Late Afternoon Beauties

Eastern Pine Elfin

I didn’t have much time for birding last weekend, but I did manage to get out late in the afternoon on both days. I’ve been hoping for some nice weather to do some butterfly-watching, and although it was warm on Saturday, it began clouding over as soon as I left the house. I decided not to go too far – just around the corner to the Beaver Trail – and I found enough interesting species to make it worthwhile.

My first noteworthy species was a Winter Wren, the first one I’d seen at this trail this year. It was scolding me from the tangled branches of a downed tree, which is where they are most likely to be seen out in the woods, especially woods where there is water nearby.

There were still a few puddles at the edge of the trail, some almost large enough to be considered vernal pools. I found some purple violets growing next at the edge of one of the puddles and stopped to take some pictures.

Violets

I decided to check the small clearing where I found some Arctic Skippers mating two years ago and found a large orange butterfly fluttering around. I followed it for a while before it landed and confirmed it was an American Lady, my first of the year and likely a migrant from the south:

American Lady

While I was following the American Lady a Mourning Cloak flew through the clearing, although it didn’t stop. I also scared up a small dark butterfly, and when it landed I identified it as a Henry’s Elfin….also the first one of the year for me!

Henry’s Elfin

I find the elfins one of the the more difficult groups to find; they have a short flight season in the early spring and each is found in a specific habitat. Henry’s Elfin is the only one I’ve seen in more than one spot (Mud Lake and Stony Swamp – specifically Sarsparilla Trail, Jack Pine Trail and now the Beaver Trail) while I’ve never even seen the Hoary Elfin in Ottawa. Brown Elfins prefer bogs, while Eastern Pine Elfins are usually found in sandy areas with pine trees. While you would think I would have a better chance of seeing the Eastern Pine Elfin than any of the others, I have only ever seen one (also at Jack Pine Trail). I was pleased that I not only found a Henry’s Elfin, but also that I managed to get some great photos of it.

Henry’s Elfin

After I left the clearing I spotted another small butterfly fluttering close to the ground, and when it landed I was able to confirm it as an Eastern Pine Elfin! I wasn’t able to get any decent photos of it, but I knew there would likely be more along this section of the trail as there were quite a few pine trees. I only saw one other elfin along this section of the trail, but couldn’t get close enough to discern which species.

At the first boardwalk I spotted a pair of Eastern Kingbirds and heard a Common Yellowthroat and a Nashville Warbler singing in the distance. Two Swamp Sparrows were singing close by.

At the next boardwalk I spotted a raccoon making its way to the water (although it quickly disappeared when it saw me watching him), a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing in a tree above the water, and a couple of White-throated Sparrows foraging below the observation deck. I heard but never saw Purple Finch, Black-throated Green Warbler, Great Crested Flycatcher, Ovenbird and a pair of Yellow Warblers. This trillium didn’t seem to mind me watching it, and even posed for my camera:

White Trillium

I decided to take a small side trail leading deeper into Stony Swamp as I knew there were more pine trees and, potentially, more Eastern Pine Elfins. I found a couple of Spring Azures and a Question Mark right near the beginning of the trail.

Question Mark

Further along I came across my first and only Eastern Pine Elfin, and this time I was able to get some photos. I had forgotten how small they are – elfins are tiny, only about the size of my thumbnail (and I have small hands)!

Eastern Pine Elfin

I kept going to see if I could spot some more elfins. I found more Spring Azures, a thrush (possibly a Hermit Thrush or Swainson’s Thrush) and two beautiful columbine flowers but no more elfins.

Columbine

I headed to the wildflower meadow next. In the mid- to late summer this is a good spot for Common Wood Nymphs, Dun Skippers and Common Ringlets, but I wasn’t sure what I might find so early in the season. As soon as I entered the meadow I heard the two-note whistle of a Broad-winged Hawk and looked up. There I saw him, soaring high above the trail, the light shining through the broad white stripe of his tail and making it glow. I watched until he disappeared and then resumed my walk.

At the other end of the meadow I noticed a couple of small dark butterflies. They were very territorial, chasing each other as soon as one wandered into another’s territory, but they landed and I was able to get some photos and identify them as Juvenal’s Duskywings. One even gave chase to a Common Green Darner (which is no small dragonfly)!

Juvenal’s Duskywing

I looked up again in time to see a Turkey Vulture glide by. A little later, after unsuccessfully trying to get close enough to a small fritillary and an even smaller crescent to identify them, I looked up a third time and spotted yet another raptor soaring overhead: an adult Bald Eagle! This was one of those rare and magnificent moments in nature that made me want to sink to my knees in gratitude for being allowed to witness such splendor. Instead I just watched the eagle soar overhead with a large grin on my face until it vanished. This was the first time I’ve seen a Bald Eagle in Stony Swamp and the sight made my day.

I came upon another extraordinary sight after I had left the meadow and reached the Wild Bird Care Centre….six Wild Turkeys scrounging for food where the WBCC staff feed the chipmunks! One of the males had no interest in eating; rather, he was displaying his tail feathers for the ladies.

Wild Turkey

One of the turkeys ventured out from the trees and into the open.

Wild Turkey

I left the Beaver Trail happy with all of the wonderful things I had seen. On my way to the car I spotted another butterfly nectaring on a dandelion – a Black Swallowtail, another species I have hardly any decent photos of. By then the clouds were so thick it looked like rain, and he wouldn’t sit still long enough for me to get a nice shot with his wings open. This is what I ended up with:

Black Swallowtail

One of my goals this year is to get a photograph of a Black Swallowtail worth posting in my Pbase galleries!

Just as I was about to get in the car I spotted yet another butterfly in the small wood at the edge of the parking lot and went to have a look. It was gone by the time I got there, but I thought it might have been a Compton Tortoiseshell. A White-crowned Sparrow in the same area made up for missing the butterfly; this is the first one I’ve recorded at the Beaver Trail.

Altogether I tallied 33 bird species, 9 identified butterfly species (Juvenal’s Duskywing, Spring Azure, Henry’s Elfin, Eastern Pine Elfin, Black Swallowtail, Question Mark, Mourning Cloak, Red Admiral, and American Lady), three unidentified butterfly species, one dragonfly (Common Green Darner) and one raccoon. It always amazes me how even the smaller trails can provide enough habitat for such an abundance of species; it’s the main reason I return to trails like the Beaver Trail and Sarsaparilla Trail time and time again.

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One thought on “Late Afternoon Beauties

  1. Pingback: Highlights from 2012 | The Pathless Wood

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