Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Dune Stinkhorn Phallus hadriani

Stinkhorns are a family of mushrooms known for their unpleasant odour. The fetid smell from the liquid spores attracts insects, especially flies. The insects benefit the fungus by dispersing the spores.
This Dune Stinkhorn was brought into the Ojibway Nature Centre to be identified.  The violet-coloured egg is a characteristic of this species and is commonly found in residential gardens or lawns.  These particular stinkhorns were growing abundantly on someone's front lawn.

Dune Stinkhorn Phallus hadriani

Egg from the Dune Stinkhorn

A bisected Dune Stinkhorn egg (Phallus hadriani) revealing the developing fruit.

All photographs copyright Tom Preney 2010

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Saw-whet Owl Banding

For several years I have been attending Saw-whet Owl Banding demonstrations at Holiday Beach Conservation Area.  This gave me the opportunity to learn more about this secretive species and gain some hands-on experience handling and banding Ontario's smallest owl.  The fall migration of the Saw-whet Owl is from September to December; during this time, it's mainly the juvenile birds moving south for the winter.  Banding these birds will help researchers to better understand the migration and distribution of the species.

Northern Saw-whet Owl 

My wife Sarah getting acquainted with one of the little "furbies.''

The banding station and equipment.

After the owl is retrieved from the mist net a band is crimped around the leg of the bird.  This is the most important part so it is done first. All banders do things a little bit differently, but this is a sure way not to forget to put the band on before releasing the bird. It seems silly, but when you're banding many birds until the early hours of the morning it's easy to do. Owls are nocturnal and are active when we're used to sleeping; lots of coffee is essential on these long nights.

Two measurements are taken--wing and tail length. The "wing chord" is measured from the bend in the wing to the end of the longest primary feather. These measurements, along with the weight of the bird, will determine the sex of the individual.  The females are larger than the males which is typical in most raptor species. 

The owl in the photo weighs 79.4 grams, which is close to the average weight of most male Saw-whet Owls.  Females average 92 grams. Owls are placed upside down in a cylindrical container for weighing.  Surprisingly, they don't freak out during this process; probably because it throws off their equilibrium. 

The last thing we do before releasing the bird is determine its age. The wing is extended and placed under an ultraviolet light. Something extremely fascinating is that the fresh feathers fluoresce pink under the light. Determining molt pattern and feather wear is how the birds are aged.  The bird in the photo below is a hatch year bird--notice how all of the feathers are glowing pink.  If it was after hatch year, not all of the primary feathers would fluoresce.

Owls have an acute sense of hearing; it may be even more developed then their eyesight.  Owls rely on their superb hearing to locate prey in pure darkness. Something that was new to me is the size of the ear openings on the side of their head (note the back of the eyeball inside the opening, cool!) The ears of an owl are asymmetrical, which allows them to pin-point locations of the sound with ease. 

Northern Saw-whet Owl (Ontario's smallest owl)

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Butterfly Watching

Butterflies are fascinating insects, which come in a variety of colours, shapes and sizes. Butterfly watching can be just as exciting and rewarding as bird watching; finding new species, discovering a rarity or just observing their natural beauty. In fact many “birders” will substitute bird watching for butterflies in the summer months because most of the birds are nesting and the leaves on the trees make it very difficult to view the birds. If you’re interested in getting started you’ll need two pieces of equipment, binoculars (preferably ones with close focus) and a good field guide to the butterflies of  your region. The two guides I use are, Peterson Guide to the Butterflies of Eastern North America and my favourite, Butterflies Through Binoculars. Generally all of the species that you’ll encounter can be properly identified through binoculars, just remember to bring your camera because you never know what you might discover! 

Spicebush Swallowtail (Papilio troilus)

Black Swallowtail (Papilio polyxenes)

Giant Swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) 

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail (Papilio glaucus) 



Viceroy (Limenitis archippus)

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) 

Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos)

Northern Crescent (Phyciodes selenis)

American Copper (Lycaena phlaeas)

Summer Azure (Celastrina ladon neglecta)

Eastern Tailed-Blue (Everes comyntas)

Copulating (female below)

Hickory Hairstreak (Satyrium caryaevorum)

Acadian Hairstreak (Satyrium acadica)

Least Skipper (Ancyloxypha numitor)

Northern Broken Dash (Wallengrenia egeremet)

Crossline Skipper (Polites themistocles)

Peck's Skipper (Polites peckius) 

Silver-spotted Skipper (Epargyreus clarus) 

Juvenal's Duskywing (Erynnis juvenalis)

Wild Indigo Duskywing (Erynnis baptisiae) 

Great Spangled Fritillary 

Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa)

Cabbage White (Pieris rapae)

Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta)

Common Buckeye (Junonia coenia)

Painted Lady (Vanessa cardui)

Common Wood-Nymph (Cercyonis pegala)

Monday, May 24, 2010


I've been wanting to eat morels for a long time, but usually when I find them, I either find too few or more than I'm prepared to collect. This spring I brought a couple home to try; a lot of people had told me how delicious they are so I wanted to see what I was missing out on.  I found a recipe on the internet and my wife and I cooked them and we were both blown away by the flavour of these mushrooms!  I'll definitely not pass another morel without picking it--they're just too good.  

Morels are easily identified, which make them a choice edible. 

The recipe I used was simple.  First clean the mushrooms, making sure all the sand and bugs are gone. For some reason, wood louse (potato bugs) love to hide inside the hollow stems.  After a good wash,  soak the mushrooms in a bowl of salt water overnight to kill any unwanted visitors that cannot be seen with the naked eye.  The following day, make sure to rinse the mushrooms one last time before you cook them.  Heat a medium frying pan with a half inch of vegetable oil.  Dip the morel into an egg, roll it in bread crumbs (I like using cajun Fish Crisp) and place it into the pan.  Cook until golden brown; this only takes a few minutes.  There are many awesome recipes that I have found online, but now that morel season is done I'll have to wait until next year to try them.