When Labour Day weekend arrived I couldn’t wait to get out. At this time of year I like to stop by the parking lot at the Rideau Trail on Richmond Road to look for migrants before heading elsewhere; it’s been wonderfully productive in the past for warblers, vireos, Winter Wrens, Swainson’s Thrushes and other terrific birds. However, the only bird at the edge of the parking lot was a singing Red-eyed Vireo, so I walked around to see if any migrants had arrived yet. They had: I found a small group of warblers and chickadees foraging together along the path beneath the hydro towers, including a Black-and-white Warbler, an American Redstart, a Chestnut-sided Warbler and a Black-throated Green Warbler (all of which do breed in our region). I also heard an Eastern Wood-Pewee and a Song Sparrow singing in the same area.
A few crescents were fluttering about the long grass, and I stopped to take a couple of pictures. The crescents are my least favourite groups of butterflies because they are so difficult to identify. Northern Crescent and Pearl Crescent are the two most abundant and widespread species, but are so identical they were once considered a single species. Indeed, lepidopterists still debate whether they are one or two distinct species.
There is a third species in our area as well, the Tawny Crescent, which I haven’t seen before. (As far as I know, anyway, since I don’t bother to identify most of the ones that I see; much like scaup or bluets!) The Tawny Crescent is found in only a few locations, and is much less abundant.
Probable Northern Crescent
Females, such as the one shown above, are more difficult to identify. They are much more colourful than the males, which are mainly orange and black. The male in the photo below does not have a large open area on the hindwings, and also has black-tipped antennae. The identity of this individual was confirmed for me by Ross Layberry and Peter Hall.
After photographing the crescents I decided it was time to go look for some birds. My next stop was Mud Lake, always a dynamic place during the first half of September when the migration of the insectivores (warblers, vireos, flycatchers, etc.) is at its peak. On the ridge I found my first Philadelphia Vireo of the year, a Gray Catbird, a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers, one Yellow Warbler, one Nashville Warbler, and a couple of American Redstarts. I headed down to the river at the base of the ridge where I noticed a Merlin perching in a dead tree on the island and a couple of Juvenile Wood Ducks resting on a sandbar.
I was also intrigued by the flowers I found growing near the water. This is one of the best places to look for Forget-me-nots, and while I was photographing the tiny blue flowers I noticed a pale purple flower that reminded me of the violets that appear in the woods during the spring.
Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens)
This native species prefers wet areas including swamps, the muddy edges of streams or ponds, drainage ditches, and wet meadows, especially if these areas are prone to occasional flooding or standing water. Bumblebees are one of the few insects that are strong enough to force their way into the partially closed throat to obtain nectar.
Butter-and-eggs (Toadflax) is another plant in bloom right now. It is not native, and can be invasive in some areas. It is able to adapt to various site conditions, such as gravelly or sandy soil along roadsides, waste places, dry fields, pastures and croplands. However, its ability to out-compete less aggressive native plants which prefer the same conditions and its its tendency to spread are largely responsible for its invasive behavior. Because this plant is often considered a weed, it has acquired a large number of local colloquial names including my favourite, Impudent Lawyer.
After I finished photographing the flowers I took a walk around the lake. Along the way I encountered a couple of Eastern Tailed Blues, a couple of Common Ringlets, Common Green Darners, Autumn Meadowhawks, one Fragile Forktail, and a small American Toad. At the small pond near the bike path in the southeast corner I saw one Great Blue Heron, several Cedar Waxwings, an Ovenbird, and a Common Yellowthroat. These warblers are not common at Mud Lake; I’ve never heard or seen an Ovenbird here before, and I’ve only seen a Common Yellowthroat twice here to my recollection. This is a male, as evidenced by the hint of a black mask on his face.
In the opposite corner of the conservation area I found a Magnolia Warbler foraging by himself. He came in for a closer view when I started “pishing”.
In this photo you can see the Magnolia Warbler’s most distinctive feature: a tail that is bright white underneath at the base with a thick dark tip. No other warbler in our area has a tail that is half white and half black below, which makes it one of the easier warblers to identify, even if you don’t see the rest of him!
I finished my walk without seeing any different species. At my next stop, Andrew Haydon Park, I found a couple of Blue-winged Teals; from there I drove to the Moodie Drive quarry pond where a Bonaparte’s Gull, several Ruddy Ducks, and a Horned Grebe were present. As it was such a nice day, I decided to stop by the Bruce Pit before going home to look for dragonflies. I saw one Band-winged Meadowhawk in the shrubs near the fence and several White-faced Meadowhawks in tandem. I also came across a few pairs of Spotted Spreadwings mating.
The beginning of fall migration is always an exciting time. It’s only the beginning of September and already I counted 10 different species of warbler today….I can’t wait to see what tomorrow will bring!