Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Poison Ivy

The Blight of the Lower St. John River Valley

Poison Ivy 

In the lower St. John River Valley,  Poison Ivy  (Toxicodendron rydbergii) is common.  It prefers habitats that are rich, alluvial soil, rocky, sandy shores, and sometimes swampy woods and thickets.  In my area it is rich and lush.  Its leaves are always in 3s and often shiny.  The green can be anything from a light yellow green to a dark blue green.  It can be a low plant to a metre high.  It has very small whitish  or greenish flowers which grow in leaf axils in branching clusters.  The berries are yellowish green when unripe but turn whitish or grayish when dried.

Poison Ivy Showing Fruit
There are two species of poison ivy in New Brunswick, Toxicodendron rydbergii shown above and Toxicodendron radicans which is less common. T. radicans prefers more rocky, sandy shores.  It differs from T. rydgergii by its leaves being less toothed and it has aerial rootlets and likes to climb.  I have seen it climbing up trees and telephone poles.  Both species turn red in the fall.

Poison Ivy Berries

Poison Ivy is a seriously toxic plant.  It causes a severe skin irritation on contact.  It causes redness, itching, blistering and serum often oozes from the blisters.  I have had it a few times and can attest to the severe itching and irritation.  It is not uncommon for people to have to seek medical attention for treatment.  If the berries are eaten they can cause severe irritation to the digestive tract!  

In order to become affected by poison ivy, one's skin must actually come in contact with the plant.  If you are protected by clothing, you are probably not affected.  However, if your clothing has been in contact and then secondarily your skin comes in contact with the clothing, then you will also become affected.  The same goes for your dog or cat.  It they have walked through the poison ivy patch and then you pat them or brush against the affected fur, you will get the irritation.  

What do you do if you accidentally come in contact?  Washing thoroughly immediately after will usually prevent the irritation.  What if you are out on a hike and you have come in contact and there is no soap and water available?  I have heard that if you pick the touch-me-not plant (jewelweed) and rub the crushed plant on the affected skin, that will prevent the irritation.  I have tried this and it worked.  However, a thorough washing is a better preventative measure.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Eastern Bluebird

Our Colourful Thrush 

Eastern Bluebird
The Thrush Family (Turdidae) is well represented in New Brunswick.  We have about 8 members who are summer residents.  One, the American Robin, is our most common and a favourite of everybody.  Its smaller cousin, the Eastern Bluebird, is the topic for this post.

The Eastern Bluebird Sialia sialis is a small thrush preferring fields and open areas.  It is seen near orchards, parks, farms, clearcuts, and golf courses.  It prefers to perch low on fence posts or bushes, often in small groups.  It feeds on insects and fruit.  It readily accepts nest boxes.   

Eastern Bluebird

The bluebird population took a sharp decline from the 1950s to the 1970s.  Fortunately they have made a comeback since then although a slow one, especially in the southern part of the province.  The decline was probably related to insecticide spraying and loss of habitat.  The recovery has been helped by milder winters and the establishment of nest box trails and campaigns in the US and Canada.  They are a migratory species arriving in May and leaving in late fall.

The bluebird is 17.5 cm (7 in) long and has an overall stubby appearance due to its stubby bill and stocky build.  It is polytypic (male and female look different).  Both genders have a wonderful bright blue on their wings and tail.  The female is, of course, much subdued.  The male has bright blue on head, back, wings and tail, and an orange throat, chest and sides, and a white belly.  The blue is so deep it sometimes looks iridescent!  The female looks much grayer.  The photos above show the male bluebird in breeding plumage.

The bluebird has an interesting song.  Sibley describes it as a 'mellow series of warbled phrases'.  It is a pleasant sound and one you won't forget when you identify its origin.  If you do hear it, look around and you will probably find a bluebird sitting on a post watching for an insect.  Then, look further.  There are likely one or more bluebirds with it.  

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Two Rare Plants

S1 Means Extremely Rare

Small Round-leaved Orchid
A field trip to Shea Lake near Plaster Rock revealed many interesting plants.  Among them were many rare ones but two species were especially rare.  We found two S1 species, species that are listed as extremely rare.  

Shown above is the Small Round-leaved Orchid, Amerorchis rotundifolia.  This plant is only known from 7 places in the province.  It is a small plant, 20 to 25 cm tall.  It has one large basal leaf which is oval or round and 3 to 7 cm long.  The flowers are white or purplish with magenta or purple spots on the lip.  The flowers are usually in a raceme (spike).  It grows in conifer swamps, bogs, spruce forests and peaty soil.  It is distributed from Northern Canada south to Northern Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, Vermont and Maine.  It blooms in June and July.
Small Round-leaved Orchid
The Lapland Buttercup Ranunculus lapponicus is the other S1 species we found.  It has only been found in 3 other places in the province.  It was first found by Erwin Landauer at Shea Lake in 1980.  We searched the site carefully and eventually found it.  It has a distinctive leaf which rests tight to the peat moss.  The flower is inconspicuous.  Shown below are the leaves and the flower.

Lapland Buttercup

Lapland Buttercup
The Lapland Buttercup grows in cedar swamps and bogs in areas with calcareous soils.  It is about 25 cm tall and the leaves are shamrock-shaped and bluish green.  The flower is about 1-2 cm in diameter and very inconspicuous in the bog environment.  Its range is from Alaska to Labrador, south to British Columbia and Maine.  It also is found in Northern Europe and Greenland.  

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Palm Warbler

 A New Brunswick Breeding Bird

Palm Warbler (Breeding Plumage)
The Palm Warbler is a colourful wood warbler that calls New Brunswick home.  It is an early spring migrant that helps brighten up the drab landscape of late April and early May.  Its bright yellow throat, breast and under-tail coverts contrast with its greenish back and chestnut crown.  Some stay to breed here while others continue on to breed further north in Newfoundland,  central and southern Labrador and Quebec east of James Bay.  

The Palm Warbler has a western race which is a much grayer bird.  It generally remains west of central North America.  Our eastern race winters in the southeastern US, mainly the Carolinas to Texas.  Some fly on to the Caribbean islands.

Palm Warbler (Non-breeding Plumage)

 The Palm Warbler is a hardy warbler.  It is able to come here early in the season because it can survive on seeds and dried fruit as well as its usual diet of insects.  It is one of the few warbler species which wag their tails.  That makes it easy to identify.  It often arrives in the spring about the same time as Hermit Thrushes and Ruby-crowned Kinglets.  

It breeds in sphagnum bogs and fens and open barrens.  It builds its nest on or close to the ground usually in a low bush or clump of tall grass.  The nest is made of strips pulled off weed stalks, fine grass, bark and feathers.  Four or five eggs are laid and incubation is about 12 days.  The eggs are whitish with chestnut speckles.  Two broods are often produced.  

Palm Warbler Nest
The nest shown above was found in a sphagnum fen.  The adult made a litany of loud chirps before it reluctantly left the nest.  It ran off across the moss like a mouse before it took flight.  A short distance away it performed an interesting broken wing display.  The nest appeared to have 4 hatchlings and one remaining egg.  The last egg was probably still to hatch.  We moved away quickly allowing the female to return to the nest.  

It is always interesting to be given the rare opportunity to see into the private lives of wild species.