Butterflies of the Burnt Lands

On July 9th I visited the Burnt Lands alvar via Ramsay Concession 12 near Panmure. I hadn’t been here in a few years, and was mainly looking for butterflies. I made a few stops along the way, such as Huntmar Road where I saw a family of five Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers, and Gourlay Lane where I found a Chestnut-sided Warbler and a pair of Indigo Buntings. I used to visit the ruins here in previous summers as it is a good spot to see Indigo Buntings, but at some point someone blocked off access to the field leading to ruins with “No Trespassing” signs and signs asking people to call a certain telephone number if they saw anyone trespassing. I was disappointed, and soon left. On the way to Panmure I saw a couple of Northern Harriers on March Road near Carp, and a pair of American Kestrels and Eastern Meadowlarks near the Upper Dwyer Hill Road.

I parked my car at the end of Ramsay Concession 12. On my way up to the alvar I found two more Indigo Buntings, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, and a Savannah Sparrow. In the small wooded area on the way up to the alvar I heard a couple of Ovenbirds and a Black-throated Green Warbler. I also saw a Great-spangled Fritillary sitting on a cedar, waiting for the sun to warm it up.

At first I didn’t see very much on the alvar. I heard Chipping, Field, Song and White-throated Sparrows singing and saw a Turkey Vulture fly over. Later, a falcon – possibly a kestrel – flew over the alvar as well. There were no great numbers of skippers or Clouded Sulphurs that I remembered from my last visit here. I soon began to think that these raccoon tracks might be the only interesting thing to see!

Raccoon Tracks

Then I came across another fritillary bouncing along the wooded edge of the alvar. When it landed I got a good look at the underside hindwing and the narrow cream-coloured band at the outer edge, which indicated it was not a Great-spangled Fritillary. The top view shows a small, dark dot on the forewing at the edge of the dark area beside the abdomen, which means it is an Aphrodite Fritillary. This is the first one that I’ve seen since visiting Nova Scotia last year.

Aphrodite Fritillary

As the morning progressed and the sun climbed higher in the sky I began to see more butterflies. I noticed a bright yellow sulphur (likely a Clouded Sulphur), followed by this fresh, dark Dun Skipper.

Dun Skipper

Then I noticed a small orange butterfly hovering just above a wet spot in the road. It looked like a fritillary, but was much smaller than the Great Spangled and Aphrodite Fritillaries I had just seen. When it landed I noticed the very “busy” pattern on the upper side of the wings, and realized it was my first Meadow Fritillary! It is best recognized by the squared-off tip to the forewings and the lack of dark margins. Unlike other fritillaries, the underside of the hindwing is brownish purple with no silver spots.

The Meadow Fritillary can be found in a wide variety of habitats, from meadows and roadsides to forest clearings and bogs. It regularly visits flowers, especially those which are yellow. In some areas it has two broods per season, while in Ottawa it has three.

Meadow Fritillary

Another butterfly I found sitting on the damp patch was this small Columbine Duskywing. It, too, has two broods per season and as such can be found much later in the summer than the other duskywing species.

Columbine Duskywing

When three dirt bikes showed up I decided it was time to leave. I headed back down the unmaintained access road to the car, passing a small overgrown “pond” along the way. I noticed a large dragonfly patrolling the area, and was amazed when it decided to perch on a branch almost right in front of me. The first thing I checked was the shape of the thoracic stripes, and these ones puzzled me. They were straight and pale yellow bordered in black, just like those of the Springtime Darners I had seen earlier this year. However, it lacked the black spots at the base of the wings which are characteristic of the Springtime Darner and it seemed rather late in the year for this species. When I checked my field guide, I discovered that the Black-tipped Darner also has straight thoracic stripes but no black spots on the wings. Further, only the tenth abdominal segment is completely dark. Check out this photo for a full view of the Black-tipped Darner, including the dark tenth segment.

Black-tipped Darner

On my way back to the car I noticed a few more butterflies gathering around the damp spots including another Dun Skipper and a tattered Eastern Comma. I also noticed this small orange skipper with two distinctive orange bands connected together. I was certain I had never seen this species before, and identified it as a Peck’s Skipper, a species which had been reported by several butterfly enthusiasts lately and my second new butterfly of the day!

Peck’s Skipper

This Eastern Tailed Blue also joined the skippers and the Eastern Comma mud-puddling near the wet spots on the dirt road.

Eastern Tailed Blue

When I reached my car and got in I thought that was the end of my outing. I drove slowly back toward Panmure, but not too far along I noticed a couple of large orange butterflies flying across the road and flitting about the milkweeds. I counted a couple of Great Spangled Fritillaries and one Aphrodite Fritillary in the area!

Great Spangled Fritillary

While checking the milkweeds I came across a rather unusual insect which looks like a cross between a praying mantis and a wasp. The Brown Mantidfly is not a mantid, fly or wasp, but rather belongs to the order Neuroptera, or Nerve-winged Insects, the same order to which green lacewings belong. Adult mantidflies are predators, and catch insect prey just as mantids do. While they are active hunters, they are cumbersome fliers.

Brown Mantidfly

I also saw a number of small orange skippers in the roadside vegetation, most of which appeared to be Peck’s Skippers. They seemed like the purple Cow Vetch.

Peck’s Skipper

One unfortunate Peck’s Skipper got a nasty surprise when he landed on some Cow Vetch; instead of nectar he found a crab spider lurking in the flower’s depths.

Goldenrod Crab Spider with Peck’s Skipper

It wasn’t just the Peck’s Skippers that liked the Cow Vetch. I came across this Silver-bordered Fritillary, my fourth fritillary species of the day, on this purple flower as well.

Silver-bordered Fritillary

A Summer Azure, one of the gossamer-winged butterflies, also found the Cow Vetch to its liking.

Summer Azure

And so did an Aphrodite Fritillary!

Aphrodite Fritillary

I also saw a couple of whites and sulphurs, none of which I stopped to look closely at. Two Black Swallowtails also flew across the road, but neither one was interested in having its picture taken. This was a disappointment as I only have one really good image of this species and I was hoping to get some new photos of this species.

It was a terrific day, with two new butterflies and one new dragonfly, and well worth the time spent walking up and down the road watching all the different butterflies. In fact I was so impressed with the variety that I think I will have to return here next year for another mid-summer butterfly outing!


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