Friday, June 26, 2015

Canoe Trip

Field Trip Down Newcastle Stream

Eastern Phoebe
A group of naturalists went on a field trip down the Newcastle Stream recently.  We had visited there last winter to visit Devil's Oven.  See a previous blog posting for the story of that trip.  It was recognized at that time that this might be an interesting area to botanize.  It was!

We saw and heard the usual birds.  The most unusual sighting was of a Black-backed Woodpecker.  The Phoebe pictured above visited us as we stopped for lunch.  We also saw 2 Bald Eagles, 5 Spotted Sandpipers, 3 Turkey Vultures, 1 Broad-winged Hawk, 1 Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, 1 Alder Flycatcher, 2 Least Flycatchers, 1 Winter Wren, Blue Jays, Robins, Ovenbirds, 1 American Redstart, 2 Common Yellowthroats, 1 White-throated Sparrow, 1 Dark-eyed Junco, Purple Finches, 1 Yellow-rumped Warbler, 1 Chestnut-sided Warbler, and the highlight for me, a Common Merganser with her 6 babies who scurried to get out or sight.  

The scenery was gorgeous.  The cliffs and seeps that make up some of the banks of this river are beautiful.  Notice the big crack in the rock face in one of the photos below.

Newcastle Stream [photo by L Mills]

Rock Face Along Stream [photo by LMills]

Shallow Cave [photo by LMills]

Split in Rock Face

The rocks along the stream vary.  Some are rich calcareous conglomerates.  In other places there are igneous rocks and in other places there are layered sedimentary rocks.  The rare plants love the rich calcareous rock faces with seeps coming from above.  The rare fern we were looking for was there in some places, Steller's Rock Brake.

Steller's Rock Brake Cryptogramma stelleri
Cryptogramma stelleri is a very rare fern (S2) which grows in shaded, moist calcareous cliff ledges and rock faces from Newfoundland to southern Ontario, south to Pennsylvania.  This fragile fern grows 8 to 20 cm high (3-8 in).  It has separate sterile and fertile fronds and the fruiting bodies are along the rolled-under edges of the fertile pinnules.

We also found a rare Jack-in-the-Pulpit Arisaema triphyllum var stewardsonii.  As shown in the photo above, the 'jack' is white and green, with no brownish-purple.  This variety is sometimes found in the southern part of the province.  

New Brunswick has many beautiful areas.  The season is perfect for exploring afield.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Bog Flowers

Four Pink Flowers 

Swamp Pink Arethusa bulbosa
A visit to a sphagnum bog this week could give you a surprise.  There are often beautiful flowers in bloom now in that habitat.  Shown above is Swamp Pink (Dragon's-Mouth), a small but beautiful orchid.  It stands 12 to 25 cm tall (5-10 inches) and does not produce its single leaf until after flowering is finished.  It is a beautiful deep magenta color.  The three erect 'fingers' standing upward are really sepals.  The pink hood covers the blotched, crested lip.  A close look at this small gem reveals its beauty.  

Pink Lady's-Slipper Cypripedium acaule

Pink Lady's-Slipper Cypripedium acaule
The Pink Lady's-Slipper (Moccasin-Flower) is a fairly common orchid in bloom now in acid woodlands and bogs.  Pink is the most common color but in the Fredericton area white ones are common.  It grows 12 to 35 cm high (5-15 inches).  It has 2 stemless basal leaves giving rise to another one of its names, Stemless Lady's-Slipper.  As you can see, the 3 sepals on this plant are green, unlike the Swamp Pink where they look like petals.  The lip of this flower is 2 to 5 cm long (1-2 in), bigger than the Swamp Pink flower.

Bog Laurel Kalmia polifolia
Bog Laurel (Pale Laurel) grows in sphagnum bogs.  Its pink colour is very pale and its flower is shallow dish-shaped.  Its leaves are dark green and elliptical.  The stem is woody and it grows 15 to 60 cm (6 to 24 inches) high.  The anthers are a burgundy colour and when an insect lands on the flower, the stamens fold around it, holding it in place.  This forces the insect to struggle to free itself and in the process it picks up pollen from the anthers.  The stamens then straighten out, getting ready for the next insect.

 Rhodora is a common bushy flower this time of year growing in bogs, peaty lowlands, and barrens.

Rhodora Rhododendron canadense
Its flower is large and showy with a 3-lobed upper lip, 2 narrow petals below and fully exposed stamens and pistils.  This flower is very common in New Brunswick and can be seen along roadsides.   It grows 30 to 90 cm high (1 to 3 ft).  The leaves are light green and oval-shaped.  

Nature is full of beauty and wonder.  Taking time to explore is very worthwhile this time of year.  

Thursday, June 11, 2015


More Often Heard Than Seen

Virginia Rail
Rails are secretive birds of marshes.  The are chicken-like with short, rounded wings and long legs and toes.  They hide in the vegetation by running through the cattails or swimming rather than flying. They give away their presence often by vocalizing.  

I visited a local marsh recently with friends and we heard the "kid-dik kid-dik" of a Virginia Rail.  Soon others were answering.  It is frustrating that you know that interesting bird is in the reeds but you cannot see it.  Fortunately it showed itself for a short time, enough for me to get a picture.  

The Virginia stands about 23 cm (9 in) high and has a rusty breast, barred black-and-white flanks, a streaked back, white undertail coverts, reddish legs and a gray face.  Its beak is long and reddish.  It is one of our most common rails.

The Sora is also a common rail.  It is smaller than the Virginia Rail, about 19-25 cm (7-10 in) high.  It is found in our marshes and makes one of our most common bird calls around the marsh, a loud descending whinny-like sound.  

The Sora is easy to identify because of its short yellow beak.  It has a plump body mostly brown on the upper parts and wings with heavily barred flanks.  The sides of the head and neck are gray and the face is black.  

Clapper Rail
The Clapper Rail, although listed as 'casual' in our "Birds of New Brunswick: An annotated List", would be considered rare here.  Its preferred habitat is coastal salt marshes.  It is a bigger rail than the Virginia, standing about 35-40 cm tall (14-16 in).  Its loud, harsh chattering voice gives its presence away but it is very secretive and hard to see.  Its voice sounds like someone clapping, hence its name.  It can be distinguished from the Virginia Rail by its larger size, its voice and its cheeks are brownish gray and its beak is a little less red.   Location helps in identification, the Virginia preferring inland marshes and the Clapper, coastal marshes.  

The next time you take a walk near a marsh or paddle your kayak through one, take note of the sounds.  Perhaps you can identify a New Brunswick rail.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Platform Feeders

Feeding Birds Off the Ground
Baltimore Orioles Feeding on Raised Feeder
 There are many benefits to feeding birds on raised platforms.  Shown above are a male and a female Baltimore Oriole with a female Red-winged Blackbird in the background.  The orioles are attracted to the oranges and the Red-wing is waiting to  feed on the black-oil sunflower seeds on the tray.  

Raised platform feeders keep the birds off the ground where they are vulnerable to  predators.  Cats can easily prey on them and they are more likely to be taken by hawks while on the ground.  Platform feeders keep the seed confined and reduce wastage if they are built with a lip around them.  One must, however, clean the trays periodically to prevent exposure to spoiled feed.

Crow Feeder with a Visitor
Shown above is our crow feeder.  It is about 1.5 metres off the ground with a heavy base so it will not tip over.  It has a 5 cm. lip around the edge so seed and other feed stuffs do not blow off in the wind.  This feeder was designed to feed table scraps to the crows.  I put out left-over meat scraps, stale bread, cakes, etc. as well as regular mixed bird seed.  It is very successful for feeding crows.  They wait daily for their breakfast!  Other visitors to this feeder include ravens, ring-billed gulls, grackles, red-winged blackbirds, cowbirds, mourning doves, blue jays and, of course, we get the occasional surprise, like this red fox which made a few visits.  

It took the crows quite awhile to learn to use the feeder, but once they realized they could trust us and this new 'apparatus', it has been a great success.  The reason I designed it in the beginning was because I wanted to give left-overs to the crows without putting them on the ground for dogs to get into.  Dogs have never raided this feeder.  They cannot get up to it and it was a surprise that the fox could jump up on it.

Monday, June 1, 2015


Our Four Species of Trilliums

Painted Trillium Trillium undulatum
New Brunswick has four species of Trilliums.  They are in full bloom now and worth finding in order to enjoy their beauty.  Trilliums are in the Lily Family and are spring flowers growing in woodlands, especially hardwoods.  Their leaves are in a single whorl of 3 and the single flowers are large.  Everything comes in 3s with trilliums; 3 petals, 3 sepals, 3 leaves.

Nodding Trillium Trillium cernuum

Nodding Trillium Trillium cernuum
The Nodding Trillium grows 6-20" high and hides its flower by suspending it under the leaves.  It 'nods' beneath the leaves.  The flower is white with pink anthers.  The petals are curved backward at the tips.  It likes rich deciduous woods and floodplains.  It is also called Birthroot because native people once used the root to assist in childbirth.

Purple Trillium Trillium erectum

The Purple Trillium is probably our most common trillium.  It is found in hardwood forests and grows 6-20" high.  Its beautiful purple colour is good to look at but don't try to smell this one; it has a foul odour.  That explains why it is sometimes called Stinking Benjamin.  

White Trillium Trillium grandiflorum

White Trillium Trillium grandiflorum
The White Trillium is our largest and rarest trillium.  It is the provincial flower of Ontario and occurs here in only one or two known places.  It grows 12-20" high.  Its flower is 2-4" wide and is very showy.  The white flower turns pink with age.  It is easy to distinguish from the Nodding Trillium which also has a white flower because the White Trillium's flower is upright and much larger. It also has yellow stamens, differing from the pink anthers of the Nodding Trillium.  The White Trillium is sometimes called the Large-flowered Trillium.