Quebec chronicles – the non-avian wildlife

While birding has become a beloved pastime for me, I think of myself mostly as a wildlife photographer. I enjoy observing (new) insects, reptiles and mammals as much as I like seeing birds and find their behaviors just as fascinating. So I was also on the lookout for non-avian wildlife during our recent migration trip.

You could tell that springtime was flourishing as plants were putting out new leaves and buds. There were gorgeous red (Trillium erectum) and white trilliums (Trillium grandiflorum).

 

Fiddlehead ferns were popping up everywhere. And a new flower for me was the white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda).

Yellow trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) were emerging and red columbines (Aquilegia canadensis) dangled their pretty red and yellow blooms.

Red osier dogwoods (Cornus sericea) were in meadows at one park and in the area where we were staying, multiple shadbush (serviceberry, Amelanchier) trees were in bloom.

Quite an unusual plant turned up in Pointe au Pic near an area with local shops. I had not seen one like this before – a helpful member of a plant identification group told me it was a rhubarb (Rheum).

The dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) we saw were very large in comparison to those I’ve seen in North Carolina (NC). Interesting is that the official name in French is “pissenlit”, which literally translated would be “piss in bed” (although proper French speakers would say “Pisse au lit”). In any event, dandelions can not only be eaten in salads but also be used as a diuretic, so perhaps centuries ago the French Quebeçois were referring to the flower’s properties in describing it. Another French name for the bloom is “lion’s teeth” or “dents de lion” (from which the English word dandelion came).

The insects were taking advantage of those edible yellow flowers; both spiders and ants were busy crawling around them.

 

A beautiful syrphid fly was also busy getting its meal, while an unknown moth flitted down to rest in the middle of a road.

There were butterflies at the shorelines, like this Lucia azure (Celastrina lucia) and mussel shells rested on rocks.

 

 

A spur-throated grasshopper (Melanoplus) was hanging out on a pissenlit, and a diamondback moth (Plutella xylostella) turned up in a photo of another plant (not a great photo but a lifer insect for me).

A beautiful honey bee (Apis mellifera) was covered in pollen.

Another new insect for me was the tricolored bumble bee (Bombus ternarius).

A few mammals appeared during our spring vacation, although not the hoped-for moose. (We unfortunately saw one black bear, but it had been hit on the road.) On several days, I caught sight of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) bounding away, both in the area where we were staying and in the parks that we visited. I managed to catch a glimpse of an Eastern chipmunk, too, but it wouldn’t come out from behind some twigs for a photo shoot.

Much more cooperative were the American red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus), which feed primarily on conifer cone seeds. They also enjoy other foods such as mushrooms, which were beginning to grow profusely like this nice morel.

The chickarees (another name for these rodents) were often out and about along the roadway where our rental house was located.

On one day, I ran into a small squirrel that seemed to have a problem with its left eye. However, it might have been a trick of the light. I tried to get another view, but the little rodent wouldn’t let me get around to its other side to take a photo. In any event, they are beautiful little creatures (generally smaller than the large gray squirrels that reside in my yard).

A very pleasant surprise during our trip was running into some groundhogs (Marmota monax, also known as whistle pigs and woodchucks). It is said that they tend to avoid swampy areas and like open fields and meadows but both woodchucks we saw were spotted near water. The first one we saw popped up near a cove on a paved road leading down to the water. The mammal was surprised by our group which had occupied a space between the water and nearby vegetation areas.

 

We tried to stay in one area so the groundhog could go around us, but s/he was uncertain about passing us, making several forays in our direction, turning around and then heading back again to get to the bushes and trees.

 

Finally, the groundhog screwed up its courage and ran at high speed past us and disappeared into the trees.

 

A couple days later, one of our group spotted another groundhog that was foraging in the newly leafing out shrubs alongside a creek that ran into a cove. The large rodent was agile and able to climb up into spindly little trees.

 

 

 

 

Its bulk also made it lose its footing a few times, but the mammal managed to hold on and regain its balance so that it could continue munching on the fresh food. It was delightful watching this beautiful rodent going about its daily business.

Another mammal that proved to be a bit elusive for me (others in our group were able to get some good out-in-the-open views) was the snowshoe hare (Lepus americanus). During our first full day of exploring, we spotted one bounding away into the underbrush, which was quite exciting. Then a few days later in the Tadoussac dunes, a hare suddenly bounded out of nearby shrubs to dash across the sand into another group of shrubs. I didn’t get sharp shots as I only caught sight of it out of the corner of my eye and it was almost gone as I swung my camera around.

The hares that we saw were not yet done changing into their “summer” colors and still had some winter white fur on their impressive huge feet. These mammals begin breeding in mid-March and females may have up to four litters a year. They often communicate with one another using their feet, thumping them on the ground to make messages.

On another day, I spotted a hare foraging in a brushy area. In the winter, they eat twigs, bark and buds but in summer they can enjoy grasses, clover, dandelions and other green plants. This hare was enjoying the fresh food, but I felt sad looking at her (or him) as its head was covered in ticks. I don’t know if the animal was particularly vulnerable because it was young, maybe not completely healthy or just had the bad luck to have sat in a nest of the nasty insects. I hoped that the hare would be able to go on in health after the insects fell off.

 

 

The snowshoe hares prefer to be in dense groundcover, so they are somewhat hidden from predators (coyotes, fox, lynx, minks, owls, hawks) while they search for food. Their “cousins” back in my residential area, the Eastern cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) also need to worry about predators (owls, hawks, crows, raccoons) but one pair has become quite relaxed in my yard. Here you see dad (left) and mom (right).

As far as I can tell, they had one surviving offspring. They don’t generally seem too frightened, however, and almost everyday I see them lounging in a relaxed manner in the back yard, in contrast to those beautiful but elusive snowshoe hares. I was glad to have seen the hares though.

Two more Quebec chronicles to go: the “flashy” and yellowish birds and signs of humans along the St. Lawrence Seaway.

See anything good?

Sandy Creek path IMG_4981© Maria de Bruyn resThat’s a common question I get when I am out on one of my nature walks. Since I carry a camera with a large zoom lens and often a smaller camera, too, it’s obvious to passersby that I’m out observing nature. And I realize that when they ask the question, what they really want to know is whether I saw anything unusual or spectacular.

A recent walk at Sandy Creek Park in Durham, NC, was a case in point. I told one couple who posed the question that my most memorable sighting so far had been a male ebony jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata) – the iridescence of its body and wings in the sunlight was wonderful. They smiled a bit uncertainly and the lady of the pair admitted that she didn’t know anything about damselflies as they walked on.

ebony jewelwing I77A0417© Maria de Bruyn res   ebony jewelwing I77A0469© Maria de Bruyn res

Fragile Forktail damselfly I77A0648© Maria de Bruyn resAn hour or so later, another couple asked if I had “seen any good ones?” I repeated my delight in seeing the male damselfly, adding that the female is not as striking with her brown color and white spots. “Yes,” said the man, “that is often the case with other species. In our species, though, it’s the females who shine.” That may be the case some of the time, but my day was made by seeing a female damselfly that was a member of a new species for me – the fragile forktail (Ischnura posita).

 

My experience is that I find some beauty in almost all the wildlife I see (ticks and chiggers are an exception). So I want to share a few of those “good things” I saw at Sandy Creek Park last month in a two-part blog “tour”. In this first part, I’ll continue on with the insects.

Identifying dragonflies is not easy since the females and males can look quite different. The great blue skimmer (Libellula vibrans) provides an example – the male lives up to his name with a blue hue and large size, but the female shows off her beauty with a brown and yellow abdomen.

great blue skimmer dragonfly I77A0715© Maria de Bruyn res    great blue skimmer dragonfly I77A0741© Maria de Bruyn res

The Eastern pondhawk (Erythemis simplicicollis) has distinctively different appearances as a male and female. The adult male is a blue individual, sometimes with a bit of greenish tint; the female – and the immature males! – is brilliant with different shades of green. I remember being excited when I first spotted a female as their green color is so striking.

Eastern pondhawk I77A0721© Maria de Bruyn res  Eastern pondhawk I77A0749© Maria de Bruyn res

blue dasher I77A0172©Maria de Bruyn resThe blue dasher dragonfly (Pachydiplax longipennis) has some stripes, as do some of the bumble bees. The brown-belted bumble bee (Bombus griseocollis) lives up to its name with a brown stripe, while this American bumble bee (Bombus pensylvanicus) feeding on a trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) has white bands. Like honey bees, the latter bee has pollen baskets (corbicula) on its hind legs in which it stores pollen. I enjoyed watching this individual – s/he would dip down into the flower, back up a bit, and then plunge forward again, almost always keeping the pollen basket above the tip of the flower.

Brown-belted bumble bee I77A0218©Maria de Bruyn res   American bumble bee I77A0763© Maria de Bruyn2 res

Bumble bee I77A6297© Maria de Bruyn res

 

The pollen gatherers were numerous during both visits and willing to share the sources of their bounty – here you see a bumble bee (Bombus), syrphid fly (Toxomerus marginatus) and sweat bee (Halictus) feeding peacefully together on a coneflower (Echinacea).

 

 

Eastern carpenter bee IMG_0768© Maria de Bruyn res

 

 

The milkweed plants were attracting many species of pollinators; here an Eastern carpenter bee (Xylocopa virginica) was enjoying a meal.

 

 

common buckeye I77A0237© Maria de Bruyn res

 

While there were many, many bees the days of my visits, there were fewer butterflies but the common buckeye (Junonia coenia) was stunning!

 

 

The little wood satyr (Megisto cymela) and dun skipper (Euphyes vestris, to the lower right on the milkweed) were not as colorful, and some people might even call them dull, but they are still nice to see and the Eusarca moth (Eusarca confusaria) was also an evenly colored beauty. I had grown up thinking moths usually fly at night, attracted by lights so it still draws my attention when I see them in the daytime.

Little wood satyr I77A0584© Maria de Bruyn res         Eastern carpenter bee IMG_0804© Maria de Bruyn 2 res

Confused Eusarca moth Eusarca confusaria I77A5701© Maria de Bruyn

Even a somewhat tattered American lady (Vanessa virginiensis) offered a pretty view.

American lady I77A6238© Maria de Bruyn res

The broad-headed sharpshooter (Oncometopia orbona), a leaf hopper, and the spotted pink lady beetle (Coleomegilla maculata) are tiny but such colorful insects that close perusal of the vegetation helps you spot them (and presumably makes it easier for birds to see them, too?).

broad-headed sharpshooter Oncometopia orbona I77A0592© Maria de Bruyn      Spotted pink lady beetle I77A0081©Maria de Bruyn bg

Emerald ash borer trap I77A0719© Maria de Bruyn res

 

One beetle that we don’t really want to see is the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis), an invasive species that came to the USA from Asia. The larvae of these beetles kill ash trees and the park administrators have hung a trap box for them to determine whether this species has reached the park.

 

 

Spotting mammals is not always easy at the park but one day fellow birder Jim was kind enough to alert me to an opossum (Didelphis virginiana) in a tree when we met on a walking path. He told me approximately where it was and I spotted that one and another in a nearby tree; I thought it might be a mother and grown offspring but that was a guess and I certainly couldn’t confirm it. As these are nocturnal animals, it was pretty cool for me to see two in broad daylight. The only marsupial found in the United States and Canada is a beneficial animal for us humans (and other wildlife) as they could eat up to 4000 ticks in a week! 

opossum IMG_0605© Maria de Bruyn res     opossum I77A5788© Maria de Bruyn res

One of the pair demonstrated that they can open their jaws widely – watching him/her slowly stretch that mouth offered me a surprise; I would think it couldn’t go any further and the animal continued to show that s/he could really please a dentist who would like lots of space to investigate those teeth.

opossum I77A5897© Maria de Bruyn res

Eastern cottontail rabbitI77A5578© Maria de Bruyn res

 

 

The Eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) was not so lucky, carrying a fat tick in its ear. Too bad the opossums couldn’t come by and groom him/her and remove that pesky arachnid!

 

The park is not only attractive for the entomologists. Reptile enthusiasts can spot turtles fairly easily, especially in the spring when they are looking for places to lay their eggs. A large painted turtle was crossing a field looking for a spot, while an Eastern mud turtle (Kinosternon subrubrum) was trundling down a paved path one morning, not far from a pond which often has many painted turtles and red-eared sliders (Trachemys scripta elegans), like this one – who must have been a bit bothered by a bird feather caught in its shell.

Eastern mud turtle IMG_0741© Maria de Bruyn res    Red-eared slider I77A5941© Maria de Bruyn2

Which bird could it have been? I’m thinking a swallow – see part 2 of the tour for a view of the species and more of the wonderful biodiversity that can be seen in the park.

 

Backyard citizen science – take 2

As I mentioned a few weeks ago, as part of an eMammal citizen science project, a motion trap camera was placed in my yard for three weeks. I am used to a variety of wildlife passing through and living here, including: white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), Eastern chipmunks, Eastern cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus), opossums, raccoons, Eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis), field and house mice and the occasional vole. My hope was that the camera would capture the gray fox that has been wandering our neighborhood lately or maybe even a coyote visiting at night.

The project started with the placement of a camera at knee level on a crepe myrtle tree facing a path through which animals enter and leave my back yard. The objective was to record all the mammal species that visit (or at least those passing in front of the camera) for three weeks.

Jonahay eMammal camera IMG_2971© Maria de Bruyn resAs neighborhood cats come to the yard, I was sure to get some photos of them, if nothing else. My senior deaf cat, who is now suffering from some dementia, only goes out when I accompany him (the other two family cats must stay inside). He checked out the camera right away and I wondered if he was going to pee on it to mark it as a new part of his territory. Instead, he went off to mark another part of the yard.

It was with great anticipation that I looked at the photos on the card after it was taken down, only to discover that the camera may have been aimed too high.

Eastern gray squirrel EK000016© Maria de Bruyn It seems that a squirrel may have been captured one evening, and in another case, it seems an opossum was entering the yard. However, the main captures (and there were not that many) were glimpses of deer.

A rabbit had decided to have a lie-down in front of the camera one day, perhaps 1½ feet away. It was not photographed and the project coordinator told me that the camera has a large blind spot right in front of it extending out roughly 3 feet.

Eastern cottontail DK7A2749© Maria de Bruyn res

unknown EK000547© NCSU

 

Staring at the night shots made me think in a few instances that some creature had been photographed but I wasn’t really sure if that was it or just my imagination running amok.

 

white-tailed deer EK000425© Maria de Bruyn res

 

A few times a deer stopped and the camera got a portrait shot, occasionally with a gesture that in humans might equate to thumbing their noses at something.

 

 

white-tailed deer DK7A1403© Maria de Bruyn reswhite-tailed deer EK000212© Maria de Bruyn res

white-tailed deer EK000514© Maria de Bruyn res

 

A few shots were close-ups.

Other times, we see an ear or the deer’s behind as she moves out of range.

 

white-tailed deer EK000548© Maria de Bruyn res white-tailed deer EK000073© Maria de Bruyn res

One day, I caught a doe giving the camera a good look; this led to a few blank photos as her face or tongue covered the lens area.

white-tailed deer DK7A3136© Maria de Bruyn res white-tailed deer DK7A3120© Maria de Bruyn resdoe EK000010© NCSUwhite-tailed deer EK000472© Maria de Bruyn res

Despite the paucity of cool camera captures, I enjoyed participating in the project and will consider taking their 30-minute course so I can have a camera placed here for a longer period. And if it is aimed lower, who knows what we may see then!

Animals that carry ticks

Thanks for visiting my blog! So, this edition is about a part of my beautiful world that is actually not so appealing to me, but it does represent some of my learning about nature over the past few years. The photos aren’t beautiful, but they do show something interesting (at least to me). Be forewarned! (And next week, back to some nice bird photos.)

Many proponents of getting rid of deer in our town argue that this will help eradicate the ticks that carry Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other tick-borne diseases. It is true that ticks get on the deer, but what many people don’t know is that other animals transport these nasty little bloodsuckers as well.

According to the NC State University Department of Entomology, ticks go through four stages in their development – egg, larva, nymph, adult. The developing ticks need blood meals, with most species taking it from a different type of host at each stage. As seen in the photo of the poor white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) below, the ticks start out tiny but swell up tremendously when they have had a meal.

deer with several ticks IMG_6000 ©Maria de Bruynres

The larvae of the dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis), which can carry Rocky Mountain spotted fever, take blood from white-footed field mice and pine or meadow voles (Microtus pennsylvanicus), like the one pictured here. The nymphs go for somewhat bigger mammals such as opossums or raccoons, while the adults prefer meals from humans and dogs. Black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) larvae and nymphs feed on small mammals and lizards, while the nymphs and adults also seek out larger mammals, including dogs and deer. Eastern cottontail rabbits (Sylvilagus floridanus) are another tick host.

meadow vole IMG_4712©Maria de BruynRabbit with tick  IMG_8196©Maria de Bruynres

In the past couple years, the first wildlife that I have seen carrying ticks in the spring are birds – common grackles (Quiscalus quiscula) seem to be a favorite host, although I’ve seen them on other birds as well. The ticks can sense body heat and will even drop down from a tree onto another living species. This undoubtedly accounts for the first tick that gave me a bite requiring antibiotics to prevent Rocky Mountain spotted fever. It was during a visit to an exotic wildlife sanctuary that has been surrounded by an electric fence for more than 30 years so that no deer have been there for decades.

Common grackle 4 ©Maria de BruynCommon grackle 1 ©Maria de Bruyn

Ticks also wait in the grass to latch onto animals – and people – walking by. Fortunately, I’ve never found ticks on my indoor-outdoor cat, but I have found them on me after being in the yard and out on nature walks. Different techniques for loosening their grip have worked well – a new skill that I had never anticipated learning. There are few animal species that I really dislike, but I must admit that ticks are definitely one of them. But I also know now that eradicating deer is not the solution to getting rid of the ticks.

Next blog: Big Blue – my avian nemesis!