Beautiful Bugs

Scarlet-winged Lichen Moth

Scarlet-winged Lichen Moth

On Saturday I decided to spend some time at the river. I planned to go to Ottawa Beach to look for the Bonaparte’s Gulls and shorebirds that had been mentioned in the weekly OFNC report, with a stop at Sarsaparilla Trail along the way to look for water birds and odonates. In the large, grassy clearing at Sarsaparilla Trail I found the usual Autumn and White-faced Meadowhawks hunting conspicuously from tall perches and chasing each other with wings that flashed gold in the sunlight. I looked for Band-winged Meadowhawks (this was the first place I’d ever seen this species) but had no luck.

However, I did startle a large mosaic darner into flight. Fortunately I was able to keep it in view as it sped around the clearing until it found another stalk of vegetation to hang up on. I could see the thoracic stripes – it was a Lance-tipped Darner – and didn’t need to catch it, however I wanted the practice and crept closer until I was able to put my net over top of it.

Lance-tipped Darner

Lance-tipped Darner (Aeshna constricta)

These guys are huge – about 2.5 inches long – with beautiful hues of blue or green. The first thoracic stripe has a slight zigzag in the middle, while the second flairs out at the top. I took a few pictures and then let him go.

I hadn’t taken more than a couple of steps toward the woods when another large darner zipped by me. To my surprise, he landed on my collarbone! I stared down at him for a moment, unable to see any identifying features, thinking it was brown enough to be a Harlequin Darner though it was too late in the season. I attempted to catch him by placing my cupped hand over his wings and thorax, and it worked! It was a Canada Darner!

Canada Darner

Canada Darner (Aeshna canadensis)

I let him go after taking a few pictures then headed into the woods. I didn’t see much at the pond – a large Aeshna Darner, some meadowhawks, and a couple of Eastern Forktails were the only odonates present. There were few birds around, too – I heard one Swamp Sparrow and saw quite a few mallards and one kingfisher and that was about it.

I had better luck in the woods when I came across a mixed flock of birds that included a Hairy Woodpecker, a Brown Creeper, a White-breasted Nuthatch, a Black-and-White Warbler, a couple of Chipping Sparrows and two Winter Wrens! I was alerted to the presence of the flock by the constant calls of the young Chipping Sparrows and then spotted them and the Winter Wrens moving through the tangled branches littering the ground. I spent an enjoyable 15 minutes watching them before they moved deeper into the woods.

I drove to Ottawa Beach after that, but it was late in the morning and the parking lot was full of cars. A large number of windsurfers were on the sandy spit with so I turned around and drove to Shirley’s Bay instead. I parked in the parking lot at the foot of Rifle Road (on the opposite side of Carling) with the intention of checking out a spot along Watt’s Creek where I had seen jewelwings before. Just as I was taking my net out of the car, I saw a large butterfly floating along above the gravel. I thought it was a Monarch at first, but when it landed in the vegetation next to the car I realized it was a Giant Swallowtail!

Giant Swallowtail

Giant Swallowtail

The butterfly perched in the vegetation for about a minute before taking wing again, fluttering just above the parking lot. It found the wet clay of a recently dried-up puddle irresistible and spent several minutes absorbing nutrients from the moisture. I was able to take several pictures of him, including one of the underside when the wind blew his wings upward.

Giant Swallowtail

Giant Swallowtail

Giant Swallowtail

Giant Swallowtail

Giant swallowtails have long inhabited Ontario’s deep south, notably Windsor and Point Pelee. Although it was first recorded in the Ottawa area in 1992, that individual was a stray that was blown here on the high winds resulting from a hurricane in the southern U.S. Now it is spreading northward in Ontario and has established colonies as far north as Prince Edward County. It was first seen in eastern Ontario in 2011, and good numbers were observed in Ottawa in 2012 in places like Shirley’s Bay where Prickly Ash – one of its larval foodplants – is common. While it is still too early to consider the Giant Swallowtail a permanent species here in Ottawa, it certainly managed to breed successfully and survive the 2012-13 winter, which had quite a bit of snow and a couple of cold snaps unlike the previous mild winter. Whether it will continue to do so remains to be seen.

I left him to his mud puddle and proceeded to check out Watt’s Creek. I didn’t see any dragonflies in the area, let alone the jewelwings I was looking for, so I went back to the car and drove up to Hilda Road. I checked the field near the feeders where I had seen a couple of Blue Dashers and Halloween Pennants last year, but found only a couple of meadowhawks. When I crossed the road and checked out the field there, however, I spotted something bright fire-engine red in the grass and knelt down to check it out. It was a moth, and she was a beauty! She bore a strong resemblance to the Painted Lichen Moth I had seen at the FWG with Diane Lepage last year, so it didn’t take much sleuthing to identify her has a Scarlet-winged Lichen Moth – definitely one of the most striking moths I have ever seen!

Scarlet-winged Lichen Moth

Scarlet-winged Lichen Moth

I also found a few darners in the field, but only managed to catch one. It was another Lance-tipped Darner.

Lance-tipped Darner

Lance-tipped Darner

I walked up to the river, looking for bluets along the rocky shore. I found one, but the wind was too strong for me to get a good look at its claspers. I found two other bluets along the sheltered path and managed to catch both of them. The shape of the claspers as well as the pattern (the black patches are larger than the blue patches of each segment) helped me to identify them as Tule Bluets.

Tule Bluet

Tule Bluet

I caught both of them in order to examine the claspers before letting them go, then photographed them afterward. Unlike dragonflies (or spreadwings for that matter), bluets are weak fliers and generally do not fly very fast or very far upon release.

Tule Bluet

Tule Bluet

I noticed a large dragonfly fly past me at about shoulder height while my attention was focused on the bluets. It looked like a darner, but it disappeared before I could get a good look at it. When I reached the open area at the end of the path, however, I found a Prince Baskettail patrolling a section of the trail. Several times he flew past me about a foot above my head, so I determined to catch him. It took me three tries, but in the end I netted him!

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

His size was impressive, and while I was photographing him a man came up to me to see what I was doing. He asked me if it was alive, and if I had somehow stunned it. I told him no, and when I grasped the dragonfly by the legs it began vibrating its wings in order to prove it was very much alive and annoyed! I told the man a little about the dragonfly, that it found food on the wing rather than perching, and that his green eyes marked him as a member of the emerald family, and then I released its legs so that he could fly free. The Prince Baskettail just sat on my hand for a minute, resulting in some difficult contortions in order to photograph him with my other hand!

Prince Baskettail

Prince Baskettail

I was quite impressed with the beautiful and fabulous bugs I found on my outing; the Scarlet-winged Lichen Moth was my favourite, followed by the Giant Swallowtail (the first one I’ve ever photographed) and the charming Prince Baskettail. Summer may be starting to wind down, but there are still a lot of fascinating creatures around!

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6 thoughts on “Beautiful Bugs

  1. I delightfully informative story of another of your explorations, as usual. I try (in a very amateurish way) to photograph any creatures I see on my frequent outings, but the results are somewhat mixed in terms of the quality of the images. I know it is mostly a lack of skill on my part that is responsible for poor results, but I would be interested in knowing what sort of camera and lens(es) you use to capture your excellent images. Would you care to share?

  2. Thanks Jim. I’m no professional either, but the cameras I have been using have worked very well for me. I have been using various Sony Cybershot point-and-shoot cameras since 2006, and am currently using the DSC-HX200 which has a 30x zoom and good macro capabilities. It’s small, and has no special lenses – with my back, I prefer not to lug a lot of equipment around!

    • Ha ha hah, thanks Caroline. I keep them short so I don’t have to worry about having perfect nails!

      And yes, I am slowly getting better at catching dragonflies in flight with the net!

  3. That is a beautiful moth, and a beautiful picture of it!

    I got my first Giant Swallowtail recently while hiking Watts Creek Trail off Corkstown Road. Recognized it quickly after having seen the pictures on your blog and the Fletcher Wildlife Garden blog. WCT is not anyplace special for insects, as far as I know. I guess this is yet another once-rare species that is rapidly becoming commonplace in Ottawa.

    • Thanks Suzanne. That moth is one of the highlights of my summer!

      Glad you got your first Giant Swallowtail! Watts Creek isn’t too far from Carling and Rifle Roads where I took this photo. They are indeed becoming very common; I even had one fly across my yard one day!

      As for Watts Creek, I’m sure I’ve seen jewelwings there before, and Chris Lewis had a Harlequin Darner in the marsh behind Nortel….I think the area probably hasn’t been explored very thoroughly by insect enthusiasts, so who knows what else might be around that hasn’t been discovered yet!

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