Lepidoptera at the Bruce Pit

Northern Cloudywing

Northern Cloudywing

The Bruce Pit is always a great place to visit in the summer, so I decided to spend a couple of hours there one morning in early June to check out the marsh birds and odes. It was a beautiful, warm summer day, and one of my goals was to search the pond for Eastern Red Damsels. This is the only place in Ottawa where this small damselfly seems to be found, though I have not seen one for several years now. According to the Ottawa Odes checklist, they emerge in mid-June and fly until late July. I was a bit early – it was only June 8th – but decided to try for them anyway.

I began my visit with a walk around the pond while I waited for it to warm up. I saw one Great Egret flying over the pit and a Great Blue Heron stalking fish at the edge of the pond. A pair of Pied-billed Grebes were vocalizing in the reeds at the edge of the pond, and I heard a pair of Marsh Wrens singing as well.

I saw or heard a number of songbirds on my walk, including an American Redstart, a Warbling Vireo, several Red-eyed Vireos, a Great-crested Flycatcher, and a pair of mating Chipping Sparrows. At the back of the pit I took a side path that led to the water, though I found more butterflies than birds. This Common Ringlet was sitting on a stalk of vegetation while it waited for it to warm up a bit.

Common Ringlet

Common Ringlet

I noticed a couple of small blue butterflies fluttering about, and identified them as Silvery Blues. I followed one for a while, hoping to get a photograph of it with its wings open. They tend to perch with their wings shut or only partially open; this is the best I could do:

Silvery Blue

Silvery Blue

The side trail leads to an open area at the back, and from there to the water. Unfortunately the water was so high that I couldn’t walk beyond the dirt entrance. I could hear a Virginia Rail calling from the cattails much further out, and a baskettail of some sort was patrolling the area just above the water. Unfortunately it wouldn’t fly beyond the huge puddle, staying just out of range of my net, and as I was wearing my shoes I didn’t want to get my feet soaked trying to catch it. I later asked Chris Lewis which baskettail species it would most likely be, and she said it was probably a Beaverpond Baskettail.

High Water

High Water

On my way back to the main path I encountered this Northern Cloudywing. This moth-like butterfly is one of the skippers, and flies early in the season.

Northern Cloudywing

Northern Cloudywing

As I was walking along the northern section of the trail, I glanced up and saw a dragonfly with large dark spots on its hindwings gliding overhead. I did a double-take as there is only one species it could be – a Black Saddlebags! I had never seen one in Ottawa, although I had heard they had been found at Bruce Pit multiple times. I certainly didn’t expect to find one! Then, while I was watching, a second one flew out and engaged the first in a brief aerial battle. One flew toward the vegetation on the north side of the trail, while the second flew south, over the pit. It was an amazing moment!

After I completed the circuit I went back to my car to put my boots on, then walked down to the pit. A Common Gallinule was calling from somewhere close by, but I wasn’t actually able to see it. As expected, I didn’t see any Eastern Red Damselflies, though a few dragonflies were buzzing around, including a Common Green Darner, Four-spotted Skimmers, Common Whitetails, Twelve-spotted Skimmers, Dot-tailed Whitefaces and Chalk-fronted Corporals.

As the southern shore is beginning to fill in considerably, I walked toward the north shoreline. Along the way I spotted a medium-sized white moth struggling in the water. I used the handle of my net to scoop it out and placed it on a leaf to dry out. It was a species I had never seen before, and the distinctive shape of its wings made it easy to identify as an Arched Hooktip (Drepana arcuata). This is a widespread species, inhabiting temperate North America from southern Alaska east across Canada to Newfoundland and to the southern states. Adults fly from May to August, though their peak season is in June and July. The caterpillars feed on alders.

Arched Hooktip

Arched Hooktip

It’s not often that I go out birding or dragon-hunting and end up photographing more lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) than anything else. I always enjoy my visits to the Bruce Pit; and, given that it’s still early in the ode season, I’ll be back again!

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