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Science & NatureWhat is That?What Is That … Surprising Pair?

What Is That … Surprising Pair?


Many of the animals we enjoy seeing at our cottage on White Lake live solitary lives, except during breeding season and/or when raising families.  We have been fortunate to observe periodically some of these typically solitary animals near others of their species.  It is not clear if these occurrences are just coincidental or if there is a purpose or benefit derived from this.  Usually, animals lead a solitary existence to reduce competition among individuals, to reduce the spread of contagious disease, or make it harder for predators to kill off all the members of a species in an area.  Not being scientists, we guess we many never know for certain.

Gray tree frogs spend much of their time in trees or shrubs where they feed on insects or, because they are cold-blooded amphibians, bask in the warm sun.  Adults grow to be the largest of the five species of tree frogs found in Ontario, up to 6 centimeters.  Young finger nail-sized grey tree frogs are green in colour with grey margins and can be found in shrubs starting in July.  The mottled gray colour of the adult develops in the fall as individuals mature.  These two juveniles were spotted sitting on adjacent basswood leaves.

The painted turtle is a member of the pond and marsh turtle family.  The midland painted turtle is common around White Lake and throughout eastern and southern Ontario.  Adults’ shells can grow to 15 centimeters in length with the females being larger than males.  These cold-blooded members of the reptile family can often be seen out of the water basking in warming sunshine on logs or rocks.   Occasionally, we see groups of painted turtles basking on logs but we thought this picture of two peering over the top of a log was interesting.

One of our field guides describes the red-eyed vireo as “usually solitary.”  This average-sized member of the shrike and vireo family can grow to 15 centimeters in length.  They are common and found throughout the broad-leafed tree forests around White Lake.   Red-eyed vireos feed on insects, larvae, and berries, usually in the mid to upper levels of trees.  Fortunately, this pair of females was photographed while feeding on berries in a low-level shrub.

The hairy woodpecker is much less common around our cottage than its smaller relative the similar-looking downy woodpecker.  Our field guide notes “woodpeckers are mostly solitary”.  Adult hairy woodpeckers can grow to 23 centimeters in length.  They use their chisel-like beak to peel bark or excavate holes in trees in search of wood-boring insects.  These two females briefly shared the trunk of a dead tree while searching for breakfast.

The common merganser is the largest member of the family of diving ducks.  Adults grow to 64 centimeters in length.  Our field guide indicates they are common on deep clear lakes where they dive under water in search of small fish.  Common mergansers may gather in small groups while overwintering in the south.  Fortunately for us, this summer two females spent a brief period swimming around together on our relatively shallow clear lake.

Whatever the reason for such temporary pairs, this occurrence makes it twice as easy for the observer to spot and photograph these otherwise solitary animals.  Do not become confused and worried that your eyes have crossed or you have developed double vision, … just enjoy the sightings.

We relied on two sources in preparing this article: Ross D. MacCulloch’s The ROM Field Guide to Amphibians and Reptiles of Ontario; and, David Allen Sibley’s Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America.




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