Watching for Wildlife: Nature Photography from the QMNH CommunityAugust 30, 2023
Today, we are taking a look through the lens of the QMNH community. For the past few months, the museum has been accepting submissions of photos snapped by talented local photographers and nature enthusiasts. Keep reading to learn more about an interesting selection of flora, fauna, and geology!
Black-crowned Night-Heron seen perching near Point Anne.
Photo taken by: Peter Martin
Found near marshes, lakes, and rivers across North America, Black-crowned Night-Herons are the stockier cousins of Great Blue Herons. Mature individuals can be identified by their thick necks, defined dark back and head, and their red eyes. Their diet consists mainly of worms, insects, crustaceans, and any other plant or animal found along shorelines. When not nesting, searching for food, or looking for a mate, you can spot Black-crowned Night-Herons in colonies with other herons and egrets.
Globally, the species is designated as threatened. While populations are relatively stable in Canada, Black-crowned Night-Herons are facing imminent threats from water pollution, habitat loss, climate change, and persistent pesticide use. Further conservation efforts will be necessary to secure the future of this species.
Midland painted turtle peeking out of Belleville’s Turtle Pond.
Photo taken by: Peter Martin
All painted turtles have an upper shell that ranges in colour from olive green to black. They are known for their distinctive red and orange markings along their shell, as well as red and yellow stripes on their head and neck. The midland painted turtle has a yellow or tan lower shell with a darker ‘butterfly’ marking along the midline. They are commonly seen basking on logs and rocks that protrude from the water. During the colder months, midland painted turtles hibernate on the bottom of ponds, marshes, lakes, or slow-moving creeks.
The type of habitat these turtles use makes them susceptible to the same threats that have caused the decline of Ontario’s seven other turtle species. Loss and degradation of habitat have caused populations of the midland painted turtle in some regions to decline or disappear. In areas where human activity is prevalent, the turtles are also highly vulnerable to nest predation and road mortality. The midland painted turtle is currently listed as a specially protected reptile under the Ontario Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act, which offers protection to individuals but not their habitat.
Fire ant spotted on a vibrant leaf.
Photo taken by: Peter Martin
Named for the burning sensation its sting produces, the European fire ant is an invasive species in North America. Its native range is in Europe and northern Asia, but it has become pestiferous in North America in recent decades. Fire ants can appear red or light brown in colour and are typically 4-5 millimetres in length. This species nests underground in lightly shaded areas with humid soil. Colonies are highly mobile and move around often throughout the warm summer months. Their mounds are not always obvious, making them easy to step on and disturb. When disturbed, fire ants will attack in swarms, stinging unlucky passersby multiple times. Photographer Peter recalls being bitten by quite a few ants on his mission to capture this particular photo.
With their tendency to form supercolonies, European fire ants can take over habitats, pushing out native ant species and altering native plant communities. Studies have shown that at sites with fire ants present, the diversity of other ground-dwelling arthropods is consistently lower. These tiny creatures are common throughout North America, so watch where you step!
Painted turtle basking amongst water lilies at HR Frink Conservation Area.
Photo taken by: Kelly Burton
Water lilies are a large family of flowering plants found in temperate and tropical climates around the world. The plants thrive in quiet waters such as ponds, lake margins, and slow streams, perfect places for encountering turtles. Water lilies root in the mucky bottoms of water bodies, with leaves and flowers that grow upwards and emerge from the surface. They play an important role in supporting healthy aquatic ecosystems by creating food and shelter for wildlife. The white or pink flowers seen on the surface last only about two to five days. The blossoms open in the morning and close in the early afternoon. When the flowers close for the last time, the long stalk ‘corkscrews’, drawing the developing fruit under the water. Surface leaves are visible for most of the year, disappearing only during winter.
Water lilies have a unique place in the evolutionary story of plants. Genetic studies have shown that water lilies are basal angiosperms, diverging from the lineage leading to most flowering plants. Several fossil species of water lilies have been found around the world, including Eocene specimens from British Columbia.
American bullfrog blending in with lily pads at HR Frink Conservation Area.
Photo taken by: Kelly Burton
The largest frog in North America, bullfrogs are quite easy to spot. They vary in colour from pale to dark green, with adult males having a distinctive yellow chin during breeding season. Bullfrogs are known for their deep and resonant calls, heard often throughout the spring and summer. They require large permanent water bodies year round, but may spend part of the summer in smaller ponds. Bullfrogs are abundant along well-vegetated shorelines. They spend their winters hibernating in deep ponds, lakes, and rivers.
Native bullfrog populations have been decimated in many areas due to harvesting for both food and educational purposes. In Ontario, bullfrogs are beginning to return to some wetlands where their numbers had previously been depleted. The global status of the American bullfrog is listed as least concern. Over time, however, habitat loss, climate change, and pollution may take a toll on this thriving species.
Family of Mute Swans swimming at HR Frink Conservation Area.
Photo taken by: Kelly Burton
The Mute Swan is one of the world’s largest waterfowl and one of three swan species in North America. While abundant, this species is not native to the continent. Mute swans were first introduced to North America by European settlers during the 1870s to adorn parks, gardens, and estates. Since then, feral populations have flourished in many regions. In Ontario, Mute Swans can be seen along Great Lakes shorelines, as well as inland marshes, lakes, and rivers. Swans are dedicated parents, with most pairs mating for life. Female swans incubate the eggs while males swim nearby to watch for danger. Baby swans, called cygnets, are cared for by their parents until reaching about a year old. At this point, they must join a new flock. Most swans remain with the flock they choose for their entire lives.
Mute Swans are highly territorial and will exhibit aggressive behaviour if threatened. Wetland-dependent birds and mammals, like ducks and geese, are being excluded from nesting and feeding areas by aggressive Mute Swan populations. Trumpeter Swans are most at risk due to overlap in breeding range and native habitats. Over time, feeding habits of swans can dramatically alter wetland ecosystems. The foraging behaviour of swans is to uproot entire plants, reducing food sources for other wildlife. As Mute Swans become more widespread, human contact will also increase. Keep yourself and your pets out of harm’s way by admiring swans from a safe distance.
A glimpse beneath the surface at Warsaw Caves Conservation Area.
Photos taken by: Carolyn Rosen
When a massive glacier melted at the end of the last Ice Age, a series of caverns were carved into the limestone bedrock near Warsaw, Ontario. These caves are the result of a gradual downward movement of large limestone blocks on the side slopes of the Indian River Valley. Some of the caves have an almost perfectly round shape. Known as ‘kettles’, these spiral depressions were created by pieces of stone being swirled around by the river, cutting into the limestone below. At the time of its formation, about 11,000 years ago, the river was much larger than it is now. Created by draining glacial meltwater, the river once covered the entire cave system. This ancient formation has significance as the river link between the Algonquin watershed and the Ontario basin.
The area around Peterborough and the Kawarthas shows remarkable evidence of glaciation. Rolling drumlins, erratic boulders, and winding rivers were all left behind my glaciers travelling through the area as the last Ice Age was coming to an end. Now a popular spot for adventure-seeking spelunkers, Warsaw Caves Conservation Area is proof of a dramatic geological past.
White-tailed deer spotted in a clearing at Lemoine Point Conservation Area.
Photo taken by: Mikayla Barney
A common sighting throughout Ontario, the white-tailed deer is recognized by its habit of flourishing its tail over its back when running away, revealing a stark white underside. In summer, the white-tailed deer has reddish fur on its back and sides, which turns greyish in the winter. The antlers of mature male white-tails consist of a forward curving main beam from which single points protrude. Any forested area with abundant food is suitable for white-tailed deer during the warmer months, but as snow deepens, the deer must concentrate in areas that provide better shelter. Even in the most favourable wintering areas, food supply is limited. If food remains scarce, the deer will begin to break down muscle tissue for energy, limiting their chances of survival. They often return to their summer ranges as gaunt shadows of their formerly sleek fall forms. The green growth of spring brings welcome relief to white-tailed deer populations.
Deer in Canada face limited threat from disease or natural predators. A series of severe winters can take a toll on white-tailed deer populations by shrinking their range, which is usually restored quite nicely by a few favourable years. Maintaining healthy stocks of deer is achieved by keeping numbers of deer in balance with their winter food supply. Preventing habitat loss, especially in the winter, will be essential to their long-term survival.
Piping Plovers enjoying a sunny day at Presqu’ile Provincial Park.
Photos taken by: Peter Gorski
A rare sight, Piping Plovers are a unique and beautiful species of shorebird. Their white and beige colouring helps them blend in with the pale sandy beaches they favour. Piping Plovers have stubby orange bills and bright orange legs. They also have black markings around the eyes, giving them a wide-eyed appearance. These small birds nest exclusively on dry sand or gravel beaches. They peck along the sand in search of food, preferring insects and small crustaceans. Each spring, male Piping Plovers establish a territory and attract a mate by performing dramatic aerial displays. Piping Plover parents share the responsibility of incubating eggs and caring for their newly hatched nestlings. Within an hour of hatching, Piping Plover chicks are able to begin searching the beach for food of their own.
Piping Plovers were assessed as endangered even before the Endangered Species Act took effect in 2008. The main threat facing these birds is human activity and habitat disruption. The sandy beaches where plovers nest are also popular spots for human recreation. Groomed beaches lack natural hiding places, making eggs and chicks more vulnerable to predators. Storm surges and severe weather can also destroy nesting sites. The species has stopped nesting at most beaches throughout North America. Excitingly, Piping Plovers returned to Presqu’ile in 2016 after a century-long absence. Plover nests are now diligently protected by Park staff, volunteers, and careful visitors. Beachgoers are encouraged to keep a safe distance from nesting birds to help plover populations grow.
Baby humpback whale breaching at Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.
Photo taken by: Blair Stinson
Popular among whale watchers, humpback whales are known for their awe-inspiring aerial behaviours. Humpbacks are frequently seen breaching and slapping the surface of the water with their long pectoral fins. Their equally long flukes are uniquely marked with mottled patterns. Like fingerprints, scientists use these patterns to identify individuals. Humpbacks can also be tracked by their complex songs, which can be heard across oceans. These songs can last for hours and change over time as whales learn new dialogues from each other. A type of baleen whale, humpbacks feed by capturing large amounts of fish or krill in a single gulp. Each year, humpback whales migrate vast distances across the open ocean, travelling between polar feeding grounds and tropical breeding grounds. Humpback populations, while steady growing, are far smaller than they were before commercial whaling. Like all whale populations, humpbacks are currently facing threats from vessel strikes, entanglement in fishing gear, noise pollution, and human disruption. Sustainable whale watching practices and conservation of marine ecosystems is essential to the survival of this incredible species and all ocean life.
Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary sits between Cape Ann and Cape Cod off the coast of Massachusetts. Historically significant as a fishing ground, the site is now a premier destination for whale watching and marine conservation. Marine sanctuaries aim to protect and enhance biodiversity while also supporting compatible use or resources for recreation, tourism, travel, and commerce.
Walking stick camouflaged against bright green foliage.
Photo taken by: Madeline Hoyle
Walking sticks are a group of highly camouflaged insects. They cleverly escape predation by blending into plant material. They may even sway back and forth to mimic a twig moving in the wind. Depending on the species, walking sticks can grow from 2 to 30 centimetres long, with females typically being larger than males. More than 3000 different species of stick insects exist worldwide, mostly in temperate and tropical regions. All walking stick species are herbivores, using their strong mandibles to consume a variety of leaves.
Walking sticks have many predators, the most effective being bats. Bats hunt by echolocation rather than sight, meaning that they are not easily fooled by the insect’s stick-like appearance. When camouflage is not enough, some species have developed unique mechanisms to avoid becoming an animal’s next meal. Some can secrete a liquid that temporarily blinds their predators. Others drop their legs when being attacked and grow them back later. Beyond predation, stick insects are susceptible to habitat destruction, pesticide use, and collection for the pet trade.
Praying mantis in search of shade on a hot summer day.
Photo taken by: Norine Johnstone
One of Ontario’s most interesting insect species, the praying mantis is also one of the most easily recognizable. Though there are more than 20 species of praying mantis found in North America, this insect is not actually native to the region. The European mantis, for instance, was first introduced into the US at the end of the 19th century, but it took quite a while before their range expanded across the Great Lakes into Ontario. The praying mantis is one of the best insect predators. Camouflaging easily against the greens and browns of grassy fields, they remain hidden from danger. Their large compound eyes make for great depth perception and motion detection. They quickly lash out and grab prey, trapping them with their spiny front legs. Mantises have huge appetites, feeding on various species of leafhoppers, caterpillars, and other soft-bodied insects.
The praying mantis plays an important role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem. They help control populations of other insects that can be pests to crops and gardens. They also serve as a food source for larger animals, like birds and spiders. While praying mantises themselves are not currently under threat, the habitats they live in are. Shrubland, savannas, and grassland are being diminished by human activity. Many gardeners also view the species as pests and exterminate them from their yards. Mantises pose no threat to humans and are actually quite gentle by nature.
Japanese beetle snacking on a blooming Rose of Sharon.
Photo taken by: Norine Johnstone
A beautiful but highly invasive species, the Japanese beetle has been wreaking havoc on local plants and gardens in recent years. Native to the main islands of Japan, the beetle was first discovered in Canada in 1939 and has been steadily increasing in prominence. Easily identified by their bright metallic green or copper bodies, Japanese beetles are most active during the hottest days of summer. Beetles prefer to feed on plants exposed to direct sunlight. They begin at the top of the plant and work their way downward, consuming the tissue between the veins, leaving a lace-like skeleton behind. Japanese beetles have been documented to attack both the foliage and fruit of more than 250 plant species, including maple trees, elm trees, apple trees, rose bushes, corn stalks, and berry bushes.
Growers should remain aware of potential breeding grounds and anticipate beetle presence to start monitoring for control programs and initiatives. Some control strategies include maintaining good weed control, adjusting irrigation schedules, and monitoring soil pH. If a safe, sustainable, and reliable method of controlling Japanese beetles is not found, the species will continue to pose a threat to local crops, gardens, and native ecosystems.
Beautiful monarch butterfly nectaring on a thistle.
Photo taken by: Brie Savoy
A beautiful and familiar sight of summer, monarch butterflies can be immediately identified by their brilliant orange and black wings. Throughout the spring and summer, they can be found in open fields and meadows feeding on nectar from flowers. Each fall, monarchs set out on an incredible journey from southern Canada to their wintering sites in the mountain forests of Mexico. They can cover more than 4000 kilometres in a few short weeks. This is one of the world’s longest insect migrations.
Monarch butterflies are a beloved and important insect. As pollinators, they provide an invaluable service, essential for many ecosystems to thrive. It is thanks to pollinators like butterflies that we have many of the flowers, crops, and dietary staples that we enjoy. In Canada, monarch butterflies are listed as a species of special concern, but they are swiftly nearing endangerment. Monarchs are threatened by deforestation of wintering sites in Mexico, disruptions to their migration caused by climate change, and the loss of native plants along their migratory routes. Milkweed is especially important, as monarchs require the plant to lay their eggs on. There are small steps that you can take to help monarch butterflies in your own backyard, such as planting milkweed, goldenrods, asters, and other native plant species.
Adorable juvenile Baltimore Oriole perched on a cedar branch.
Photo taken by: Brie Savoy
Baltimore Orioles, known for their brightly coloured plumage, are actually members of the blackbird family. Males have bright orange and black bodies, while females and juveniles are typically duller shades of yellow and grey. Their diet changes depending on the season. In summer, Orioles feed on insects such as beetles, crickets, and moths. In spring and fall, sugary nectar and fruits provide much-needed energy for migration. Fresh oranges and berries are a favourite snack of these backyard visitors.
Though the species has proven to be quite tolerant of human interference, there are still many threats to their populations. Urbanization and climate change puts natural habitats at risk. Chemical and pesticide use is also a concern, as it can harm important food sources or may even poison the birds directly. When caring for your lawns and gardens, try to opt for more bird-friendly pest control methods to keep these wonderful creatures frequenting our feeders.
Tree Swallow perching on a post on Amherst Island.
Photo taken by: Brie Savoy
Often seen in open, treeless areas, the Tree Swallow gets its name from its habit of nesting in tree cavities. Known for their impressive aerial displays, Tree Swallows chase after flying insects with acrobatic twists and turns, flashing their blue-green feathers in the sunlight. They sometimes supplement their insect diet with berries and other fruit. During the breeding season, when they need extra calcium to produce eggs, swallows may be spotted searching through backyard compost piles for pieces of eggshell to add to their diet. Migrating and wintering Tree Swallows can form enormous flocks numbering in the thousands. They tend to gather just before sunset and form a dense cloud above roosting sites, usually near marshes or small groves of trees. With each swooping pass, more birds drop down until they are all settled on the roost. To fascinated onlookers, the birds resemble a swirling tornado.
Tree Swallows play an important role in pest management by eating hundreds of insects each day. Gardeners and farmers often welcome these birds to their fields by building nest boxes. Despite its vital role in local ecosystems, the Tree Swallow has been identified as a priority for conservation efforts. One of several aerial-foraging bird species showing widespread decline in Canada, the Tree Swallow is being impacted by landscape changes, insecticide use, and climate change. It may also be negatively affected by reduced nesting sites and increased competition.
Brilliant red northern cardinal stands out against a snowy backdrop.
Photo taken by: Paige Savoy
One of the most easily spotted birds, northern cardinals are known for their striking red colour, a characteristic unique to males of the species. Females have pale brown bodies with the same black face and red-orange bills as males. Cardinals do not migrate or molt, so they maintain the same breathtaking colour year round. They appear especially vibrant against snowy backyards. Northern cardinals tend to perch low in shrubs and trees, preferring to nest in dense foliage. They are common visitors to bird feeders, often in pairs.
Primarily a species of the eastern and southern United States, the northern cardinal has been steadily expanding into southern Canada over the last several decades. This is largely due to warming winter temperatures. The species has actually benefited from changes brought to the landscape by human settlement. The conversion of forests to agriculture and suburban areas has increased nesting habitats. Backyard bird feeders have also helped ensure an adequate food supply in areas that would otherwise be unsuitable. Despite their current success, northern cardinals are susceptible to harm from further warming or habitat loss.
White-tailed doe captured licking its nose on a snowy day.
Photo taken by: Paige Savoy
A healthy white-tailed deer herd is capable of nearly doubling its numbers during one favourable breeding season. Fawns are born in late spring each year and spend the first few weeks of life in hiding. A doe will leave her fawn unattended for hours at a time, letting its natural camouflage and scentless condition conceal it from predators. Born feeble and wobbly-legged, fawns would have little chance of survival if it were not for the dedicated care of their mothers. As fawns grow stronger, they begin to follow their mother around, learning how to feed. During this period, adult deer feed steadily on new spring vegetation. Having entered the spring season in lean condition with a tattered winter coat, the doe’s improved food supply will help her become sleek and sturdy by mid-summer.
White-tailed deer are truly beautiful specimens in the fall and early winter. Their bodies are rounded by reserves of fat stored for the difficult months ahead and their new thick coat makes them look fluffier than usual. By this time, fawns have lost their spots and are now short-faced, smaller versions of their parents. Thus begins another long winter of limited food and shelter.
Chipping Sparrow posing on a tree branch.
Photo taken by: Paige Savoy
Chipping Sparrows are an adorable species whose rusty cap provides a pop of colour and makes adults easy to identify. In summer, Chipping Sparrows look clean and crisp, with a bright white underbelly and bright orange crown. In winter, they take on a more subdued brown colouring, with their crown becoming a warm reddish-brown. Common throughout North America wherever trees are interspersed with grassy clearings. Their loud, trilling songs are one of the most frequent sounds of spring across woodlands and suburbs. Chipping Sparrows typically build their nests low in shrubs and trees, but they have been known to choose some unconventional locations at times. People have found their nests perched precariously on garden vegetables, inside lawn mowers, and in hanging flower pots.
Though it is one of the most abundant songbird species in Canada, Chipping Sparrow populations have undergone a moderate decline in recent years. The species is well adapted to changes resulting from forest clearing, agriculture, and urban expansion. The exact causes of decline are unknown, but habitat fragmentation and chemical insecticide use may be to blame. There is little conservation concern at this time, but the species may become threatened if populations continue to decline and human factors are not controlled.
American Bullfrog. Retrieved from https://ontarionature.org/programs/community-science/reptile-amphibian-atlas/american-bullfrog/
Baltimore Oriole. Retrieved from https://naturecanada.ca/news/blog/get-to-know-this-years-featured-migratory-bird-day-species-baltimore-oriole/
Black-crowned Night-Heron. Retrieved from https://naturecanada.ca/discover-nature/about-our-birds/black-crowned-night-heron/
Chipping Sparrow. Retrieved from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Chipping_Sparrow/id
European Fire Ant. Retrieved from https://www.invasivespeciescentre.ca/invasive-species/meet-the-species/invasive-insects/european-fire-ant/
Humpback whales. Retrieved from https://oceana.ca/en/marine-life/humpback-whale/
Japanese Beetle. Retrieved from https://inspection.canada.ca/plant-health/invasive-species/insects/japanese-beetle/fact-sheet/eng/1328165101975/1328165185309
Midland Painted Turtle. Retrieved from https://ontarionature.org/programs/community-science/reptile-amphibian-atlas/midland-painted-turtle/
Monarch Butterflies. Retrieved from https://wwf.ca/species/monarch-butterfly/
Mute Swans. Retrieved from https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/migratory-bird-conservation/managing-conflicts/invasive-species-mute-swan.html
Northern Cardinal. Retrieved from https://wildlife-species.canada.ca/bird-status/oiseau-bird-eng.aspx?sY=2014&sL=e&sM=p1&sB=NOCA#:~:text=Primarily%20a%20species%20of%20the,New%20Brunswick%20and%20Nova%20Scotia.
Piping Plovers. Retrieved from https://www.ontario.ca/page/piping-plover
Praying Mantis. Retrieved from https://www.cambridgebutterfly.com/bug-of-the-week-praying-mantis/
Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Retrieved from https://stellwagen.noaa.gov/
Tree Swallows. Retrieved from https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Tree_Swallow/overview
Walking Sticks. Retrieved from https://www.nwf.org/Educational-Resources/Wildlife-Guide/Invertebrates/Walking-Sticks
Warsaw Caves Conservation Area. Retrieved from https://www.destinationontario.com/en-ca/attractions/warsaw-caves-conservation-area#:~:text=The%20Warsaw%20Caves%20are%20a,exploring%20the%20tunnels%20and%20caverns.
White-tailed Deer. Retrieved from https://www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/mammals/white-tailed-deer.html
White Water Lily. Retrieved from https://www.naturewatch.ca/plantwatch/white-water-lily/