by Karen Anderson
Recently I took a favourite walk that takes me about an hour to complete, covering both fields and forests. I parked my car at the start of the first picnic area then walked across the road, away from Lake Ontario to where the mowed grass meets the open fields. A few lingering Clouded Sulphur butterflies were flitting around while American Goldfinches and fall warblers moved constantly amongst the Bull Thistles feasting on the seeds.
A splash of red caught my eye and it was the ripened berries of a Rose hip plant so colourful that they reminded me of the decorations that I hang on my Christmas tree.
I continued along the open field until I turned left onto the group camping road. This stretch of road is stunning in the autumn and it never ceases to amaze me how many Chipmunks, Pileated Woodpeckers, and even Barred Owls you can find on this short stretch.
Walking the road until I reached the park bench and the markers for a Yellow (Pioneer) trail to the left, and an Orange (Newcastle) trail to the right, I stopped to
to call "pshhhhh pshhhhh? to see if any Red-breasted Nuthatches or Black-capped Chickadees would snack on the raw peanuts and raw sunflower seeds that I had brought along with me. The best time is when snow covers the ground, but I was lucky enough to have two Black-capped Chickadees land on my hand.
I turned left onto the Yellow Trail as it is perfect environment for finding Fall fungus. It didn't take long before I came across this fresh Sac Fungi nestled in amongst the fallen leaves. Soon after I discovered a large Tooth Fungi that reminded me of a waterfall cascading down the mossy log.
Vivid yellow slime moulds, puff balls and some late blooming Herb Robert wildflowers also dotted the trail until I came back to the main road.
From here I turned to the left which led me back to my vehicle.
Going down to the shoreline to have my lunch, I startled two huge Turkey Vultures that were feasting on a duck carcass but unfortunately they flew off before I could take their photo.
Looking forward to my next trip to Presqu'ile even if I have to bring along a thermos of hot chocolate to counter the icy winds coming off of Lake Ontario.
One of my favourite areas of the park in the autumn is the "Panne?, a flat, wet and largely open sandy area present on either side of the Park entrance. Many visitors who trek along the trail to the beaches may not realize the abundance of nature to be found here; from migrating Monarch butterflies tasting the sweetness of purple New England and Purple-stemmed Asters, gathering flocks of Northern Flickers, or to snakes of all types warming themselves in the sunshine.
The Comma Buckeye normally arrives at the Park from the south only every few years, but it has been almost annual these last five years. I was able to photograph a small number in 2010. They arrived back again this year, drawn by their favourite larval food source, a tiny pink flower called Gerardia. I was lucky enough to spot this Buckeye just at the Owen Point Comfort Station feeding on lush asters. In the same area I found a Monarch Butterfly having a drink, seemingly oblivious to the fact that his wings were in danger of becoming soaked.
Snakes are not for everyone but once you get to know them, you will become hooked on "snake watching?. Presqu'ile has a large variety of snakes, from the tiny Red-bellied Snake to the larger and sleek Milk Snake. Once the weather starts cooling down, the Garter Snakes come out in large numbers, finding stones, asphalt and even like this Garter, a concrete barrier to warm themselves on. Please be careful driving around the park not to run over these fascinating creatures.
If you check out some of the smaller side paths of the Panne, some made by the White-tailed Deer population, you may catch sight of Fringed Gentians. This bright blue flower is rare in Ontario, but common throughout the Panne in September. I watched bumblebees dive down into the narrow tubes looking for nectar and then back themselves out to go onto the next bloom.
I can hardly wait to come back to the Park to sit on the shoreline at the first picnic area, watching the Monarchs flying off one by one, on the start of their migration over Lake Ontario.
I also came across some nice flowers. There was Cowwheat growing in a little clearing in the pines trees. I associate this plant with dry conifer forests on the Canadian Shield, not forest covered sand dunes beside a marsh! But the little clearing was a little microclimate that must have been like home for this plant and there it was. Again not the most photogenic species, at least not by me. The flower is very small (less than 2cm long) but here it is anyway.
One other, much more photogenic flower seen was a lone Wood Lily in another clearing. A bit lonely looking but radiant in the sunlight all the same.
All in all a pleasant hour spent and well worth the bug bites.
Canada Day Campers
What a great way to celebrate, welcome to Bob and family
We just celebrated our 6th Canada Day camping weekend adventure at Presqui'ile. We had the pleasure of meeting Tone the Park Host who was quite impressed with our Canada Day decorations and our festivities. We have a Canada Day family brunch which always includes a group photo (to capture the memories).
We had a great time at Presqu'ile and are looking forward to returning for our 7th year.
In total I knew of 3 nests, 1 in Owen Pt parking from late April to about May 23, 1 in the south side of the Beach 1 parking lot from May 23 to June 17, and the last in the north side of Beach 1 parking lot, laid around June 18.
There were a couple of particularly interesting things about these nests. The standard defense for a Killdeer on a nest is to fake the broken wing and lure the intruder away. I didn't see these bird do that at all. They just held tight to the nest unless you got too close and then they would get up and step away, often fairly quietly, sometimes with worried trills. This actually seems like a better strategy then making a big fuss, particularly when you are in a busy parking lot and have several people walk by you in an hour, as the Owen Pt nest could easily have had. If you did the broken wing thing every time someone went by you would never get any rest! So perhaps birds near people are evolving new strategies?
The other interesting thing is the fact these nests were laid so far apart in time. Killdeers nest early, but I didn't know they would nest as late as mid June - perhaps they were failed nesters earlier in the year?
Of course the big question you are asking now is what happened to the nests? The first one seemed to go pretty well and then one day about the time they should be hatching everything was gone. This is not that unusual as Killdeer chicks walk shortly after they hatch. The whole family usually moves away, the chicks feed themselves and rely on Mom and Dad to teach them where to look and what is dangerous. I did see young Killdeer out on Beach 3 a few days earlier so it could have been from that nest.
The second nest we have very good dates for, the eggs started being laid on May 23 and on June 17, 26 days later, when I was in the parking lot I saw 3 fuzzy babies walking rather unsteadily around a sitting adult.
There was obviously something else still under her. The chicks were of course unbearably cute, picking at tiny insects and tripping over grass blades. Every so often they would go over to Mom? and she would lift up so they could rest under her out of the glare of the noonday sun.
I went back 3 hours later and there were 4 fuzzy chicks and two adults walking around. The last chick had obviously hatched and the family was free to move on. The next day there was not a Killdeer in sight BUT.
I later learned that another nest was discovered in the other Beach 1 parking area on June 18. One of the wardens put up pylons around the 4 eggs. Checking it on June 21 I found the nest empty and 2 feet away the broken remains of the eggs, obviously eaten, rather than hatched. Such goes the circle of life, sometimes the predators have to win too.
high lake level and recent rain the beach had an number of pools on it that some Ring-billed Gulls were using to bathe in.
A few other gulls and Canada Geese were loafing about on the beach as is normal. What struck me at once however were the swallows. Purple Martins, Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows and Bank Swallows were all swooping over the sand like fighter planes on strafing runs. The image was further strengthened by the call of the Bank Swallows which sounds somewhat like, what Hollywood at least, would have us think machine guns sound like - a dry "ack-ack-ack". I was particularly pleased to see this species as I find it the most difficult of all the swallow species to find and all aerial insect hunters seem to be in decline right now for reasons not understood.
This is the time of year when shorebirds move through our area and the beach did not disappoint , 4 Semipalmated Plovers, 1 Black-bellied Plover, and a herd of 30 Dunlin were seen along Beach 2-3. The Dunlins were moving from the lake edge, to the beach pools, and back again to feed.
Owen Point was equally beautiful and in addition to the usual loafing gulls and terns had 9 resting Whimbrel. These large shorebirds move through southern Ontario in a very narrow range of days centred on the 24th of May, so these birds were right on schedule. Most Whimbrels seem to fly along the north shore of Lake Ontario before heading north to the arctic -see http://www.seaturtle.org/tracking /?project_id69 and go to the Whimbrel page for satellite tracking maps of this species. Unlike many of our other shorebirds Whimbrels rarely feed when they are at Presqu'ile in spring, but rather a few of the passing birds just put down to rest for a short while.
The sun was nearing the horizon by this time and I started back down the beach. The swallows and most of the other birds had gone by then but I did see a couple of Killdeer with fuzzy babies hiding in the vegetation and I was serenaded by the Grey Treefrogs calling from the pannes as I walked into the sun after a most enjoyable stroll on the beach.
Most conspious today were the resident birds. There are at least 5 Baltimore Oriole nests being built within sight of the lighthouse. These bright orange and black birds are hard to miss. Also nesting in the area are Yellow Warbler, Grey Catbird, Song Sparrows, Orchard Orioles and Redstarts - all singing loudly.
A few migrants were noted, including Blackpoll Warblers and Tennessee Warblers, both of which have distincive songs - easy to hear, harder to find. In total 12 species of warblers were "detected" on the morning walk - some only heard. Lots of other colourful birds, including a pair of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks were also seen.