I haven’t seen a Screech-Owl since the one that was discovered at Mud Lake in 2010, and was excited to finally have the opportunity to see another one. This one was in a heavily wooded area just off a seldom-used trail, and it took a bit of luck using the markers Bob and Bernie left along the trail to find him. It was a juvenile, as evidenced by the downy feathers on its face and the lack of tufts.
The Eastern Screech-owl is a scarce permanent resident in Ottawa, and one that is often difficult to find. It is active at night, when it is more often heard than seen, giving a trilling or whinnying song from dark woodlots. However, this owl can sometimes be spotted resting in the opening of a tree cavity during the day or, as this one was, sitting on a branch close to the trunk.
We didn’t stay long as we didn’t want to disturb the young owl, and continued on our way to the Bill Mason Center. There weren’t a lot of species flying at the old, disused quarry, but we did see a lot of Azure Bluets and Eastern Forktails, a couple of Common Whitetails, a couple of Common Green Darners, and a couple of male Calico Pennants.
We spotted some large, dark meadowhawks, and Chris quickly identified them as Saffron-winged Meadowhawks, a species we had missed at Bruce Pit last weekend. Chris sometimes refers to these guys as “Chocolate-faced Meadowhawks” because of the dark colour of their faces.
We saw quite a few of them patrolling the shoreline, zipping over the sand, or getting into altercations with each other. They are much more active than the other meadowhawks, and I began to despair of getting a decent picture of one. Then I found this fellow, who seemed content to just sit and wait. You can see the yellow-tinted leading edge of the wings that gives this species its name. This coloration tends to fade in males as they mature but remains in females. I didn’t see any females while I was there; that would have been a first for me.
Like the Autumn Meadowhawk, the Saffron-winged Meadowhawk has a plain abdomen with very little markings.
Common throughout northern United States and Canada, the Saffron-winged Meadowhawk can be found in open ponds and lakes, especially those that are poorly vegetated, shallow, sandy or gravelly. The Bill Mason Pond and Bruce Pit are certainly good examples of its preferred habitat! Walker and Corbet (1975) state that it is the meadowhawk species most tolerant of alkaline conditions.
We found a few darners flying about the western edge of the pond. They seemed to patrol the same circuit over and over, and after one or two failed attempts on both of our parts Chris managed to catch one. It turned out to be a Canada Darner. We found a few more on our way back to the car, including this one clinging to a stem during a strong gust of wind.
Another interesting insect that we found was this Pelecinid Wasp. It is a female; males are much smaller and are seldom encountered. What looks like a long stinger is actually an ovipositor. The female wasp inserts it into the soil, uses it to detect the larvae of scarab beetles, then lays eggs on the larvae. Once they hatch, the wasp larvae kill, then feed on the beetle larvae, in the soil.
It was a great day to be outside, and the owl and the Saffron-winged Meadowhawks were definitely the highlights of our outing. This will probably be the only time this year that I see these two species, which makes me feel both sad and fortunate at the same time.