. The long slender body comes next. It is probably one of the three main species of weasels that inhabit our area. They are: the Short-tailed weasel (Mustela erminea), the Long-tailed weasel (Mustela frenata) and the less common Least weasel (Mustela nivalis). These little fellows are very similar, except for their size, but the most striking thing they have in common is the fact that their fur coats change color twice a year; once the shorter days of autumn approach, the chocolate brown fur on their upper bodies changes to snow white over the course of just a few weeks. As the days grow shorter, less light enters the…

Counting birds at Christmastime

Written by  |  Thursday, 12 January 2012 05:06  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Steve Blight About 20 years or so ago, my wife and I took part in our first Christmas bird count. We were assigned an area within the urban boundary of Ottawa, and when the big day dawned, clear and cold, we pulled on our warmest boots and headed out to find some birds. This year, we thought we might try it again, but we wanted to do it closer to our cottage on Bobs Lake. The Westport Christmas Bird Count turned out to be the closest one, so we signed up with coordinator Wendy Briggs-Jude, who was happy to have a couple of extra pairs of eyes and ears on the job. Christmas bird counts go back to 1900, when American ornithologist Frank Chapman…

Becoming a Citizen Scientist

Written by  |  Wednesday, 21 December 2011 19:00  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Dr. Jim Bendell [This interesting article on becoming a citizen scientist was written by retired Biology Professor Dr. Jim Bendell about a presentation given by Marlene Doyle of Environment Canada to the Mississippi Valley Field Naturalists (MVFN) on September 15, 2011. We couldn't write a better article than Dr. Blendell has, so we're reprinting it with the MVFN's permission. Steve and I would like to wish our readers the very best of the Christmas season and a Happy, Healthy 2012 - Lorraine] When most of us stop and ask ourselves what we value most in life, we likely admit it is not a thing or things at all, but ourselves and other people. Next would be the natural environment, which, after all, we depend…

Rough-legged Hawks

Written by  |  Thursday, 08 December 2011 07:09  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Steve Blight The arrival of cold weather and snow means usually means that even the very last stragglers of “our” summer birds have gone. But the beginning of winter also usually heralds the return of our winter birds, including some interesting birds of prey. The Rough-legged Hawk is a raptor that spends its winter with us. This big hawk is a true northern species, nesting on cliffs, boulders, riverbank ledges and other high points from the shores of Hudson Bay north to the high Arctic. In Ontario, there are only a few records of nests, and all are from atop man-made structures at abandoned radar sites on the coast of Hudson Bay. Rough-legged Hawks begin to arrive in our area from their arctic summer…

Bird Migration

Written by  |  Thursday, 24 November 2011 07:06  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Lorraine Julien Late fall is a great time to walk in the country with crispy brown leaves crunching underfoot, the chatter of cheeky squirrels, the rat-tat sound of woodpeckers as they look for food on nearby tree trunks and the smell of wood smoke slowly drifting from chimneys. Less obvious than these sights and sounds is the annual bird migration to warmer climates, which takes place over many months. Swallows and other bug-eating birds are one of the first groups to leave, usually by early August. Next, most noticeable, are the hummingbirds, usually gone by early September, depending on the weather. Some ducks may follow soon after though some of the diving ducks linger longer and may stay until bodies of water begin to…

Understory Trees of the Land O’ Lakes

Written by  |  Thursday, 10 November 2011 07:05  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Steve Blight Photo: Blue-beech trunk, showing the ridges that give the tree its other common name, Musclewood Fall provides an opportunity to see our local forests in a whole new light. With the leaves mostly on the ground, you can see much further into the forest and some aspects of the woods stand out in sharp relief. For example the oaks become quite easy to distinguish from other trees in a stand because they still have many of their russet leaves while the maples and many other hardwoods have lost theirs. A scan through the bush can reveal just how many oaks there are in some patches of forest. I was walking through the nearly leafless forest last week and I was struck by the…

Spooky Spiders

Written by  |  Thursday, 27 October 2011 08:05  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Lorraine Julien Photo: Lynx spider by Nickles, John, US Fish & Wildlife Service As though he knew Hallowe’en was approaching, a large black Wolf (Lycosidae) spider with fuzzy looking legs decided to take up residence near my kitchen door. I crept up to it very slowly with my camera but, unfortunately, I didn’t check the pictures for clarity and my spider was gone before I could photograph it again. Though they can produce silk like most other spiders, Wolf spiders do not spin webs. When the young are hatched, they cling to their mother’s body holding onto special handle hairs on her back. The proper name for spiders is Arachnids, named after the mythological woman who was changed into a spider (Arachne) by the…

Why leaves change colour

Written by  |  Thursday, 06 October 2011 08:04  |  Published in Outdoors in the Land O' Lakes
by Steve Blight Living in the Land O’ Lakes, we are lucky to be in one of those parts of the world where nature has one last fling before settling down into winter's sleep. A great Canadian tradition is to get out in the sunny fall weather and enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the colourful fall foliage. Certain colours are characteristic of particular species. Oaks turn red, brown, or russet; hickories, golden bronze; aspen and other poplars, golden yellow; ash purplish red or yellow; beech, light tan. Maples differ species by species – red maple turns brilliant scarlet; sugar maple, yellowish-orange and occasionally some red. Leaves of some species such as the elms simply shrivel up and fall, exhibiting little colour other than drab brown.…
 

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