BioBlitz & Butterflies

On June 11, 2011, I participated in a BioBlitz in Russell, and spent the morning surveying an area which has been proposed for a new landfill. The people who organized the BioBlitz, many of whom live nearby, were interested in finding out how many different species of flora and fauna are present, and whether any are considered at risk. This area is mostly agricultural, with some forested areas and open, grassy fields. Bobolinks inhabit the grasslands and were of particular interest. This species, which nests primarily in hayfields, pastures, and wet prairies, has been declining in recent years because of loss of habitat, pesticides, climate change and farming practices. Farmers are cutting and mowing hayfields earlier in the season, and as a result, mowing-induced nest mortality has increased dramatically over the past 50 years.

The blackbird family was well-represented in the BioBlitz, with small numbers of Bobolinks, Red-winged Blackbirds, grackles and cowbirds seen; the only species missing was the Eastern Meadowlark, which was a bit of a surprise given the prime habitat. Four different flycatchers were also noted during my count: Eastern Wood-Pewee, Least Flycatcher, Great Crested Flycatcher, and Eastern Kingbird. I heard and/or saw several House Wrens, one Rose-breasted Grosbeak, two Purple Finches, two Common Yellowthroats, two Yellow Warblers, several Savannah and Song Sparrows, and one Chipping Sparrow as well. I didn’t check the woodlot in the south part of the BioBlitz area; another group had Northern Goshawk there!

Northern/Vernal Bluet

I gave equal attention to the insects that I saw, and had brought my net to facilitate identification. There were very few species of dragonflies and damselflies; however, these small bluets were everywhere. I netted a few of them, and they all appeared to be Northern or Vernal Bluets based on the shape of their claspers. However, differentiating these two species requires examination with a microscope, so I was unable to come to a conclusive ID.

Northern/Vernal Bluet

Fortunately, the butterflies were much easier to identify. Northern Crescents and Common Ringlets were the most abundant species. The crescents were found mainly in the pastures, while the ringlets were numerous along the roadside ditch. I observed three species of skipper: one Hobomok Skipper and equal numbers of Least and Arctic Skipper.

Arctic Skipper

I saw a couple of blue butterflies fluttering about as well. I netted one to confirm its identity, then later photographed another; they all appeared to be Silvery Blues.

Silvery Blue

June is the time when the large yellow Canadian Tiger Swallowtails fly, and one buzzed by me only about a foot away from my head. It wouldn’t pose for my camera, so I was happy when I later found another one resting in a shrub.

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

The BioBlitz only lasted until noon, so after exploring the area I returned to my car to return to the headquarters. While I was driving, my attention was caught by a large orange butterfly, either a Viceroy or a Monarch, flying along the roadside. It was coming toward me, so I parked on the shoulder and waited to see if I could ID it. When it landed, I observed the extra black cross-band on its hindwing which confirms it as a Viceroy.

Viceroy

The BioBlitz was fun, and the habitat entirely unlike the habitat in Larose Forest in my previous BioBlitz experience; it will be sad to see the area destroyed to make room for another place to dump garbage. I thanked the organizers then drove west to my next destination: the Ottawa airport. I parked on Bowesville Road and spent some time exploring the grassy area just north of the dirt bike track where a couple of Savannah Sparrows, a Common Yellowthroat, and an Indigo Bunting were all singing on territory. A couple of Silvery Blues and American Coppers were flying in the area, and one of the American Coppers landed in the path in front of me.

American Copper

I left the grassy field and proceeded to an area with more shrubs. There were no House Wrens, no Least Flycatchers, and no sparrows other than Song, Chipping and Field Sparrows. The only flycatcher I heard, in fact, was an Alder Flycatcher in the distance. Then again, it was well after noon, so it is likely that most of the birds had stopped singing for the day. A trio of Yellow-rumped Warblers helped make up for the lack of birds, so I resolved to return another day when I could spend a full morning there. In the meantime, I added Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, Viceroy, and Northern Cloudywing (a type of skipper) to the day’s tally.

Northern Cloudywing

Even if there were fewer birds than expected at the airport, I still enjoyed photographing the butterflies. The diversity of butterflies this time of year is wonderful, and the airport trails in particular seem to have a great variety of species.

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