A New Mammal at Hurdman

The following Tuesday was a beautiful day, so I spent my lunch hour at Hurdman Park looking for something to interest me. I heard a Common Yellowthroat singing in the field, a species which I hadn’t observed yet this year in this location; other than that, only the regular breeding birds were around. Dragonflies seen include Common Green Darner and Common Whitetail, while the most common damselflies were Powdered Dancer and Eastern Forktail. I didn’t get any dragonfly photos that day. Butterflies, on the other hand, were more plentiful, and I found several species; I even managed to take a few photos.

Skippers are emerging now, and I found a Hobomok Skipper and a couple of cooperative Least Skippers. As its name suggests, these are the smallest skippers in Ottawa and are bright orange below:

Least Skipper

Less common are the Eastern-Tailed Blues, which have nonetheless established a population in Hurdman Park. I came across an old copy of Trail & Landscape, the OFNC’s quarterly publication, in which Ross Layberry discusses changes to the butterfly checklist since 1982 (Volume 41, Number 1, page 16; the January – March 2007 edition). In it Ross calls the Eastern-Tailed Blue the real “success story” of the last 25 years. Until 1998, this butterfly had been known a very rare stray which occasionally showed up in Ottawa in small numbers. In 1999, several populations were discovered which were large enough to form breeding colonies. While no Eastern-Tailed Blues were discovered in these locations in 2000, small colonies were discovered in the exact same locations for the next three years, proving that these butterflies were successfully overwintering in our district and producing new generations. Since then this species has become more and more widespread, producing three and possibly four generations a year. They can be found from May to late September or early October at Hurdman and in other established locations.

Eastern-Tailed Blue

I also found a single Silvery Blue, another member of the gossamer-winged butterflies which is larger than the Eastern-Tailed Blue, as well as several Common Ringlets and Little Wood Satyrs.

The next interesting insect I discovered was a may fly (or shad fly) resting on the trunk of a tree. These short-lived insects have become very abundant lately, and, for some reason, they keep landing on me! Adults do not eat (they have no working mouth parts) and live only long enough to reproduce.

May Fly

From there I took a short path down to the river to look for waterfowl and dragonflies. The nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) was in bloom, a naturalized woody vine with pretty purple flowers found along fence-rows, among shrubbery, and at wood edges across most of southern Canada. Most people know that Nightshade is poisonous. The green immature fruits of this plant are known to have caused poisoning in cattle and sheep. However, according to recent experiments, the mature red berries contain only a small amount of toxin and cause little harm. This doesn’t mean I’d recommend eating the berries from this plant, though! [From the Government of Canada’s website.]

Climbing Nightshade

I scanned the river and was taken aback when I realized what I assumed was a floating stick was actually a mammal swimming across the river. It was too thin to be a muskrat, which I had seen in the same spot a couple of days ago, and it had a bushy tail…it had to be a mink! I watched it move farther and farther away, fascinated by its Lochness-monster form: a tiny head sticking out at one end, a part of the tail at the other, and a small hump in between. This was quite different from the muskrat which swims with its whole body visible above the water’s surface.

I wasn’t able to get any decent photos; the mink was too far away. I decided to check a spot where a small channel of water runs into the river, creating a muddy bank which is excellent for viewing animal tracks. I had seen raccoon tracks here a couple of times this season, and this time I found not only raccoon prints, but some smaller tracks, too, which I presume belong to the mink:

Mink Tracks

Both sets of prints seemed fresh, the raccoon prints being the larger of the two. In this photo tracks from both the front paw and the back paw are visible.

Raccoon Tracks

The mink is a new mammal for my Hurdman list, and although I haven’t actually seen a raccoon there, I include it on my list since its tracks are unmistakable. Of the two mammals, the raccoon is the more commonly encountered species, so I was especially pleased to come across the mink swimming in the water.

I left the water and started making my way back to the bus station. I had already found the “something interesting” I had set out to see, but came across a couple of other interesting things on my way back. One was this soldier beetle sitting on a leaf, a common species seen this time of year.

Soldier beetle (Podabrus sp.)

The other interesting thing was an anemone in blossom. These early summer flowers are quite striking:


All too soon, my outing came to an end and I had to return to work. The mink was an unexpected but wonderful surprise, and definitely the highlight of my walk; it just goes to show that with migration over, there are still lots of neat things around!


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