27 Aug 2012

Monarchs and the Wacky Weather

Dry, dry, dry! It has been a rainless summer so far. This has caused some unusual goings on in the animal kingdom here at Rondeau. Our sloughs, or forest wetlands, have been dry since late spring. While there have been some upsides to the lack of rain such as much fewer Mosquitoes than normal, there are other, more sinister changes that are only now becoming apparent. 

Monarch Butterfly

Monarchs are a highly specialized species. This means, simplified, that they are very picky eaters. Monarch caterpillars feed only on one type of plant – the milkweeds. While milkweed enjoys the record hot and dry weather that both Canada and the United States have been getting, there is perhaps too much of a good thing. The milkweed plants seem to have peaked early, which is troublesome for the monarch generation that is getting ready to migrate to Mexico (their winter retreat).  What will happen if the milkweed is all dying for newly emerged caterpillars, which must eat several times their body weight every day? 

 Monarchs are walking a fine line this year (or flying it, as it were). There have been varying degrees of rainfall throughout the Monarch’s range. Here in Ontario, things are not as bleak as they might appear. It is still possible to see the usual numbers of our brightest butterflies, perhaps just a bit later in the season. It is in the central and lower United States that things are starting to appear dire. The drought that has wreaked havoc on hundreds of acres of crop land down there has caused not only a sad lack of our favourite veggies, but many of the flowering plants are well past their prime. As our Monarchs move southward on their magnificent mass movement, scientists are scratching their heads as to whether there will be enough nectar to go around.

 All of this is pure speculation. Nothing will be known for sure until all the Monarchs have arrived in their Mexican roosting grounds, and the size of these gatherings can be measured. Until then, a little rain wouldn’t go amiss, so anyone with the knowledge of successful rain-dance techniques… This would be your moment!

20 Aug 2012

Summertime Stingers

As August winds down, everyone is preparing for back to school shenanigans. Making beds, getting up early, packing lunches… but as all school children know, one should pack extra, because there are lunch-time thieves lurking out there! While the weather is perfect for enjoying our meals al-fresco, a persistent insect commonly called the Yellow Jacket is out to steal your snacks and drinks.

Yellow jackets are part of the Order Hymenoptera of insects, which includes wasps, bees and ants. This is the third largest order with well over 100,000 species in the world. Scientistsknow the Hymenoptera to be the “social butterflies” of the insect world; their social life has reached the highest stage development of all other insects. Yellow jackets are part of the family called Social Vespids, who arenotorious for their potent and painful sting. In the fall, they seem to be at their most vicious, charging innocent bystanders seemingly out of nowhere, but this is no random state of affairs.

In the Spring, a queen yellow jacket will begin a new colony by building a new nest or re-using a vacant one. The nests are constructed of hexagonal,waterproof paper cells. These nests are attached to surfaces, such as the eaves of roofs or branches on trees. This single queen will head a colony of up to 25,000 individuals in one season- no mean feat!

Wasp larva will live in thesecells, hungrily taking the food offered to them by the male workers. With each gift of food, the larva will excrete a drop of saliva which is devoured by the worker, forming a ‘mutual exchange’ relationship which holds the colony together

Male workers have no purpose in life but to serve the colony. The colony functions perfectly, with the queen giving directions which are followed by her loyal subjects. However, this apparent harmony is not exactly the ‘bees knees’, as it were. The queen hibernates in solitude, and leaves her nest early to find a secluded spot where she can enjoy a long rest with peace and quiet. Once she goes, all hornets break loose! Without direction or a sense of purpose, the worker males essentially revolt.  Having gone rogue, its every wasp for himself in the search for food and survival… your lunch happens to be an easy meal!

But wait! While they may seem malicious, this order of insect is one of the most beneficial to man. The honey-bee is all important for honey, wax and pollination, and many wasps check the populations of many harmful insects, regardless of the tiny sting they may deliver now and then. Make sure to cover your lunch and keep your pop out of sight while keeping in mind that this bad behaviour is nothing more than the absence of a little discipline at home.

Yellow Jacket
14 Aug 2012

Just flying by!

Hi Everyone!

Wow! Already August 14th. Our programs are in full swing, with lots of people out at the Park trying to make the most of these last few weeks. The days are just flying by!

And speaking of flying… a couple of our staff members had the amazing opportunity of soaring into the sky and getting a birds-eye view of Rondeau. From their vantage point in the plane, they were able to take in the state of the Park. The sloughs were very visible, thanks to our unique formation, and they were able to appreciate just how vast our forest is. Sometimes it takes such an amazing view to comprehend just what it means to be the largest tract of Carolinian forest in all of Canada.

Things weren’t all perfectly peachy, unfortunately. Being up so high, they could see quite clearly the effect of one of our most wicked plants: Phragmities. This invader has marched across most of North America from Europe, leaving a swath of destruction in its wake. Also know as Common Reed, we call it by its Latin name, Phragmities australis. It grows up to 4 meters tall, and spreads by underground root systems and seedheads, maximizing its potential to reproduce. ‘Phrag’ affects nutrient cycling within a wetland, is not a major food source, chokes out native vegetation, and can completely alter a shoreline, as we have been seeing in Rondeau’s marsh. Even the dead plants can take up to four years to decompose. We as humans have a role in this too, though! Human activities have helped to facilitate the plants’ sordid plot against total take over. And believe it or not but you can purchase this plant in greenhouses for your gardens at home! But please don’t!!

Rondeau fights back! In our vegetation management plan, we attempt to control the spread of this notorious plant and to minimize its impact. We have a strategy that includes a minimal amount of herbicide spraying, crushing it down, and burning it out. Sounds foolproof! But Phragmities is resilient, and the battle is ongoing.

To keep up with the progress, or to learn more about other botanical atrocities occurring around the Park, check out the Visitor Centre for more information on more plants bent on taking over!

Check out this picture of the park from high above:

23 Jul 2012

This past weekend…

Caitlin and baby Spiny Softshell turtle

Hello Everyone!

 

I hope that you all took advantage of the beautiful weekend to celebrate Parks Day! Here at Rondeau, we celebrated our Park with the debut performance of “Erie Spirits”, a ghostly hike along the beach. Lead by a naturalist, guests got to encounter some of our “livelier” spirits that walked Rondeau before us. With over 140 people, what a success! If you missed this memorable performance, check out the encore at 8:30pm on August the 4th, starting from the Visitor Centre.

 

The August long weekend will be jam-packed with fun! Along with our Spirit Hike, the Friends of Rondeau are proud to present The Ontario Falconry Centre. This amazing group will be bringing live raptors of all shapes and sizes to the high-flying adventure of the summer! On August 4th and 5th, come on down to Beach Access #9 (by the Children’s Hut) at 1:30pm to witness these birds swoop and soar… an excellent photo opportunity!

 

In other reptilian news, some of our incubated turtle eggs have hatched successfully here at the Visitor Centre! While these little guys are quite early, we are now the proud “parents” of 20 tiny Spiny Softshell turtles. If you haven’t seen us around the park collecting eggs yet this summer, you should know that we and some devoted turtle researchers have dug up hundreds of eggs, in the hopes of saving them from their numerous predators. Thanks to human interference, raccoons, skunks and possums are in a population boom, fed by our garbage. Being so outnumbered, our little turtle eggs don’t stand a chance, and so we dig up as many as we can find and incubate them ourselves. An adorable toonie size, the baby Spiny Softshells are all being carefully marked by our researchers, and will soon be at home in their natural habitat.

19 Jul 2012

Happy Parks Day!

WithCanada’s Parks Day fast approaching, we thought it would be fitting to give you a quick rundown on the history of Ontario Parks.  The history of our park system stretches over 100 years! AlgonquinProvincialParkwas the first piece of land set aside in 1893 followed by our personal favourite, Rondeau, in 1894.  Today, Ontario Parks consists of 330 parks, covering 9 million hectares of our beautiful province – from the far south withWheatleyProvincialParkto the far north with Polar Bear Provincial Park.

 With over 10 million visitors annually, it is obvious that Ontario Parks are important tourist destinations and great places to relax and recharge.  But these special places are much more than that – habitats for Species at Risk, significant historic landmarks, and wilderness areas where nature can continue its natural processes without human interference.     

 We invite you all to celebrate Parks Day with us here at the park by coming to our “Eve of Erie Spirits” on Saturday July 21st.  This night hike through Tulip Tree Trail may introduce us to some of the spirits of those who roamed Rondeau’s forests long before we did.  Meet with Laura at 9:00pm at the Visitor Centre…if you dare…

02 Jul 2012

Start of Summer

Hello Everyone,

With the holiday weekend upon us, the staff here at the Visitor Centre are excited to start the summer with a new slew of programs. The kids are fresh out of school and the weather is beautiful, so there is no better way to kick off the summer than with a visit to Rondeau!

We want to take a quick second to say farewell to Scott V, a staff member who left us earlier this month to pursue a career in his field of schooling. Despite the fact that we will all miss Scott and his witty personality, we are excited to welcome Jessica R to the crew. Her friendly demeanour and great work ethic will be a great asset to our team! While you’re out in the park, take a minute to stop by the Visitor Centre and say hello to Jessica.

All of this beautiful weather has brought out many creatures who call Rondeau home. One of the creatures that have been spotted regularly during the past few months is the Eastern Foxsnake. If you’ve been to the Visitor Centre before, you’ve probably had a chance to see our Foxsnake “Pants” who has lived with us for almost 10 years. For those of you who have never seen an Eastern Foxsnake, they are easily identified by their orange coloured head and dark brown blotches that run the length of their body. The Foxsnake also grows much larger than any other snake, reaching lengths of up to 6ft, though most are smaller.

Here at the park we are taking special care to help protect the Foxsnake and its habitat. They are listed as an endangered species and desperately need our help to survive. Over the last few summers Brady and many other park staff have worked hard to catch these snakes inside the park and bring them back to the Visitor Centre to measure their length and weight. Once we do that, we insert a pit tag (a small microchip) under the skin that gives each snake a unique ID number which allows us to identify them if we happen to catch them again. Tracking the growth of individual snakes gives us a glimpse at the health of our Foxsnake population. But we would LOVE your help! Each one of you can play an important role in this research venture. If you’re out in the park and happen to see a Foxsnake slither by, give us a call at the Visitor Centre at 519-674-1768 and let us know where you are. If you are unable to call, simply keep track of when and where you saw the snake and let us know at a later time.

Don’t forget to take a look at the activity sheet for the upcoming week and go to facebook.com/pantsgloydi to stay up to date on our Foxsnake research and all the other exciting things happening throughout the park.

12 Jun 2012

Friends of Rondeau Facebook page!

The Friends of Rondeau have created a new Facebook page to help you stay updated on the activities at the Visitor Centre!  Like “Pants Gloydi”, our resident Eastern Foxsnake under the “pages” section of Facebook.  He will be delivering program updates as well as letting you know about some of the awesome resource management programs being carried out by park staff.

Our resident Eastern Foxsnake “Pants Gloydi”

 

 

22 May 2012

Rondeau Update – May 21

At Rondeau this afternoon, 6 Whimbrel were seen at the Dog Beach at
noon. At 1:15 pm, a flock of 7 (perhaps the same birds plus 1?) were
seen nearby, flying back and forth along the shoreline until they
finally headed south along the peninsula.

In addition to the Whimbrel, a pair of Black-billed Cuckoos courting
and otherwise making themselves obvious on South Point Trail enlivened
my final afternoon hike today.

And that wraps up the spring birding program at Rondeau for another season!

I look forward to seeing our Rondeau birders again next May.

22 May 2012

Rondeau Migration Report – May 21

Rondeau’s Yellow-throated Warbler continues to entertain flocks of
birders at the Visitor Centre. It was seen there yesterday evening in
the garden up to 5:30 pm, and then again this morning up to at least
9:00 am.

In the confused warblers department, there was a Prothonotary singing
at the dog beach at 7:10 this morning. It apparently decided that
sand was not its habitat of choice, and hastily moved inland in search
of sloughs.

Other good warblers included Blackburnian on Spicebush Trail;
Blackpoll at the Visitor Centre and South Point Trail; Mourning on
South Point Trail; and Wilson’s on South Point Trail and at the
Visitor Centre. We received a report of a Hooded on South Point
Trail. Yesterday, a Connecticut was seen on the Marsh Trail.

Flycatchers were well-represented this morning. Olive-sided were
found on the Maintenance Loop and on South Point Trail. Quite unusual
here in migration was an Alder, singing at the Maintenance Loop. A
singing Acadian was reported on Spicebush Trail.

A number of Gray-cheeked Thrushes have been seen in the park,
including one bathing in the pond in the Visitor Centre garden.

As for non-passerines, a Yellow-billed Cuckoo was heard singing on
Spicebush Trail.

And for non-vertebrates, an American Snout butterfly was photographed
on Spicebush Trail on May 19.

Outside the park but nearby, good numbers of shorebirds were seen
yesterday in the fields in the McGeachy’s Pond area, just north of
Erieau. There were 156 Ruddy Turnstones as well “large numbers” of
Black-bellied Plovers and Semipalmated Plovers.

Birders and photographers are reminded that they are NOT to use
electronic playback devices to attract birds in the park. We
appreciate your cooperation. If visitors encounter problems in this
regard, please contact park staff, and wardens will be notified
promptly.

Good birding!

21 May 2012

Rondeau Migration Report – May 19

Birders at Rondeau have reported a good variety of warblers on our
trails this morning. Highlights include Northern Parula on
Maintenance Loop and South Point Trail; Blackburnian on Maintenance
Loop and South Point Trail; Blackpoll on Maintenance Loop and South
Point Trail; Northern Waterthrush on South Point Trail; Mourning on
South Point Trail and at Pony Barn; Wilson’s at Maintenance Loop and
on South Point Trail; and Canada on Maintenance Loop and South Point
Trail.

As for other passerines, our first Olive-sided Flycatcher of the
season was observed at the deer exclosure off Gardiner Avenue. An
Orchard Oriole was found on South Point Trail. A Yellow-throated
Vireo was seen at the Pony Barn. Two Willow flycatchers were calling
persistently on the Marsh Trail yesterday evening.

Among raptors, a Merlin was seen on the Maintenance Loop. An adult
Bald Eagle was photographed on South Point Trail this morning.

Yesterday evening, we saw American Woodcock performing display flights
and heard several Whip-poor-will calling.

Despite searches by land and sea (well – Honda Civic and pontoon boat,
actually) park birders could not relocate the Piping Plover seen at
Erieau beach on Thursday afternoon. On and offshore of the south
shoreline of the park yesterday afternoon were a range of waterfowl,
including a pair of Ring-necked Duck, 3 Redhead, 1 Ruddy Duck, and a
pair Long-tailed Ducks (in the channel at the breakwater). Birds seen
on the extreme south beach of the park (viewed from the Erieau docks)
included 2 Ruddy Turnstones and a flock of over 200 Bonaparte’s Gulls.

On Erieau beach, I saw a flock of 125 Black-bellied Plovers, 7 Ruddy
Turnstones and 1 well-scrutinized Semipalmated Plover. Nearby, the
fields northeast of McGeachy’s Pond were covered with shorebirds: 400+
Black-bellied Plovers, 100 Dunlin, 1 Semipalmated Sandpiper and
several Ruddy Turnstones.

Our appreciation to all of those who have taken the time to provide
sightings for this report.

Good birding