Back to the Bill Mason Center

Garter Snake

On Saturday morning I headed out west to Dunrobin again, stopping in at Sarsaparilla Trail first, as usual. I tallied 18 species on my walk, more than I’ve seen there on a single visit so far this year; highlights include Ring-necked Ducks, a pair of Bufflehead, three female Hooded Mergansers, Golden-crowned Kinglets, one Common Grackle, four Purple Finches, four Tree Swallows, and one Eastern Phoebe. Both the Tree Swallows and the phoebe were new for Sarsparilla this year, and both were flycatching over the large pond. I first noticed the phoebe when it landed in the dead tree closest to the observation dock, although it quickly flew off to a more distant snag. Surprisingly, I didn’t see or hear a single sparrow at Sarsaparilla. The juncos seemed to have disappeared and the Swamp Sparrows and White-throated Sparrows haven’t arrived yet.

Quite a few shrubs were just starting to burst into leaf, so I thought I’d take a couple of pictures. It’s great to see everything turning green again!

Spring Buds

I stopped at the pond on March Valley Road at Klondike again to look for the Gadwall. He was still there, but flew off when he saw me. A pair of Killdeer working their way around the edge of the pond was a nice surprise.


I saw two Osprey on my way to Bill Mason, one along Riddell Road and the other at the nest on Thomas Dolan. I didn’t stop to take any pictures but continued on my way to the Bill Mason Center where I saw several robins hopping on the lawns and more grackles in the trees between the parking area and the marsh. Song Sparrows and Swamp Sparrows were singing in the marsh, while overhead a Wilson’s Snipe was winnowing in wide circles. A pair were chasing each other in and out of the vegetation the whole time I was there.

I saw these willows in bloom and stopped to take a picture.

Willow Blossoms

A tree at the back of the marsh was also in bloom, although I’m not sure what it is. It was right near the gazebo where two Eastern Phoebes were busy flycatching. Hopefully they will successfully nest there!

I heard a Ruffed Grouse drumming somewhere close by and followed a side path to see if I could spot him. I wasn’t able to see the grouse, but while I was searching I found two Garter Snakes (my first of the year) rustling through the leaf litter. I saw a couple of hover flies here as well, but couldn’t get close enough to photograph them.

Garter Snake

Garter snakes are not venomous and are thus not dangerous to humans. Indeed, when they encounter humans in the wild their first instinct is to flee rather than attack, so if you’re the type of person who hates snakes, always leave them space to flee. They eat a wide variety of foods including slugs, frogs, toads, leeches, salamanders, tadpoles, rodents, earthworms and insects.  They may also eat birds, fish, and other reptiles on occasion. Because they eat a lot of pests they are beneficial to have around in the garden.

Garter Snake

Another view of the Garter Snake

It was getting warm enough to start seeing butterflies, but the only lepidopterans I had seen thus far were a couple of small moths flying out of the leaf litter as I walked along the trails. I found an interesting side trail and decided to go exploring; here I finally came across a Ruffed Grouse walking along the ground, and I was surprised when he continued walking nonchalantly away instead of taking flight in an explosion of feathers. I noticed this log close by, and the old scat scattered on top of the moss made me wonder if this was a male Ruffed Grouse’s drumming log.

Ruffed Grouse drumming log

Male Ruffed Grouse attract mates and defend their territory by drumming on logs.  They prefer fallen tree trunks that are large, old and moss-covered, with the root structure still attached. Although the log may be solid, rotten or even hollow, it is usually more than twelve inches in diameter to provide enough elevation to allow him to see predators quickly. Grouse also prefer some brush or saplings at one end of the log into which they can escape if predators approach the log. This vegetation may also cover his arrival to and from the log. Favourite drumming logs will usually have a pile of droppings at one end of the log, and the log will show signs of wear in the spot the male uses for his drumming. I didn’t realize this at the time and didn’t think to look for any worn areas.

I made my way to the pond where I saw a single robin hunting on the sand and about 20 Bufflehead swimming on the water.  A number of bullfrogs had come out to sun themselves at the water’s edge; these were my first frogs of the year.



Two Purple Finches were singing in the treetops but I wasn’t able to spot either. I saw several Tiger Beetles scurrying about on the sand.

Tiger Beetle

I didn’t have time to visit the meadow at the back of the trail, so I left after stopping by the pond. I saw a Spring Azure on my way back to the parking lot and saw two Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers. One of the phoebes was willing to pose for me as I passed the gazebo.

Eastern Phoebe

I saw my second butterfly of the morning in the parking lot, a Cabbage White fluttering low to the ground. I was a disappointed that I couldn’t stay out longer and look for some of the commas and elfins that had been reported in the Dunrobin area; it was turning out to be a perfect day to hunt for butterflies!

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