Tuesday, August 16, 2011

July at the Lodge and Young's Point

Well, vacation is over for the summer, back from my second time up at the Lodge in Bancroft.  Although shorter for me, we had a great time with Holly's side of the family.  It was cooler than the record highs of our previous stint in Bancroft, which meant a little less water activities.  But a great time with relaxing and even construction of a new swing over the water.

Still sharing pictures with you from my week with my family in July...  I got to see and get some pictures of what really are my favourite group of wildlife, raptors.  They are hard to photograph, having such great eye sight, and having a preference to be left alone for the most part.

When we arrived that week, I quickly noticed characteristic, piercing cries of a raptor.  Soon I located the source, across the lake three falcon-like figures, rolling and diving, chasing and then fleeing from each other with great speed.  A couple years back I remembered having gotten quite close to a young falcon/hawk (didn't get close enough to see which), and recognized the cry as being similar.  

Not wanting to be accused of disappearing right away from family vacation time, I put it off for a number of days into the holiday.  On one of our last days, I noticed I had not heard the sound of the birds, which is a persistent "kee, kee, kee", somewhat reminiscent of a killdeer.  I was afraid I had waited to long.  One of my brothers, Dan and I thought we'd see if we could find what we guessed would be a nest site in the large pine which they seemed to frequent most of the time.  After about an hour of hiking in the bush on that side of the lake, and not finding the nest, patience finally paid off, not because of a skillful search, but with the tell-tale cries coming nearer and nearer.  We came down from the ridge we were on, and walking on, Dan spotted the first, then the second juvenile Merlin, quite grown up already.  The one didn't hang around long, but the other decided to take a nap there.  I had to stop short of banging pots and pans to get it to open its eyes for some photographs - well, not quite.  You can see it sleeping in the third of the photo-strip picture below.

Juvenile Merlin

Spreading, Scratching, Snoozing, Stretching Juvenile Merlin

On the way back to the Lodge, my brother spotted the nest, in one of the big pines on the lot of one of the cottages across the lake from us.  It was much closer to the water than I had thought.  Recent talk in Holly's family might mean that we'll be back next year in July, which might mean another attempt to get a little closer to the young.  I'd love to try and get into one of the nearby trees to get a nest view, but don't think that will be possible.  

Merlin Nest

I posted some facts about Merlin when I saw my first one in Myrtle Beach this past winter.

For the last 10 years or so, we've come home from the Lodge through Young's Point which is about 25km north of Peterborough on Hwy 28.  Almost every time we pass, there is an Osprey sitting on a nesting platform on top  of a hydro pole, just beside the bridge which crosses the Trent-Severn Waterway (near lock 27).  Well, when you're either 3/4 of the way on a four hour trip with kids in the back, and getting close to the cottage, or, finally finished packing, got the kids settled in the back, and no longer asking if we're almost home... you don't get much more than the glance through the windshield and then maybe the side mirror.  This time, I dared to ask :) as I was sure my brother Dan would want stop as well, and we were graciously "granted" a quick dash to the bridge by our wives.  I assured it wouldn't be longer than 5 minutes....though how do those minutes always somehow stretch to 10 or 15 ?!?  I think we didn't do too badly though.

Osprey nest with Adult and Juvenile
As we approached, the adult on the left sounded a warning, and the juvenile (though already as large as the adult) quickly disappeared out of site in the nest.  The parent took off and warily circled, higher, then lower, around us as we walked nearer to the nest.

Osprey circling as we approached the nest
Osprey are large raptors, with wing spans of up to 6ft that feed almost exclusively on fish.  They will watch with amazing eyesight, for a fish in a lake, stream, or river, and then dive, often from great heights, and pull up, feet first to grip their prey, sometimes fully submerging themselves under the water to reach their quarry.  They have unique feet compared to other hawks, with one toe being able to pivot backwards or forwards to assist the other rear toe, extending long, sharp talons into slippery, scaly fish.  As they climb up from the water's surface, sometimes with a fish weighing as much as they do, they will arrange the catch to be head first, a more aerodynamic position reducing the effort required gain altitude again and head back to the nest.

The osprey was also designed with special legs compared to most raptors; they are much more heavily muscled, longer to reach deep into the water (up to 3 feet) and covered with very thick feathers to help cushion the impact as they hit the water during the speedy dives to surprise and catch the fish.

An interesting link with more information (and some of the information above) can be found here: 
If time had allowed the adult might have gotten more trusting and landed on the nest to allow for closer shots.  However, after the 5 minutes (likely 10) we walked back, turning around to get some pictures of it landing to assure junior again. 

Osprey landing at the nest.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

July at the Lodge 2

I didn't end up taking a lot of time to go hunting for wildlife or photos - being there with the family was full of activities with the kids and adults: boating, lots of swimming considering the temperatures were in the high 30's all week, a zip-line type airplane game for the kids my Dad made, etc.  But sharing the grounds of the lodge, there are enough unique creatures to enjoy right nearby.

The following picture is my consolation on what I was hoping would be a great shot of a fish bursting through the water's surface to gobble up this unfortunate moth.  It had ended up in the water somehow, and through the clear water, a few moments earlier I had seen about four nice sized bass cruising the area.  I was assuming this is the sort of thing any fish would notice quickly and come straight for.  Nothing - they must have been full.

A moth beating a standing wave pattern on the water's surface.

Dock spiders (or also known as fishing spider, raft spider) are about the biggest spider in Southern Ontario.  These ones are about 75mm across, but get bigger.  These spiders hunt by water, waiting along a rock or similar location, to snatch a passing insect out of the air, off the water's surface, and sometimes from below.  While watching them on another occasion, I saw one of the spiders snatch a damsel fly whose path came too close, no camera on me of course!  

Female (left) and male (right) dock spider.  Males are typically smaller in spiders.

Their eyesight isn't terribly keen though, and they usually rely more on their sensitive legs which have many tiny hairs to sense vibrations in the water.  These hairs also provide the surface tension which allows them to run across the water to pursue creatures which come within range such as water beetles, water striders, or even young fish that tend to stay to the shallows.  Amazingly, they can differenThey can tell though, which vibrations are what - differentiating between an insect struggling on the surface of the water, and a leaf falling into the water.

Hunting on the water's edge.

Once caught the prey is quickly injected with the poison and digestive juices through their hollow jaws, just barely visible behind its "hairy mostache".

Dock Spider.

Dragonflies are amazingly design creatures.  Of insects, they have some of the fastest accelerations and speeds.  Some can travel up to 45 km/hr, with full mobility of movement: up, down, sideways, backwards.  They have very good eyesight, their compound eyes giving them pretty much a 360 degree view, and very sensitive to movement.  They catch, and usually eat their prey of insects on the wing, keeping the balance of one of their main diets, mosquitos, partially in check.

I have not found a great online source for determining dragonfly and damselfly species yet.  If anyone knows one, I'd be grateful for the nudge in the right direction.

Dragonfly - Calico Pennant

Dragonfly - Blue Skimmer

And here's a familiar sight - a grasshopper.  Their design is incredible, allowing them to catapult themselves proportionately huge distances with strong, leveraged hind legs.  Did you know they had "ears"?  Like crickets, they also call to each other with chirping sounds.  On this grasshopper, the drums are located just above where the hind leg joins to the body - there is a partially covered, round depression partially hidden by it's wing.  Other grasshoppers have them on their front legs.

Two-striped Grasshopper.

Well, we're off to the Lodge with Holly's family for part of the week.  I have to come back early, and won't be able to enjoy the full week with them.  Should be a great time though.  When I get back I'll post the remainder of the pictures from my last trip - I've saved my favourite ones for last - Merlin and Osprey.