A New Checkerspot

Harris’s Checkerspot

On Sunday Deb and I met up to do some west end birding. It was supposed to be a gorgeous sunny day, but when I got up I was dismayed to see gray clouds overhead and a thick fog obscuring my neighbourhood. If the sun was shining above, I sure couldn’t see it! Still, I met Deb in our usual spot and was encouraged to hear that the sun was shining in the east end where she lives. We discussed our route for the morning, and as I loaded my gear into her car I noticed that one of the gulls in the parking lot was much bigger than the others. It was a Herring Gull, a sub-adult from the plumage; I snapped a few pictures, but as it was standing alone I wasn’t able to include any of the Ring-billed Gulls for size comparison.

Herring Gull

We set out with some lingering trepidation, but our fears were put to rest as we drove out to the Carp Ridge and the sun broke through the fog. We found a few good birds along Marchurst Road including Bobolinks, Savannah Sparrows, a House Wren, an Osprey flying over, and an American Kestrel sitting on the telephone wire. We were hoping for the Black-billed Cuckoo someone had reported recently to Ontbirds, but had no luck finding it. From there we drove to the trail at the end of Stonecrest Road and found a couple of Common Pondhawks hunting from the gravel shoulder.

Common Pondhawk

There were some Blue Flag irises growing in the ditch where the trail starts. These are one of my favourite early-summer flowers, and are typically found in wet areas.

Blue Flag

The trail through the woods was fairly quiet, with only a single Red-eyed Vireo and Ovenbird singing. We saw a Northern Crescent, a Twelve-spotted Skimmer, and this katydid nymph on an Orange Hawkweed flower just about to open:

Katydid nymph on Hawkweed

In the clearing we found a Gray Catbird, a Song Sparrow, several Chalk-fronted Corporals, and a Horned Clubtail resting on the boardwalk. There were no Yellow or Chestnut-sided Warblers singing in the trees this time, but in the distance we heard a Common Yellowthroat. This was probably one of the least productive visits to this area, with few birds and fewer insects that intrigued me. It was good to see the Horned Clubtail, however, as this was the same spot I had first encountered this species a year ago.

Horned Clubtail

In contrast, our visit to Constance Creek at the Thomas Dolan Parkway proved more productive. A male Wood Duck and several Painted Turtles were resting in the vegetation near the bridge. We found a Great Blue Heron on each side of the bridge, standing motionlessly in the water; then a Black-crowned Night-heron flew by, followed by an American Bittern! Swamp Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, a Purple Finch and even an Alder Flycatcher were all singing, while a Wilson’s Snipe circled the skies above us and a kingfisher hovered in the air before plunging down into the water to seize its prey. The Osprey nest was active, with two juveniles in the nest and two adults hunting for food.

After that we decided to stop by a place we had never been to before, the South March Highlands bike trails at the end of Klondike Road. At the entrance we found a gorgeous Canadian Tiger Swallowtail and a fresh Widow Skimmer.

Widow Skimmer

Deb pointed out a Pileated Woodpecker busy working away at the base of a tree in the woods, while Yellow Warblers sang from the treetops. We found a patch of Dame’s Rocket and stopped to look for butterflies; instead I found a Chalk-fronted Corporal resting in the flowers!

Chalk-fronted Corporal on Dame’s Rocket

We followed the trail to a short boardwalk. Deb spotted a Blanding’s Turtle resting on a log in the marsh, but it splashed into the water when I tried to look. I noticed a clubtail amongst the many emeralds and skimmers, but it refused to land. We proceeded through the woods where we heard a Black-throated Green Warbler, Pine Warbler, Red-eyed Vireo, Yellow-bellied Sapsucker and Eastern Wood-pewee; there were no chickadees and no nuthatches. The woods were fairly dense with little understorey, but every now and then we found ourselves in a small, sunny clearing full of flowers. There were lots of Little Wood Satyrs in these clearings, and once I spotted a Long Dash Skipper. After a while, the trail came out to a large alvar with an equally large body of water next to it. We heard two Red-shouldered Hawks calling but weren’t able to see either bird.

The Alvar

On the alvar itself we found two Killdeer trying to blend in with the rocks, a White Admiral, several Common Ringlets, a yellow swallowtail that looked big, another Horned Clubtail, several Racket-tailed Emeralds and a few Common Green Darners. There were few birds around, and the heat was becoming intense so we turned around then to walk back the way we came. We stopped at the bridge again, and once again Deb spotted the Blanding’s Turtle. Once again it dove into the water before I could get a good look at it. We waited a few minutes to see if it would come out again, but there were too many people on the trail making noise. While we waited a Black-and-white Warbler landed on a dead tree right above us, two Viceroy butterflies flew by nectaring on the flowers, and I spotted the clubtail near the bridge again. This time it landed on the mud beneath the bridge and I was able to get a few photos. It was another Horned Clubtail – my third of the day!

Horned Clubtail

On our way out we spotted another Canadian Tiger Swallowtail in the patch of Dame’s Rocket. It was busy nectaring on the flowers so we were able to get some pictures.

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

We called it a day after that, but as it was only 11:30 I decided to stop by the Rideau Trail on Richmond Road on the way home to look for a colony of Harris’s Checkerspots. Instead of taking the trail into the woods I followed the path beneath the hydro towers; right away I spotted several skippers and Common Ringlets in the grass. I was looking for something different: a small orange and black butterfly similar in appearance to the Silvery Checkerspots at the Cedar Grove Nature Trail. I kept my eyes open for anything small and orange, and as luck would have it I found a Harris’s Checkerspot just beyond the first set of towers. He was sitting with his wings closed, and I was able to get a couple of photos before he flew off.

Harris’s Checkerspot

I tried to follow it, without success; unhappy with that brief glance, I continued walking through the long grass hoping to find another. I came across a couple of Emerald Spreadwings instead. These spreadwings are one of the easiest to identify with their metallic green colouring and short, stocky bodies. While they are usually found near ponds and slow streams, in the early part of the season adults may be found along roadsides perching in the grass. Indeed, most of my Emerald Spreadwing sightings have been well away from water.

Emerald Spreadwing

I walked a little further, although beyond the first set of hydro towers the path becomes little more than a narrow deer track through waist-high vegetation. There I found another Harris’s Checkerspot nectaring on the Balsam Ragwort! It flew off before I could take a picture, but this time I noticed where it landed and took some photos. The underside of the wings are quite distinctive with their orange and white spots.

Harris’s Checkerspot

Above, the Harris’s Checkerspot looks like a Silvery Checkerspot.

Harris’s Checkerspot

This one, too, flew off, and I wasn’t able to find any others. I began searching for Indian Skippers, another species I had never seen before, and found one. However, all the candidates I photographed turned out to be Long Dash Skippers.

Long Dash Skipper

Even though I wasn’t able to photograph the Indian Skipper, I ended up with some nice shots of the Harris’s Checkerspot. Unfortunately the Indian Skipper has a short flight season, so I might not have another chance to look for them again. I’ll have to try again soon…hopefully on a day where the temperature is a bit more bearable!

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One thought on “A New Checkerspot

  1. Glad you found and enjoyed the South March bike trails! I didn’t realize Red-Shouldered Hawks were there, will listen for them next time. That alvar has also been a good place for watching diving nighthawks at dusk, although I don’t know if they’ll still be doing it at this date.

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