Wanderer's Eye: Medway Creek Reflections by Aniruddha H D
r e f l e c t i o n s
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods,
There is a rapture on the lonely shore,
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more.
– George Gordon,
Lord Byron, Childe Harold's Pilgrimage
I have been interested in nature since childhood. After getting hold of a camera, I started photographing landscapes and trees.
Slowly, I became interested in the smaller, intricate organisms such as butterflies, and was fortunate to own a digital point-and-shoot
camera. My curiosity started ever increasing as I could photograph more and more tiny flowers and insects, and also birds from far. My
camera goes wherever I go, and it has helped me observe far more than I would without a camera. Whether it is through photography or
videography, learning about nature through lens is more interesting now than ever.
Medway Creek is one of the tributaries of Thames River. It runs a course of 214 km, and drains just after running through the
Medway Heritage Forest – one of the few remaining wooded areas that hide the river from urbanization and agriculture. The Carolinian
forests dominate this riparian zone. These forests are rich in biodiversity, characterized primarily by deciduous, broad-leaf trees. It is
estimated that about 80% of Canada’s Carolinian forests has already been destroyed because of urbanization and intensive agriculture. The
remaining portions, mostly scattered and disconnected, continue to be threatened by human development. The threats are not only due to
direct human-impacts such as deforestation and water-pollution, but due to many anthropogenic activities such as accidental introduction
of invasive species that now dominate many parts of Medway Creek.
On September 7th 2009, I moved to London, Ontario to study at the University of Western Ontario. I lived across Medway Creek,
which opened an array of photographic experiences and an opportunity to study this tiny patch of Carolinian forest. As I move on, away
from this land I have barely known for six months, I regret for I did not explore it enough. I developed a fondness for this piece of land,
that I can't help but wonder if I will ever come back to visit this place. Wanderer’s Eye’s Medway Creek Reflections is looking back and
reflecting on experiences in the season of fall, winter and spring of 2009 and 2010. It is a collection of pictures and observations made on
nature walks at Medway Creek - a backyard, an escapade, a paradise lost amidst concrete forests.
Fall is best known for the brilliant colours of the
trees. These colours are a result of shutting down of
photosynthesis, where the green chlorophyll disappears –
transforming the leaves into myriad shades from yellow to
red as they decay and ultimately fall.
I will discuss my observations over the months of October
and November, when I first discovered this little paradise.
The weather was clear and bright, a mild
breeze swept within the trees, carrying the
leaves with it. The temperature was falling,
and not many animals were seen, except a
few birds and squirrels. I treaded along
Medway Creek watching Downy
Woodpeckers in search of food;
Mourning Doves perched atop a bare tree,
Black-capped Chickadees curiously flying
about me, and American Robins pulling
earthworms from the ground. A male
Northern Cardinal sat quietly across the
creek, who took to the wing as soon as I
pointed my camera at him.
A flock of European Starlings flew over
the creek and disappeared behind the
trees. Although the trees were undergoing
a colourful transformation, the grass was
still green and mushrooms took root over
By evening, the light fell on the canopy,
setting it aglow, and it filtered its way
down – touching the water – relieving the
coolness. The sun bid farewell to this tiny
stretch of woodland, promising warmth
for another day before winter returned.
Coprinus sp. | The Shaggy Ink-cap
It is a common mushroom seen in backyards. The
gills beneath the cap are white, then turn pink,
then turn black and secrete a black liquid filled
with spores – hence the name. It is considered
edible when young, provided it is consumed as
soon as it is collected.
Harmonia axyridis | Multi-coloured Asian Ladybird Beetle
An invasive pest, it was first introduced in the USA in 1916 to control aphid populations. Since then it spread ever farther and reached Canada. It is
now abundant than any native ladybird beetles of Canada. Fall season sees a large invasion of these beetles as they swarm into homes to find suitable
places to hibernate during winter. In nature, these beetles hibernate in tree and rock crevices, but are accidentally attracted to high-rise buildings, in
particular those that are light in colour and look like rock-faced cliffs.
A green patch along the creek, photographed in October
A cold breeze swept across the street and
hushed the rustling leaves in the corner.
Fall neared its end, and the breeze cleared
the way for winter.
The landscape was dry for most part and I
walked on a thick blanket of golden
brown leaves, covering every inch of the
forest floor. The crumbling noise of the
dead leaves, sweet music of the creek, the
chirping of Chickadees and quacking of
the geese was very welcoming. I was
With all the birds maintaining a safe
distance, I was amazed to see a moth
fluttering in a nearby thicket. How long
had it been since I saw a butterfly, or even
a moth, I wondered. As I treaded further,
looking up and down – trying to find
mushrooms and other hidden creatures, I
accidentally scared a few Eastern Gray
Squirrels basking in the autumn sun.
Although the woods were dry and empty
for most part, the banks of the creek were
teeming with tiny herbs and shrubs, some
even flowering – and as I sat down to take
photographs, suddenly a White-tailed
Deer appeared, followed by two fawns.
Aster |Plants belonging to family Asteraceae are strong, and able to withstand cold temperatures. Hence it is not surprising to see them flower
in the season when most plants were drying out.
Alsophila pometaria | Fall Cankerworm Moth
The cankerworms defoliate a variety of hardwood species such as oaks, maples, elms and ash. The adults emerge during fall until December.
Zenaida macroura | Mourning Dove
It is one of the most widespread birds of North America. They almost exclusively feed on seeds; as was this one. It is considered to be a closely related
species of the extinct Passenger Pigeons. It is called a Mourning Dove because of its “cooing” call.
Eastern Gray Squirrel
A common rodent of Medway Creek, it is seen
scurrying on parapets and on top of houses, on
pine trees and oaks. I spent a pleasant time
photographing these woodland creatures.
The binomial name, Sciurus is derived from two
Greek words, skia meaning shadow and oura
meaning tail. This name alludes to the squirrel
sitting in the shadow of its tail.
London, known as the Forest City, was said to be
teeming with squirrels a few decades ago, now
only a fraction of these wander along the suburbs
and remaining wooded areas.
Odocoileus virginianus | White-tailed Deer
The commonest large mammal in Canada. They are timid, and if threatened – they stomp on the ground and flap their tails – to warn other deer of the
danger. London has a healthy population of White-tails, but I saw only a few at Medway Creek – a doe, two fawns and a buck in fall and early spring.
While fall is the season of colours, winter looks best
in its white cloak. The days grow shorter and nights
longer. Life in the woods comes to a pause, or so it
seems. I will discuss my observations over the
months of January and February, when I set out to
discover how still life really is during winter months.
Spring is yet far. The chirping of birds and
chuckling of squirrels has decreased, and the
silence of winter has prevailed. I walk the solemn
streets to school and back home. The snow has
consumed the landscape, so much that I hardly
ever see anything that is green. Then came a week
in January, of something unexplained but loved by
all called the January Thaw.
Exploring Medway Creek wasn’t new to me, but
surprisingly it was – very new, very different. After
walking around the creek, seeing no animals
around – I considered photographing dried plants
– it is an excellent subject to experiment
compositions and monochrome pictures.
The clouds unveiled a deep blue sky as the
temperatures rose above freezing. The sun
shone brightly, melting snow away. The
air felt warm for once. I went to explore
Medway Creek again, which always
amuses me. This tiny woodland is so
small, I thought I had explored most of its
winter avatar, but I was wrong.
On this warm winter day, I wandered into
the wilderness where I stumbled upon
little interesting things, such as this tiny
plant buried in snow. It either happens
because the plants, being darker, absorb
sunlight and thus warm up a little, leading
to snowmelt along its circumference.
Another explanation is that some bacteria
on the surface of plants serve as centers
for ice nucleation, while some harbor ice
minus bacteria that are protected from
being frozen over, leading to the
There were many Stoneflies on the snow
as well – an indicator that the water
quality of Medway Creek is excellent.
Photographed in February, compare with image on page 10
Small Winter Stonefly – Female
Stoneflies are known to be excellent fish food; therefore seeing so many at Medway Creek was a good sign that there is food in the water. Their presence
is also, more importantly, a good indicator of the health of the ecosystem, indicating good oxygen rich waters.
Winter Cutworm caterpillar
I did not expect to see a caterpillar in the dead of
the winter. I assumed it to be dead and
mummified by the cold. I took a few photographs
and continued on my walk. I visited the caterpillar
again, and was amazed to see it had vanished –
probably it became the supper of a Chickadee I
saw feeding around the area earlier. After looking
around a bit – I saw it three feet from where it
earlier was. It was alive and crawling on snow!
Cutworms are so called because they feed at the
base of the plants. Winter Cutworms can tolerate
cold temperatures. They are considered a serious
pest, thus a threat to the native biodiversity.
It is native to Europe, first found in Nova Scotia
in 1979, and thence spread to Ontario. The
caterpillar feeds on a range of plants such as
beets, cabbage, carrot, grapes and strawberries.
Tetragnatha sp. | Long-jawed Orb Weaver
A spider in winter was my most cherished find. After a quick search on the internet, I came across many resources on a variety of spiders that are
active during winter. It is a Tetragnathid spider, commonly seen in all seasons at Medway Creek.
Cepaea nemoralis | Brown-lipped Snail
A native of Europe, it was first found in North America in 1857. It has been a common sight in southern Ontario, being abundant in gardens and wild
Picoides pubescens | Downy Woodpecker, male
It is the smallest woodpecker of North America. They are restless, often seen fluttering from one tree trunk to another. They were seen feeding on
gall-insects and other hibernating bugs. These are amongst the few winter residents of Medway Creek.
Spring defines rebirth and regeneration, as
seemingly dead plants sprout back to life,
hibernating animals leave their hibernacula to soak
up the sun, and the migrant birds return to their
homeland. I had many revelations about Medway
Creek in March and April than any other months.
Spring is when you feel like whistling even with a
shoe full of slush, said Dough Larson, a columnist
in Wisconsin-based newspapers. After four
months of waiting and staring eagerly at the last
snowstorm, the weather changed its course within
a few days. The temperatures rose about 10C after
what seemed like an eternity and the snow started
to melt. This snowmelt gave Medway Creek a
fearsome flow; the water levels increased
dramatically – a makeover to the slow, clear water
than once flowed calmly beneath the ice. Spring is
here, but the trees are yet to reincarnate in shades
of green. However, the warmer weather did attract
some creatures I’d like to call the harbingers of
Spring is not only a climatic transformation, but
many biological changes take place. Life blooms.
The air is filled with songs of birds. American
Robins and Cedar Waxwings return from their
wintering grounds. Northern Cardinals and Song
Sparrows start to sing and Canada Geese and
Mallards prepare to nest.
A variety of Dipterans, commonly called flies –
more specifically Midges and Gnats, lay eggs early
in the season on Goldenrod plants. These grubs
develop inside the stem, and create a bulbous
growth, which is called gall. The Goldenrod Galls
are very common throughout the creek.
These grubs, albeit their protective gall, fall prey
to Downy Woodpeckers and Black Capped
Chickadees, who have learnt how to drill a hole in
the gall and eat the grub. The one photographed
was probably consumed by a bird.
If you look closer at the tiny fauna, the
commonest to be seen early in spring are the
midges. These very many flies are commonly seen
mating along the shoreline.
The adult Midges look similar to a mosquito, but
are not mosquitoes, nor belong to the same
Family. The photographed adult probably
metamorphosed from an aquatic larva or a gall-
making larva. These adults have a short lifespan,
since their only purpose is to mate and carry on
False Honey Ant/ Winter Ant
An interesting sight was that of an ant that barely
managed to walk on melting snow. It is a Queen
ant, having shed the wings, now searching for a
place to establish a colony.
It is the only ant to be seen scampering on the
forest floor early in spring in southern Ontario,
hence commonly called as Winter Ant. The
Queens and Drones hibernate underground
during winter months and awake as soon as
temperatures rise. I also happened to see a many
mating pairs a few days after this ant was
Tetragnatha sp. | Long-jawed Orb Weaver
These spiders are abundant all along the shoreline, building orb-webs on dried plants. They quickly swing to the nearest plant if threatened, as did this
one photographed on a dried inflorescence – now well camouflaged and hidden from prying eyes.
Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
Eastern Garter Snake
Just as I walked through the thickets, something stirred
in the undergrowth. I saw a slender body slither in a
hurry – it’s a snake! I yelled to myself. The snake froze
for a moment – as did I – raised its head and looked at
me intensely. This was the first time I photographed a
snake in Canada.
Garter Snakes were high on my wish-list of Canadian
wildlife and early spring was the best season to observe
them as they leave their hibernacula with warming
climate. March is the season of reproduction, when the
early birds – males – bask in the sun in order to gear up
for chasing the first female that leaves the hibernacula.
Branta canadensis | Canada Goose
Although Canada geese are resident throughout the year in London, I saw more and more returning to Medway Creek as soon as the snow melted.
This is one of a pair that stood patiently over an outcropped boulder in the creek.
A pair of Red-bellied Woodpeckers came and settled
on a bare tree. The male chased the female, who flew
off, and then the former perched high on the tree and
began calling on top of its voice. They inhabit
deciduous Carolinian forests; hence seeing them is not
uncommon. They probably flew south for the winter –
and are now back again.
Cedar Waxwings are known for their nomadic,
irruptive behaviour. They are wanderers, constantly in
search of a new food source. These Medway Creek
visitors probably came from south, were seen feeding
on Stoneflies, and will probably go northwards still,
depending upon their will.
They were as curious of me as I was of them, and a few
even decided to come very close to me and stare with
their inquisitive eye.
Tamias striatus | Eastern Chipmunk
Member of Sciuridae, the Squirrel family, Chipmunks in general build an extensive network of tunnels and chambers – preferring to stay close to the
ground, but are capable of climbing way up in the trees if frightened. There are several Chipmunks all along the creek, but observing them is difficult.
They are more commonly heard scampering through thickets, making joyful sounds as they play together.
No more salty shores. No more snow blowing in
your eyes. No more slippery roads. The days are
longer and nights shorter. The air is warm and
humid. The winds of change have arrived. And
with these winds come all the residents of Medway
Creek. I spent quite sometime in the woods during
April, observing and studying as much as I could.
I was able to photograph most of what I saw, but
capturing the subtle scent of spring is impossible.
It is like metamorphosis, where after four months
of inactivity, life ecloses as plants start to bloom
and bees begin to buzz.
I am glad I managed to explore this avatar of the
creek before I left London. It has only been six
months since I discovered this little paradise
known only to a handful of people who jog
through the woods or walk their dogs.
I had some expectations on wildlife sightings from
this land, of which I did see a few. I also saw many
birds I wanted to see. I fulfilled my dream of
photographing the famous Garter Snakes of
North America. It was wonderful to see how the
biodiversity rose from a few sightings in winter to
several new ones a day during spring. This burst of
life is something I became engaged in, that I will
surely miss at Medway Creek – the first Canadian
wilderness I ever explored.
Sanguinaria canadensis | Bloodroot
It was the first flower-of-the-season I saw. It is commonly called Bloodroot since the root has a red coloured pigment that oozes out when the root is
crushed. Within a few weeks after photographing it, the flowers were shed and the seeds formed. It is one of the plants whose seeds are dispersed by
ants, a process called myrmecochory. The seeds have a fleshy part called an elaiosome that attracts ants. The ants take the seeds to their nest where
they eat the elaiosomes and forget the seeds, where they are protected until they germinate.
Tussilage farfara | Clotsfoot
It is a perennial herbaceous plant, medicinally used as a cough suppressant. These flowers also appear early in spring and vanish within days. The leaves
appear later in the season.
I first assumed it to be a parasitic plant, because it
lacked any leafy structures, and the inflorescence
seemed different than any green plants. It is in fact the
most curious looking plant. Although common in
moist woods, ditches and wetlands, the diversity of
Sphenophyta is very low, with only one genus
Equisetum, and fifteen species distributed worldwide.
These plants have changed little over time. It is the only
genus of plants that uses Silicon for cell-wall
Common Blue Violet
Little violet flowers of Viola were spread across the
paths and deep in the woods. It is a perennial plant
native to eastern North America. It is the most
widespread of all Violets. The flowers and leaves are
edible – a good source of food in the woods!
Formica podzolica | Formica Ant
These ants were seen in the open forest with a few boulders around. They were out investigating a crushed fellow worker and their alertness to
disturbance around the murder scene was apparent from my being too close to them. This species of Formica builds nests on ground, but explore tall
plants to tend to aphids.
Andrena sp. | Miner Bee
These small bees burrow in the ground – creating multiple tunnel systems – hence the common name. It is an important ecological service provider
for the flora of the Creek, and this land provides an ideal habitat for it to mine, collect pollen and pollinate.
This Bee decided to rest over the flower instead of collecting pollen. Leaf-cutting Bee is one of the largest genera of bees. They, like Miner Bees – to
whom they are closely related – also build underground nests or nest in natural cavities.
Water Striders were one of the first few insects to be seen as soon as the creek melted and created little pools. It is a true bug in the family Gerridae that
is adapted to life on the surface of the water. They are predatory, feeding on other insects and tadpoles.
A little flower-visitor was seen resting on a dry plant on
a windy evening. It was a Hoverfly. By now many flies
– other than Midges – were out, such as this one. Their
time of eclosion is matched with the first flowers that
bloom in spring – not only because they need the
nectar to feed on, but the hidden agenda of Nature is,
in fact, to carry on the process of reproduction – as
these early flies (and bees) help plants pollinate, thereby
assuring the survival of plants for the next spring
Hoverflies belong to family Syrphidae. The males are
territorial, and keep hovering over their accomplished
territories to impress the females. There were several
species of Hoverflies and Beeflies along the creek.
Coccinella septempunctata | Seven-spotted Ladybug
It is the only Ladybird beetle I saw that was not Asian Ladybird beetle. It was accidentally introduced to North America from Europe.
Cicindela sexguttata | Three-spotted Tiger Beetle
It is the early riser of the Tiger Beetles to greet the warming season. It is also the most common Tiger Beetle seen around the creek. They prefer a forest
path clear of leaf litter than a forest floor. This helps them run around chasing their prey easily. They were seen basking in the sun and feeding on ants.
Malacosoma americanum |Eastern Tent Caterpillar
These social caterpillars belong to a moth in the genus Malacosama. They build conspicuous silk tents on host trees, hence the name. The caterpillars
hatch early in spring and build tents soon after they eclose. The position of the tent faces the early morning sun, so that the caterpillars can easily
regulate their body temperatures by basking.
One of the little fellows I met on the forest floor was a Millipede, as it hurried down a boulder amidst an ocean of leaves – a place that is the ideal
habitat for these organisms. It was probably basking in the open when I found it.
Red Velvet Mite
I came across this little velvet mite along the forest path. They are common during spring, as they come out on the surface to hunt. Their brilliant red
colouration is due to high levels of carotene. The adults, being active hunters, are beneficial to the environment as they feed on insects that feed on
fungi. The nymphs are parasitic on other invertebrates as well as vertebrates.
Wolf Spiders, of the family Lycosidae, were common all around the creek. They are quick, active hunters. They have evolved to hunt the forest floor,
with two large eyes that can see very well. In addition, there are four eyes in a row just below the two large eyes, and two more looking to left and right
of the head. Although small, they are efficient predators of the undergrowth.
I mentioned this spider twice already, once during fall and once in winter. Spring saw large Tetragnathids around the creek. They are probably different
species or the same in a different period of growth. The size of this spider was well over an inch, enabling to look at the eye pattern of this orb-weaver.
Spider eye-patterns are unique to each family, aiding in their identification up to family level.
Thamnophis sirtalis sirtalis
Eastern Garter Snake
This little snake is Toby Garter. I followed Toby for
several hours one day, photographing and filming his
behaviour. It was quite entertaining and a great way to
observe the snake. During the time of filming, I and
Toby came across several other male snakes, which did
not care much about one another. But one snake
changed their behaviour – it was probably male,
mimicking female pheromones, or an actual female.
Their behaviour, as has been documented amongst
Garter Snakes, was erratic and quick, with jerky
movements and constant tongue flicking. Toby and the
other “rival” of his were racing to find the scented lady
snake. Their search however failed, and I saw Toby
disappear in the wood debris along the creek,
continuing his search.
There are some birds that have adapted to live in urban
areas as well as forests. This cosmopolitan bird is what
I’d call an ideal example of adaptation – which is not
very urbanized, like House Sparrows, neither restricted
to the woodlands.
American Robins were present until late fall, and
migrated with the onset of winter. They were the first
birds to dig earthworms after the rains. They are known
to come back to places that has a steady supply of food,
hence seeing them back at the creek in spring was a
sign that there is food for the adults and the chicks that
will hatch in early summer at Medway Creek.
A dull brown female and a dark, brown headed male
sat preening on a tree. There was a small noisy flock of
these birds visiting the creek. The females, instead of
building nests, put all their energy into producing eggs,
sometimes more than three dozen a summer. The eggs
are laid in nests of other birds, abandoning the young
to foster parents.
These New World blackbirds flock in thousands during
fall for migration, and return in spring. Presence of this
bird – although parasitic – shows how the delicate
equilibrium of populations is maintained. It proves that
it is not only the predator – prey relationship that ought
to be balanced to maintain an ecosystem, but
parasitism, commensalism and social behaviour plays
an equally important role.
A lonely Mourning Dove sat patiently on a stormy
evening. I observed these birds to be very wary in
wooded areas, although they were easy to approach in
the suburbs. This interesting behaviour was probably
learnt early in their lives to respond to humans, since a
forest bird wild seldom encounter a human, whereas a
city bird will always encounter a human. What I wonder
is, will us humans as a species, with the “urban” habitat
that we have created affect the evolution of these birds
– in other words, will we lead a species to evolve into
different subspecies in the following millennia, as has
happened with some species that have evolved into
different subspecies because of different habitats.
Northern Flicker/Yellow-shafted Flicker
On one of the walks, I came across a male Flicker.
Thence I often saw this male and a female around the
creek. The most interesting behaviour of this
woodpecker is called anting, for which they use the acid
from the ants to assist in preening. It also keeps them
free of parasites.
Anas platyrhynchos |Mallard Duck – Drake
Photographing Mallard Ducks at Medway Creek seemed impossible, since they are very wary of humans. I finally managed to photograph this drake
while he was preening himself in the evening sun. Duck Banding is carried out to keep records of the birds all across North America.
The birds that soar high in the sky, apart from Red-
tailed Hawks, are Turkey Vultures. I last saw them in
fall, then they disappeared in winter, and were back
again in spring. Vultures are also indicators of the
health of a habitat; however these vultures seem to
hover more commonly over highways than over
forests. The reason is roadkills. The vultures have learnt
that they are bound to find food near highways than in
forests. This questions the fact that if vultures indicate
health of the ecosystem (which they certainly do in
remote parts of the world), can they be used as
indicators to monitor roadkills occurring on certain
highways? There are many factors to be considered, but
they sure are a sign that something died on the highway
near Medway Creek.
These are but the fraction of sightings that I could photograph. I
missed many, and many I did not see at all. What I did see was
the diversity a little ecosystem without corridors holds. Medway
Valley Heritage Forest might be another little park in a big city,
but it’s not the size of the parks that really matters. It is the
number of the people that visit the parks. It is a
gateway for many people young and old to
discover a new hobby, to realize the nature’s
bounty, which is not to be taken, but shared
in the form of art, music, love, education and
awareness. These little parks hold the key to
sensitize people on how important the wilderness
is to us humans as it is to the animals. Let’s not live
in ignorance of our four walls, let’s break the chains
that lock your minds and explore. See. Observe. And
you will realize that we must do something for nature as
we do for our community, just as a bee that provides food
for the grubs also pollinates the plants at the
same time, or a spider that predates on
a pest. Let’s conserve our heritage
forests. Let’s protect ourselves by protecting the
Appendix |Medway Creek Forest Area map, courtesy of Google Maps
The map shows the extent of Medway Creek forest, to the east is the University of Western Ontario. More than half of the forested area
is the Medway Valley Heritage Forest, maintained by the Upper Thames River Conservation Authority.
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