Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Birds and Bugs at the Shore

Silver Sands State Park was lovely when I went there this morning. Now that the recent heat wave has passed, it's just really nice to be able to walk outside comfortably again. :)

Lots of cool creatures showed up as I made my way around this park's marshes and beaches. At least three Northern Flickers were flying around and chattering to each other in a group of trees near a marsh, and this scruffy fellow paused for a quick picture:

(I love these fancy birds.)

Near the flickers' trees, a Halloween Pennant dragonfly (Celithemis eponina) perched on a grass stem:

I don't think I've ever seen this type of dragonfly before, and I have to say, it's a pretty stunning creature. Those dark splotches and orange wings are awesome, of course, but my favorite part has to be the bright pink spots at its wingtips. You are so cool, little bug!

Four Ospreys were busy fishing offshore, and this one flew overhead with a very strange-looking catch! (Is that a flounder?)

I was surprised to see a Great Egret perched at the top of an old pole in the middle of one of the marshes:

It stayed up there for quite a while, preening its gloriously frilly feathers:

Are you showing off, bird? Well, I'm certainly impressed!

I'm glad I got to visit the shore again after a few weeks away. Also, hooray for fancy winged creatures!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Adventures in Ottawa, Part 3: Mer Bleue Bog

For my last bit of wildlife exploration in the Ottawa area, I headed out early last Thursday morning to the Mer Bleue Bog, at the eastern edge of the city. I have very little experience with bogs, and I had a lot of fun exploring this strange new environment! A nice sturdy boardwalk let me venture out onto the bog and still keep my feet dry:

The landscape was quite stunning, and very different from the forests and lakes I'd seen the day before:

Several flying creatures flitted around near the path as I made my way through the bog. I was happy to get to see White-throated Sparrows, since they've been away from Connecticut since the spring:

A few Cedar Waxwings were hanging around as well, including this spunky fellow:

I saw tons of these pretty little dragonflies, Frosted Whitefaces (Leucorrhinia frigida) I think:

Of course, it wouldn't be a bog without some weird plants. I didn't find any orchids (I looked pretty hard), but I did see a few Round-leaved Sundews (Drosera rotundifolia) -- tiny carnivorous plants that look a bit like spiny aliens -- tucked in among the sphagnum moss:

It looks like that plant on the top right may have caught a meal! (Also, huh, I just noticed what might very well be an out-of-focus flower spike in the foreground.... Oops!)

The swamp next to the bog had blooming Bladderworts (I'm not sure of the exact species), another carnivorous plant that catches aquatic creatures with little underwater traps (weird!):

So many things to like about this place! I even got to snack my way through the bog, with sweet treats bordering pretty much the entire path:

After leaving the bog, the boardwalk took me through a cattail-thick swamp that resounded with the calls of Red-winged Blackbirds and Swamp Sparrows (I had to raise my camera over my head to take this picture):

When I got back to the parking lot, I had one final treat -- an Eastern Phoebe had a nest with fluffy babies under the restroom's eaves! (I just missed the parent's visit in this next picture.)

So yes, it was an amazing trip, and I'm very glad I got to explore some incredibly diverse habitats within just a few miles of downtown Ottawa! And now I'm back in Connecticut, sweltering in the current hot/muggy weather, and dreaming of the infinitely more pleasant temperatures I left behind.... Ah well! It was a lovely break, and it's good to know that Canada is up there, just waiting to host more adventures someday in the future.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Adventures in Ottawa, Part 2: Snowshoe Hare at Champlain Lookout

After exploring Pink Lake in Gatineau Park, I drove up to one of the park's most popular scenic areas, Champlain Lookout. I got there just as the sun was setting, and I have to say, the view out over the Ottawa Valley was pretty spectacular:

A bunch of other people were there enjoying the view as well, although it felt far from crowded. It was quite peaceful, really:

The scenery was awesome, but I got totally distracted when this creature came out to feed:

A Snowshoe Hare! I've never seen one of these animals before, and I couldn't believe how bold it was. This creature must have been used to the crowds at this popular spot, because it was perfectly content to forage in the grass, only hopping away when people passed within a few feet of it. And maybe the people here are used to this creature, too, because I seemed to be the only one paying any attention to it. Well, OK! I don't mind being the weird person staring and pointing my camera at a cool animal!

Things I love about this lagomorph (and which I have to notice because it makes such a striking comparison to my pet rabbits at home): Those big black-and-white rimmed ears, the little white star on its forehead, the long face and big nose, those gigantic feet and legs. Snowshoe Hare indeed!

Mr. or Mrs. Hare, you are so lanky, and so beautiful.

I also love the faint patches of white on those massive back feet -- remnants of this creature's all-white winter coat, perhaps?

The hare just munched away while people milled around and the sun set over the valley:

Even when the hare did leave the open area (too many people, too close), it didn't go far, and as soon as the offending people left it would come right back out again. The food here must be really good! (Oh my goodness, I just cannot get over those back feet.)

Finally, it got too dark for close-up pictures, and I moved on, but only after a few last looks out over the valley. A Common Raven (I think, judging from that big beak) cut a dramatic silhouette against the sky:

Yes, I am definitely glad I came up here.

That was the end of my trip to Gatineau Park, but I visited another (quite different) place the next morning. Stay tuned!

Monday, July 15, 2013

Adventures in Ottawa, Part 1: Pink Lake

Last Wednesday, I visited a strange and foreign land: Canada! I had some work-related obligations in Ottawa, Ontario -- which, as it turns out, is a mere eight-hour drive northwest from my house, just up past the middle of New York state. So off I went, and of course I had to make time to get out into the woods while I was there. I've traveled in Canada before, but I've never been to Ottawa, and I couldn't pass up this chance to explore!

As soon as I checked into my hotel in downtown Ottawa on Wednesday afternoon, I headed off to Gatineau Park, a few miles north of Ottawa and just over the border into Quebec. This really did feel like a foreign country, since everyone I passed in these woods was speaking French! I spent most of my time in this park walking around Pink Lake -- named after a person, not the color -- and the change from Connecticut was dramatic. The air was cool and clear instead of hot and muggy, and there were conifers and rocky inclines all over. Pink Lake itself was gorgeous:

Right in the middle of the lake (a tiny black dot in the above picture) was a Common Loon! What an appropriate first Canadian creature to see:

According to the various informational signs along the trail, this lake is meromictic, which means that the upper and lower layers of water don't mix. Apparently the only creature that survives at the bottom of Pink Lake is an ancient bacteria that lives off of sulfur instead of oxygen. That's preeeeetty cool. In any case, the lake's water was also just really lovely and clear, and I often looked in to see fish staring back at me:

An amazing number of creatures popped out along the path as I walked around the lake. These are all animals I'm familiar with from Connecticut, but I loved how frequently they showed up here and how active they were! An Eastern Chipmunk darted right out onto the path's steps only a few feet in front of me:

And then it proceeded to just sit back and groom itself:

Eh, so there's a human looming over me, no big deal:

I noticed the same sort of nonchalance in the chipmunks and squirrels when I visited Utah last summer, whereas the chipmunks I see in Connecticut are extremely skittish! I wonder what causes this difference in behavior.

At other points along the path, a gorgeous Wood Frog bounded into view:

An Eastern Garter Snake rustled in the underbrush and then slithered back into the leaves:

And a small Painted Turtle walked across the path, with another creature in tow:

I've never seen a leech on a turtle shell before, but I guess it happens. Poor little guy:

There were some really cool plants in these woods, too. Here's something we don't have in Connecticut, Pinedrops (Pterospora andromedea), big (2 or 3 feet tall) flower stalks that emerge right from the forest floor:

Pinedrops are some of those weird plants without chlorophyll, and they get their food from underground fungi. These flower stalks are definitely striking, and the flowers are quite pretty up close:

In the sunlight, those stalks practically glowed red -- pretty, and very weird:

Finally, these lovely flower buds looked vaguely familiar, but I haven't been able to identify the plant they belong to. (Help is appreciated if anyone recognizes them!) I just love these purple stars floating in the dark forest:

The sun was quickly setting, so I left Pink Lake. It was a wonderful first taste of this awesome area, but I wasn't finished yet! More pictures of creatures and plants coming soon!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Somebody Needs New Feathers!

Our local Black-capped Chickadees are looking pretty scruffy right now, as they're going through their yearly molt to replace all their old feathers with shiny new ones. (More information about bird molting here.) One chickadee in particular who I've seen for several days now outside our window is just so astonishingly awkward-looking, it's hard to imagine this fellow as one of those super-sleek birds we see in spring and winter! Oh, chickadee, you need to get through this molt:

I can't help smiling at that feather sticking out of the top of its head. :P

Poor funny chickadee. :)

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Taking the Kids for a Walk in the Park (And I Don't Mean Human Children)

Between rain storms yesterday morning (we've been getting a lot of rain recently), I made a very quick visit to Osbornedale State Park. As I rounded a corner in the meadows, I noticed that someone else was also enjoying a stroll along the park's paths -- three someones, in fact!

Oh my goodness, what a perfect little family you have, Mrs. White-tailed Deer! And you're looking quite healthy and elegant yourself. (Hey, where did child #2 go?)

(Ah, there he/she is.)

Really, could these babies be any cuter? Their dappling is just so wonderful.

I can't believe these creatures stayed around for as long as they did, with me in my bright yellow rain jacket staring and camera-clicking at them from across the meadow. Right after I took this last picture, the two babies bounded into the tall grass, and Mom moved out of sight. Thanks for sharing your family with me, Mrs. Deer!

Other sights from this too-brief walk include this gorgeous dragonfly, a jewel on rain-dotted leaves -- I think it's a female Slaty Skimmer (Libellula incesta):

And bunches of just-ripening Black Raspberries (yuuuummm; I gladly helped myself to a few):

The actual meadows made curtains of color and smelled amazing, with so many different flowers in bloom:

I hate to think of all the things I'm missing every day while I sit inside doing work. Sure, I'm being productive, but.... Flowers! Baby animals! Strange bugs! For now I'll just grab whatever opportunities come up, and savor even the short trips like this one. :)