Unusual Finds in the West End

Banded Hairstreak

Even though I’d been up late mothing the night before, I still went out early on Saturday morning. I hadn’t been to the marsh south of the Nortel buildings yet this year, and was hoping to add Willow Flycatcher to my year list before they stopped singing. The usual Warbling Vireos, Red-eyed Vireos, Gray Catbirds, Song Sparrows, Yellow Warblers and American Redstarts were singing along the tree-lined path to the marsh; I saw a Great Blue Heron fly over the path and several Tree Swallows feeding their young in the trees overhead. In the marsh itself, I saw a Swamp Sparrow and a Common Yellowthroat in the vegetation next to the trail and heard others singing from the reeds. I didn’t hear or see any flycatchers or rails at all in the marsh, which was disappointing. A Green Heron flying over, however, made up for the lack of these birds as I still needed one for my year list.

Several Barn Swallows were also present, perching on the branches of a fallen tree in the marsh. As there didn’t seem to be anything too interesting around, I decided to leave, and followed the open path next to the marsh back to my car. This time I heard at least two Marsh Wrens singing from the dense cattails and managed to photograph an agitated Yellow Warbler.

Yellow Warbler

The butterflies had begun to emerge, and I saw a Monarch and a fresh Red Admiral on my way to the car. I checked the milkweed flowers for other interesting insects, and found this large, stunning, turquoise-coloured blister beetle hiding in the blossoms. Blister beetles are plant-feeding insects that contain cantharidin, a toxic defensive chemical that protects them from predators. Accidentally crushing a beetle against the skin can result in a painful blister, which is where they get the name “blister beetle”. There are approximately 7,500 known species worldwide, and many are brightly coloured, advertising their toxicity to would-be predators. I thought this fellow was quite stunning with his iridescent turquoise colouring and bright orange legs.

Green Blister Beetle

I also found some Large Milkweed Bug nymphs on some milkweed. Although I’ve seen several Small Milkweed Bugs before, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Large ones before, so I was quite happy to come across a few in the nymph stage.

Large Milkweed Bug nymph

After that I decided to head up to the river, but I wasn’t sure whether to go to Shirley’s Bay or to Andrew Haydon Park. I figured Shirley’s Bay would be better for diversity, and almost as soon as I stepped out of the car I was happy with my choice; I saw a Snowshoe Hare on the path and several Prince Baskettails circling above me. Although these large dragonflies seldom perch, I found a couple further along the trail that were hanging from the branches of a tall shrub!

Prince Baskettail

The baskettails are members of the emerald family, named for the brilliant green eyes that develop in mature adults. The Prince Baskettails are distinguished from other baskettails by their larger size and the dark patches at the tips of their wings as well as at the base.

Prince Baskettail

On my walk I heard (and saw) two Eastern Phoebes, a Red-eyed Vireo, a couple of Tree Swallows hawking for insects above the boat launch, one Gray Catbird, American Redstarts, Yellow Warblers and at least three Brown Thrashers. Other birds heard include Black-and-white Warbler, House Wren, White-throated Sparrow and Field Sparrow.

Some Day Lilies were blooming in this area, so I stopped to take a picture:

Day Lily

I walked up Hilda Road, listening to an Eastern Wood-Pewee calling in the woods. There is a large patch of Common Milkweed in the field next to the feeders, so I spent some time there searching for butterflies. Almost right away I saw a brown butterfly nectaring on the blossoms; I confirmed it as a hairstreak through the binoculars, but when I moved closer it flew away so fast I couldn’t tell where it had gone.

Then I encountered two beautiful golden-yellow dragonflies perching on the vegetation of the field. I knew they were members of the skimmer family from the way they perched and the gorgeous markings on the wings; I suspected they were pennants, but Calico Pennant didn’t seem to fit. It wasn’t until I got home and checked my books that I realized they were either female or immature male Halloween Pennants!

Halloween Pennant

Even though I wasn’t sure which species they were at the time, I knew that these two dragonflies were an unusual find. Calico Pennants and Halloween Pennants are both associated with ponds, slow streams and lakes; neither the field nor the nearby Ottawa River are suitable habitat for these two species. Additionally, the only known Halloween Pennant colony occurring in the Ottawa area is about 40 kilometers away at Morris Island.

Halloween Pennant

Dragonflies, like birds and butterflies, do occasionally stray from their normal breeding range; Halloween Pennants have also been seen at Mud Lake and Bruce Pit this year, and Black Saddlebags – a southern species that is common at Presqu’ile Provincial Park – have been seen in Ottawa on four different occasions this year.

Halloween Pennant

I thought these two dragonflies were quite stunning and spent some time following them around.

Halloween Pennant

I also found a Blue Dasher in the same field, which was another surprise. I later found a second one on the trails well away from the water; both of them were males with a bright powder-blue abdomen. While I am used to seeing dragonflies such as Four-spotted Skimmers (none today), meadowhawks (one) and Common Pondhawks (one) in fields and along roadsides away from the water, I wasn’t expecting to find Blue Dashers and Halloween Pennants!

Then, I spotted a small orange skipper nectaring on a milkweed blossom. Just as I was focusing my camera on the skipper I noticed the dark brown hairstreak on the same flower! I immediately forgot the skipper and spent some time photographing the hairstreak instead. Unlike the first one I had seen, this one was too busy nectaring on the blossoms to pay any attention to me as I loomed in close for a macro shot.

Banded Hairstreak

This is a Banded Hairstreak, often considered the most common hairstreak in much of its eastern Canadian range. However, even where it is common, its numbers can fluctuate dramatically from year to year. They are often found in woodlands and along roadsides where they prefer to nectar on milkweed and sweet clovers. While the Banded Hairstreak has a flight season lasting from late June into late August, it is most numerous in July. The Hickory Hairstreak is quite similar in appearance to the Banded Hairstreak but is less common.

Banded Hairstreak

As a group, hairstreaks are some of the more difficult butterflies to find – at least for me! They are small and dark and not as flashy as the fritillaries nor as abundant as the skippers. This was only the sixth individual hairstreak that I’ve seen since I became interested in butterflies, and my first Banded Hairstreak. I was thrilled that I was able to get so close to it and get some pictures of him feeding on the milkweeds. In fact, I’m not sure which insect sighting pleased me more – the Halloween Pennants or the Banded Hairstreak!

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5 thoughts on “Unusual Finds in the West End

  1. Nice pictures! BTW, I saw a Virginia Ctenucha moth recently and had your blog to thank for the fact that I instantly recognized it 🙂

    I’ve never seen a pennant dragonfly (or maybe I have and dismissed it as a twelve-spotted skipper without taking a closer look.) Am eager to, especially Calico Pennant.

    • Virginia Ctenucha moths are pretty neat…when they fly, their bodies look like an iridescent dark blue colour. This iridescence never shows up in my photos.

      The pennants are found in only a few locations in Ottawa, though Halloween Pennants have shown up in a few different spots this year. They are likely much too colourful to be confused with Twelve-spots. If you want Calico Pennants, try the Bill Mason Center (at the old sand pit) or Roger’s Pond in Marlborough Forest. Halloween Pennants are usually found at Morris Island along the causeway, though they have been seen at Mud Lake and other spots this year. Good luck!

  2. Beautiful images, Gillian. I am still amazed at the wide North to South range that Halloween Pennants can be seen in. I’ve seen them both in Austin and Uvalde, Texas this year where it has been unthinkably hot. Yet they seem to do very well up in your part of the world, too, where the weather has to be significantly cooler.

    • Thanks Jim! This summer has been terribly hot and dry, with temperatures around 30°C for the last month or so. The warm weather has brought in other “southern” species such as Black Saddlebags and, just a week ago, Eastern Amberwing. If you’re into butterflies at all, this year the Giant Swallowtail arrived in Ottawa as well. I am guessing it’s not the summers that limit the number of species we have, but rather the winters….it gets too cold for some species to survive, so some of the ones we see in the spring (such as Common Green Darners and Red Admirals) are migrants from further south.

      Love your avatar, by the way….I’ll have to check out your blog and see what kinds of dragonflies and bugs you’ve been photographing!

  3. Pingback: Highlights from 2012 | The Pathless Wood

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