Summer Butterflies

Acadian Hairstreak

Acadian Hairstreak

It was sunny and warm this morning when I woke up, so I decided to head over to the Beaver Trail to see if any interesting butterflies were flying. The meadow there is a good spot for skippers, fritillaries and Common Wood Nymphs, and I’ve seen Monarchs nectaring there on the milkweeds and Viper’s Bugloss in the past. I also thought it would be a great idea to see what dragonflies were flying, in case there were emeralds flying there that I’d overlooked in the past.

When I arrived the first birds I heard were an Eastern Wood-pewee and a Broad-winged Hawk, which surprised me as I had just heard one at the Rideau Trail last weekend. I also heard a Red-shouldered Hawk’s whiny call, but the sound was coming from across the beaver pond and because of the distance I couldn’t tell if it was actually a Red-shouldered Hawk or a Blue Jay imitating it. This isn’t the first time I’ve heard either hawk here before.

I stopped in the clearing next to the marsh where I’d had luck with Henry’s Elfins, Racket-tailed Emeralds and Eastern Pondhawks in the past. I saw a Northern Crescent, a few meadowhawks, and a Peck’s Skipper! This is the first time that I can recall seeing this species here. I got a great look at the underside of its wings, but a better photo of the upperside.

Peck's Skipper

Peck’s Skipper

I stopped at the first opening onto the marsh and heard Common Yellowthroats and Swamp Sparrows, but didn’t see a single odonate. I’d had luck with spreadwings here before, but I didn’t see a single one on this outing. I didn’t even see any damselflies at the boardwalk, though I saw several Dot-tailed Whitefaces, Twelve-spotted Skimmers, and a whiteface that might have been a Frosted or a Belted Whiteface. I heard a Purple Finch singing across the water and a Sora called once from the cattails near the old beaver lodge.

At the observation deck I saw a few large dragonflies skimming over the water. I decided to walk across the bridge and check the trail that leads to the Lime Kiln Trail for anything of interest; I heard a couple of Veeries, and managed to see one when it flew out in response to my whistled “Veer” notes. This was the first time I’d ever heard them singing here; the only other time I’d observed this species before was during migration in May 2009. In the same area I saw a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak, an Eastern Wood-pewee out in the open, a Racket-tailed Emerald, and a single bluet; it was the only one I found on my outing, and I wasn’t surprised when I identified it as a Marsh Bluet.

From there I went to the meadow where I spent a lot of time looking around. There were at least three Great-spangled Fritillaries and a couple of Common Wood Nymphs flying. When I saw one of the fritillaries nectaring on the Viper’s Bugloss I was able to walk up to it and take some photos.

Great-spangled Fritillary

Great-spangled Fritillary

I thought the fritillary was going to fly off, but instead it landed on this Wild Majoram (also known as Oregano). You can tell that this wildflower is a member of the mint family as it gave off a lovely minty smell as I walked through it.

Great-spangled Fritillary

Great-spangled Fritillary

I walked to the back of the meadow and began following a Common Wood Nymph. These large, dark, conspicuous butterflies look almost black when flying in sunny fields and meadows. The butterfly landed several times, but at first it landed too low in the grass to photograph through all the stems. Finally it found a leaf to its liking and began opening and closing its wings. They usually perch with their wings closed, so it is rare to see the upper side of their wings. I managed to snap a picture while its wings were open; this was not only the first time I’d photographed their upper wings, it was the first time I’d seen how beautiful they are!

Common Wood Nymph

Common Wood Nymph

As I walked through the long grass I saw lots of European Skippers and a couple of Dun Skippers. The Dun Skipper is the darkest grass skipper we have in Ottawa and can be found in good numbers at the Beaver Trail.

Dun Skipper

Dun Skipper

I found another Common Wood Nymph, and this one was just as taken with me as I was with it. It landed on my binoculars, on my net, on my hat, on my shoulder, and even on my face! I managed to get a couple of photos of the butterfly on my hat, though it wasn’t easy as I wasn’t quite sure where it was or if I had the butterfly in my frame!

Me and my Common Wood Nymph

Me and my Common Wood Nymph

It was easier to take a picture of the butterfly on my shoulder, as this time I could see him. Was it love at first sight or something else? I hadn’t heard of Common Wood Nymphs landing on people, though some butterflies do because they are attracted to the salts in human perspiration. And, as it was pretty hot, I was indeed sweating!

Common Wood Nymph

Common Wood Nymph

Finally I walked away and watched to see what it do. Eventually it landed on a leaf and I was able to get a more natural-looking photo of a Common Wood Nymph with its wings closed.

Common Wood Nymph

Common Wood Nymph

I also saw a single sulphur (likely a Clouded Sulphur) fluttering around, but it wouldn’t land; however, two white butterflies were more accommodating. The first was a Cabbage White, which made me realize I have not seen as many of these non-native butterflies as I usually do. They are one of the few butterflies I regularly see in my suburban garden, but I haven’t seen a single one so far this year. The other butterfly was a Mustard White; it was smaller, and pure white above.

Mustard White

Mustard White

The underside didn’t have as many dark streaks as the ones I’d seen earlier in the year. This species occurs in two seasonal forms: the underside of the summer form is solid white, but the spring form has dark veins beneath and often has a yellowish tinge to the hindwing and forewing tip. It was interesting to me that even the eyes were white with gray dots.

Mustard White

Mustard White

One of the Great-spangled Fritillaries flew by, and so I spent some time following it. I finally got a picture of it with its wings open; however, it didn’t stay long, and flew off when a Four-spotted Skimmer landed on a twig right next to it.

Great-spangled Fritillary

Great-spangled Fritillary

After that I decided to leave and, on the way out, saw a large black dragonfly patrolling the open area between the outhouses and the parking lot. Another Williamson’s Emerald, perhaps? I caught it, and was happy to confirm that it was indeed another Williamson’s Emerald. The only other emerald species I’ve seen at this trail is the Racket-tailed Emerald, a small and widespread species.

Yearning to see some more odes and, in particular, spreadwings, decided to go to the Bruce Pit. I wasn’t expecting to see any unusual butterflies there, so I was surprised when I saw a hairstreak fly by me while I was in the field leading to the water. It landed close to the path, and to my delight it wasn’t a Banded Hairstreak as I was expecting, but an Acadian Hairstreak! I hadn’t seen one of these since a trip to Larose Forest in 2009, so I was pretty excited to see this one and get some great photos of it!

Acadian Hairstreak

Acadian Hairstreak

I spent some time wandering the field looking for bugs and found two more Acadian Hairstreaks! What I love about this butterfly is the small orange band on the leading edge of its forewings.

Acadian Hairstreak

Acadian Hairstreak

Hairstreaks are one of my favourite groups of butterflies because they are one of the least commonly seen. They aren’t particularly colourful – most have a grey or brown background with a row of orange spots, a larger blue spot, and tails – but they are tiny and fierce, chasing other hairstreaks out of their territory with a persistence that is astonishing in a creature so small. They perch on leaves like little sentries, ever-alert to possible invaders. Once again I am reminded that they aren’t just insects, they are animals demonstrating the same territorial behaviour as birds or mammals.

Altogether it was a very successful outing, with four of the five butterfly families observed (all but the swallowtails) – not a feat I expected so close to home!

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