The day after the BioBlitz, I visited a place I hadn’t been to in a long time: the marsh on Moodie Drive near Nortel. It’s a good spot to find Willow Flycatchers, Marsh Wrens, Least Bitterns (though I personally have never seen or heard one here), Alder Flycatchers and rails. So far I haven’t even heard a Sora yet this year, let alone seen one, and I was hoping to find one at the marsh.
It was a bit cool when I left, with a couple of light showers passing through; I thought I might have to turn around and go home, but fortunately the rain had moved on by the time I reached the parking lot on Corkstown Road.
Tree Swallows and Barn Swallows were hunting over the field next to the parking area, and unlike last summer I heard no Bobolinks. Along the shaded bike path I saw a Baltimore Oriole, Yellow Warbler, and a couple of American Redstarts. I also saw my first Willow Flycatcher of the year sitting in a tree overlooking the marsh; his sneezy “Fitz-bew!” was unmistakable.
Few butterflies were flying in the open area next to the marsh. I found a couple of Common Ringlets, an unidentified skipper, a crescent, and a beautifully fresh White Admiral obtaining nutrients from a damp spot on the ground.
I didn’t hear any Soras, but I stopped and played a recording of their vocalizations at a couple of spots. None responded. I did find a muskrat swimming in one section of the marsh, and heard a Virginia Rail calling from another; I was surprised when one walked almost right up to me while I was playing the Sora’s call! It was followed by a fuzzy black chick which scampered in the marsh behind the adult, always staying just out of range of my camera.
After photographing the rails, I followed the trail to the alvar. Not much was flying here; I saw another skipper which flew off too quickly to photograph and no dragonflies whatsoever. The Orange Hawkweed was blooming throughout the area, so I took a few photos before returning to the marsh.
Only the most common marsh birds seemed to be present: Red-winged Blackbirds, Swamp Sparrows, Common Yellowthroats; a Northern Flicker and a flock of Cedar Waxwings flying over; an Eastern Wood-pewee and a robin singing in the distant trees. I saw no herons and no Indigo Buntings this time. It seemed as though it was going to be a sub-par outing, until I took the trail through the marsh back to the parking lot. I found the Willow Flycatcher again, and this time he was close enough to take some photos. If you can’t see the distinguishing features that separates the Willow Flycatcher from its close relative, the Alder Flycatcher, don’t worry! These two nearly identical species are best differentiated by their song, and fortunately this fellow was singing or I would not have been able to identify him.
A little further along I heard a couple of Marsh Wrens singing, but they were deep in the cattails and refused to show themselves. Then I noticed a large, dark insect sitting in the grass next to the trail. It was metallic green with dark wings. I recognized it as a damselfly, and thought it was an Ebony Jewelwing until a look through the binoculars confirmed it as a River Jewelwing.
River Jewelwing (male)
This is only the second time I’ve seen this species, and the first time I’d seen one up close (the first time was in Nova Scotia while boating down the Annapolis River, which I hardly count because we were moving too fast to get a good look, let alone pictures). The male River Jewelwing is quite similar to the male Ebony Jewelwing, except that only the ends of the wing are dark, while the basal two-thirds of the wings are clear. As its name suggests, it is found near clear, rocky rivers and streams where some shade is present. Just why it was resting on a blade of grass in a large marshy area I don’t know, except that it has wings and dragonflies are known to turn up in odd places. Generally, however, damselflies are weak flyers, even the larger species such as the jewelwings.
It was becoming a good outing after all, so I stopped in at Sarsaparilla Trail on my way home. While I was expecting to see some turtles basking on the logs in the swamp, I didn’t expect to find one walking down the path toward the parking lot! I watched her until I was sure she was heading off into the grass rather than the parking lot, then continued on my way.
In the woods I added a beautiful male Purple Finch and an unseen singing Ovenbird to the day’s list. I headed to a small sunlit clearing just off the trail, where I found my first Common Pondhawk of the year and a beautiful, fresh Arctic Skipper. I forget just how small these butterflies are in real life!
There wasn’t much activity out on the large beaver pond. A pair of Eastern Kingbirds were flying from perch to perch, while several swallows – all Tree Swallows, from what I could see – were soaring above the dock. I had a few more dragonflies here including Dot-tailed White-faces, Chalk-fronted Corporals and Common Whitetails.
No, definitely not a bad outing at all!