Notes From The Field-May 30 2017

Notes From The Field-May 30 2017

Today was a busy day, although it started out slow, with a weather delay. I was scheduled to help the Long Point Basin Land Trust with the annual Fox Snake survey but we had to delay due to a morning rain shower. I spent the morning trudging through bush and fields looking for the elusive snakes but yet again we were disappointed. My time wasn’t wasted though as I was taking pictures of all the plants I found interesting. Many of them I haven’t identified yet.

If anyone knows what the following plants are, I’d love to know.


On one of the properties surveyed, there is a very healthy deer population. There are subtle signs of their presence everywhere you look if you know what to look for.  Tracks and scat are the obvious signs to look for and there is plenty of that. By looking carefully, one can also find deer hair, laydowns (bedding areas) shed antlers in the spring and lots of game trails. Can you see the game trails in the photos below?


After the snake survey and the subsequent removal of several ticks, I went off in search of some fishing. I went to one of my favourite spots and ate my lunch while watching the birds. The spot I fish at is the mouth of a small creek that flows out of a provincially significant wetland. The creek on one side of the road is contained within the boundary of a national wildlife reserve. I was standing on that side, in the reserve, when I looked down and saw movement in the water. My first thought was that I’d found a water snake!! But no, this was much much better. I had stumbled upon a school of spawning Longnose Gar!!! I estimated there to be well over 50 individual fish in the school and they were amazing!! Up till that point I had only seen one or two and here there were scads of them and I could watch them in their natural habitat and watch their spawning behaviour. Longnose Gar is an ancient fish, practically dinosaurs, and they are one of very few fish species that breathes air. They perform a gas exchange by skimming and snapping along the surface of the water and this behaviour was very apparent today. I was mesmerised!



While the bugs were horrible and I did get a sunburn, it was all told a wonderful day in the field in Norfolk County!!


Welcoming Home The Birds

I regularly work with the Long Point Bay Land Trust during the field season and this has given me plenty of great experiences in helping to protect and conserve Southern Ontario wildlife. Last week we cleaned out wild bird nesting boxes in preparation for the return of migratory birds. The boxes were built and placed in habitat suitable for native bluebirds, in the hopes of fostering a population of these elusive birds.

Emptying a nesting box of last year’s nest


Nesting boxes are a common sight throughout Southern Ontario as farmers and birding enthusiasts install them along fields and woodlands. The bluebird suffered a serious decline in the mid 20th century due to various factors, including pesticide use and loss of habitat. Bluebirds are cavity nesters and have several requirements for where they will set up housekeeping. Unfortunately, the bird boxes that are provided for them are prime real estate for many other species of birds, necessitating that they be emptied and cleaned yearly of the previous inhabitants nests.

Sparrows, starlings, and house wrens will all take over the nesting boxes, and some birds will even take over a bluebird’s nest and lay their own eggs. We sadly found evidence of this in some of the boxes, with the original bird’s eggs pushed to the bottom of the nest box. These eggs had partially developed embryos inside. The invading bird then laid and hatched it’s own clutch in the stolen nest.

The hatched egg of a house wren

We found nests containing a variety of natural materials, from the usual grass and twigs, to waterfowl feathers and moss. One ingenious bird had even woven a piece of discarded plastic wrap into her nest. I found that each nest told a story; about the species of the bird who made it, about the success of the hatch, and about the dramas that unfold in the bird world.

Plastic interwoven amid twigs and moss

I look forward to monitoring the bird boxes throughout the season and seeing what new life emerges. We can only hope that we did well in the eyes of the bluebirds and will be rewarded with their approval.