More Hairstreaks

Blue Dasher close-up

The second weekend of July was hot and sunny. Ottawa has had barely any rain in several weeks now, and is experiencing a Level One drought – the least severe of three levels – according to the Rideau Valley Conservation Authority. In fact, Environment Canada has said that the past 12 months have been the driest on record in the National Capital Region, and that there would be no relief until after Labour Day. A lot of the vegetation is beginning to look brown and wilted, and water levels everywhere are below normal. The forecast calls for no rain in the coming days.

I haven’t felt like going out much because of the heat. I stayed home on Saturday, then decided to spend Sunday morning along the river, first at Andrew Haydon Park and then at Shirleys Bay.

Despite the extensive mudflats in the eastern half of the park, the only shorebirds I found were ten Killdeer and three Spotted Sandpipers. Purple Martins were hawking for insects above the eastern creek; a Black-crowned Night Heron flew over the river toward the western half of the park, followed by an Osprey flying east. Two female Hooded Mergansers were diving for fish in the pond.

At Shirleys Bay I checked the area around Hilda Road and heard two White-throated Sparrows singing the dense vegetation beyond the feeders. I didn’t explore the field where I had seen the Halloween Pennants as a car was sitting next to the feeders and I didn’t want to disturb any birds that they might be watching. Instead I explored the field on the opposite side of the road, encountering two Baltimore Orioles and this Banded Hairstreak:

Banded Hairstreak

I also came across a male Widow Skimmer resting on the closed flower of a Day Lily and stopped to take its picture. Widow Skimmers are one our most common dragonflies.

Widow Skimmer

I called for permission to go birding on the dyke, then proceeded through the woods where I found a nice flock of warblers: one Black-and-white Warbler, five American Redstarts, and three Yellow Warblers were foraging in the same area. Out on the dyke I discovered four Great Egrets, a pair of Great Blue Herons, 11 Hooded Mergansers – one group of four females, plus another female with six babies! – a couple of Marsh Wrens singing from the cattails and two Belted Kingfishers.

On my way back I followed the shoreline, and came across a malodorous, decaying deer carcass next to the water. My second Osprey of the day flew by and landed on a dead tree close to the dyke, but I didn’t much feel like walking past the carcass again to photograph it. Fortunately the wind was blowing from the east, and once I got past the carcass the stench receded.

A couple of Common Pondhawks flew by me, and one landed on the rocks close by. This is a male, based on the powder-blue colour (females are green with black spots along the abdomen).

Common Pondhawk

I was happy to see a Blue Dasher in the same area, hunting from the branch of a shrub rather than the ground. These dragonflies are quite colourful, and although I’ve only seen them here in Ottawa for two seasons now I can’t imagine them not being around. The downswept wings with a hint of amber at the base is characteristic of this species.

Blue Dasher

He was quite cooperative, and allowed me to take several photos from different angles.

Blue Dasher

I was even able to get up close and personal with this macro:

Blue Dasher close-up

On my way home I decided to explore the right-of-way beneath the hydro towers along Richmond Road for more butterflies. I thought that perhaps I could find another Harris’s Checkerspot or the Coral Hairstreaks again, but there were very few butterflies flying. The only skippers I saw looked worn, so I didn’t try to identify any. The grass was dry and crispy beneath my feet, one of the most noticeable casualties of the drought. I cut through the woods to the boardwalk and found three hairstreaks in a sunny spot. I was hoping they were Coral Hairstreaks, but they turned out to be Banded Hairstreaks as well. One was quite worn, while the other two were fresh.

Banded Hairstreak

All three liked the same sunny spot next to the trail, for they barely perched on the same leaf for a minute before they were off and chasing one another again. They spiraled up into the air together, zoomed left and right, then they all returned to the same area when they were done.

Banded Hairstreak

It’s rather depressing just how dry and lifeless everything is becoming. I worry about what will happen to the butterflies with so few flowers left in bloom, and the dragonflies in the ponds that have dried up. Will enough eggs and larva survive the drought and the winter to form good, healthy populations next year, or will there be drastically fewer of these insects around next summer? Only time will tell.


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