Our third season of M.A.P.S is now approaching its halfway point. Our second round of visits to the three stations was a little more active than the first, especially at Blue Lakes (BLAK) and Maplewood (MABO). This striking male Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea) was one of 23 birds captured on June 16 at MABO. Veery was the most abundant species captured that day followed by the ubiquitous Red-eyed Vireos – the most prolific forest songbird in the Frontenac Arch.
After capturing just 10 individuals in early June at BLAK, we expected another quiet day when we set the nets up at dawn on June 15. Perhaps the fairer weather helped as the vireos finally showed up and a bunch of other species seemed to be more evident. We ended the day with a meager but respectable 15 birds captured. Butterflies and other non-avian critters seemed to catch our attention throughout the morning, including the White Admiral (Limenitis arthemis) pictured above – a personal favourite.
There is no substitute for sitting patiently and quietly when you want to find wildlife. During our first visit a couple weeks earlier we had a Smooth Green Snake approach us at the banding station. During our next visit while I was out on a net round, Seabrooke was approached by this adult Five-linked Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus) at the station! We also had a brief look at a blue immature individual just yesterday at the same spot.
Normally I pull the plug on any planned M.A.P.S visit when the forecast indicates a 50/50 or greater chance of precipitation – too risky for me. However, I had little choice with visit 2 to Rock Ridge (RRID) on June 17. There was a brief 30 minute shower near dawn, which delayed net opening, but the rest of the morning was generally just damp and cloudy. We closed slightly early due to the forecast late morning thunderstorms – don’t want to be caught in that when a couple of kilometres out on Big Clear Lake. We noted much more bird song and chatter on this visit compared to our first but it seemed that the dreary weather was limiting bird activity. We ended the abbreviated visit with just 7 captures but left feeling encouraged by the apparent increase in numbers of expected species, particularly Black-and-white Warblers and Eastern Towhees. We caught an Ovenbird, which was weird for rock barren habitat. Even more surprising was the Prairie Warbler that sang from two positions at opposite ends of the study area throughout the morning. I’ve already picked out his colour bands so hopefully he will be there when we return….
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.
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!
The first “official” day of the Frontenac Breeding Birds program began with both great anticipation and the sound of the alarm clock at a shockingly early hour! The first day at a shiny new MAPS station is usually filled with a lot of excitement mixed with a bit of drama and perhaps even a bit of anxiety. Stumbling through the one kilometre long “path” through the thick bush at 430am is then followed by a mad scramble to expeditiously locate net sites and erect the mistnets. This can be a trying experience however things always get easier once this procedure is out of the way. Our first visit of the year was to Hemlock Lake, a gorgeous site of mixed forest and wetlands on crown lands in the FBS study area. The most distinctive characteristic of the HELA station is the proliferation of Eastern Hemlock and the lake itself, which is full of drowned timber and a regenerating shoreline of trees felled by the infamous ice storm of 1998. This shoreline is now regenerating with a host of successional shrubs and saplings, which provides excellent edge habitats for sampling both adult and dispersing juvenile demographics. Black-and-white Warbler (pictured above) is one of the most abundant species in the area, although just one male was captured this morning.
Of the three MAPS stations we are running in 2009, Hemlock Lake is definitely the most rugged and arduous to traverse. There is a great amount of deadfall at the site and a lot of ups and downs over rock outcrops and small ridges and valleys. Wild Roses also provide a dense thorny covering for hidden snags and branches. While each of the twelve runs of the mistnets during the morning is an undertaking, the unique ecology, sights and sounds make it worthwhile and enjoyable.
The site also has large components of decidous forest at the boundaries of the station where Ovenbirds, Red-eyed Vireos and Scarlet Tanagers are common.
Mixed forest is more typical of the banding area, which is dotted by streams and ephemeral ponds. Gray Tree Frog, Winter Wren and Northern Waterthrush, among others, are found in these wetlands at Hemlock Lake. The most exciting find was of a fast moving Five-lined Skink, which thwarted any attempt to acquire a photograph. The Five-lined Skink is Ontario’s only species of lizard and is a designated Species at Risk.
The Five-lined Skink is Ontario’s only species of lizard, and it is split into two series of populations with distinct habitat preferences. The Carolinian populations, which are Endangered Nationally and Special Concern Provincially, occur in Carolinian forest and prefer wooded habitat with sandy soil and ground cover. They use woody debris as shelter and hibernate by burying themselves in the soil. The Great Lakes/St. Lawrence populations, which are Special Concern Provincially and Nationally, occur on the southern part of the Canadian Shield. Preferred habitat is on rocky outcrops in mixed coniferous and deciduous forests, where they can seek refuge from the elements and predators in rock crevices and fissures.
Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were also common throughout the Hemlock Lake station and are a dominant woodpecker species in forests of this type in the Frontenac Arch region.
Brown Creepers are abundant at the site, due in part to the abundance of dead and decaying conifers along the shoreline of Hemlock Lake. We are already monitoring an active nest at the site and today captured this juvenile along with its parent (below). The two were released together at the net location where they were captured. All juvenile birds banded are released at locations where they were captured as they are often still dependent on their parents for feeding.
Speaking of nests, I discovered a Winter Wren nest at the site last week. The nest is located in a most unusual fashion as Winter Wrens typically build their dome shaped nests low to the ground in mossy stream banks and fallen logs. This particular nest was built on the end of a lateral Eastern Hemlock limb about eight feet off the ground! The photo below is of the entrance hole to the nest. The nest itself looks much like a ball of twigs and moss from below. Male Winter Wrens are known to continuously build nests throughout the summer, even after the female is tending eggs and young in one of his nests from earlier in the season. Males can build as many as twelve nests in a single breeding season! This particular nest is unlined and contains no eggs, which leads me to believe that it is one of these unused building projects. I will continue to check on this nest to note any change in occupancy and will begin my search for the active nest next week.
A bird waiting for processing at the banding station. A fabulous set of bird bags for Frontenac Bird Studies was expertly prepared and delivered by Wendy Derbyshire (thanks mom!).
Research assistant Seabrooke Leckie processing birds at the shore of Hemlock Lake. These MAPS stations are spartan affairs as keeping things light and portable is a top priority! A total of 16 birds were captured during visit one to Hemlock Lake in 2009. Complete results are provided below. Overall, it was a fantastic start to the MAPS component of the Frontenac Breeding Birds and we have twenty more mornings and 251 more net checks at the MAPS stations still to come-a lot to look forward to!
HEMLOCK LAKE-Visit 1 of 7 Banding Results
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (bounced out of net 2!)
Black-throated Green Warblers