Northern Map Turtles

Northern Map Turtle closeup

The Northern Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica) is a common inhabitant of medium to large lakes in Frontenac Provincial Park and is listed as a species of Special Concern by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC). The Frontenac Arch region is also home to significant populations of Blanding’s Turtle (Emydoidea blandingii) and the Eastern Musk Turtle (Sternotherus odoratus), both of which are listed as Threatened species by COSEWIC.

Basking

The map turtles are easily the most frequently encountered turtle species during our fieldwork, followed by Blanding’s, Snapping and Painted. Unfortunately I have yet to encounter the Eastern Musk or “Stinkpot” Turtle in the park, which isn’t that surprising given their small size and strictly aquatic habits. Hopefully I’ll luck into one this summer. Click here for a very interesting account of this unique species by researchers at the Queen’s University Biological Station of nearby Opinicon Lake (~20km northeast of FPP office).

2010 Frontenac Biothon Report

Eastern Forktail (Seabrooke Leckie)

Our first annual Frontenac Biothon was held this past weekend in Frontenac Provincial Park. The weather was excellent – clear skies and seasonal temperatures. We had originally planned the biothon to take place on June 10-11 but we had to postpone due to expected thunderstorms and heavy rain. The disadvantage of running it in mid-July was that the birds were MUCH harder to find. On the upside, plants and insects were far more diverse and abundant. Overall, the biothon went very well and all participants had an enjoyable time. Also, as this was our first biothon experience, we’ve learned a lot about what will and won’t work for future editions. We set a goal of identifying 500 species and came oh-so-close to that number, falling just short, with a total of 441! Despite missing our goal, a rather arbitrary figure, our results were fantastic and some truly wonderful species were recorded!

Seabrooke Leckie looking for bugs

The biothon “MVP award” has to go to both Seabrooke Leckie and Julia Marko Dunn who demonstrated superb knowledge of insects and plants respectively. Myself, Steve Gillis and Chris Dunn spent much of our time covering ground in search for elusive birds and ended the biothon with just 64 bird species – well short of what could have been found earlier in the season. However, we have experience outside of birds, as well, and managed to add bits and pieces to the throng of plants and bugs found by the girls.

Tents at Cluster 13

We camped at cluster 13 on Big Clear Lake, which was a good location for the biothon. This area of the park is known for its rugged topography – steep ridges along lakes dominated by Eastern White Pine. Of particular note at this site was the evening serenade provided by the Coyotes, two or three Whip-poor-wills and a couple of Common Nighthawks!

Red-headed Woodpecker habitat (Derbyshire)

A personal/FBS highlight was the discovery of a pair of Red-headed Woodpeckers observed in an open swamp near Hardwood Bay, Devil Lake, on Saturday afternoon! My records indicate that the last breeding record for the park dates from over ten years ago near Gibson’s Lake to the northwest. I’m not clear on the historical status of this species in the area but I do know that they have declined sharply in the Kingston region and the province as a whole. This was our first encounter with the Red-headed Woodpecker since the project began in 2009 and it was a thrill to observe these stunning birds sally for insects from the many snags in this swamp. I never would have seen these birds had it not been for Steve who found the swamp and called me over to investigate (thanks Steve!). I will have to go back to this swamp in 2011 to confirm nesting. The Red-headed Woodpecker is a provincial and federally listed Species at Risk with a designation of Threatened.

The woodpeckers were just one of many notable sightings from the weekend – too many to list here unfortunately. We visited lakes, fens, bogs, beaver ponds, deciduous and mixed forests and successional rock barrens in the 24 hour blitz. I’m sure that each participant would describe their biothons differently but it is safe to say that a lot of fun was had and that our stay was much too short!

On behalf of the Migration Research Foundation I wish to extend our grateful thanks to this year’s many sponsors and to Ontario Parks for their support of the biothon. And finally, the whole event would not have been possible without the efforts of our dedicated volunteer biothoners; Chris Dunn, Julia Marko Dunn, Karina Dykstra, Steve Gillis and Seabrooke Leckie (clap clap clap!)

Below is a small selection of the species encountered during the 2010 Frontenac Biothon – hope you enjoy!

Graphocephala teliformis (Seabrooke Leckie)
Spatulate-leaved Sundew (Julia Marko Dunn)
Poison Sumac (Derbyshire)
Big Water Crayfish (Seabrooke Leckie)
Pitcher Plant (Julia Marko Dunn)
Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle

Lizards in our midst

Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus)

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So strange to find a lizard in Ontario but they’re definitely here. Yesterday around noon, I found this adult male in a rocky outcrop laden with deadfall and thorn scrub. The Five-lined Skink is Ontario’s only native lizard species. They occur in two areas; the Carolinian region and along the Southern Shield ecotone. The two populations are genetically isolated and have differing habitat associations. The Southern Shield population favours rocky areas while the Carolinian version prefers sandy habitats. The Carolinian population, listed as Endangered, is small and restricted to just a few sites in southwestern Ontario. Five-lined Skinks of the shield are considered more numerous although relatively little is known about their ecology and abundance. The shield population is listed as a Species at Risk with a status of Special Concern. More information on this remarkable species can be found here.

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Unlike this adult, the juvenile Five-lined Skink is quite colourful with its black body and bright azure blue tail. Click here for a photo of a younger individual. Apparently they lose their colour as they age. After first spotting this adult dart away I wondered if I might be lucky enough to get a photo. This little guy was fast and fidgety, making it difficult to get a view of more than just a tail tip or leg. I accumulated a large batch of poor photos before I opted to stand still and change some settings on my camera. The skink then proceeded to slowly amble over to check out my shoe!

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On the Road: Frontenac Turtles

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Nesting season for turtles has been in full swing the past two weeks. I’ve probably moved about 15-20 turtles off paved and gravel roads in the area since early June.  Turtles frequently fall victim to collisions with cars as they slowly cross roadways in search of nesting sites. I always prioritize stopping the car and moving them to a safe spot in their intended direction. Female Map Turtles and Snapping Turtles have been observed nesting in the soft gravel at the road edge throughout the FBS study area but these “roadies” are most frequently observed at dusk when one can easily find as many as 5-10 of them on the road in maybe a kilometre or two.

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The Snapping Turtles have a certain air of intimidation about them but can be moved easily without risk of being bitten if you know where to hold them by their shells. I can’t seem to find any decent links to descriptions of this procedure so I will refrain from recommending that these creatures be handled-they do have a powerful bite.  They will often move quickly (for a turtle) if approached from behind so you can often move them out of harm’s way in this manner.