On a warm sunny winter day, if you venture outside, you may notice what looks like pepper sprinkled on the snow. Look more closely and you will notice that the pepper is moving! Indeed it’s jumping great distances for its size. Its common name is very apt as they can catapult themselves up to 100 times their own body length using an abdominal appendage called a furcular. This structure is what gives the group its name – Springtails. The furcular folds beneath the body and is held under tension until needed, once tension is reached the end slips out of a receptacle and snaps against the snow which throws the Springtail into the air.
Springtails play an important role in natural decomposition, feeding on decaying organic matter in the soil and thereby recycling nutrients for plants. They are able to withstand the bitter temperatures of winter thanks to a “glycine-rich antifreeze protein,” which binds to ice crystals as they start to form, preventing the crystals from growing larger.
Springtails belong to the subphylum called Hexopoda – six-legged arthropods. They are commonly called Snow Fleas but they are not related to fleas in any way! There are many species of Hexapoda in Canada and all are quite small, about one millimeter in length. They live in the soil where they are seldom encountered, however they can be extremely numerous with populations reaching 250,000,000 per acre.
So if you are out walking in the winter look in depressions in the snow where Springtails like to congregate. A foot print or other depression offers a microhabitat that is just a little warmer, is protected from the wind, and the snow is saturated with liquid water. And say thank you to these important little environmentalist for their help in recycling plant nutrients!
We enjoy canoeing on the Sydenham River in the spring and summer, but probably our favourite season for paddling this river is autumn. This year the month of October had warmer than normal weather and we took advantage of a forecasted picture perfect day with no wind and sunny skies for our last paddle of the season. Heading upstream (north) from near Wilkesport, the north branch of the Sydenham River begins where Black Creek and Bear Creek merge. Either of these tributaries is interesting so we paddled both. Trees on the riverbank were showing their fall colours and leaves floated on the river going neither north nor south as there is very little current this time of year. Temperatures were comfortable and the bright sun sparkled on the water’s surface.
Coming around the first bend in Bear Creek, we spotted a group of Wood Ducks in the water under an overhanging tree. They didn’t notice us and we were able to glide closer and see what we believe were first fall males along with adult males and females. It was a great juxtaposition between the young and mature males: the juveniles are colorful, but their feathers look scruffier. The adult male however is a gentleman of distinction; beautiful colors and smooth overall. Before we got any closer than 60 meters the group took off and headed upstream. We saw them again from a distance, but then they were wary of us and we never got close again.
Great Blue Herons were abundant on both creeks; we observed at least five individuals, all immatures. These birds typically enjoy having long sections of the river to themselves and in some cases they clearly didn’t appreciate the proximity of other Herons, vocally scolding the heron who encroached into their range. We were lucky enough to watch a Great Blue Heron catch a fish; close enough (40 meters) for decent photos but far enough not to disturb the bird. The herons stand motionless, and then lunge into the water with startling speed to snatch an unsuspecting fish.
The Herons also put on quite a show in flight, with their plumage reflecting the bright blue sky and fall colored leaves in the background. It’s amazing to see the way individual flight feathers are used when the bird is landing.
Great Blue Herons have specialized feathers on their chest that continually grow and fray. The herons comb this “powder down” with a fringed claw on their middle toes, using the down like a washcloth to remove fish slime and other oils from their feathers as they preen. Applying the powder to their underparts protects their feathers against the slime and oils of swamps.
Great Blue Herons are excellent fishers. They exhibit great patience, standing very still in shallow water or on the shore, waiting for a fish or frog to stray too near. Sometimes the Herons stand on one leg, which doesn’t appear to affect their ability to remain motionless.
For the most part, despite the near silence of a canoe, it’s hard to approach ducks much closer than 75 meters and the Mallards we saw were no exception. At the first glimpse of the boat they would burst into the air in a flurry of water drops and wingbeats.
Along the riverbanks we observed numerous small birds, Ruby-crowned and Golden-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Robins, a few different species of Sparrows, American Goldfinch, Belted Kingfisher, Northern Flicker, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Red-tailed Hawks, Turkey Vultures, Eastern Phoebe, Northern Cardinals, Blue Jays.
After five hours of paddling up and downstream, we were back to where we put in, a Red-tailed Hawk soared overhead in a cloudless sky making his trademark shriek. Another awesome fall canoe trip was over. We highly recommend canoeing the Sydenham; it’s truly a hidden gem of Lambton County. For more information on this river and how to locate the boat launch site, please refer to our post from last year: http://lambtonwildlife.com/blog/natural-areas/paddle-the-sydenham-river/
A large flock estimated at 500 of Lapland Longspurs was observed on Moore Line in Lambton County on April 26. The birds were foraging in the stubble of agricultural land. The number of birds is more evident when they fly up together. These birds should be well on their way to the far north by now.
After a great response to the LWI nature photography contest, it’s apparent that we have numerous talented photographers snapping shots in Lambton County that are worthy of sharing. Now that the photo contest is over, we’d like to invite you to share your best shots with other Lambton Wildlife members on an ongoing basis.
We have started a Lambton County Nature group on the Flickr website. Flickr members (it’s free to join) who are LWI members can join our Lambton County Nature group and by uploading your photos into Flickr they will be automatically uploaded onto the LWI website for all to see. The Flickr group app will allow up to 5 images to be uploaded each day.
Flickr is the primary sharing site where you can view photos from around the globe. Over 13 billion photos! The images shared on the site will both amaze you and inspire you. Nature shots are a large component of what is being uploaded.
Joining Flickr is easy, go to www.flickr.com and follow the instructions to sign up. Once you have a Flickr login, the Lambton County nature group is by invitation only, in order to limit access to LWI members only. To receive an invitation to join the Flickr group: “Lambton County Nature”, please e-mail email@example.com.
Lambton County has a wealth of amazing sights, from flora to fauna, insects to fungi, and landscapes too. Please share you images with all of us; they just might inspire someone! It’s also a great way for the Flickr community to see great images of Lambton County.
One of the things that the LWI blog posts can be used for is to share Lambton County wildlife sightings with other LWI members. The LWI community is always yearning to know as much as possible about nature in Lambton County, and when you see something interesting it might be nice to write a brief post. Of course providing information on the exact location of nests or vulnerable things should be avoided.
Here is an example short post based on a sighting that we experienced back in September:
Yesterday, while on our way to Hawk Cliff, we spotted two fox kits sunning themselves in the grass along the side of highway 80 near Alvinston. We stopped the car and turned around and were able to snap some photos, before one of the pair trotted off, while the other paid little notice to us. Their behavior suggested that they may have been orphaned or separated from their mother.
Looking at their coats they weren’t as luxurious as we would have expected an adult fox to be and they look a bit skinny, but perhaps this is consistent with being adolescents and the season. Maybe some other LWI members will spot this pair too. If you are in the area of highway 79 and highway 80 intersection, keep a look out!
If you want to post a Lambton County wildlife sighting, please send it with any photos attached by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
The following speech was given by Larry Cornelis, Board Member and Head of the Outdoor Committee for Lambton Wildlife, at the recent 50th Anniversary event held at the Sarnia Public Library Theatre. Larry is also a past President.
It’s with great pleasure and pride that we share on overview of the accomplishments and achievements of Lambton Wildlife since the clubs inception in 1966. (more…)
When you are looking for something different to do this summer I would like to suggest an evening paddle along the old Ausable River channel in Pinery Provincial Park. It is one of the most enchanting and peaceful places in Southern Ontario. A river which is now only fed by springs, it slowly flows out to the “Cut”, an artificially constructed river channel which travels to Lake Huron.
As the sun begins to set, the calmness of the afternoon slowly changes as the river comes alive with animals and birds which have been resting during the day. Actually this is one of the best times to observe wildlife in the Pinery. Just as most people are preparing to enjoy an evening campfire, many birds and animals are attracted to the river to feed. (more…)