Thursday, June 29, 2017

Showy Lady's-Slipper

Our Most Beautiful Lady's-Slipper

The Showy Lady's-Slipper (Cypripedium reginae) is our largest and most beautiful lady's-slipper.  It is listed as very rare (S2) and often grows in bogs deep in the woods.  Because of its beauty, populations have been devastated over the years by unscrupulous pickers who want to bring its beauty to their yards and homes.  

Showy Lady's-Slipper
The Showy Lady's-Slipper grows up to 90 cm (3 ft) tall usually in calcareous bogs, fens, boggy meadows and sometimes swamps from Manitoba to Newfoundland and south to North Dakota and Georgia.  In southern regions it is usually in mountainous regions.

Showy Lady's-Slipper Showing its Usual Habitat
 The Showy Lady's-Slipper plant has leaves growing along its long upright stem.  The leaves have prominent parallel longitudinal veining.  The leaves are a bright yellow green colour.  The blossom appears at the apex of the stem and is very evident as you approach the bog where the plants are growing.  The colour of the blooms is bright and beautiful in the otherwise drag-looking habitat.  The flower of this lady's-slipper is large and the white and deep pink colours are contrastingly beautiful.  The plant stem is stout and hairy.

Showy Lady's-Slipper
The first Showy Lady's-Slippers were collected and recorded in New Brunswick in 1876 by G.U. Hay
from a bog near Saint John.   At one time this beautiful orchid was common in New Brunswick.  We have records of bogs and other suitable habitat sometimes sporting thousands in June and July in early days of this province.  They have been drastically reduced by loss of habitat and by unscrupulous pickers.  These plants cannot be transplanted to gardens and must be left in their normal places to flourish for yet another year.  

Showy Lady's-Slipper

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Chipping Sparrow

Common Summer Sparrow 

Chipping Sparrow
The Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) is a common summer resident of New Brunswick.  It breeds here, usually arriving in May.  It is a resident of most of Canada and the United States.  It winters in the southern US and Mexico.  

The Chipping Sparrow is a slightly smaller sparrow, being the same size as a Savannah Sparrow and a bit smaller than the Song Sparrow.  The Chipping Sparrow is 14 cm long (5.5") and the Song Sparrow is 17 cm (6.25").  The Chipping Sparrow is lighter in colour with no streaks on its gray breast.  It has a rufous cap and a gray face, nape and rump.  It has a distinctive black line through the eye which extends to the beak.  Its legs are pink and it has 2 wing bars.  Its song is very fast pulsating trill.  Its alarm call is where it gets its name, a distinctive 'chip'.  Everybody should be familiar with this call note since this is a common bird around residential areas.  It enjoys open areas around woodlands and parks.  It is often seen in small flocks.

Chipping Sparrow
The Chipping Sparrow builds a flimsy cup-shaped nest of grass and stems, lined with hair in shrubbery or a tangle of vines.  It lays 2 to 5 blue green eggs, with dark brown, blue and black marks.  Incubation lasts from 11 to 14 days and is carried out by the female.  She develops a fluid-filled patch on her breast which enables good heat transfer to her eggs.  

Chipping Sparrow
Chipping Sparrows are friendly, welcome residents of our yards and recreational areas.  Their population is stable.  They feed on the ground and eat insects and seeds.  Take notice the next time you see a sparrow on the ground around your house or recreational area.  It will probably be a Chipping Sparrow.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Eastern Phoebe

Phoebe Nest Parasitized by Cowbirds

Eastern Phoebe
 We are lucky to have a nest of Eastern Phoebes (Sayornis phoebe) over our patio this year.  The female phoebe has been a diligent mother, faithfully sitting on her eggs and now working hard to catch insects around the yard to feed her brood.  But we did not know until two days ago that she was feeding an interloper.

The Eastern Phoebe is a flycatcher that is common here in New Brunswick.  It frequently nests under eaves, bridges and  other man-made overhangs.  It is a medium-sized flycatcher that characteristically wags or dips its tail.  It is grayish above with the gray being darker on the head.  Its underparts are white with a pale yellow wash on its sides and breast.  It has a friendly call note, saying its own name, 'Phoebe phoebe'.  In our yard it receives a warm welcome as it returns in the spring from its wintering area in southeastern US and Mexico.

Eastern Phoebe
Phoebe nests are made of mud and moss and are lined with fine grasses.  The incubation period is 16 days and both the male and female incubate the eggs.

The first fledgling that left the nest was the bird pictured below, a young Brown-headed Cowbird (Molothrus ater).

Brown-headed Cowbird Fledgling
Fortunately, in the next day or two the phoebes fledged.  Their nest was parasitized by the cowbirds!  The female cowbirds watch and somehow find out where there are suitable nests in which they can deposit their eggs.  Each female lays as many as 35 eggs!  That is a lot of normal bird 'families' to be burdened by her young.  The cowbird egg incubation time is 10-13 days.  So, what usually happens is that the cowbirds hatch first and the host adults have to feed this interloper, thinking it is one of their own.  Often the cowbird nestling out-competes the host young resulting in their starvation, abandonment or death.  Yesterday we saw the adult phoebes catching insects around our yard and hopefully feeding their own fledglings as well as the cowbird.  The adult cowbirds are nowhere to be seen.  They leave the rearing of their young to someone else - true parasites!

Brown-headed Cowbirds - 2 Males, Female
The adult male Brown-headed Cowbird is iridescent black and green on its back and sides and brown on the head.  The female is a uniform medium gray-brown all over.

Brown-headed Cowbird Male
The Eastern Phoebe was the first species to be banded in North America.  It was done by John James Audubon in 1804 who placed a silver thread around the leg of a phoebe to see if it would come back to the same place the next year.    We are pleased they come back by the hundreds of thousands every year for a good place to raise their young and for our enjoyment.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Black Bear

Be Aware of What is Around You When Birding and Botanizing

Black Bear
Black bears are common in New Brunswick.  Their population is presently high, so we need to be aware of what is around us when we are in the woods and fields.  On most occasions black bears present no danger to people.  They usually know you are coming before you arrive and disappear before you even knew they were there.  However, it is certainly possible that you will surprise one when you are rambling through the woods and fields.

The bear shown above was eating happily in the ditch of the road on the edge of Kouchibouguac National Park on Sunday past.  It had found a delectable plant growing in the damp ditch.  It was reluctant to move as we slowly moved past within 10 metres of it.  This bear gave no indication whatsoever of being aggressive towards people.  All it wanted to do was to eat and be left alone.  Unfortunately the cars on the road disturbed it.

Black Bear
The bear shown above was happily sunning itself in our field one afternoon.  It was about 200 metres from our buildings.  It sat happily and watched me as I photographed it.  It remained there most of the afternoon.  We have a good population of bears near populated areas in New Brunswick.

I have come across a lot of bear sign in the last couple of years while birding or botanizing.  I have seen lots of bear tracks and scat.  I have seen stumps and rotten logs torn apart by bears as well.  They are just living their normal lives and leaving evidence behind.  

Black Bear Track
Bears come out of their dens in early spring.  They give birth to their cubs during the winter and the cubs emerge with them.  They are hungry at that time and heavily feed on whatever edible foods they can find.  A mother bear is very protective of her cubs and one must stay clear of a bear with cubs.  On one of our field trips we came across three small bear cubs in a tree.  We knew the mother bear was not far away so we got in the truck quickly.  The little bears peaking down at us were very cute.

Black Bear [Leo Doucet Photo]
When seeing bears photographers are often tempted to get closer to get the 'good' photo.  One must be cautious.  Getting too close to a bear is foolish.  Moving too close disturbs the bear and is not an ethical behaviour for naturalists or photographers.  We must respect the animal and its habitat.  After hearing the story of how the above photograph was taken,  I concluded the photographer was too close!  Leo was lucky the bear ran in the opposite direction!

Bears are an important part of our nature and ecosystem.  They have a definite place in the ecology of our boreal and acadian forests.  We need to be aware of a possible encounter and at the same time enjoy our forests and fields.

To read about what to do when encountering a bear, go to the government of New Brunswick website for good information.  See the address below: