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Field Naturalists talk: ‘World Heritage Sites in Canada’

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Glenn Eastman — obituary

EASTMAN, D. Glenn 1934-2024 On Friday, April 12, 2024,...

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Science & NatureWhat is That?What Is That … Staring At Us?

What Is That … Staring At Us?


In addition to just being fun to do, we find taking pictures of beasties at the cottage helpful in confirming identification of the species we see.  For best results we try to photograph distinguishing characteristics, often profile shots of the entire beastie.  Quite often while trying to obtain such images, the subjects decide they don’t appreciate our attention and leave the scene, resulting in some back-end shots.  However, on occasion we have opportunities to photograph creatures when they are looking straight at us.  While these photos generally are not of much help in identifying the beastie, they sometimes produce interesting images.  Following are some of the more interesting pictures we have taken in those brief moments when the beastie was staring at us, before it left or returned to what it was doing before we discovered them.

We looked at several ‘American’ visitors at White Lake in our last article.  One such visitor that we did not cover was the American bull frog.  One obvious feature of this species, and all other members of the true frog family, is the large bulbous eyes positioned at the top of these amphibians’ heads.  This positioning, along with nostrils placed high on the frog’s head, allows the bullfrog to float mostly submerged while being able to breath and have full vision above the water.  The posture allows frogs to hunt actively for prey, including insects, aquatic invertebrates and other frogs, while reducing their exposure to flying bird and land-based mammal predators.  The American bullfrog is the largest of the six species of true frog found in Ontario.  This individual was photographed after emerging on the beach at the cottage to hunt mosquitoes and other flying insects – go frog go!

Towards the end of May, and early June, we encounter numerous snapping turtles along the side of our cottage road, where they dig nests in the granular materials to lay their eggs.  While snapping turtles are the largest and one of the most common turtle species in Ontario, we see them infrequently as they spend most of their time in and under the water walking along the bottom feeding on aquatic carrion and vegetation.  One of the few times we see adult turtles on land is during egg-laying season.  This individual was observed half-buried in the nest she excavated at the side of our cottage road.  On first glance it appeared she was staring at us, but on second thought, she was likely gazing into space as she concentrated on laying her (up to) 40 eggs.

The next image may look like a long stick with two round dots near the top, but it is a great blue heron staring from the shore.  The great blue heron is the largest member of the bittern and heron family found in Ontario.  All members of this family have relatively long legs, long necks and straight, dagger-like bills which they use to capture aquatic prey in quick strikes while wading along the water’s edge.  The great blue heron feeds on fish, reptiles, amphibians, crustaceans and aquatic insects.  This adult was, as is typical around White Lake, seen hunting alone.  We were fortunate to get a picture of this startled individual as we paddled by in our kayak before it flew off making its characteristic harsh squawking noise.  Perhaps this is a kayaking variation of ‘deer caught in the headlights’!

Another, much smaller, bird that can have a big stare is the chipping sparrow.  Most numerous of the sparrow species around our cottage, they seem to be continuously on the move as they chase about on the ground, in shrubs, and flying after insects.  We were fortunate to photograph this individual while it took a brief break from foraging for food along the side of the road near the cottage.

The final photograph is of a rodent, a member of the squirrel family.  The Eastern chipmunk is abundant at the cottage and can usually be seen throughout the daylight hours scampering about collecting seeds, berries, nuts and mushrooms which it packs into its cheek pouches to carry off for storage in its underground dens.   The chipmunk is identifiable by the black and pale stripes running along its back from its head to its tail.  Unfortunately, the stripes are not visible in this head-on photograph.  While we do not feed the chipmunks at the cottage, this individual stopped its harvesting activities long enough to try and coax some food from us, allowing us to capture this head-on image.

We sometimes wonder how strange we must appear to our cottage wildlife since they see us staring at them through one large eye, our camera lens.  Could this explain, in part, why so often our cottage beasties take just one brief look at us and then hastily depart?


Should you be interested in further information on the above beasties we would recommend: Ross D. MacCulloch’s The ROM Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario; Jeffrey C. Domm’s Lorimier Field Guide to 225 Ontario Birds; and, Tamara Eder’s Mammals of Ontario.




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