Wednesday, 1 August 2012

Summer on Amherst Island, a report, A Big Day and upcoming field trips

Apologies for the scarce blog entries, an old slow dialup connection keeps your KFN Blogger from posting more tidbits.

Amherst Island is a popular destination for birders, and it rarely disappoints.  Paul Mackenzie had sent a report for July 4th:

"Yesterday went to Amherst to KFN property. The Osprey nest has three young still looking rather small and fluffy beside an adult standing on the platform.  Canada Geese must have had a good season with over 120  adults and young parading from the berm into the lake. They and the deer have kept some of the vegetation low near the pond, but it is mostly overgrown with low water levels, so no real mud flats.  The only migrant shorebirds were two Least Sandpipers near the bar, on southbound migration. Yellow Moneywort blooms were carpeting the open areas by the pond. Trying to ID the thistles Canada Thistle Cirsium arvense with small violet flowers was easy , but the common bright red-purple one along the berm stumped me for a while. Spiny  Plumeless Thistle Carduus acanthoides, if correct, is not in Peterson or Newcombe, but mentioned in the ROM  guide to Ontario Wildflowers. Whatever, it has sharp spines! But the total lack of mosquitoes and very few deer flies made the walk quite pleasant with many flowering plants.  Monarch Butterflies and beetles were coupling all over the Milkweed.      A Common Tern fed briefly over the pond and a Caspian Tern was resting off the bar, with the usual Cormorants, Gulls, Mallards, Gadwalls, and Wigeon. "

Erwin Batalla and Kurt Hennige are planning a "Big Day" birding event in September:

"To highlight Amherst Island as a special migration location for birds, Kurt and I are planning a Big Day in September. We will try to see as many species as possible in a calendar day exclusively on Amherst. The birds must be seen by all members of the group which usually consists of three or four people. Other people cannot direct us to birds during that day.

Similarly to the Baillie birdathon, we are seeking pledges for that event. All funds will be donated to the Association for the Protection of Amherst Island (APAI). APAI has endorsed this and will be seeking pledges from their own members." 

Details will be forthcoming in the next newsletter.  Both Erwin and Kurt are avid birders with keen eyes, we wish them success in finding a good number of species.

In the meantime KFN members can participate in a couple of upcoming field trips.  There was a typo in the newsletter listing the August field to Amherst Island as August 1, so to correct the problem 2 field trips have now been planned.  One will take place on August 5, led by Peter Good, the second will take place August 12, led by Erwin Batalla.  Trip details and contacts will be on the KFN webpage ( 

Should be a good summer to enjoy the Island.


Thursday, 3 May 2012

Ontario Reptile Atlas

James Paterson, a biologist with Ontario Nature, was the Speaker for the KFN April General Meeting.  James spoke of the variety of amphibians and reptiles found in Ontario and the importance of preserving the habitats for these species, many of whose population has declined to the point of having them listed on the endangered species' list.  A project is underway to survey where reptiles and amphibians currently reside in the province in order to aid in conservation of their habitat.  James encouraged members to participate in reporting sightings, the online link to get more information about the atlasing project is
www.ontarionature.or/atlas .

This is the ideal time of year to see turtles in our local wetlands.  Painted turtles are the most commonly seen turtles in our area, and  are often basking out on logs and lumps in ponds and swamps, occasionally joined by Blandings turtles and snapping turtles.  Musk turtles and map turtles spend most of their lives in the water, but during egg laying season must come ashore to find places to lay their eggs. Snapping turtles will soon be seen coming out along roadsides and crossing roadways  to find egglaying sites, unfortunately putting them in danger of being hit and killed by cars.  Spotted turtles and wood turtles are more terrestrial, and due to very low numbers across their range can be very difficult to find. 

A good way to watch for turtles is to find some time to sit in a sheltered spot near a wetland with a pair of binoculars, this can be an enjoyable followup in late mornings after a session of birdwatching.  Find a comfortable spot where you can sit low, a bit of blind or shelter is helpful.  Turtles have surprisingly keen eyesight and can spot predators from quite a distance, anything the size of a human moving about will cause them to dive off their basking logs. You should be able to see some painted turtles climbing out onto logs to bask if isn't too hot, and occasionally spot a Blandings or snapping turtle poking its head above water to look around.  Musk turtles move around the bottom in shallow ponds and swamps, when the water is calm they can sometimes be spotted by drifting around in a conoe or boat.  Sometimes shining a light down through the water at night will reveal them foraging.  Map turtles are more difficult to find as they forage around down in deeper waters.

Snakes are found in a variety of habitats.  While watching for turtles one can often see northern water snakes working their way around the pond, or most often curled up along the shore basking in the sun.  Gray rat snakes (formerly called black rat snakes)  travel around their range, in forested areas, old fields and occasionally crossing wetlands. Their sheer size at machurity often makes them easy to spot, although their range and numbers have shrunk considerable over the past century. Quite often one will come across garter snakes and ribbon snakes as they are foraging throughout the day, a walk in the woods and fields throughout our area during the summer months usually turns up at least one of them.  Some of the more shy species of snakes forage at night, such as the little red-bellied snake, brown snakes, and ring-necked snakes.  Most often one finds these hiding under logs, rocks, old boards and other shelters during the day.  Rock piles at the edges of old farm fields are favourite hiding place, especially if there is any wood debris laying around.  Green grass snakes are found where their name implies, in fields and open areas.  Milk snakes are found in a variety of habitats, in old fields and woodlands.

The five-lined skink, Ontario's only lizard, can be found in open rocky areas.  Most often one comes across skinks while turning over rocks or boards. We urge caution when dislodging rocks in a natural landscape, as this can disturb and disrupt  a favourite hiding  area for snakes or skinks.  Remember that you are literally ripping the roof off some unsuspecting creature's house.  Replace any rocks carefully, as close as possible to the way it was found.  If one is patient enough skinks can be seen coming out in summer mornings on rocky outcrops to forage,skittering across open areas.  Watch carefully, skinks move like greased lightning.

One way to attract snakes and skinks is to place a few old boards at the edge of an old field.  Prop the flat pieces up with a few pebbles, leaving about 1/2 inch space between the board and the ground.  Leave it alone for a few days, then come back in early mornings to check to see if a snake has used this hiding place for cover.  Morning is best, when the area has cooled down and the snakes are sluggish, gives you a chance to see them before they take off.

Monday, 5 March 2012

SCB Environmental Studies seminars this week

The Society of Conservation Biology/Queen's University chapter has invited us to spread the word about 2 seminar/talks coming up this week:

The Society for Conservation Biology Kingston Chapter and the Department of Biology at Queen’s have invited Dr. Bill Montevecchi to come to Kingston this week for two talks (Thursday 7pm; Friday 11am; abstracts below).

Bill Montevecchi is a Professor in the Cognitive and Behavioural Ecology Program at Memorial University in Newfoundland. He is internationally renowned for his long-term, interdisciplinary research on behavioural ecology of marine and terrestrial birds.

The Long Reach of The Deepwater Horizon Disaster
Thursday March 8th, 7pm, Biosciences Complex room 1102

Research on the movement ecology of marine birds provides robust biological means with which to assess environmental risks and the consequences of anthropogenic disasters.
In April 2010, the Deepwater Horizon, a deep water rig, exploded in the Gulf of Mexico killing 11 workers and creating the largest oil pollution event in North American history with unknown environmental damages. Northern gannets from eastern Canadian colonies suffered the third highest oil-related mortality, following resident laughing gulls and brown pelicans. It appears that most of the gannets killed were sub-adults - the major implication being that we are unlikely to detect a population effect. This is virtually always the case following environmental disasters and other human-induced mortality sources. What are the implications for environmental responsibility and litigation?
As is the case in the Gulf of Mexico, regulation at offshore hydrocarbon installations in eastern Canadian waters are inadequate to ensure environmental protection. Tracking seabirds is highlighting important marine areas, many of which are at risk to oil developments on the Grand Bank. Some revealing examples will be presented, and some options about attempting to reclaim the ocean from corporate control will be discussed.

“Tracking Atlantic Seabirds: Foraging, Migration, Habitat Use and Population Interactions”
Friday March 9th, 11am, Biosciences Complex room 3110

The miniaturization of bird-borne behavior-logging and tracking devices have revolutionized studies of free-ranging individuals and their responses to environmental conditions. Inter- and intra-colony and species comparisons reveal flexible foraging behavior to different prey fields as well as persistent parental tactics to predictable prey aggregations by gannets and murres.  Studies of their migratory behavior show consistent inter-annual spatial and temporal movement patterns by individuals and differences in winter habitat use with varying degrees of ecological segregation among colonies and between congeneric murre species. Trans-Atlantic migration of a subset of Northern Gannets from Newfoundland colonies suggest associations with eastern Atlantic populations. Tracking studies are also highlighting anthropogenic risks and ocean hotspots which have been heretofore impossible to document with banding and vessel surveys.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Cleaning out Woodduck Boxes

On February 10, 2012, 5 KFN members met at the Helen Quilliam Sanctuary to clear out some woodduck nesting boxes that had been installed in February 2010, and to replace some "no trespassing" signs along the road.  Anne and Barry Robertson, Rose-Marie Burke, Erwin Batalla, and Gaye Beckwith carried a ladder,  tools and supplies about a kilometer or so to the pond where the boxes were located, taking advantage of the thick ice and using a route along the ponds that was shorter than the trail through the woods.  The day was cloudy and relatively mild for February.  Each took turns holding the ladder while someone else opened the box and removed the old shavings.  Contents were examined in each of the four boxes, using guides that describe the egg shells and down that are usually found it was determined which type of duck had used the box, if it had been occupied during summer. Results for the numbered boxes were recorded.  3 of the 4 boxes had signs of occupation, the fourth had been empty.  Fresh wood shavings were placed in the boxes and any repairs  necessary were made to the predator guards.  In June of 2011 storms and high winds had toppled many trees in the area, evidence of this past bad weather was seen in several pines  that were blown down in the woods next to the ponds.  One of the predator guards was splayed open and cracked.  Having finished with the nest boxes the crew headed back out along the ponds, startling  a roughed grouse along the way.  Deer tracks and fisher tracks were frozen into the ice, showing the passage of these animals during an earlier warm spell.  The next task was to replace some 'no trespassing' signs along the roadway that had deteriorated over the years.  Some of this work will be completed during the annual Sanctuary cleanup in spring.

Ramble February 7, 2102

Here it is mid-February already, some of us, in spite of the mild winter, have been hibernating.  Time to come and post some reports!


The February 7th Ramble took place along the Rideau Trail, starting at Jackson's Mill.  About 9 people carpooled to a gathering area and headed out along the old railway bed which is now part of the Rideau Trail.  Most of the Trail that has been exposed to sunshine was good walking with no snow, but some areas that had been packed down were covered with ice, due to the snow/thaw/freeze/rain/thaw conditions that have prevailed since the beginning of January, so there was some fancy footwork and detouring performed by the Ramblers.  Anne Robertson led the walk, and pointed out various features of nature along the way, like the differences between male and female sumac, parts of aspen leaves, etc.  Some cocoons were spotted in bushes along the trail.  The group headed off on a side loop of the trail and went up in the woods. Deer tracks and hair were found, rabbit tracks, and some  cedar/apple rust on cedars.  Chickadees sang to us in a couple locations.  The clouds parted a couple of times, giving us a brief bit of sunshine, making it feel more like a spring day than being in what is normally one of the coldest months of winter.