What the Macoun Field Club did in the 2nd half of 2008-09
During the school year, the Macoun Club runs an almost continuous Saturday program of alternating field trips and indoor meetings. The accounts here are meant to rely some of the substance of each event.
Jan. 10, 2009
Not all frogs spend the winter ‘buried in the mud,’ as people think. Wood Frogs just nose into the leaf litter (if there is any! — see our earthworm webpage) and allow themselves to freeze. When winter’s over, they thaw and revive. Carleton University professor Ken Storey explained how they do it. Lots of insects are freeze-tolerant, but only a few vertebrates — and they’re exclusively New World species. Several of our local frogs, some turtles, and one snake share this remarkable ability. See Dr. Storey’s webpage for a full account.
Jan. 17, 2009
Everybody dug out their snowshoes and came out to Rob’s place. We went back far enough into the woods that surround his house to feel quite remote and made our lunch fires. Snow had fallen past the hour when most animals are active, so there were few fresh tracks: mainly Deer Mice. We did find where a Ruffed Grouse had plunged into the snow and spent the night, but it had left before we got there.
Jan. 31, 2009
This has started out as another winter of big snows, and snowshoes. But the snowshoes didn’t do us much good, because the snow was so soft that we sank in almost as deeply as if on foot (around knee-deep). Going anywhere was so difficult that the whole group followed the leader, Rob, single file. One of the biggest boys toppled over and couldn’t get up — and the five small boys who tried to help fell in a ring around him. We could see from the tracks that the deer were following each other in trails, too.
Feb. 14, 2009
The winter’s first thaw last week brought enough rain to make us think we’d be able to walk on top of the compressed, refrozen snow — but not quite enough. We floundered more than knee-deep in the woods, and slid down the icy hills on the trails. But eventually we reached the well-known perfect place we call Rock Wall Pond. There, the sun beats down on a sheltered opening in the pine forest, where no west or northerly wind can reach. Even on a very cold winter day, we can eat bare-handed.
Those of us who watched sharply saw faint tracks in a dusting of snow over the surface: Red Fox and Fisher, Ruffed Grouse, Red Squirrel, Snowshoe Hare, and (in the refrozen ice) Raccoon.
Feb. 21, 2009
Ian Mackay has studied the gall-making wasp Hamadas nubilipennis, which makes red, kidney-shaped growths on blueberry bushes, but today he talked more widely about parasitic wasps. He started with a regular paper wasp, and had Macoun members mine each photograph for information. Parasitic wasps differ in both appearance and habits. Some pop their eggs into plant tissues and have an abdomen packed with both eggs and a large plant-hormone producing gland; others inject eggs into other insects. In both cases, the wasp larvae slowly eat their hosts alive.
Feb. 28, 2009
More rain on the snowpack, more freezing to make it solid. Off we went to a new place in Lanark County. We made lunch fires with difficulty (because most of the tree branches had soaked up the rain) in the forest, and then tramped around an open wetland. We followed Mink tracks from a frost-rimmed hole in the snow right up the side of the creek for a long way. We paused for anything interesting, including the lichens growing on a dead tree that got knocked over.
Rob identified the fruticose species Evernia mesomorpha and the crust Lecanora symmicta.
Mar. 7, 2009
When Rob first passed around two pictures of Study-Area turtles on a log, someone was reminded of an event last summer and said, “I showed some other kids some Painted Turtles on a log, and after a while one of the other girls said, ‘They are not painted! I just saw one move.” Prodded to say what else they had noticed, the same hand shot up: “Most of them are males,” she said. How did she know? The males, she explained, have extraordinarily long claws on their front feet. The one with normal-looking nails was a femaile.
Rob passed the pictures around the table again. What else could they say about these turtles? At first, no one could see anything new, but after a while, somebody ventured that the female seemed to have a deformed shell. Each person around the table had to have another look, and now they could see that the edge was indeed sort of bent, or dented. It was agreed that this was an old wound, and in fact probably an injury sustained when the turtle was very small and its shell was still soft. (An older turtle’s shell would be brittle and fracture.)
The pictures made one more round, and this time, a small hole high up on the shell, like a puncture, was noticed. This was harder for everyone to see. It turned out that there were two of them. Rob waited, and then prompted, “Does anything connect the punctures with the bent-up edge of the shell?”
Yes, there were two parallel lines — like slashes, someone said. These, too, were hard to see at first. The pictures went from hand to hand again.
What had happend to this turtle, now an adult but bearing marks made when it was only days or weeks old? As each new observation was made, fresh ideas arose. Finally, Rob cupped a mink skull in his hand, showing only its mouth, and now everyone came to the same conclusion: a predator, such as a small mink, had sunk its canine teeth into the baby turtle, but it had kicked free. As it slid out of the predator’s mouth, the canines sliced down the shell and crumpled its soft edge. We speculated that this had happened in the water, where the turtle could disappear without receiving a second bite.
Confirmation will come if we come across this uniquely marked turtle again and check its underside for the matching lower canine punctures.
The lesson is that seeing requires both open eyes and a receptive mind. At first, not even Rob had seen this turtle’s story, but in the end, with the same eyes, we all could, easily and ever after. So much of what we do is learning to see what is right in front of us, unnoticed.
Apr. 18, 2009
Two graduate students from the University of Ottawa, Jen Lento and Liza Hamilton, packed a lot into their hour-long presentation on stream life, with a special focus on aquatic insects (Jen) and fish (Liza). There are a lot of different kinds of things living in running water, and once you get a handle on them, you find that some particular species thrive in clean streams, while others can tolerate a lot of pollution. Once you understand this, you can assess the health of any waterway by checking out its stream life.
Apr. 25, 2009
A summer day in early spring! Our attention became focused on Garter Snakes, which seemed to be all over the place. We also turned a lot of logs (and put them back). Underneath, we usually found a few earthworms, a couple of slugs, Julid millipedes, and, a few times, salamanders. We found one Blue-spotted Salamander, two Red Efts, and three Red-backed Salamanders. The Red-backs were in the most undisturbed corner of the Study Area, which the pioneers never plowed and earthworms have not stripped of leaf litter.
May 2, 2009
Dave Seburn talked about his favourite animals — turtles. He explained the biology and ecology of Ontario’s eight species, ranging from the diminutive Musk Turtle to the very reptilian Snapper. All but the Painted Turtle, he explained, are species-at-risk, mainly because they often get run over by cars. He even brought in a live one, the introduced Red-Eared Slider, which he had found crossing a local road.
May 9, 2009
It rained the whole time, so there are no pictures this time. But we were at Pakenham, so we were happy enough. There were logs to roll (worms only in places disturbed by sandpit operations and logging). Ovenbirds were singing loudly, Hepatica was in bloom. We found landowner Gerry cleaning a Turkey for supper, and engaged him in discussion about what Wild Turkeys eat.
May 23, 2009
What lives in your neighourhood park? We put a day into finding out in two mature deciduous woodlands surrounded by miles of city in Ottawa’s West End: Frank Ryan and Elmhurst Parks — about 10 acres (4 hectares) in total. One part, adjacent to a sports field and playground, is crisscrossed by recreational pathways, while the other is designated a “naturalization” area. The difference extends to the vegetation, which in the more urbanized section is becoming overrun with the introduced and invasive plant, Garlic Mustard (shown at right).
Overall, we found about 125 species of plants and animals. Most of the birds common in such forests were singing: Rose-Breasted Grosbeak, Scarlet Tanager, Eastern Wood Pewee, and Red-Eyed Vireo. But there were no Ovenbirds. Some of the native wildflowers, such as Wild Ginger and Jack-in-the-Pulpit suggest rich soil, but those that predominated were Trout Lily and False Solomon’s Seal. Striking in their absence were lichens and mosses from tree trunks, and reptiles and amphibians from the ground. Other than ants, under logs and rocks, we found only introduced varieties of invertebrates: sowbugs, slugs, millipedes, and earthworms.
May 30, 2009
Agriculture Canada entomologist Jake Miall, who works in the lab next door to our meeting place, came over to explain what he’s looking for — obscure, unfamiliar insects that can be used as predators or parasites of overly abundant agricultural pests. After describing both kinds of insects, he took us outdoors to look for them. We looked on infested plants, we peered under loose tree bark, and we swung ‘sweep nets’ back and forth through the grass. Emptying the nets onto a white sheet, Jake helped us pick out the different kinds — caterpillars, plant bugs, beetles, and his favourite, some parasitic wasps.
June 6, 2009
On April 18th, stream ecologist Jen Lento had explained how to use the types of creatures that live in a stream to evaluate the water quality. Today she joined our trip to our Study Area to put her instructions into practice. First we kicked up the stream-bottom debris and captured what floated free. Then we picked out the interesting things and tallied them up. Some were sensitive caddisfly larvae and gilled snails, but there were also insects that are tolerant of low water quality, such as midge and black-fly larvae. The rating: “fair.”
The larva at right, which in life is only 1/8 inch long (3 mm) is that of a black fly. They stand upright in rapids and riffles and filter organic matter out of the water with delicate fans.
Meanwhile, other Macouners were getting excited over the first Milk Snake we’ve seen in our Study Area in nearly 40 years. It was distinguished from the more commonly seen Water Snake by the checkerboard pattern on the belly, the black-outlined reddish brown splotches on the body, and the way it resorted to buzzing its tail like a rattlesnake when it felt threatened. It struck and bit, too, but without consequence.
June 13, 2009
At the annual party, long-time members pretended to be embarrassed by video footage of themselves at the OFNC Soiree four years earlier.
As a further example of what our culture will be losing when the Emerald Ash Borer beetle (left) wipes out the ash tree (think of light-weight furniture, flooring, traditional snowshoes, wooden hockey sticks and baseball bats, the frames of wood-and-canvas aircraft, and dog-sled frames), Rob brought in a scythe with a wooden handle (snath). Eager Macouners tried it out on the long grass near the building.
Posted on August 17th, 2009: by R.E. Lee. All photos were taken by Macoun Club participants, unless otherwise indicated. Coding revised May 24, 2016.