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15 September 2009 @ 02:00 pm
Petrie Island in September  
On Sunday Deb and I decided to visit the east end. The forecast promised to be warm and sunny, and we were happy to get out and enjoy the continuing summer-like weather. We were hoping to find some interesting birds and wildlife at Petrie Island and Mer Bleue, with stops at the Giroux quarry ponds and the Frank Kenny/Dunning Road agricultural area.

Petrie Island was well worth the drive and the most productive place of our outing. There wasn't much activity in the marsh along the causeway, but a few Wood Ducks and at least three Great Blue Herons were interesting to see.

We parked by the southern end of the Basswood Trail, which follows the shore on the western side of the island. Right away we saw (and heard) a few White-throated Sparrows foraging in the shrubs right beside the road. We walked further in, where I saw this tree along the shore. I thought that the sight of it dipping its branches in the water made a lovely picture in the early morning light.

Petrie Island - looking west

A lone kingfisher perching in a tree above the water was the only bird of interest we saw along the Basswood Trail; we came out of the woods near a small craft launch dock and the beginning of the Muskrat Trail. This is a short trail which runs the length of a small peninsula and features a small amphibian pond with a small footbridge.

Footbridge over the Amphibian Pond

An unidentified empidonax flycatcher and a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers were among the interesting birds that we found along this trail; when we got to the amphibian pond we found two large bullfrogs sitting out in the open. We also found this interesting blossom along the way. Although it looks as though it is on the verge of opening, the flowers of this plant never fully open, giving them a characteristic bottle-like appearance. This flower is thus known as Bottle Gentian (or Closed Gentian) and can be found in shades of blue or violet. It is a late-blooming plant, flowering late in the fall. Because of the closed flowers, only bumblebees are able to force their way into the petals to collect nectar.

Bottle Gentian

On our way back we encountered a couple of White-throated Sparrows, one of which was attempting to sing. We also saw a couple of hummingbirds near a patch of jewelweed, and at one point I counted up to four of these tiny metallic birds. One began visiting the flowers after driving the others away, and so I attempted to take a few pictures.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

We walked around Turtle Bay to the Holland Trail. There were no turtles basking on any of the logs; however, a large Great Blue Heron was standing on one further out in the bay. A merlin flying over the bay made for a spectacular sight, as did a large adult Bald Eagle perching in a tree on the Quebec side. Further along the trail I saw what looked like a Turkey Vulture flying over....although it had the characteristic dihedral shape, it turned out to be a Northern Harrier instead! The white rump was unmistakable.

Along the trail itself we saw few birds, although meadowhawk dragonflies were everywhere and we saw several large mosaic darners throughout Petrie Island. In fact, these were the only odonates we saw except for one Common Pondhawk and one Slender Spreadwing. We found no skimmers or bluets or forktails whatsoever, a sure sign that the season is coming to an end.

The inner channel

Deb finally saw her first garter snake of the year. It was resting in a sunny spot in the middle of the trail. When it felt us approaching, it started slithering off into the grass. Although it was a short snake, it looked thin with a thick head. I wasn't sure why it looked so unusual - until I realized that it had a frog in its mouth! Although I know everything has to eat, I felt bad for the poor frog.

We saw a few painted turtles basking on logs along the innner channel, but the real treat was a snapping turtle that we saw along the causeway as we were leaving the island. We saw a couple of cyclists at the edge of the road and thought they were having problems. When I glanced back, however, I realized there was a huge turtle next to the bikes! Deb pulled over, and we got out to have a closer look.

Saying Hello

The turtle was facing us as we walked up to it. We took a few pictures, careful to keep our distance. As its name suggests, its powerful jaws are capable of tearing flesh, sometimes quite badly. When disturbed, it can defend itself with amazing speed and force. In addition to its powerful jaws, the snapping turtle has a hooked beak, strong claws (which also looked quite dangerous), and a long saw-toothed tail.

Snapping Turtle

As we photographed it, the turtle turned around and slowly walked back into the vegetation. It seemed to carry its shell quite high compared to other turtle species, showing more of its body.

Snapping Turtle

That was my best encounter with this large species to date.

We left Petrie Island after that and drove over to Dunning Road (where we saw a pair of kestrels), the Giroux quarry ponds (where we found several killdeer but not much else) and the Mer Bleue boardwalk (where we didn't see a single bird). Petrie Island was definitely the highlight of our day; the eagle and the two raptors as well as the snapping turtle and the garter snake made it an unforgettable outing!