Stories From 20 Years; Founding Member Profile – A.K. Betz

Grand visions are all well and good – even necessary – when launching a new organization, but there are some inescapable practical matters that soon also demand one’s attention.  One of them, of course, is where the money is going to come from.  Start-up costs abound, even for an all-volunteer organization, as the Thames Talbot Land Trust (TTLT) was in its early years.  These include everything from the extraordinary – paying legal fees for incorporation – to the mundane – renting a post office box.

To fund this early phase of the Trust, a limited-time class of membership – termed Founding Member – was established.  A Founding Member was any individual or organization contributing $1000 or more to the Trust during its first five years of existence.  Fortunately for TTLT, nineteen individuals and three organizations answered the call, providing a firm financial footing from which to launch this bold undertaking. 

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What Is It Wednesday: Milksnake

Name: Milksnake (Lampropeltis triangulum)

This week is our grand finale of our blog series “What is it Wednesday”, which will be featuring the Milksnake. The Milksnake can be found in Southern Ontario and Quebec with a northern range to Sault Ste Marie. This long, slender snake can reach a length of about 90 cm, while its body is no wider than its head. Being tan with reddish-brown blotches gives it a similar appearance to the Northern Watersnake, Eastern Foxsnake, Eastern Hog-nosed snake and Eastern Massasauga. Its key identifying features are the bold black outline around the blotches on its back and the V or Y shaped mark on its head. Having a similar appearance to the eastern Massasauga rattle snake comes in handy, as the Milksnake is able to use mimicry as a defense mechanism. When threatened the Milksnake will shake its tail, which creates a buzzing sound similar to a rattle snake’s while vibrating against dry vegetation. This defense mechanism isn’t always effective as raccoons, skunks, foxes and coyotes will still prey on them. The life span of a Milksnake in the wild is about 7-10 years. This isn’t very long considering that it takes them about 4 years to reach sexual maturity. Living in captivity they are known to live up to 20 years.

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What Is It Wednesday: Barn Swallow

Name: Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)

Barn Swallows are very distinguishable by the blue of their head, wings, and tail against the rusty cinnamon of their chest and belly. Their forked tail adorned with white spots is a dead giveaway while in flight, as is the fluidity of their wingbeats and their quick, acrobatic grace that allows them to make tight turns and dives in the blink of an eye. When perched, they tend to have what I like to call the hunched, grumpy stance. Their heads flatten into their body causing their neck to disappear, while their broad shoulders spread out. Very distinct and very cute.

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What is it Wednesday: Eastern Hog-nose Snake

Name: Eastern Hog-nosed Snake (Heterodon platirhinos)

The Eastern Hog-nosed snake is one of the most fascinating snakes in Ontario. The colours of the snake range from a grey and brown striped pattern to a blotchy yellow-orange and black, like that of the Fox snake, to a solid blue-grey, like the Blue Racer snake. The Eastern Hog-nosed snake also mimics the shape of the Massasauga Rattlesnake with a fat body and can reach lengths of about 1 meter long.

The Eastern Hog-nosed snake continues its mimicry of many other snakes in its multiple defense mechanisms. It’s first tactic is to lie motionless and depend on its camouflage to disguise itself. Failing this, it will puff out its neck, like a Cobra or Puff Adder, raise its head up and stand in a striking pose. Similar to a rattle snake, it will start to rattle its tail while holding its striking pose. Then it will strike, while keeping its mouth closed. This is all a bluff as its venom cannot affect anything larger than a small mammal. Its last tactic is to play dead. The snake will flip onto its back, exposing its belly and lie there with its mouth open and tongue hanging out. To top it all off, it will release a foul-smelling odour or even regurgitate its food. This is to deter predators that avoid rancid or decaying meals. It’s as if this snake is trying to take the identity of every other snake in the world.

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Stories From 20 Years; Mary Kerr

For many years, one of the hotspots of environmental activism and heritage protection in London was not in an elaborate board room but a modest home on Elworthy Avenue in the city’s Old South community.

A force of nature and a force for nature, Mary Elizabeth Kerr’s advocacy work began in the 1980s when she felt she needed to move from simply enjoying nature to actively working to protect it.  Once Mary set her mind to something, there was no stopping her.

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What Is It Wednesday: Prothonotary Warbler

Name: Prothonotary Warbler (Protonotaria citrea)

Prothonotary Warblers are a unique Carolinian Zone species. From head to belly, this bird is a bright golden-yellow with wings and a backside of olive-green and a dark blue-grey at its tail end. Compared to most other Warblers, they have unusually long bills and short legs. Their longer bills are essential for nest building - in North America, they are the only species of Warbler that creates its own nesting cavity by excavating dead or dying trees. They will also nest in pre-existing cavities made by Chickadees and Woodpeckers, natural cavities, and nest boxes. They sing a very clear and fast “Tsweet-tsweet-tsweet-tsweet”, which you will primarily hear in deciduous forests of the Carolinian Zone. Their foraging habits take place in the forest understory and on the ground, where they slowly hop around, looking for a tasty meal.

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What Is It Wednesday: Tulip Tree

Name: Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera)

Also known as: Yellow Poplar (in terms of lumber)

Tulip Trees are fast-growing and are one of the taller trees that grow in southern Ontario. Most trees reach a height no greater than 20-30 m, but Tulip Trees, along with a few select others, reach heights of 35 m, sometimes greater. This majestic species can live up to 300 years, if given the time and room to grow. They are not related to Tulips (Tulips belong to the Lily family, whereas Tulip Trees belong to the Magnolia family), but somehow have leaves and flowers shaped like tulips. Odd, yes, but convenient for identification. The leaves of this tree grow to be 7 to 12 cm in length and are light green with 4 lobes that draw out the resemblance of a flat tulip. It’s 6-petaled flowers are yellow-green with an orange base. The flowers bloom in the summertime between May and June for at least a month but depending on the age and size of the tree, there may not be any flowers to be had. This is because it can take 15 years for a Tulip Tree to mature. Even once flowers are produced, they may still be out of sight as they tend to start blooming at the crown of the tree first before covering its whole length. Amazingly enough though, once a Tulip Tree starts producing flowers, they continue to do so every year for the rest of their (hopefully) long-lived life.

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What Is It Wednesday: Midland Painted Turtle

Name: Midland Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta marginata)

Who doesn’t love baby turtles?! Here at TTLT, we are obsessed! When turtle nesting season arrives, we call up the turtle experts and scan the countryside, hoping to safely secure as many nests as possible for the incubation lab. We then impatiently wait for fall, when all the hatchlings start to poke their little, baby heads out of their cozy eggshells. Of the eight species that occur in Canada, Midland Painted
Turtles are one of the more common types of turtle nests that we find in the field.

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What Is It Wednesday: Sandhill Crane

Name: Sandhill Crane (Antigone canadensis)

Sandhill Cranes are tall birds with long legs, long necks, short tails, and stubby bodies. Their plumage is gray, except for the very top of their heads which are capped bright red. Measuring in at 3-4 ft tall and a wingspan of at least 5 ft, these birds could be mistaken for Blue Herons at a distance. Although, Sandhill Cranes don’t scrunch their necks like Blue Herons do and their bodies are considerably bulkier. These birds also make a loud, distinct call that sounds like a rattling, bugle-like “kar-r-r-r-o-o-o”, which can be heard from up to 4 km away (listen to their call here). They also make moaning, hissing, and snoring noises, as well as goose-like honks. The diet of the Sandhill Crane differs depending on where they end up because they are opportunistic eaters (i.e. they eat whatever is available to them). For the most part, they eat insects, roots, invertebrates, and, when available, cultivated grains.

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What Is It Wednesday: Buttonbush

Name: Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)

Also known as: Common Buttonbush, Eastern Buttonbush, Button Willow, and Honeyballs

Spiky ping pong balls, pincushions, honeyballs, and snowballs – all words used to describe the very distinct flower head of the Buttonbush shrub. Buttonbush is a multi-stemmed shrub that commonly grows 6-12 feet in height but can sometimes be found much taller. Its leaves are dark green, which are oppositely arranged along its stems, and have pointed tips and tapered bases that extend 2-6 inches in length. Most notable of all are their round, tubular flower heads. Each flower head is about an inch in diameter and is made up of a bunch of tiny, white, 4-petaled flowers. The flowers are rich in nectar and attract many pollinators with their honey-smelling fragrance. Blooming occurs between June and September and each flower head will bloom for approximately a week before dying off and turning into a brown seed cluster full of upside-down, pyramid-shaped seeds. Ducks, geese, and shorebirds love to snack on Buttonbush seeds, while songbirds use the shrubbery for nesting sites.

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What Is It Wednesday: Blue Flag Iris

Name: Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor)

Also known as: Blue Wild Iris, American Fleur-de-lis, Northern Blue Flag, Water Flag

Striking in colour and familiar in shape, Blue Flag Iris is easily recognizable once you know what you’re looking at. The flower consists of three large, curving sepals that are blueish-purple at the ends and yellow with white near the centre. From the centre of the sepals rises three small petals that are stiff and upright and are usually paler than the sepals. These flowers grow in groups of 3-5 on top of stalks that grow 50 cm tall. The stalks rise from a clump of long, sword-shaped leaves which create a dense covering of foliage, and its tough, hardy roots help the plant to expand its range across its habitat. Blue Flag Iris blooms from May-August and produces seeds within an oblong capsule once its flowers have fallen. Its native range extends from Manitoba to Nova Scotia and is considered the most expansive range for a native iris.

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What Is It Wednesday: Butterflyweed

Name: Butterflyweed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Also known as: Butterfly Milkweed, Orange Milkweed, Pleurisy Root

Topped by bright and flat clusters of flowers, Butterflyweed it not easily missed. This perennial grows 1-3 ft tall and spreads out like a bush. Its pointed leaves are green, smooth-edged, and grow to about 2 inches in length in an alternate pattern. Its bright flowers can be orangish, yellowish, or reddish in appearance and contain 5 petals crowned by 5 hoods. Flower clusters can measure up to 5 inches across and provide an excellent feeding zone for hummingbirds, butterflies, bees, and other insects. The roots of this plant are tough and woody and can grow fairly deep in the ground. Its slender, hairy, grayish-green seedpods are 3-6 inches in length and contain hundreds of brown seeds. Each seed sports a white, silky tuft of hair, which will help it to be carried away by the wind once the seedpod ripens and opens. Native from Ontario to Newfoundland, this plant can be seen in full bloom from May to September and begins to seed at the end of the summer/the beginning of fall. It’s best to grow Butterflyweed from seed rather than transplanting. They require 3-month stratification, so plant the seeds in the fall and watch them grow in the following spring.

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What Is It Wednesday: Gray Treefrog

Name: Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor)

The Gray Treefrog is a small frog that grows 3-6 cm in length. Although it is called the Gray Treefrog, this species comes in several colours ranging from a light green to a grey or brown. Regardless of colour, its skin has a pebbly or “warty” texture with large dark blotches along its back. Under its eye, you can find a white patch and along its inner thighs and groin is a yellow or orange colour. As you would expect from a treefrog, this species has large suction-cup-like toe disks to help it climb around. They can be found in the southern extents of Canadian provinces ranging from Manitoba to New Brunswick (Figure 1).

 

 

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What Is It Wednesday: Spotted Salamander

Name: Spotted Salamander (Ambystoma maculatum)

Also known as: Yellow-spotted Salamander

The Spotted Salamander can be found in Canada from Ontario to the East Coast. It is a carnivorous amphibian that can grow larger than 20 cm in length and is dark blue or black with yellow spots randomly distributed across its body. In the wild, this species can generally live upwards of 20-30 years. Males take 2-6 years to mature and females take 3-7 years to mature. They are also known for their sensitivity to acid rain, which can negatively affect larval development and the ability of their eggs to hatch.

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What Is It Wednesday: Viceroy Butterfly

Viceroy butterflies are a smaller butterfly with a wingspan of 6.3 to 8.6 cm that sport dark orange wings outlined and veined in black. Along their black-edged wings are rows of white dots. Their colouring is very similar to that of the Monarch butterfly, but Viceroy’s have one key difference: along the bottom of their hind wings are dark horizontal veins. This similarity in looks is called mimicry.

Previously, Viceroys were thought to be a Batesian mimic, meaning, that as a harmless species, they would take on the guise of a toxic species to protect themselves from predators. Later, it was determined that Viceroys are also a toxic species and are actually Müllerian mimics, meaning that each species provides each other additional protection from their similarities in looks and toxicity.

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Sunday Funnies: Soggy Peatland

 “I was in Alberta for the summer doing research for my Masters project and one of the things we had to do was set up a meteorology station in the middle of a super wet and spongy peatland. We had a lot of very heavy equipment that needed to be taken to the station, like car batteries and a battery box that was basically the weight of a chest freezer. Anyway, by the end of the day, after walking in and out so many times and dragging the heavy equipment, we had all either slowly sunk into the peatland or were surprised all of a sudden by getting sucked into the peat up to our waists! It would take us several minutes to eventually fish ourselves out. Our boots would get suctioned into the peat too, so we were able to get our legs out, which were filthy and soaked, but then we would have to stick our entire arms up to our shoulders back into the peat hole, which was freezing by the way, to retrieve our boots. This sort of thing was quite common on any given day, just walking around the peatland site, collecting data and then BAM! Suddenly you take the wrong step and end up hip-deep into a freezing cold hole and needed the other students to help pull you out. It was exhausting but always funny when it happened.” - Rebecca Cameron

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What Is It Wednesday: [Female] Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Name: [Female] Rose-breasted Grosbeak (Pheucticus ludovicianus)

Typically, male bird species get the spotlight due to their colourful plumage, but we’re going to take some time now to highlight this particular female bird species. The female Rose-breasted Grosbeak is a medium-sized songbird with no bright colours to be had. Typically, females are a dark brown with a pale chest and belly, brown and white streaks on its back and chest, and a striking facial pattern that ends in a stout, triangular beak. Although they are not considered as pretty as their male counterparts, they can sing just as sweetly. Their song is described as “an American Robin in an unusually good mood” (The Cornell Lab, All About Birds).

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What Is It Wednesday: Squirrel Nest

What it is: Squirrel Leaf Nest

Also known as: a Drey

If you’ve been in Ontario, you’ve seen a squirrel. Red, black, grey – we’ve got them in abundance! But have you ever given much thought to what they live in?

For squirrels, you will come across two types of nests: tree cavity dens and leaf nests/dreys. The tree cavity den is exactly how it sounds – it’s a hole in the tree, either previously made by a woodpecker or naturally made through tree aging processes. Leaf nests are also exactly how they sound, but there is a little more to them. For instance, the nests themselves are made of more than just leaves! Starting with the nest floor, squirrels expertly weave twigs together to create a platform. On this platform, leaves and moss are packed in for structural reinforcement. More twigs are used to weave the spherical outer shell, which is then stuffed with more leaves, moss, etc. to create the bulky structure. To make it a little more comfortable, a touch of grass, leaves, and shredded bark are added to the inner sanctum. Squirrels build their nests at least 20 ft off the ground, typically forked between the trunk and a large branch, and their nests are much larger than most bird nests, making it easy to identify should you come across one.

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Sunday Funnies: Crash, Boom, Flames

“One day, I was soil sampling in a field that surrounded an airport where a model plane club liked to meet. They were flying over the field I was in, doing tricks and diving down low to the ground. As I continued my sampling, I moved on, away from the area they were recklessly flying over, and not 10 minutes later I hear ‘Nnnyyyooooooommmmmm….booooofffff!’ I turn around and see the model plane had dove too low to the ground and has crashed (*facepalm*). Keep in mind, this was mid-summer, it was super hot out, and they were flying over a dry clay field that had wheat stubble left over from harvesting. Again, it was very dry and since the model planes were fancy planes, they had gas engines. The field then caught on fire and people were frantically running over to put the blaze out. I zoomed back to my truck to get my fire extinguisher, but by the time I had got back to the area, people had already stomped it out or had used blankets. The owner of the farm came out all livid and asked what I had seen and proceeded to keep an eye on the area after the people had left. I was still sampling for the rest of the day in his field, due to intensive sampling requirements, so I told him I’d keep an eye on the area in case it reignited from the heat of the day. Luckily, no other fires occurred.” - Michael Coady

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What Is It Wednesday: Sharp-lobed Hepatica

Name: Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba)

Also known as: Liverwort and Liverleaf

The Sharp-lobed Hepatica is a native woodland plant that blooms very early in the spring. Throughout April to May, the Sharp-lobed Hepatica flowers emerge from the forest floor on hairy, leafless shoots that add clustered splashes of white, pink, purple, or bluish colours to the landscape. Quite deceivingly, the flowers of this plant have no petals. The colourful petal-like objects are actually sepals that frame the flower and sit on top of three green, pointed-tipped bracts. Its leaves are usually a mottled green and have three deep lobes that also have pointed tips, which resemble the shape of a liver.

(Photo Credit: David Wake)

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What Is It Wednesday: Northern Map Turtle

Name: Northern Map Turtle (Graptemys geographica) 

The Northern Map Turtle is one of eight native turtle species found in Ontario. Its name is derived from the map-like contour lines that run along the top of its shell, also known as the carapace, and the bright, yellow lined pattern on its skin. Its lower shell, or plastron, is usually a light yellow to cream and behind its eyes, this turtle sports a bright, yellow spot.

(Photo Credit: Scott Gillingwater)

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Sunday Funnies: Field Bloopers

Are you looking for an easy and creative way to spruce up your wardrobe? Do you like wearing nature-themed attire? Then have we got a solution for you! Come walking with us through the meadow on a fall day, and you too can discover the wonders of Tick Trefoil. Simply walk past this plant and your clothes will have instant seedy decoration. The plant uses this strategy to disperse its seeds far and wide by sticking them to deer and other mammals, who wander around and drop seeds wherever they walk. And it’s not just Tick Trefoil; there are also other sticky seeds such as burrs and beggarticks. Their Velcro-like coating ensures they stick to any passers-by. For an extra treat, put your seedy clothes through a washer-dryer cycle and transfer these beautiful adornments to everything else you own. Your family members will delight in discovering a seedy pattern on their favourite shirt or a clump of burrs in their socks.

 

- Rebecca Launchbury

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What Is It Wednesday: Bloodroot

Name: Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Bloodroot is a native, perennial plant that produces a single flower and a single leaf. The flower is white with a golden centre and can have anywhere from 8-16 petals, and its leaf is round with multiple lobes. Its blooming progression occurs throughout March, April, and May. The stems and roots of this plant harbor a red-orange and poisonous sap.

(Photo Credit: Leah Derikx)

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What Is It Wednesday: Eastern Flowering Dogwood

Name: Eastern Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

Eastern Flowering Dogwood is a native understory tree that grows to be 3-10 m tall. In Ontario, this tree can be found in the Carolinian Zone, the area that extends southwest from Toronto to Sarnia and down to Lake Erie. Its flowers bloom in mid-spring before its oval leaves have had a chance to unfurl. As these trees mature, the bark is often referred to as alligator skin due to its brownish-grey colour and scale-like texture. The tree produces bright red berries in late summer, which are poisonous to humans, but provide a tasty food source for many birds and small mammals. 

(Photo Credit: Cathy Quinlan)

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What Is It Wednesday: Phragmites

Name: Phragmites (Phragmites australis subspecies australis)

Also known as: European Common Reed

 

 

 

(Photo Credit: Darby Alderson)

Phragmites is a tall, invasive perennial plant that is most commonly found in wetlands, roadside ditches, and shorelines. It can grow as tall as 5 m (15 ft), spread horizontally at least 3 m per year, and produce a density of at least 200 stems per m2. The native home of Phragmites is Eurasia. How it came to North America is unclear, but it can now be found in every province in Canada, as well as the Northwest Territories. In Ontario alone, this invasive plant spread over 5,000 hectares between 2010 and 2017, which was about a 30% increase from previous years.

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Sunday Funnies Field Stories: Perceptible Deception

It rained the last two days. Today there is no rain, just an intense heat that is laden with the moisture of the previous days. You just know the mosquitoes are humming in the dank swamp that we are working in today, but that’s what I signed up for. Another full day of pulling the invasive garlic mustard plants off our nature reserves while the mosquitoes feast on my blood. The job of a conservation technician is bug bites, sweat and injury driven – the kind of work often described as “character building”. But that’s what I signed up for.

We walk down an ATV trail mottled in potholes filled with turbid rainwater. We skirt the edges of the trail in our rain boots, avoiding the puddles. Why are we avoiding the puddles if we have rain boots? The others must be trying to keep their boots clean for the truck ride home. No matter, we arrive on site and start pulling garlic mustard.

After a rigorous morning it is time for lunch. I walk out of the wet forest to see my boots coated in sticky mud. My coworkers start down the ATV trail skirting the edges, avoiding the potholes once again. What’s the point? I step straight into the puddle. Big mistake.

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What Is It Wednesday: Red-winged Blackbird

Name: Red-winged Blackbird

The Red-winged Blackbird is a common sight in Canada. In fact, it is considered one of the more numerous native birds in North America (see Figure 1). In Canada, these birds are one of the earlier signs of spring.

Migration occurs from mid-February to mid-May, bringing the males first. The males arrive first to claim the best territories, attempting to impress the late arriving females. Males are also the last to go once migration to the south begins in August.

 

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Community Commentary: A Hairy Situation

We here at TTLT love hearing from our supporters. That is why we hope this article is the first among many stories shared to us by you! We want to know all about your experiences with nature, whether they be funny, heart-warming, sad, or ridiculous. Send your stories to info@ttlt.ca.

This week’s story was contributed by one of our long-time, loyal supporters, Jim Rule. Read on to find out about A Hairy Situation…

 

 

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What Is It Wednesday: White-marked Tussock Moth Caterpillar

Name: White-marked Tussock Moth Caterpillar (Orgyia leucostigma)

The White-marked Tussock Moth caterpillar is abundant in eastern North America and its range extends as far west as Alberta. It measures about 35 mm in length and is covered by a variety of toxin-laden hair tufts. Black, quill-like hair strands stick out from both sides of its reddish-orange head, while the rest of its body is covered in spiky, black and white tufts.

 

 

Photo Credit: Barbara Riddell

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What Is It Wednesday - Trout Lily

Name: Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)

Also Known As: Adder’s Tongue and Dogtooth Violet

The Trout Lily is a native perennial plant found throughout eastern North America (Figure 1). It prefers the partial shade and moist floors of woodlands and forests. It is a colony plant, meaning you are likely to find a large amount of them growing together in a single area. They are one of the first plants to bloom in the spring, but quickly produce seeds and die out by early summer. Young plants are flowerless and produce only one mottled leaf, whereas older plants produce one nodding flower and two mottled leaves. The flowers are bright yellow with six petals that pull back to reveal six brown stamens.

Photo Credits: Daria Koscinski (left) & Dave Wake (right)

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