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Science & NatureWhat is That?What Is That … Early Splash of Red?

What Is That … Early Splash of Red?

Waddells

Winter is rapidly disappearing and we are looking forward to an early start to cottage season on White Lake.  We are anticipating exciting sightings to be enjoyed in early May.  Some of the most eye-catching early sightings include splashes of reddish colours.  The early splashes we talk about in this article include a flower, a damselfly, a turtle, two birds, and a mammal.

Wild columbine is a member of the buttercup family.  These perennial plants produce showy red flowers from April to July.  The sturdy plants can grow to a height of 70 centimeters and are found on dry roadside shoulders as well as in moist woodlands.  We even have some growing in the cracks of the large erratics scattered around our property.  The sweet nectar at the base of the long tube-shaped flowers attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, and other long-tongued insects.

Young female eastern forktail damselflies are reddish-brown with black markings.  This colouring changes to dark grey or greyish-blue with bright green eyes as females mature.  These damselflies grow to 33 millimeters in length.  Our field guides indicate late May/early June to September as their flight period.  This picture was taken in late May three years ago.

The painted turtle is the most widespread species of turtle in Ontario.  Newly-hatched painted turtles usually spend the winter underground in the nest where they hatched in the fall.  Juvenile turtles emerge the following spring, as did this one which was photographed in early May last year.  The plastron or lower shell of the juvenile is reddish yellow becoming mostly yellow as the turtle matures.  This juvenile was about three centimeters long.  Adults can grow to 15 centimeters.

The American redstart is a member of the warbler family.  The males have vivid reddish-orange markings set off by their dark head and back.  These insectivores return as soon as food supplies are available in early May and nest from May to July.  We have seen American redstarts every year since we first identified one in 2021.  Adults can grow to 13 centimeters in length and both the female and male raise the young chicks.

Male rose-breasted grosbeaks sport a distinctive rose-red triangle on their breast, immediately below their beak.  They return to our cottage in early May, signaling the peak of spring songbird migration, and nest from May to July.  These birds can grow to 20 centimeters in length.  Rose-breasted grosbeaks are one of the largest birds that visit our small sunflower seedball feeder at the cottage.  They eat insects, fruit, and buds as well as seeds.

The red fox is the smallest member of the dog family we see around our cottage.  Adults grow to 110 centimeters in length, including their long, bushy reddish-orange tail which, itself, can be as much as 45 centimeters in length.  While the red fox is a year-round resident, we see them most frequently in May.  This may be partly because, while they are mostly nocturnal hunters, the male extends its hunting into the early morning as it searches for enough small mammals and birds to take back to the den to feed the nursing female and her kits.

Our winter-weary eyes look forward to these reddish splashes of colour.  They are a pleasant way to start our time at our cottage on White Lake.  They help to renew our observational and photography skills which can become “rusty” over the winter.

We relied on the following field guides to research and prepare this article: Timothy Dickinson, Deborah Metsger, Jenny Bull and Richard Dickinson’s The ROM Fild Guide to Wildflowers of Ontario; Colin D. Jones, Andrea Kingsley, Peter Burke and Matt Holder’s Field Guide to the Dragonflies and Damselflies of Algonquin Provincial Park and the Surrounding Area; Ross D. MacCulloch’s The ROM field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario; David M. Bird’s Birds of Eastern Canada; and Tamara Eder’s Mammals of Ontario.

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