Butterflies of Bill Mason

I had less luck at Shirley’s Bay on Monday. I only observed 18 species, and both shorebird and warbler numbers were down. The three Red-necked Phalaropes were gone, but this time I saw a couple of Killdeer, a couple of Spotted Sandpipers, and a single Sanderling. In the woods I encountered one singing Eastern Wood-Pewee, two Red-eyed Vireos, two Black-and-white Warblers, and one of each of Northern Parula, Magnolia Warbler, Palm Warbler and Black-throated Green Warbler. A little disappointed with the variety, I headed to the Bill Mason Center next where I hoped to find some interesting insects.

The walk through the marsh and the woods were uneventful, with no unusual or migrant birds to be seen. I headed straight for the sandy pond to look for a couple of rare butterflies which had been discovered here recently: Leonard’s Skipper and Common Buckeye. Leonard’s Skipper prefers grassy trails, clearings, and forest edges and is regularly seen on flowers. It is one of our later-flying butterflies, peaking about the third week of August, but because it is a very local species it is seldom seen. I had never seen one before, and was hoping to find one here.

There were lots of dragonflies around, mostly meadowhawks. To my surprise, there were also a few Calico Pennants near the water. Most of them were males with candy-apple red colours. I had seen them here in mid-summer, but none on my most recent visits in early August.

Calico Pennant

While watching the ground for other insects, I soon became aware of about a dozen beetles scurrying along the sand. They would stop and start just like robins stalking earthworms on a lawn, though I noticed if I moved too quickly they would all fly off. It wasn’t until I sat down on the ground and waited that I got a good look at them and identified them as Tiger Beetles. They were quite handsome, too, with bronzey-brown colours and cream-coloured patterns.

Tiger Beetle

Described as the “butterflies of the beetle world”, Tiger Beetles are most common in open sandy habitats, such as river sandbars, beaches, mudflats, dunes, rocky outcroppings, and woodland paths. They are active, agile, predatory insects, quick to take flight, and in many cases, having colorful patterns which are quite attractive. The most commonly encountered species is the Six-spotted Tiger Beetle, although perhaps it is noticed more than other Tiger Beetles because its metallic green colour is so striking. I’m not sure which species this fellow is, but he was very pretty when viewed up close….though I suspect his prey might not think so!

Tiger Beetle

Then I noticed a small, orange butterfly flying close to the ground. Hoping it wasn’t a Northern Crescent, I waited until he landed and then gazed at him through my binoculars. That was how I found my first Leonard’s Skipper. The reddish-orange colour and the distinct pattern of white spots were unmistakable, but identification isn’t usually a problem as so few skippers are still flying this time of year.

Leonard’s Skipper

I followed him around for a bit, and got a few photos. He didn’t land on any of the flowers which were still blooming, but instead preferred perching on low-lying vegetation.

Leonard’s Skipper

After a while he flew off so fast that I couldn’t follow, so I resumed my search for Common Buckeyes instead. I walked along the western shore of the pond for about 15 minutes without encountering any, then turned around to check the eastern shore. When I saw one fly by I immediately knew what it was, thanks to the OFNC trip to Presqu’ile; however, he was less cooperative than the Leonard’s Skipper and I only managed to get one picture.

Common Buckeye

I couldn’t resist taking a few more pictures of the Calico Pennants. These fellows were most cooperative – unlike the Autumn Meadowhawks which seemed to prefer landing right on me (and my net!) rather than posing for my camera!

Calico Pennant

I was happy to have found my two target butterfly species; the Leonard’s Skipper was a lifer, and the Common Buckeye was a lifer for the Ottawa area. I saw very few odonata species at the Bill Mason Center, but I did identify Azure and Northern Bluets, and the Calico Pennants were an unexpected surprise. It was such a gorgeous day, too….it’s hard to believe that September is just around the corner!

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