Saturday, September 22, 2012

Nature Gazing

Here's a little video I've put together of some of my favourite shots. Share and enjoy as much as you'd like!

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Bald-headed Blue Jay

Well this was another first for me!  I was very concerned when I first saw this bald Blue Jay, but was relieved to discover that the bird is not sick and dying from some strange bird illness.  This bird is most likely bald due to an abnormal molt of all its head feathers all at once.  It is possible for the Blue Jay to have lost its head feathers due to a mite or lice infestation, but most sites that I have visited believe that the bald heads seen on Blue Jays and Northern Cardinals at this time of year are due to their seasonal molt.

It is unusual for birds to molt all their head feathers at once, but staggered regrowth should occur over the next few weeks, bringing in new winter feathers for the cold months ahead and readying the birds for any migratory flying they may be doing.

This particular Blue Jay was found at my friend's cottage up near Gravenhurst, Ontario.  Other than its vulture-like appearance, this Blue Jay seemed healthy, as it repeatedly returned to eat up peanuts that were out for the chipmunks.  It was a very fast flyer, so I apologize for the poor photos. 

This Blue Jay seemed normal and healthy in all other aspects... just missing all its head feathers!

Click to enlarge the photos for a better view

The head feathers should return within a couple of weeks

For more information on the bald Blue Jay, and other bald birds, check out the following links:

Bird Studies Canada:
Project FeederWatch:
The Zen Birdfeeder:
HIlton Pond Center:

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Emerging Cicada

The empty skin, or exuviae, of a cicada clings to the side of a tree
 While camping at Bass Lake Provincial Park the other day, I happened to notice an empty cicada skin clinging to the side of a tree by the beach.  I stopped to snap some shots of the skin, which is called exuviae, and happened to notice that something much more spectacular was occuring on this tree.  As I looked up, was thrilled to see a cicada in the midst of shedding its skin.  And it wasn't just one cicada... there were three cicadas that were all at different stages of metamorphosis!  Needless to say, I was over the moon!  With camera in hand, I captured these cicadas as they emerged from their nymphal skin to begin their new existence as winged adults. 

The cicada is dear to me for a few reasons.  First, their distinctive high pitched song reminds me of when I was a child and how I used to think their buzzing was actually the power surging through the power lines.  Second, the cicada song to me means summer.  When you hear that buzzing, you immediately think of a hot summer day, jumping in a lake and sipping lemonade.  Well at least I do.  Lastly, the cicada was the insect that rekindled my passion for insect identification, for nature and for photography.  This happened about 10 years ago when we found a freshly molted cicada clinging to the tire of our car.  I had never seen a cicada before and was instantly mesmerized.  As a child, I was always fascinated by insects... I had forgotten that part of me as an adult.  Today I embrace it, thanks to one little cicada that happened to cross my path a decade ago. 

Now, I have already written about the cicada in this blog, so I don't really wish to repeat everything again.  If you'd like more info on this amazing creature, check out my January blog from 2010:  Cicadas: One of My Favourite Insects...

Here are some shots of cicadas as they are emerging from their nymphal skins.  Essentially, what is happening is that the cicada has pushed through the back of its shell and then slowly pulls itself out of its skin.  As it slowly wiggles itself loose, it ends up sticking straight out from the tree so that it is parallel with the ground.  When it is finally ready to complete molting, it curls forward and grabs the head of its now empty skin and then pulls its back end out of the casing.  The cicada will then rest there while its wings slowly expand and dry.  When rested enough, the cicada then slowly starts walking up the tree to where it lives its adult life.

I am not sure as to exactly what species these cicada are, but I have an i.d. request in with the experts at

An emerging cicada slowly wiggles its way out of the back of its casing (exuviae). 

Fully emerged, the cicada still clings to its skin (exuviae) to rest and let its wings expand and dry

I used my flash in this shot.

A more cropped in version of the shot from above
This was a different cicada.  It had emerged closer to the ground, which made photographing it a bit easier. Here I was able to take a top down shot, showing the underside of this amazing creature.  The cicada has a pointy needle-like beak used for feeding.  It is used to pierce twigs and branches in order to suck up nutrients.  It is not used to bite people.

  This one's wings are much greener than the previous one.  Its wings have not fully expanded yet.

I feel very fortunate that I was able to witness this incredible transformation.  The cicada, indeed, is one of my favourite insects.  I hope it becomes one of yours too.

For more information on the cicada, check out the following sites:

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Cedar Apple Rust: A Funky Fungus!

During a break at my son's soccer tournament at the Barrie Community Sports Complex on Nursery Road, a friend and I took some time to go for a photo hunt.  My friend Donna used to work at the Wye Marsh in her youth, so knew quite a bit about the plants and flowers that we were finding in a small field.  She pointed out this weird fungus that was growing on a cedar.  It looked like an out of place orange sea urchin that was melting on the branches of the trees.  I had never seen anything like it!  After taking some shots, I researched this funky fungus to find out more.

So this gelatinous, orange tentacled ball of goo turns out to be something called Cedar Apple Rust.  It is caused by a plant pathogen known as Gymnosporangium juniperi-verginianae.  This fungus occurs in any location where apples, crabapples and the Eastern red cedar coexist. It has a very interesting lifecycle, in which the disease starts on the cedar tree, spreads through spores to apple trees, and then the spores from the infected apple tree continue on to infect more cedar trees. 

Here's a diagram form Wikipedia:

File:Cedar apple rust cycle for Wikipedia.jpg

Here are some of the photos I took of this alien looking plant fungus.  You can click on each photo for a bigger and better view!

I love it when I come across something in nature so peculiar!  Some of these galls were a little more gooey than others because of the rain.  One we found was dripping gobs of orange goo onto the ground like spilled jam.  It was kind of gross and fascinating all at the same time! 

There are a lot of websites out there with awesome information about this intruiging pathogen.  Here are a few that I found:

Cornell University:
ON Ministry of Agriculture, Food & Rural Affairs:
The Gardening Life Blog:

Monday, May 7, 2012

Red Admiral Butterfly

The red admiral butterflies have been out in abundance lately.  Here are some of my favourite shots of these beauties....

The red admiral has some distinctive patterning that make them quite easy to identify.  The males and females are similar looking. 

This one looks like it has escaped death a few times.  The tears in the wings are most likely from birds. 

The underside of the red admiral's wings are very intricate.  See how it is holding its wings together over its back while resting... this is one way to determine that it is a butterfly.  The clubbed antennae is another characteristic indicative of a butterfly. 

For fun, I played with my focus a bit to create this abstract. 

Check out the following websites for more info on the red admiral and butterflies in general:

Friday, May 4, 2012


The butterflies were out in abundance yesterday.  I had never seen so many butterflies out all at once!  My neighbour had called me up to her house to photograph all the butterflies in her backyard.  Most of the butterflies were red admirals.  There were also a few question mark butterflies as well.  That is not a question by the way... the butterfly is actually called the question mark!    It seemed a lot of mating was going on... it must be Spring! 

While taking some pictures of a particular red admiral, I noticed that it had a piece of fluff on its leg.  I was actually a little disappointed, as I thought that it would detract from the photo I was attempting to make.  I managed about five shots of it before it flew off, and then continued taking photos of all the other butterflies in the backyard. 

Imagine my surprise (and joy!) when I downloaded my photos to my computer and discovered that the annoying piece of fluff (my over 40 eyes don't see like they used to!) was a fascinating little creature!  I had a pretty good idea as to what it was, so with a little bit of googling I determined that this was a pseudoscorpion! 

I am still researching this little arachnid, but for now, here are the...

Juicy Tidbits
  • Ranges between 2 - 8 mm in length
  • A predacious arachnid with venomous pedipalps to help it subdue its prey
  • Related to the scorpion... harmless to humans and pets
  • Beneficial to humans because they eat many other insects that are thought of as pests.  This includes clothes moth larvae, carpet beetle larvae, ants, small flies, mites and booklice to name a few.  And according to my photo, they perhaps eat butterflies as well
  • They live in leaf litter, under rocks, under bark and within decaying wood
  • They can end up in your home, but are harmless 
  • Are also know as a false scorpion or a book scorpion
Enough talk... let's get to the pics!

A pseudoscorpion hitching a ride on a butterfly's leg.  Click the photo for a larger view

A cropped in version to give better detail of the pseudoscorpion

I am uncertain as to the fate of this butterfly.  Was the pseudoscorpion simply hitching a ride, or has it found itself a scrumptious (and rather large) meal?  If you know have any more information on this fascinating creature, please feel free to comment! 

May 11th update:

According to the good people at, the butterfly will not fall victim to this little beast.  The pseudoscorpion was indeed just hitchin' a ride!  Thanks for the info Ken Wolgemuth

The following websites were used in gathering my information... Check them out for a better understanding of this incredible arachnid!