Presqu’ile Part III: The Butterfly Field

Deb and I enjoyed our picnic by the water, though there were few ducks to be seen on the lake. One of my favourite spots in the park is the field of wildflowers behind the picnic area, where I enjoy spending time looking for butterflies. It is also a good spot for dragonflies, which can often be seen patrolling the skies above. Common Green Darners, mosaic darners, and Black Saddlebags are the chief species seen here, and I always hope to find them perching in the vegetation.

After we had finished our lunch I grabbed my net and my camera and went looking for butterflies. We saw and photographed Monarchs, crescents, Cabbage Whites, Clouded and Orange Sulphurs, Eastern Tailed Blues and, best of all, at least two Common Buckeyes!

Deb was especially pleased to come across a couple of buckeyes perching, for she had never seen one before today. We did see one at one of the lookouts along the Owen Point Trail, but it stayed just beyond camera range. These ones were much more obliging!

Common Buckeye

The monarchs on the asters made for a lovely picture. I tried to get some pictures showing the vivid orange and purple colours and think I was successful, even if the sun had gone behind some clouds:

Monarch on aster

With all the monarchs around, it’s not surprising that we stumbled upon a pair of monarch caterpillars busily devouring the milkweed leaves:

Monarch caterpillar

Every now and then I would startle a dragonfly perching on the vegetation, which was about thigh-high. I was expecting to see at least a few Common Green Darners and maybe a mosaic darner or two fly out of my way, but when I noticed a couple of Black Saddlebags rising into the air I became intrigued. These members of the skimmer family rarely perch for any length of time. They hunt on the wing, and males may not land for hours when patrolling their territories. However, they are quite distinctive in flight, with large, dark markings on their hindwings which help to identify them while on the wing. Until now my only experience with this species has been at Presqu’ile Provincial Park, where I’ve only seen them in flight. When I became aware that they were perching in the area I started watching them carefully and waited to either spot one land or to find one already perching.

Black Saddlebags

Altogether I found four of them resting on the vegetation within a small area. Some of them even stayed put long enough for me to photograph them, resulting in my first good photos of this species. I never realized just how blue they were until taking this picture. Not only does the Black Saddlebags have a blue abdomen, its face is also blue:

Black Saddlebags

We found another buckeye, and I tried to get some photos of him on the asters. This is a different individual; you can tell by the torn wings.

Common Buckeye

When a Black Saddlebags dragonfly landed on the flowers close by, I abandoned the buckeye in order to photograph the dragonfly. It was almost perfectly posed, and I was thrilled with the resulting pictures. You can see how long its wings are compared to the length of its body, a characteristic it shares with other skimmer species, particularly the pennants.

Black Saddlebags

We left the wildflower meadow after about an hour and headed to the lighthouse next. Unfortunately it was late in the day and we saw only one small group of birds which included chickadees, American Redstarts and at least one Magnolia Warbler. These were the only warblers we saw all day.

This fresh Red Admiral nectaring on the goldenrod was our best find in this area; it has been rare in Ottawa this summer.

Red Admiral

A stop at the calf pasture was similarly unproductive. A couple of Caspian Terns were sitting on a sandbar with a couple of gulls and mallards; the only other notable birds in the area were Belted Kingfisher, Northern Flicker, Eastern Kingbird and a few Mute Swans swimming in the bay. I showed Deb the little side trail which had hosted a number of warblers on our visit a few weeks ago, but the only creature of interest was this Praying Mantis – the first one I’d seen this year.

Praying Mantis

On our way to the marsh boardwalk we noticed a Merlin perching in a tree next to the road, one of our better finds of the day. The boardwalk itself was pretty quiet, but we did see a few mosaic darners flying around, a Northern Harrier, and a couple of Band-winged Meadowhawks.

Band-winged Meadowhawk

It was close to 5:00 by the time we left, and we were both thoroughly exhausted. Although we hadn’t seen as many songbirds as we had hoped, the shorebirds and the butterflies more than made up for their lack. I was pleased, too, to have finally gotten some pictures of Black Saddlebags that are worth posting. Presqu’ile Provincial Park is an amazing place, one I am always sad to leave.

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