Little Wood Satyrs have begun to emerge in good numbers, along with Northern Crescents. Common Ringlet numbers seem low in places like Hurdman, where I usually see lots of these butterflies in the tall grass. I’ve seen no Polygonia butterflies or anglewings so far this year other than a few Mourning Cloaks – no Eastern Commas, no Question Marks, no Compton Tortoiseshells etc. Although I’ve seen a few Hobomok Skippers around, I have only seen one at Hurdman this year, found the same day I saw this Mourning Cloak nectaring on some Dame’s Rocket. It was quite worn and tattered, making me think it was an adult that had overwintered here.
I’m hoping that some of the later-emerging butterflies will fare better, such as some of the Satyrinae (brown butterflies), hairstreaks and fritillaries. I haven’t seen a Monarch yet this year, which is worrying considering that the number of monarch butterflies overwintering in Mexico last winter sank to its lowest level in at least two decades.
If butterfly numbers are poor this year, there are still lots of other interesting creatures around. For instance, I found this mockingbird in my own subdivision while walking to the bus stop one morning. I was walking through Scissons Park when I heard the rich, clear tone of a bluebird somewhere across the park. That seemed odd, but when I heard a robin a moment later I thought perhaps the robin – a relative of the Eastern Bluebird – had briefly taken on the same melodic tone as the bluebird. Then I heard an Eastern Phoebe and became excited, as this would be a new bird for my neighborhood. I spotted a bird on top of a roof backing onto the park and noticed the gray and white colours and long tail. It was definitely a mockingbird, and as I stood there and watched, it imitated a kingfisher, a Great Crested Flycatcher and House Wren before returning to the robin’s cheery song. All of the vocalizations were spot-on; had I been at Mud Lake or Shirley’s Bay I would have been fooled into thinking that I was hearing these birds!
In mid-June I added a couple of new species to my yard list. On one sunny afternoon I discovered an Eastern Forktail flying through the grass, while a beautiful Six-spotted Tiger Beetle was busy hunting insects on my patio. These emerald-coloured beetles eat spiders, other beetles, caterpillars, flies, ants, and grasshoppers, making him a friend to gardeners. I only saw him the one day, however, and would have enjoyed having him around for a while.
That same afternoon I heard the short, clear whistles of an Osprey, and when I looked overhead I saw one circling in the sky above! This was probably one of the birds I least expected to see over my yard, even though there are a couple of storm water management ponds nearby; I have since discovered the Osprey hunting in the ponds on a couple of occasions. There are lots of big fish in these ponds, making them attractive to other fish-loving species such as Great Blue Herons, Black-crowned Night-herons and Double-crested Cormorants.
The ponds are home to a small colony of Barn Swallows which nest under the bridge. I’ve seen them flying over the water on my bike rides around the ponds, returning frequently to the bridge to feed their young. There is no way for me to get down to the water to see how many nests are there this year. Barn Swallows, although widespread, are declining; in the past 20 years their population has dropped about 70 – 80%. I found this one perching in the vegetation next to the bridge.
The last couple of weekends have not been good for searching for insects, as it has rained at least one day every weekend; so on one gray Saturday morning I took a walk through the marsh near Nortel to look for Willow Flycatchers. I heard two singing, and managed to locate one perching. I also heard a Wilson’s Snipe in the grass of the Equestrian Park and a Virginia Rail in the marsh, while a fly-by female Hooded Merganser was the most unexpected bird of my visit. I also saw a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a House Wren, a couple of Common Yellowthroats, and some small brown streaky birds which might have been House Finches or immature Indigo Buntings. I found one orange skipper flying in the grass and no odonates of any kind. Rain was threatening, however, so I didn’t expect to find many insects. This Virginia Ctenucha Moth, my first of the year, was a delightful surprise; it made me wonder if moth populations had been affected as badly as the butterfly populations.
Dragonfly populations seem to be doing well – at least in the places where the ponds didn’t dry up during the drought last year. Sarsaparilla Trail was one of the few places in Stony Swamp that had any water, and during one late afternoon visit I found a number of skimmers in the meadow near the outhouse, including several Twelve-spotted Skimmers, Four-spotted Skimmers, and Widow Skimmers.
This was the first time I could recall seeing Widow Skimmers here. All of them were young, and had the yellow and black colours of females or newly emerged dragonflies.
Near the picnic shelter I found a Racket-tailed Emerald, a mature Chalk-fronted Corporal, and most surprisingly, a nest full of broken eggs that might have belonged to a Canada Goose or a mallard. The nest was in the tall grass where the bird would not have been seen by casual passersby.
I only saw two skippers in the area, a fresh Arctic Skipper and a fresh Hobomok Skipper. There were several Little Wood Satyrs fluttering close to the vegetation, however, giving me reason to hope that the woodland Satyrinae butterflies – including the Northern Pearly-eyes and the Eyed Browns – were not as affected by the drought and the rainy spring as many of the other butterflies. Only time will tell.