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03 April 2010 @ 03:03 pm
Exploring the woods at Nortel  

Yesterday I visited a place I'd heard a lot about and had long been meaning to explore: the woods and trails behind the Nortel property on Moodie Drive. Although I'd stopped by there once or twice in the winter of 2008-09 to look for a Red-bellied Woodpecker that had been frequenting the area, I never really explored the woods or the wetlands that are home to numerous wildlife species. However, it is a place that my friend Christine visits often, and after hearing about the butterflies and Western Chorus Frogs that she saw there recently, I figured it was time to check it out.

My second reason for visiting the Nortel woods was to get away from all the people visting the more popular trails in Stony Swamp. I started the day off at Jack Pine Trail, and aleady at 9:00 the parking lot was half full. Although I enjoyed my walk there, and saw and heard many great birds (including Fox Sparrows, American Tree Sparrows, juncos, Golden-crowned Kinglets, a Winter Wren I heard but couldn't see, an Eastern Phoebe and a Swamp Sparrow I heard singing from the depths of the swamp) by the time I left I was dodging cyclists and strollers along the trails and the parking lot was full. As the chances of encountering wildlife decrease in direct proportion to the increase of human visitors using the trails, I was happy leave and go somewhere a little quieter.


Mourning Cloak


When I parked at the trail entrance at the back of the Nortel property, only one truck was there and I recognized it immediately. It took little effort to find Chris B. in the woods, so we joined up and went searching the woods together. Interestingly, almost as soon as we met up we started finding wildlife. Near the small side path which leads back to the parking lot I heard the emphatic calls of an Eastern Phoebe, and a little further along we saw a Mourning Cloak butterfly float along the air and land on a tree dripping with sap. I was happy to finally see my first butterfly of the year and took several photos of him.



Mourning Cloak


Garter snakes, too, were very much in evidence. Every now and then we'd hear the sound of one slithering through the leaf litter and turn in time to see the tail one disappearing, intent on its purpose. Then Chris found one curled up in a knot beneath a small shrub, basking in the sun.



Garter Snake


He also found a Winter Firefly on a tree trunk, also presumably enjoying the warmth of the day. Despite the name, this insect is not a fly, but rather a beetle, and does not emit light. This species is active during the day and lacks the abdominal light organs that nocturnal fireflies use to attract mates.

These beetles are often seen on tree trunks in early spring. They overwinter in deep crevices of bark, emerging on warm days and spending the cold early spring nights in the nooks and crannies of the tree bark that protected from them from the winter cold. Although they have been around for several weeks now, this was the first time I had seen one.



Winter Firefly (Ellychnia corrusca)


A few more Mourning Cloaks sailed by through the woods as we walked to an open field where I could already hear the calls of what seemed like hundreds of frogs. Right in front of us was a large wet area where there was about a foot of standing water; the noise of the frogs here became almost deafening. Chris was wearing rubber boots and waded into the water, saying that the Chorus Frogs could be seen easily from the middle of the pond; then he asked me if I wanted to get wet. I have never seen a Chorus Frog before, though I hear them frequently in the spring sounding like unmusical tiny motors; I figured it would be worth getting wet to see a Chorus Frog up close, so I took off my socks and rolled up my pants and waded in.



Western Chorus Frog (Pseudacris triseriata)


The frogs stopped calling when we entered the water. The water was cold, but not unpleasantly so; the air temperature was now in the high twenties, and the sun was hot on my skin. We stood there for maybe two minutes before a few frogs started calling again, tentatively at first, and then gustily as more and more joined in. I scanned the water looking for movement among the vegetation, and picked one tiny fellow out at the base of some reeds. He was far away, visible only because of the constant swelling and collapsing of the vocal sac beneath his chin.



Western Chorus Frog calling


Once I knew what they looked like, I began seeing more and more of these frogs perching on the reeds, their yellow throats ballooning out. A few even emerged from the depths of the water only a few feet away from us, and we started taking pictures.



Western Chorus Frog


These frogs are only about 3 cm in length and well-camouflaged, which makes them nearly impossible to spot. They are one of Ontario's earliest breeding frog species and may be heard calling in March or April. The call is a slow trill which increases in tempo and pitch and is often compared to the sound of running one's finger over the fine teeth of a comb, although to me it resembles the sound of a tiny motor or a large cat trying to purr. They have very loud voices and can be heard up to a quarter of a mile away when the air is still. Early in the season breeding choruses can be heard on clear, sunny days, but as the season progresses they shift to evenings or cloudy, rainy days.



Western Chorus Frog


Western Chorus Frogs inhabit terrestrial areas for much of the year, particularly in damp grassy or wooded areas surrounding wetlands. They breed almost anywhere there is shallow standing water, including seasonal pools, roadside ditches, flooded meadows, and wooded swamps. These temporary collections of water offer reduced risk of egg and tadpole predation by other animals such as fish. Tadpoles live in the warmest, most shallow part of wetlands, where some vegetation is present along the shore.



Western Chorus Frog with inflated vocal sac


I took some video of one of the frogs calling, but the sound in the resulting video does not begin to compare with how loud the chorus was in the small pond.



Eventually Chris and I left the pond and the numerous frogs to their courtship displays. There was a large hill at the back of the pond, above which Tree Swallows (my first of the year!) could be seen flying over, so when Chris mentioned that there were nesting boxes on the other side of the hill, I had to take a look. There were about eight nesting boxes in two neat rows in the field at the bottom of the hill, some of which had already been claimed by the swallows. I stood and watched for a while, hoping that a swallow would land on the nearest box for a photo, enjoying their calls as they swooped and glided overhead.



Tree Swallow


After that it was time to return to the woods. We saw a few more garter snakes on our way out, but nothing much of interest until we reached the tree with the sap oozing out onto the bark. The Mourning Cloak was gone, but several insects still remained, including at least two intriguing reddish wasps perhaps about an inch in length. After checking Bugguide.net and doing some google searches, my best guess is that it is Barichneumon sorex, although identifying insects to the species level is very difficult.



Ichneumonid wasp


Chris and I had to go our separate ways, and I thanked him for showing me around. The woods surrounding the Nortel property are quite intriguing, and I hope to spend more time here as the spring progresses to see what other neat things may be around.



 
 
 
Soul Diasporasoul_diaspora on April 5th, 2010 02:52 am (UTC)
Beautiful photos of the Mourning Cloak!

I'll have to try those woods sometime. Getting away from the hordes of people at places like Stony Swamp and Mud Lake does sound like an appealing idea.