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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.

Click here for a brief video of a magnified Springtail

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!

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Thirty-eight people gathered on a cold Sunday morning in February to enjoy the many waterfowl that visit the St. Clair River during the winter months.  Our first stop was at the Bluewater Bridge where we were treated to a good view of the peregrine falcon that flew past and landed on the bridge.  Our scopes came in handy and some of the participants had great success with “digiscoping” (using your camera/cellphone to take a photo through the scope).  We saw a pair of cackling geese which was the highlight of this first stop!

Can you spot the pair of peregrines like likes to hangout at one of Sarnia’s most iconic spots?

Can you pick out the pair of cackling geese from Canada geese in this flock?

Here’s a closer look. Hint: Cackling geese can be distinguished from their Canada counterpart by their smaller size.

I think the funniest event at this stop was when two walkers stopped to ask our large group, with scopes and binoculars pointed out toward the lake, “What is coming?”  My response was met with the most incredulous look I have ever witnessed … as my response was “we are looking at ducks”.  At this point he paused and said “What?”  I said again “we are looking at ducks … and geese.”  He replied with a chuckle and said “Well, there are lots here.” And continued his walk.  I guess it takes some getting used to the idea that a group of people are willing to brave the cold wind to stand and look at ducks and geese!

Further down the river we stopped at Guthrie park to observe the dabbling and diving ducks around the warm water outflows, the ice-taxiing gulls, and eagles staging their hunt at the head of Stag Island. Then, without warning, thousands of birds took to the air from their water rafts to put on an aerial orchestra. Was it an eagle or a boat that caused the commotion? We weren’t sure, but the fleeting moment was spectacular!

The flocks were estimated to contain over 8,000 birds.

Here’s a portion of the flock. Can you identify any by their shape?

We continued to enjoy the day with several stops along the river, ending at a great little restaurant in Sombra.  Although we saw bald eagles, red-tailed hawks, swans, and lots of waterfowl I think from the reactions of the participants I would have to say the highlight of the day was the lesser black-backed gulls!

Can you identify the different gulls in this picture?

 A big thanks to Paul Carter for leading the group and making sure everyone had the opportunity to see the different birds and explaining what to look for when identifying different species.

Here is a partial list of bird species we enjoyed throughout the morning:

  • Peregrine Falcons
  • Cackling Geese
  • Hundreds of Long-tailed Ducks
  • Mallards
  • Buffleheads
  • Herring Gulls
  • Crows
  • Starlings
  • Northern Cardinals
  • Canada Geese
  • Hooded Mergansers
  • Bald Eagle
  • Common Goldeneye
  • Common Merganser
  • Lesser Black-backed Gulls
  • Greater Black-backed gulls
  • Red-tailed hawks
  • Canvasbacks
  • Redheads
  • Mute Swans
  • American Black Ducks
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Winter is magical time to visit Mandaumin Woods.  The sun shining through the trees casts beautiful long shadows in the glistening snow.  As you wander the trail you can see the prints of squirrels, deer, rabbits, skunks, fox, and other small rodents.

In winter, voles travel in tunnels beneath the insulating snow – you can look for the tell-tale small round holes they make in the snow when they come up to the surface.  Voles look a lot like house mice – with a shorter tail and a more rounded muzzle and head.  Voles eat plants and seeds while moles are looking for insects.   Come out and enjoy beautiful Mandaumin Woods!

Join Lambton Wildlife for one of their oldest events. The day starts by meeting at Centennial Park parking lot at 9am (most northerly lot). The group will then head south along the St. Clair River in search of open water and the ducks, swans, eagles and falcons that may be found there.

Paul Carter, the day’s leader, will identify and provide you with many opportunities to observe an abundance of mallard ducks, various diving ducks, gulls, and hopefully some eagles and falcons.

Be sure to pack your scope, binoculars and/or camera!

The winter bird survey at the Sarnia Solar site will be held Monday, January 2, 2017.  Meet 9:00 AM at the Sarnia Solar Site located on Churchill Line.  Larry Cornelis will provide instructions and will coordinate the event.  All are invited to participate; dress according to weather conditions.

Bring your binoculars, waterproof boots and something warm to drink!

Contact: Larry Cornelis (519 339-8785; larry.cornelis@gmail.com)