Posts Tagged ‘wye marsh’

Wye Marsh and Waggle Dances

May 25, 2014

My previous workplace, the wonderful Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre, has recently installed a glass-walled beehive that allows visitors to observe activity inside.  This reminds me of my second year at university as our Animal Behavior class included a few weeks of staring at bees in a similar manner.  I cannot remember what my group worked on but I do remember the empowering feeling of mastery when suddenly I could find waggle dances.

There might be a photo here.  I am attempting to embed a Facebook image.  If it doesn’t work, try this link.  Or, try this link anyway for more Wye Marsh stuff.



My excellent friend and onetime co-worker at the Marsh, Nick, loved the Fibonacci sequence and I suspect it was demonstrated here.  For around thirteen minutes, I saw nothing but squirming bees in a well-lit but claustrophobically tight box. I was about to give up. Then I saw my first waggle dance.  More squirming bees for another, let’s say, eight minutes followed by my sighting of another waggle dance.  Five minutes later, I saw another.  Three minutes later, two minutes later, one minute later and one minute later I saw them again. Then I was keyed to see any waggle dance.  Some time afterward, I was able to find the queen after a brief search.  It really felt like magic.


For most youth, now and probably in my day too (ah, Jumpman), the playing of computer games is what teaches similar concentration and patience.
I was going to make this post some kind of lesson or sermon, but heck, learn how to spot bee waggle dances – it takes a few minutes but it really wows friends!

Updated: …And use your knowledge of waggle dances to find the healthiest environments!

 The researchers chose an area of 94 square kilometers around the hives that included urban, agricultural and protected areas, and divided that area into 60 square blocks. Then, by videotaping and painstakingly decoding over 5,000 waggle dances over the course of two years, they could see where the bees preferred to go.

The scientists found that overall, bees were significantly more likely to give an approving waggle to land that had been targeted for more intensive restoration of grasslands or of margins around the edges of agricultural fields compared with areas having less stringent requirements. Oddly, they also found that bees seemed to specifically avoid some areas that had been targeted for low-level restoration. Couvillon says that this may be due to how these schemes are managed—frequent mowing, for instance, may reduce the number of flowers. But the bees were often on target. The scientists found that two blocks most frequently tagged with a waggle—after correcting for distance from the hives—each contained a protected nature reserve.


Late Fall at the Wye Marsh

November 19, 2013

The school groups aren’t doing much at the Wye Marsh this month.  We were incredibly busy in October but there are only occasional groups coming until, I guess, next year when cross country skiing starts up.  A coworker and I felt the need to canoe and see what the marsh looks like in mid-November.

First, I found this wonderful swan-foot print and needed to compare it to my own hand.  Sure, my foot is longer, but this is huge for a 12 kg animal.

DSC09976 b We were using a smaller canoe so we explored areas we couldn’t earlier in the giant ten person canoes.  Here, the edges of the channel were so narrow, we just pulled our boat through.DSC09971 b Did I say, November?  I meant Movember.  Squint or click on the image to increase the size if you cannot see my luxurious mustache!DSC09971 cWe had passed this beaver den almost every day for around five months.  After three weeks away, we arrived to find a cache of small trees and branches with delicious bark for the beavers to access through the winter in front of the den.
DSC09968 b This kestrel is the Marsh’s newest resident of the Birds of Prey program.DSC09966 c

I guess this back end of a cheetah needs a little explanation.  My son loves cheetahs and this is around half of a Christmas gift I am working on for him.  There is more, and another mustache shot at Creativiti Project.  Midland Wood Carvers is a group of carving hobbyists that I sometimes join to beg for assistance and wisdom.  Their workshop is at the Wye Marsh. DSC09981 b

(Somewhat) Poor Man’s photography

August 18, 2013

This is going to sound like..No, it is a first world problem.  I have a great little Sony camera and one of the few things it lacks is a really powerful zoom.  As a sort of workaround, I occasionally  try to use telescopes or binoculars.  It is really too hard to hold binoculars steady enough but a mounted scope works surprisingly well.


Here is the Bushnell scope at the far observation blind at Wye Marsh.DSC09625There is a tiny turtle at the end of the log, more or less in the middle of the picture.DSC09626 b

Here he is shooting through the scope with my camera at maximum zoom.DSC09627This is a painted turtle, quite small and likely only a few years old.


It is difficult to hold the camera steady enough and being even slightly off results in a picture like this if  you are lucky.DSC09624


So I had the camera at maximum zoom as it seemed to focus better and the automatic range-finding worked best.  At wide-angle, I only got the eyepiece of the scope in focus.


Now, all I need to take great long distance shots is for a mounted, high-quality telescope to be on location.

Dobsonfly larva on my hand

August 14, 2013

At the Wye Marsh, while dip-netting with children, I make a big deal of carrying any animals they catch into the collection basins.  I mean, I try to show they are not dangerous and can be handled without fear.  I have one exception; catfish, which have sharp spines in their pectoral and dorsal fins and can draw blood.  I still carry them but warn the visitors not too.

Now, I may have another exception, the dobsonfly larva.

DSC09605 b

DSC09604In the second picture you can see the larva is longer than my finger is wide and in the first, you can see the mandibles. From Wikipedia:

Hellgrammites [another common name for the larva]  live under rocks at the bottoms of lakesstreams and rivers, and prey on other insect larvae with the short sharp pincers on their heads, with which they can also inflict painful bites on humans.

More info to be found here.

I wasn’t bitten but was cautious and nervous while carrying them.  After reading the above, I may set them on leaves or the like to transport them.

I don’t know if I need to tell my reader(s) that I do carry leeches in my bare hands to the basins.  I do tend to pass them from hand to hand so they don’t have time to stick.  I think they are too upset or afraid to concern themselves with food but I, at least, feel better giving them a bumpy ride.

Finally, all captured critters are released at the end of the session.


Jack in the Pulpit v Poison Ivy

August 6, 2013

Jack in the Pulpit (Wikipedia) is a plant with an unusual flower – the figure in the pulpit – and, more importantly, branches with three leaves.  At the Marsh it grows near poison ivy.  It doesn’t really resemble poison ivy except in the three-leaves aspect.  Still, many of the students I see parrot the “Leaves of three let it be” line.  I guess they aren’t interested in clover, strawberries or trilliums.

Yesterday, I found a Jack… with seeds.  I wouldn’t bother my devoted reader(s?) with such trivia but for another plant I saw with seeds two days ago.  First, the Jack in the pulpit:


These poison ivy berries look quite similar to the Jack…’s berries.  Well, small, green and round.  I guess that applies to a few different plants.  Still, I was struck by the resemblance.  This site tells me that the berries with blanch as they ripen.poison ivy (4)

Look how beautiful the red leaves are.  If I didn’t know better, I might want these in a garden.poison ivy (5)

Take a test on how well you can recognize poison ivy here.  My results after the jump:


Wye Marsh Hummingbird Festival

July 16, 2013

July 12-14 was the Hummingbird Festival at the Wye Marsh.

Bob and Martha Sargent came to the Marsh from Alabama and attempted to band some local hummingbirds.  I need to stress that their work was extremely difficult and required a number of permits.  Ironically, as Americans, they needed locals to qualify for the permits and their own students, Bruce and Jo Murphy of New Liskeart, were the official supervisors.

Before the event, we were only seeing one bird at a time at the various feeders and this could have meant as few as one in total.  At the end of the first day, with zero birds caught and banded, we were concerned.

Luckily, Bob never stops talking and is constantly entertaining.  He had a great number of stories and details to share.

On Saturday and Sunday, two birds each were caught.  Below: after banding and measuring the bird, Sargent placed it on a spectators hand in “an unnatural position, such that the bird didn’t realize it was free” and we were able to see it quite closely.  Eventually, the bird would fly off.
sunday hummingbird (2)

The bird above looks drab, while the one below is iridescent. It is the same bird and the colors depend on interference patterns in the feathers.sunday hummingbird (7)Here, Sargent is examining a female to determine mating status.  He blew with a straw on the feathers to expose the belly and cloaca.  Quote, “Did you hear a giggle?”  This one had laid an egg in the past twenty-four hours and may well have another developing inside.

sunday hummingbird (17)

Another female unaware that it was free.sunday hummingbird (1)

A male.saturday hummingbird fest (7 b)

Before releasing the birds, Sargent would hold them up to bystander’s ear so they could hear the heartbeat.  The hummingbird’s heart beats at around 250/minute at rest or in his hand and around 1200/minute in flight.saturday hummingbird fest (10)The banding and public viewing took place some distance away from the traps.  At the traps were the Murphys.  In this picture, Jo and Bruce are on the left, holding fishing line which kept the trap doors on the right open.  The traps were little more than bird cages with hummingbird feeders inside.  Again, permits are required to do this and criminal charges can be laid if you try this at home.  In the middle of the shot is Bob Bowles, a locally famous ecologist who has a show on Rogers Cable.  He shooting was quite extensive but I cannot find it available online.DSC09166 b

Ray and Mary Nason were the chief organizers of the event.  Here they are, sitting on “Mary Nason’s Hummingbird Hideaway”.saturday hummingbird fest (2 b)

On the same weekend, two swans on the marsh grounds were found to have cygnets.DSC09203 b

Below are bands for swans and hummingbirds, Ontario’s largest and smallest birds.  This picture was quite well received on Facebook.
one swan 25 hummingbird bands

CTV’s coverage of the festival.

The Marsh’s website.

Poisonous and medicinal

June 22, 2013

An article about Canadian Yew, emphasizing its ironic mix of poisonous and medicinal properties, made me want to discuss similar flora and fauna found at my workplace.

First, the Canadian Yew, which might grow at my workplace, but I haven’t looked for it:


Found at the Wye Marsh is the Blue Flag Iris.

Although the rhizomes of blue flag are highly toxic, Aboriginal people have used the plant to alleviate a wide variety of ailments, including vomiting and constipation. The leaves have also been used for weaving baskets and mats, according to authors Doug Bennet and Tim Tiner in their book Up North Again.

(Caution: We do not recommend the use of these plants for medicinal or food purposes. Many plants are poisonous or harmful if eaten or used externally. The information on food and medicinal value is included only for interest. This information has been gathered from books and its accuracy has not been tested.)

My photos of the iris at the Marsh.

blue flag iris june 12 (20)

We also have massasauga rattlesnakes, although I have never seen a wild one.  In our display hall are two and this week a man from The Toronto Zoo came to the marsh and inspected them.  It was a thrilling time and I apologize for the blurry images: flash photography that might distract the handlers seemed inappropriate.

rattlesnake inspection (1) rattlesnake inspection (2)

The snakes were set on the floor and annoyed so that they tried to escape through a tube.  Once in the tube, and unable to bite, they were picked up and examined.  This happens once or twice a year.

From the US Fish and Wildlife service:

…rattlesnake venom has been explored for human medicinal use, including treatments for arthritis, MS, and polio. Rattlesnake venom also has anti-coagulant properties that stay localized, unlike coumadin and some other anti-coagulants that are currently used to prevent strokes and heart attacks.

My university has prepared an extensive bibliography on the massasauaga.

Having learned of medicinal uses for these organisms, I had to expand my search. To my surprise, poison ivy also has some medicinal value.  From

The fluid extract, prepared from the fresh leaves, is mostly given in the form of a tincture, in doses of 5 to 30 drops. In small doses it is an excellent sedative to the nervous system, but must be given with care, as internally it may cause gastric intestinal irritation, drowsiness, stupor and delirium.

It has been recommended in cases of incontinence of urine. For this, the bark of the root of R. aromatica is also employed very successfully, an infusion of 1 OZ. to a pint of boiling water being taken in wineglassful doses.

The fluid extract of R. Toxicodendron can be used as a vesicant or blister producer, like cantharides, mezeron, and oil of Mustard.

The best preparation is a concentrated alcoholic tincture made from the green plant in the strength of 1 in 4. The dose of 25 per cent tincture is given in 1 to 5 drops three times a day. A solid extract is not used owing to the extreme volatility of the active principles of the crude drug.

Its milky juice is also used as an indelible ink for marking linen, and as an ingredient of liquid dressings or varnishes for finishing boots or shoes, though R. venenata is more extensively used for the latter purpose.

As describes homeopathic usage, I was uncertain of how much I should trust it as a resource.  Web MD, far more briefly, confirms their claims, however.

Updated before posting: Now I do have some good poison ivy photos.  Ironically, I currently have no personal image of poison ivy so let me show a similar plant that I want assistance in identifying. The stalks look wrong and the leaf serrations are not deep enough in my opinion.

not poison ivy

Now for the poison ivy:

ivy and trillium (2)

I like this photo and location as I can show students two different three-leaved plants.  Here are trilliums and poison ivy.  The ivy has pointy leaves with some serrations.  It’s counter-intuitive that the trilliums show no sign of predation but the poison ivy does. The only animal that I know is affected by poison ivy is humans.  As I tell students, your dog or cat might walk through the bushes unaware then spread the oils to you when you pick it up.

Spotted water hemlock, as Web MD states, is quite poisonous and warns that there is insufficient evidence for medicinal use:

Insufficient Evidence for:

  • Migraine headaches.
  • Painful menstrual periods.
  • Intestinal worms.
  • Skin redness and swelling (inflammation), when applied to the affected area.
  • Other conditions.

More evidence is needed to rate the effectiveness of water hemlock for these uses.

I have not seen it on site, but am told specimens have been removed.

Added two days later: Bittersweet Nightshade.  Apologies for the terrible photo – the camera battery was dying and I rushed the shot.

overnight jun 24-25 (7)


For better images and info, the Wikipedia entry is here

An excerpt:

The alkaloids, solanine (from unripe fruits), solasodine (from flowers) and beta-solamarine (from roots) inhibited the growth ofE. coli and S. aureus.[8] Solanine and solasodine extracted from Solanum dulcamara showed antidermatophytic activity against Chrysosporium indicum, Trichophyton mentagrophytes and T. simil. and thus may cure ringworm.[9]

Although fatal human poisonings are rare, several cases have been documented. The poison is believed to be solanine.


Not entirely unrelated: Why are wetlands so important to preserve?

 The EPA points out that, besides containing a disproportionately high number of plant and animal species compared to other land forms, wetlands serve a variety of ecological services including feeding downstream waters, trapping floodwaters, recharging groundwater supplies, removing pollution and providing fish and wildlife habitat.



Spawning season for snappers at Wye Marsh

June 14, 2013



Let me start with a painted turtle.  I found this one on the playing field at Wye Marsh Conservation Area and moved it so the school students playing a game modelling relations between historic trading blocs wouldn’t step on it.  Those claws are pretty sharp!lotsa turtles (1)

On June second, I found a snapper laying eggs and also saw holes dug by others.  It seemed like a lot of activity but the numbers kept picking up until yesterday, June 13, when I saw five turtles laying, including this location where three were laying at once. Should anyone care, this photo was taken on the berm at the far end of the big boardwalk.lotsa turtles (9 b)

One snapper had a hitchhiker.lotsa turtles (7 c) Not the same leech, but one a student had caught a few days earlier.DSC08756

This photo is from the twelfth and shows a snapper’s claws and dragged tail.  We were lucky to have a brief shower the previous night.snapper -loza (7) bAnd here is a raccoon print, from the same morning.snapper -loza (4) b

It is tough to explain to the visiting students that the turtles lay so many eggs but raccoons eat most of them.  (The ROM tells me that skunks also prey on turtle eggs although I have not yet seen any at the Marsh.  I have seen an otter and wonder if they could dig up the eggs.) I have resorted to acting the part of a hungry baby raccoon (“Chirrrrrrrp.  Feed me, mommy.”) to emphasize that the raccoons are not actually bad guys. Sometimes I believe it myself.


But not so much when I see a cutie like this.
snapper -loza (10) b

Both snapping turtles and Midland painted turtles are abundant at the Wye Marsh so I guess enough are getting through the gauntlet, even though snappers are rated as under ‘special concern’.  Painted turtles have no threat categorization at this time.

More on snappers at Ontario Nature and on turtles at The Toronto Zoo.

National wildlife Area Pics of the Month: Wye Marsh

May 31, 2013

I’ve been employed by the Marsh for a month now and love it. Well, I am not so thrilled by the pay, but the location is everything I wanted to experience when I planned to return to Ontario.
The area is full of attractions. Sainte Marie Among the Hurons is a reconstruction of the earliest European settlement in Ontario with the original site dating back to 1639. The conservation area is next to the reconstructed village and extends for around 100 hectares. The Wye River, of which the Marsh and the village sit nearly at the mouth, empties into Georgian Bay and the Tay-Midland Trail offers excellent paved cycling/rollerblading/… paths from Midland to Waubaushene, a remarkable distance.

Back to the Marsh. My work involves leading school groups on trails along the marsh and across it on long, floating boardwalks. We dipnet and look for dragonfly larva, watching swans, geese and many more birds and discuss ecological concepts. Oh, I also show the students turtles and snakes, which means I get to handle them: the dream job for ten-year-old Surprises!

From Wikipedia:

The Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre runs a breeding programme for Trumpeter Swans.[7] The centre, and its volunteers, monitor approximately one-third of all trumpeter swans in Ontario.[8] The swans had been absent from the marsh until a reintroduction programme by Harry Lumsden in the 1980s, as an employee of the Ontario Department of Natural Resources.[3] Archeological evidence collected by Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century suggests that the area previously had significant concentrations of Trumpeter Swans, and historical references indicate the same.[3] While hunters armed only with bows and arrows would have had a difficult time hunting the swan, the introduction of firearms by European explorers would have made the swan a tempting target for hunters.[3] By 1850, only small numbers of the swan remained in Eastern Canada, and the last sighting of a Trumpeter Swan in Ontario before reintroduction occurred in 1884.[3] Among Ontarians, the Wye Marsh Wildlife Centre has is known as the Home of the Trumpeter Swan.[3]
The marsh is also an important breeding site for Black Terns and Least Bitterns.[9] At least 1% of the breeding pairs of Least Bitterns in Canada nest in the Wye Marsh.[3][10]

I am not at all involved in the research that goes on at the marsh, but I make a small attempt to keep up with it. A quick Google Scholar search reveals a variety of studies in the area but most appear to be behind paywalls. The Conservation Action Plan of 2001 and Origin of Wye Marsh PDFs are available, though. If any reader has JSTOR access, I would like to read about silver-haired bats and the overview of the trumpeter swan reintroduction program.

Okay, I know you are really here for the pics(more can be found here):

This crayfish was walking on the road, pretty far from any water.crayfish on road (1) Found on the quiet Muskrat Trail.may 28 (5)

This trumpeter swan has orange feathers, most likely due to eating in iron-rich water.may 30 (2) This snapping turtle and frog can be found in the Welcome pond, near the parking lot at the Marsh.may 30 (3)Canada geese and goslings are everywhere these days.  Still haven’t seen any cygnets.
may 30 (5) Very happily surprised to see this deer. near the blind on the ID trail.may 30 (9 b ) may 30 (9)

Spring sightings

March 30, 2013

Three pictures from the Wye Marsh and two from Penetang Park.

It really is spring!  I saw a robin today.


I have no idea how seasonal Canada Geese are.wye marsh (1)

Nor do I know about lichen.  Still, the beauty of this lichen community makes me want to know more.

wye marsh (15)

This redwinged blackbird doesn’t have much red.  The same is true for others I’ve seen in the last week.  I wonder if the red is more apparent later in the spring.penetang park (8)

It seems crazy early for turtles!  Well, last year at this time, the temps were closer to 20 Celsius, but this year has been much colder and there was ice in this pond. I saw a total of five turtles in the Penetang Park pond.penetang park 1