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Nesting Killdeer at South March

In the east part of South March Conservation Forest is a large beaver pond called Heron Pond. At its north shore is some of the most unique geology I've seen in Ottawa: a vast sandstone barren, dotted with short pine trees, and encrusted with a rich variety of mosses, lichens, grasses and wildflowers. It's been said that the plain dates back to the Paleozoic era. I've seen a pair of nighthawks courting above it: the male flying close to the female, then diving straight down and veering up suddenly with a *whoosh* of his wings (you can hear it from a distance.) Nighthawks are a species in decline and considered At Risk in Canada, and I find this rather significant as that part of the forest is not conservation area: it's owned by a developer and could be lost in the future.

Another species I've found breeding on the sandstone plain--though I doubt any conservationists will take interest is this one--is Killdeer! Killdeer are the most successful plovers in North America, and that's because they're so at ease with the changes humans make to the environment. I've seen them in farmland, equestrian parks, on manicured lawns and in parking lots, but this was the first time I'd seen breeding killdeer in an utterly wild, natural environment...and there was something enchanting about that.

Because killdeer nest on open ground, their eggs and young are vulnerable. So they've evolved means to distract predators away from the nest, generally by acting helpless. If the predator thinks it can easily catch the adult, why bother with the young? It's easy to feel like a louse while pursuing a killdeer for a photo: they cry so pitiably. They sound like they're in such deep distress. One tries to remember that the deep distress is an act. Real distress would be if you got close to their nest--and as long as you follow where they lead, that's sure not to happen.

The crown jewel of the repertoire is the famous broken wing display. The parent killdeer sits down, fans its eye-catching orange tail, sticks its wings out at odd angles, and flops around like a poor, pathetic fish out of water.

The sap tapperKing of butterflies


June 4th, 2012 at 8:47 pm
Beautiful shots! I find Killdeer too skittish to photograph in the best of times. You'll have to tell me where this area is. Is there a parking lot and formal trails here?

June 4th, 2012 at 11:52 pm
See my response here. As I mentioned there, I'd be happy to go along with you some day if you find the trail system daunting. I did at first, but there are plenty of trail markers, and between them and the map I've managed not to get lost yet!

June 5th, 2012 at 12:01 am
(I'll be away on vacation the next few weeks, though.)

June 5th, 2012 at 7:46 am
Thanks Suzanne! I didn't see your reply on the other thread (I changed email addresses recently and LJ didn't send the notification to either one. That has now been corrected). I will have to check it out soon. Hopefully we will get some nice weather this weekend!

June 5th, 2012 at 1:09 pm
Very nice catch! It looks kind of bright out there... there isn't much shade on that alvar. Is it sandstone or limestone?

June 5th, 2012 at 1:20 pm
Sandstone is what I've read it is. So it's not technically an alvar, which is limestone plain, but something similar.