OFNC Trip to Opinicon Road

Northern Crescent

Northern Crescent

On Saturday, June 21, 2014, a group of OFNC naturalists led by Robert Alvo and Jakob Mueller visited Opinicon Road and the lands around the Queens University Biological Station (“QUBS”) for a day of birding and herping in the Frontenac Arch Biosphere Reserve. Although not even two hours away from Ottawa, this area is rich in fauna typically found in southern Ontario, and our goal was to see some of these species. Targets included Gray Ratsnake, Cerulean Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Yellow-throated Vireo, Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, Red-shouldered Hawk, Black-billed Cuckoo and Yellow-billed Cuckoo. The drive down to Opinicon Road was uneventful, and our first stop of the day was a beaver pond just south of Chaffey’s Locks.

Beaver Pond on Opinicon Road

Beaver Pond on Opinicon Road

We didn’t see many birds, but we heard a few singing from the woods surrounding the pond, including a Black-and-white Warbler, an Ovenbird, a Scarlet Tanager, two Wood Thrushes (a species which is apparently more common here than in Ottawa), and an Eastern Wood-Pewee. The most interesting thing about the stop was not the birds, but the amphibians – at least 100 tiny baby toads must have emerged from the pond recently, and were trying to cross the road to the woods on the other side! The toads were only about the size of my thumbnail and kept hopping out of the way as we walked around the site. Several had tried to cross the road but didn’t make it. 😦 Seeing the baby toads made me appreciate how long some of the huge adults I’ve seen must have survived in in order to grow so large!

We also pulled over a short way down the road when we heard a couple of birds singing in the trees that Rob thought were Pine Warblers. I wasn’t quite convinced, as they had more of a sewing-machine trill, and when we finally got a glimpse of one it turned out to be a Chipping Sparrow. I noticed a Wild Turkey walking through the understory on the opposite side of the road, but it disappeared when it realized it was being watched.

It was only a short drive from there to our chief destination, the Skycroft Campground, and in particular the trails across the road from it. We spent a few hours walking the trails in a clockwise direction, exploring deciduous woods, passing through a couple of open fields, and skirting the edge of a couple of lakes along the way. Right near the beginning of the trail we heard our first Cerulean Warbler singing high up in the canopy. This was a lifer for me, and I counted it as I knew the birdsong from my “More Birding By Ear” CDs. Not much further along someone found a Blue-spotted Salamander under a log, and Jakob picked it up so everyone could see it.

Blue-spotted Salamander

Blue-spotted Salamander

After allowing everyone to take some pictures Jakob put it on a mossy log.

Blue-spotted Salamander

Blue-spotted Salamander

We proceeded through the woods, hearing a Red-eyed Vireo’s whiny call and three more Cerulean Warblers singing. Although we spent several minutes trying to entice one of the Cerulean Warblers into view I never did catch more than a glimpse of a small bird-shadow darting among the leaves high above us!

A little further along the path we came out to a small opening with lots of tall grasses growing in the center. As we had been warned that there might be ticks, I didn’t enter the grass, though I could see a large number of Sedge Sprites perching in the vegetation. I was enthralled when I spotted a female Emerald Spreadwing a few moments later!

Emerald Spreadwing

Emerald Spreadwing

While I was busy catching the spreadwing, Jakob had found a Red Eft, the terrestrial form of the Eastern Red Newt. He picked it up, and it began running up his arm!

Red Eft

Red Eft

The sun began to emerge from the clouds, and I began to notice other insects in the clearing as well, including a Northern Crescent butterfly, a Four-spotted Skimmer, a Common Whitetail, and a couple of Chalk-fronted Corporals.

Chalk-fronted Corporal

Chalk-fronted Corporal

I also heard the song of a Yellow-throated Vireo somewhere close by, but as most of the group had already left I didn’t stick around to try to find it. As I hurried along the trail something small hopped out of my way; when I knelt down to see what it was, it turned out to be a Wood Frog. I alerted Jakob, who spent a couple of minutes trying to catch it in a container.

Wood Frog

Wood Frog

While in the same area we heard a cuckoo calling in the distance, but we weren’t able to identify the species as both Black-billed and Yellow-billed can give a similar-sounding two-part call. We also heard some Ovenbirds, Red-eyed Vireos and Eastern Wood-Pewees but weren’t able to spot any in the canopy.

The trail passed through an open meadow before proceeding down to the first lake. A Turkey Vulture and a Red-shouldered Hawk flew by overhead, while several dragonflies were flitting through the vegetation. I spotted a Horned Clubtail and managed to catch it.

Horned Clubtail

Horned Clubtail

There were many bluets and skimmers in the field, including several Dot-tailed Whitefaces and Twelve-spotted Skimmers. The only bluet I was able to identify was a Marsh Bluet. I thought this dragonfly was a female Twelve-spotted Skimmer, then I counted the spots and realized it was an Eleven-spotted Skimmer. (Sorry, a little dragonfly humor – it IS a Twelve-spot, just missing part of one of its hindwings!)

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Twelve-spotted Skimmer

Then I spotted a pair of Saddlebags zooming above the meadow just out of my reach. They had large spots on the hindwings, but they weren’t black – they were red! Fortunately there was a dead tree in the middle of the field on which they liked to perch. I knew they were either Red Saddlebags or Carolina Saddlebags, but wasn’t sure which until I got a couple photos of them in the tree.

Carolina Saddlebags

The best way to tell these two species apart is by examining the size and shape of the red patch on the hindwing. The Carolina Saddlebags has a larger wing patch that typically covers the entire anal loop, a closed, L-shaped set of cells close to the body which resembles a human calf and foot in skimmers. While the entire loop is red in the Carolina Saddlebags, the “foot” of the anal loop is typically clear in Red Saddlebags. Further, the shape of the patches are different. The outer margin of the Carolina Saddlebags has one deep indentation above a central lobe that juts outward, almost resembling a human nose in profile. In contrast, the margin of the Red Saddlebags has three equal-sized lobes separated by two deep indentations. Finally, the clear area next to the abdomen is bigger and rounder in shape in the Red Saddlebags, though this may not be easy to see depending on the angle of the dragonfly. In the photo below you can see the “human nose”, while the window is obscured. The anal loop is not visible as I was quite far away and the venation of the wings is not clear.

Carolina Saddlebags

Carolina Saddlebags

I knew that no matter which species it was, it was a lifer for me. I only wish I could have gotten some better photos, or even better, to have caught it and examined it in the hand!

We paused for lunch on the rocky slope above the first lake. We saw a couple of Hooded Mergansers swimming on the water and an agitated male Common Yellowthroat in the vegetation next to where we sat – he probably had a nest or young nearby and didn’t like us sitting so close. The view was incredible – I couldn’t picture a more idyllic place to stop and take a break!

QUBS Trail

Lake along the QUBS Trail

It was shaping up to be a great outing – it was only lunch time and I had already gotten two lifers: the Cerulean Warbler and the Carolina Saddlebags. And I had just missed out on a third, a ratsnake hanging out beneath the shelter in the field as our group approached. It quickly disappeared beneath the wooden shack and refused to come out.

After lunch we proceeded across a bridge and re-entered the woods once again. We heard some Black-throated Green Warblers, American Redstarts, and another Scarlet Tanager and found a couple of turtles basking on the logs at the far end of the lake. We also found two interesting and very different yellow moths.

I have seen these large, yellow Xanthotype (“Zan-tho-tippy”) moths in the past, though not recently; two species are found in Ontario, the Crocus Geometer and False Crocus Geometer Moths, and differentiating between these two species requires examination of the genitalia according to Bugguide. These moths inhabit mixed and deciduous forests, and while the adults are nocturnal, they may also be seen during the day resting in shrubs in the forest understory – just as this one was doing.

Xanthotype sp.

Xanthotype sp.

We also found a singing Chestnut-sided Warbler (which sounded enough like a Yellow Warbler to have me fooled) and a Northern Flicker in the same area.

The other really interesting moth we saw on our walk was this intriguing Io Moth (Automeris io, also sometimes known as the Peacock Moth). A few members of the group called me over to take a look. It was very furry, giving it a cute appearance. I wasn’t able to identify it at the time, but had to ask Diane Lepage her opinion after I got home. I thought it might be deformed, as its body was longer than its wings, but Diane thought it might have just recently emerged. The Io Moth belongs to Family Saturniidae, the Giant Silkworm Moths, which are the largest moths in our area and have a very short lifespan as the adults do not feed.

Io Moth

Io Moth

While examining the moth, I noticed a small spider on my dragonfly net. The abrupt way it jumped onto the net made me think it was a jumping spider of some sort, perhaps something in Genus Phidippus. I had never seen a red jumping spider before, so I was intrigued enough to take a photo.

Jumping Spider?

Jumping Spider?

Eventually we came to this enormous research field with small areas encased in fences. To me it was bug heaven, as numerous butterflies and dragonflies were flying about.

Research Field

Research Field

I saw a couple of newly emerged Widow Skimmers and a Northern Cloudywing butterfly.

Northern Cloudywing

Northern Cloudywing

I was also happy to see both pennant species in the same spot! I caught one of each to examine the difference in wing pattern in the two species.

Calico Pennant

Calico Pennant

The Calico Pennant (above) has a large coloured patch at the base of the hindwing and two pairs of smaller spots on each wing. In contrast, the Halloween Pennant has three bands running the length of each wing; the two inner bands are usually composed of two irregular spots which are occasionally fused together (particularly the center band) while the outermost band is a solid stripe running from edge to edge. I tried to get some photos of them perching in the grass, but my camera refused to focus on the dragonflies!

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

Not long after that we found ourselves in a rocky clearing close to the road where we heard an Indigo Bunting singing and saw a Giant Swallowtail sail past. We kept an eye open for basking snakes but didn’t see any. Back in the woods, I spotted this interesting millipede crawling along the forest floor. As best as I can tell, it is a Black-and-Yellow Millipede.

Black-and-Yellow Millipede

Black-and-Yellow Millipede

Not long after that our outing came to an end. We came up with a list of all of the birds, reptiles and amphibians that we saw (I tallied 25 bird species plus the unknown cuckoo, 5 herps, and 18 ode species). On our way back to Ottawa, we stopped off at the Queens University Biological Station to use the washroom. As Rob was talking to one of the researchers, my attention was caught by a dragonfly flying next to the stone wall at the edge of the parking lot. It landed, and I was happy to see my first Stream Cruiser of the year! I was even able to pick it up with my fingers and show Rob and the others.

Stream Cruiser

Stream Cruiser

After that we drove back to Ottawa, with a much-needed stop at Tim Hortons to grab some drinks (I needed an ice-cold smoothie!). I was very happy to have heard the Cerulean Warbler and to see the Carolina Saddlebags. It would have been nice to have seen the cuckoo, but perhaps that will have to wait for another trip!

Odes seen:

1. Emerald Spreadwing
2. Marsh Bluet
3. Sedge Sprite
4. Eastern Forktail
5. Common Green Darner
6. Horned Clubtail
7. Stream Cruiser
8. Racket-tailed Emerald
9. Prince Baskettail
10. Calico Pennant
11. Halloween Pennant
12. Blue Dasher
13. Carolina Saddlebags
14. Chalk-fronted Corporal
15. Dot-tailed Whiteface
16. Widow Skimmer
17. Common Whitetail
18. Twelve-spotted Skimmer
19. Four-spotted Skimmer

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One thought on “OFNC Trip to Opinicon Road

  1. Pingback: An OFNC Outing: The Flora and Fauna of Sheila McKee Park | The Pathless Wood

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