Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Ram's-head Lady's-Slipper

Ultra-rare Lady's-Slipper

Ram's-Head Lady's-Slipper
This week I had the rare privilege of seeing the ultra-rare Ram's-Head Lady's-Slipper (Cypripedium arietinum) in Nova Scotia.  This orchid does not exist in New Brunswick.  According to botanists it should be here but it has never been found in New Brunswick.  It is in Nova Scotia, Maine and Quebec but not New Brunswick.

Ram's-Head Lady's-Slipper
The Ram's-Head Lady's-Slipper is the smallest lady's-slipper in the east.  It is about 20-25 cm (8-10") tall and its 3-5 leaves are cauline (growing along the stem).  My first impression was that this was a small, fine lady's-slipper.  The flower is about 2.2 cm long (1") and is a deep purple and streaked with fuzzy white above.  There are 3 sepals but the side ones are split into two each. The top sepal is streaked longitudinally with red streaks on a green background.  There is only one flower per stalk.  The flower has a faint vanilla scent.

Ram's-Head Lady's-Slipper
We found 7 clumps of this rare flower.  In some clumps there were about 10 flowers.  They were growing in a sunny patch in the mixed forest growing over sink holes around the edge of an abandoned gypsum mine.  

Ram's-Head Lady's-Slipper
One patch had very light-coloured flowers, almost white, just slightly pine on the streaks.  Many of the clumps had seed pods from last year as seen in the photos.  The flower is triangular-shaped from the side view and is presumably how the plant got its name.  

According to the Flora of Nova Scotia this plant blooms 'only in May'.  I saw it in full bloom on May 29 so I expect its bloom will go into June this year.  That is probably due to a late spring this year.

Ram's-head Lady's-slippers grow in only 4 places in 2 counties in Nova Scotia, Hants and Cumberland.  Because of their very limited distribution in the Maritimes, they are extremely vulnerable and need the topmost level of protection.

Ram's-Head Lady's-Slipper
 Fortunately the Ram's-head Lady's-slipper does grow elsewhere in North America.  It is found from Quebec to Saskatchewan in suitable habitat and southward to New York and Minnesota.  

Ram's-Head Lady's-Slipper
It is interesting to speculate why we have not found this plant in New Brunswick or Prince Edward Island.  New Brunswick has almost identical habitat directly across the Bay of Fundy from the site where it is found in Nova Scotia and even though these areas have been searched extensively, we have not found it.  However, the search goes on.  It has become our nemesis plant.  

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Art Workshop

Learning Watercolour with Poppy Balser

I recently attended a 2-day watercolour workshop with Poppy Balser at Cornwallis, NS.  Twelve people from the Maritimes and Maine spent 2 days under her capable instruction.  It was enjoyable and rewarding.  The Annapolis Basin Conference Centre is a wonderful venue with good accommodations, food and service.

The emphasis of the workshop was not to direct the students step-by-step through a process to finish with one 'good' piece of art.  Its emphasis was on process.  We spent a lot of time on instruction, demonstration and doing technique.  That is what I enjoyed about this workshop. 

I finished with 3 reasonable paintings.  These are certainly not studio pieces but the product of sketches and attempting technique.  That area of Nova Scotia is ripe with subject matter.  We enjoyed the marine atmosphere.

Point Prim Surf
 This was a value study in 2 colours.  It was done to show how value is used to show perspective.

Nova Scotia Landscape
This is also a value study with just a little colour added.  The purpose of this study was to show how to do mist in the background.

Heavy Surf on Rocks
This was a more difficult study of heavy surf on rocks and showing big waves with a rock wall behind.

Poppy Balser is one of Canada's leading watercolorists and has won numerous awards.  She will be giving more workshops this summer and her work can be seen at

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Blue Grosbeak

A Blue Grosbeak?

Yes, such a bird exists!  There are 5 different grosbeaks in Canada: Pine, Evening, Rose-breasted, Black-headed and Blue Grosbeak.  They are all finches but not of the same genus.  There are other finches with large beaks but they are not called 'grosbeaks'.  Our discussion here concerns our 'grosbeaks'.  The Black-headed Grosbeak is a western species.  The Rose-breasted inhabits most of Canada.  The Blue Grosbeak is generally a southern species.  The Pine Grosbeak is generally a northern species and the Evening Grosbeak lives across the continent.  It appears the grosbeaks have spread completely across North America.

Blue Grosbeak - Immature Male
Shown above is a young male Blue Grosbeak presently visiting feeders on Grand Manan.  Being a finch it readily eats seeds.  Shown below is another immature male which visited a feeder in Gagetown a few years ago.

Blue Grosbeak - Immature Male
These young birds barely show their blue colour.  They look much like the cinnamon-coloured females.  See below for a female which also visited this province.

Blue Grosbeak - Female
This species is strongly sexually dimorphic (males and females look different).  That can really confuse us.  See below for a picture of an adult male.  There is little confusion in identifying this one!  But note the cinnamon wing bars and the deeper blue colour.

Blue Grosbeak - Adult Male [Internet Photo]
The reason I mention the deeper blue colour is that we need to distinguish this species from the Indigo Bunting which is also very blue, but a lighter blue and a smaller bird.  How lucky you would be if you had both of these species together in your yard at the same time!

The Blue Grosbeak is listed as a very rare spring and fall visitor to New Brunswick.  Most are seen along the Fundy coast and they often appear at feeders.  The normal range for this species is the southern United States where it breeds.  It usually winters in Mexico, Central America south to Panama.  The birds we see here are often young birds seeking new territory.

The Blue Grosbeak is closely related to North American buntings (Indigo Bunting, Lazuli Bunting, Painted Bunting).  It prefers overgrown fields, bushy roadsides and riparian habitats.  It likes to stay low to the ground but will sing from an exposed perch.  Its call note is a 'chink' sound and it sings with a beautiful warbling sound.  

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Herons and Egrets

Herons and Egrets Have Arrived

Great Egret
The heavy storm we had over the weekend brought us some special visitors from the south.  The strong winds from the southwest brought migrating birds to our province.  Some, like the herons and egrets described here perhaps overshot their destinations.  No matter how they got here, we are delighted to have them.

Shown above is the Great Egret.  This is a rare species for New Brunswick.  Every year a handful appear here.  They usually move along is a day or two.  We don't know whether they continue to move northward or whether they return south.  We do not have a breeding record for this province but we have enough of them coming here each year to make it possible.  This year so far we have had several reports of Great Egrets.  The one shown above was at White Head Island.

Snowy Egret
The other large white bird is the Snowy Egret, although it is a bit smaller than the Great Egret.  It can be told from the Great Egret by its black bill and its 'golden slippers' (bright yellow feet).  The Snowy Egret is rarer here than the Great Egret but we do get a report or two every year.  This year we have had a report from Saints Rest Marsh in Saint John.

Little Blue Heron
An adult Little Blue Heron appeared at Saints Rest Marsh this week.  It was still there as of yesterday.    This heron is much smaller than the egrets or the Great Blue Heron, being only 61 cm (24 inches) high.  The Great Blue Heron is 117 cm (46 inches) high, just as a reference.  The rain and muddy conditions are providing good feeding conditions for these visitors!  An immature Little Blue Heron was reported yesterday from Jolicure, NB.

The immature Little Blue Heron is more difficult to identify.  It is white and its small size makes it easy to confuse with the Snowy Egret.  The immature Little Blue, however, has a pale grayish or pink bill and pale, dull green legs.  See the photo below.

Little Blue Heron - Immature
The Tricolored Heron is listed as very rare in New Brunswick.  The first one ever recorded in Canada was collected from Nauwigewauk, NB in 1895.  There were very few records after that until the last 50 years when we get a record every year or two usually from Grand Manan or Saints Rest Marsh in Saint John.  There is a Tricolored Heron as this is being posted at Chance Harbour.  See the photo below.  This heron is about the size of a Snowy Egret, about 66 cm (26 inches) long.

Tricolored Heron
There is one more heron, a small one which is seen rarely in New Brunswick.  The Green Heron is only 46 cm (18 inches) long and is very secretive.  Rarely it has bred in the province.  A Green Heron was seen on Grand Manan this past week, on May 5.

Green Heron [Internet Photo]
The Great Blue Heron is our most common heron.  Many have returned now and can been found in marshy areas.  Yesterday I saw at least 12 at Saints Rest Marsh.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017


Killdeer Are Early Nesters

This week I have found or been made aware of two active Killdeer nests.  The one I photographed today had 4 eggs in it and the adults were beginning to incubate the eggs.  Both nests are located in active human areas, one on the side of a gravel road and one on the edge of a football field.

The Killdeer ( Charadrius vociferus) is a large plover, about 27 cm (10.5 inches) long.  It returns faithfully every year to our area to breed and raise its young.  It prefers open areas, fields, parking lots, gravel areas, and playing fields.   Although it is a shorebird, it is rarely seen near water.  It feeds on insects, worms, invertebrates, snails and occasionally seeds and small vertebrates.  

The Killdeer is easy to identify with its double breast band.  It is dark brown on its back and white underneath.  It has a rufous rump and tail.  It is very noisy, readily saying its own name.  It calls loudly when approached by humans.  It is known for its broken-wing display as shown in the photo below.  It does this to presumably lead intruders away from its nest.  Both adults were doing this today as I searched for its nest. 

The Killdeer builds its nest in an open site often near human activity.  The nest shown below was on the side of a gravel road.  Note the lack of nest construction, just a depression made among the small stones.  The eggs are well camouflaged in the gravel with their grey and brown spots.  This nest was very difficult to see even when standing near it!  Both adults incubate the eggs which hatch in 24-28 days.  The young chicks are very mobile and have only one breast band.  They have long legs and are able to move with the adults soon after hatching.  The young soon change plumages to the two breast bands.

Killdeer Nest
Killdeer Sitting on Nest
The adult sitting on the nest is also well camouflaged as shown above.  The bird will often remain on the eggs as activity goes on around it.  This species has adapted well to modern civilization.  It occupies a broad range, from eastern Alaska eastward to Newfoundland and south to include most of Canada.  It winters from the mid-USA to South America and the Caribbean Islands.

The only other similar species found here is the Semipalmated Plover.  It is a bit smaller and has only one breast band, so is easily differentiated from the Killdeer.  The Killdeer's noisy call is its trademark and it is a welcome sound in early spring.  In slow springs like this year it certainly is a welcome sound!