Murphy’s Point Provincial Park

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

My fiancé Doran and I spent a few days at Murphy’s Point Provincial Park towards the end of July. Neither of us had been there before; I had chosen it because it was only an hour’s drive from home, and contained a lot of southern species not typically (or easily) found in Ottawa such as Gray Ratsnakes, Yellow-throated Vireos, Cerulean Warblers, Golden-winged Warblers, Red-shouldered Hawks, and both cuckoos. I was also curious as to whether they had any southern odes or butterflies, and brought my net with the intention of finding out!

The first two days were hot and humid. Our wildlife adventure started not long after we left Perth en route to the park. An e-bike traveling on the shoulder just ahead of us came to a stop, and a moment later we saw a doe emerge from the ditch onto the road with her two fawns. We stopped as well and waited for the deer to finish crossing the road; however, the fawns both decided it was a good time to feed! I shot this picture through the windshield just before the doe decided enough was enough and headed off into the bush with her two offspring following (the motorcycle had stopped as well).

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

The rest of the drive to the park was uneventful, though it was a bit of a surprise just how far the registration office was from the park entrance. We registered without any problems, and proceeded to our campsite – no. 33 in the Ash Hill area. The campsite was down a bit of a slope, but was large and flat. Although there was ample space between us and our neighbours, the vegetation surrounding our site was not very thick or very high, so we could see and hear all of our neighbours. This wasn’t pleasant as two of our neighbours had loud children and the ones across the road had a dog that barked at everyone walking by. As we were setting up I heard a Scarlet Tanager, a pair of Red-eyed Vireos, and an Eastern Kingbird in the field beyond the park road. A Slender Spreadwing was a pleasant surprise, and the first odonate of the trip that I identified.

Slender Spreadwing

Slender Spreadwing

After setting up we had some time to do a trail before dinner. I chose the Lally Homestead Trail as it was a short (800 metres) loop that proceeded “through abandoned farm fields (now excellent for wildflower and bird viewing) and sugar maple forest to a lookout over Black Creek Marsh”. Abandoned wildflower fields are good for both butterflies and dragonflies, so I took my net.

Lally Homestead

Lally Homestead

At the trail I was thrilled to hear the songs of an Eastern Towhee and an Indigo Bunting. A distant Field Sparrow was also singing. As I had hoped, there were lots of dragonflies and lots of butterflies! I saw a couple of large yellow butterflies (Eastern Tiger Swallowtails, perhaps?) but didn’t chase them as there were signs proclaiming that ticks carrying Lyme Disease are found in the area. I saw Widow Skimmers, Twelve-spotted Skimmers, meadowhawks, Eastern Pondhawks, Blue Dashers and Halloween Pennants in the area, but the best insect find in my opinion was not a dragonfly but a Snowberry Clearwing Moth feeding on milkweed.

Snowberry Clearwing Moth

Snowberry Clearwing Moth

After leaving the field of wildflowers the trail passes through a small wood and comes out onto the marsh. The woods were full of mosquitoes, so we didn’t linger; however, we spent some time at the marsh where we saw Blue Dashers, more Eastern Pondhawks, and a group of Canada Geese.

Black Creek Marsh

Black Creek Marsh

We checked out the ruins before proceeding across the road to the Silver Queen Mine Trail; it is now used as a picnic area.

Lally Homestead Ruins

Lally Homestead Ruins

The Silver Queen Mine Trail is considered one of the best birding areas in the park. As it was late in the afternoon I didn’t expect to see much, and other than a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a couple of Red-eyed Vireos, and a distant raven we didn’t see or hear many birds. An Eastern Cottontail was feeding on the grass near a display consisting of two horses pulling a miner’s cart, and we saw more dragonflies. There were no Chalk-fronted Corporals or Racket-tailed Emeralds, unfortunately; the mosquitoes and deer flies were bad and we could’ve used their help in getting rid of them! This would be the theme of our trip.

Historic House

Historic Bunkhouse

Because we were being eaten alive we just walked to the bunkhouse and back. There is a separate loop that goes to a beaver pond (I heard a Common Yellowthroat singing) but we decided to skip that. Perhaps the next morning, when hopefully there would be more birds around!

After dinner we settled in for the night. We didn’t have a campfire; it was hot, and we spent the evening sitting in the screened area of our tent. At dusk an Eastern Wood-pewee started calling, and we heard the loons on the lake as well. We watched the fireflies come out and saw a raccoon walk across our campsite just before it became too dark to see. It went to the picnic table where it found a potato chip I had dropped, then went to the campfire pit and searched inside for food. Clearly it knew all the best places to look! Our neighbour saw it, too, and yelled to the raccoon that he knew he (the raccoon) had been in the garbage he left out the night before and that he wouldn’t find any tonight. (Seriously, who leaves garbage out when camping – even if you’re not in bear country?)

I didn’t sleep well that night and heard the raccoons rustling around and a Barred Owl calling in the distance. This was the first time I’d ever heard a Barred Owl calling while camping. It was pretty cool, though I wished it were closer!

The next morning I got up early and went for a walk. I hadn’t seen the beach yet and was looking forward to checking it out. There were no people present; the area was empty except for a single White-tailed Deer grazing on the grass.

White-tailed Deer

White-tailed Deer

Three Common Loons were swimming on the water and I heard a Hermit Thrush singing across the bay.

Hogg's Bay

Hogg’s Bay

Other birds heard and seen on my walk were a Great Blue Heron, an Eastern Phoebe, a Yellow-rumped Warbler in crisp breeding plumage, a Chipping Sparrow, several Song Sparrows and Red-eyed Vireos, a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a Warbling Vireo, and best of all, a Yellow-throated Vireo that I both heard and saw!

Yellow-throated Vireo

Yellow-throated Vireo

A few dragonflies were beginning to hunt and I spotted this interesting meadowhawk in the vegetation; it looks like either a Ruby or a Cherry-faced Meadowhawk.

Meadowhawk sp.

Meadowhawk sp.

One quiet inlet contained a few Skimming Bluets, a Stream Bluet, and some Slaty Skimmers.

Slaty Skimmer

Slaty Skimmer

The most common damselfly in the area appeared to be the Violet Dancer. It seems to like rocky shores. Most of the ones I found were perching on the ground, but I was happy when one flew up onto a leaf.

Violet Dancer

Violet Dancer

Halloween Pennants were also very common near the beach.

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

By time I was ready to leave a few people had arrived. One person saw me photographing the dragonflies and told me there was a Ratsnake by the water. I hurried over in time to see it slithering through the vegetation. It didn’t stay out in the open long enough to get a clear shot.

Gray Ratsnake

Gray Ratsnake

I returned to the campsite after about an hour and found Doran up and about. We puttered around the campsite for a while, and at lunch time I noticed a yellow swallowtail butterfly feeding on the thistles that grew just beyond our site. The marginal row of yellow spots on the underside of the forewing identify it as an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail; the similar-looking Canadian Tiger Swallowtail has a continuous band of yellow, rather than a row of yellow spots. The Canadian Tiger Swallowtail also flies earlier in the season, as it only has one generation per season.

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

Eastern Tiger Swallowtail

After lunch Doran and I went kayaking around Hogg Bay. Although it was hot and humid, the heat didn’t seem as bad on the water (and there were no mosquitoes or deer flies to torment us!) I saw several Slaty Skimmers and Blue Dashers flying over the water, and one male Blue Dasher even landed on the kayak for a bit. I also saw a couple of interesting emeralds flying over the lake, but with no way to catch them they will have to be left unidentified. We kayaked all the way to the opening onto Big Rideau Lake, but as the water was rougher and several motorized boats were zooming along the water we decided to stay within the quieter Hogg Bay and returned back toward the beach.

Just before dinner we tried the McParlan House Trail, a 1.8 km linear trail which leads to the restored McParlan House, the site of an early 1800s sawmill. The only birds we heard along the trail were Red-eyed Vireos and Blue Jays, and although I did see a polygonia butterfly in the woods, I wasn’t able to identify it. The reason I had chosen this trail was the creek that emptied into Hogg Bay….I thought it might be a good spot for dragonflies.

Black Creek

Black Creek

Although there was a nice set of rapids beneath the bridge, the only odonates I saw were Ebony Jewelwings, always a favourite of mine.

Ebony Jewelwing

Ebony Jewelwing

We went inside the restored farmhouse mainly to escape the biting bugs; it was neat to think about the people that had built this house two centuries ago and how different life was back then.

McParlan House

McParlan House

That night we heard the loons and Barred Owls calling again, and this time a raccoon actually tried to enter the tent. Doran had to get up and scare it off. I had heard that raccoon encounters were common in Murphy’s Point, but I didn’t relish the idea of sharing a tent with one! I also heard a strange sound I couldn’t identify. It sounded like the sharp, abrupt whistle of a bird which repeated every 20 minutes or so. It sounded a little like the second syllable of an Acadian Flycatcher’s call, but not quite as thin-sounding. I meant to ask one of the park staff about it but forgot all about it the next day.

The next morning we awoke to thunder showers. Fortunately the rain passed through quickly (though it remained overcast the rest of the morning) and I was able to go to the beach before it got too crowded. When I checked the inlet again I noticed some greenish spreadwings perching in the reeds; I thought they might be Swamp Spreadwings, and sure enough when I caught them, that’s what they turned out to be.

Swamp Spreadwing

Swamp Spreadwing

Males develop a bluish-gray pruinosity on the sides of the thorax and on the final two segments of the abdomen. The lower claspers are thin and hair-like, and difficult to see at a distance.

Swamp Spreadwing

Swamp Spreadwing

After letting this fellow go, I spotted a pair of Swamp Spreadwings in tandem on a reed in the water. The female was ovipositing (laying eggs):

Swamp Spreadwings

Swamp Spreadwings

I also noticed that I had caught a teneral damselfly in my net with the Swamp Spreadwing. It must have just emerged as it was still fairly transparent. I didn’t want to handle the damselfly and let it climb to the top of my net and fly off on its own.

Teneral Damselfly

Teneral Damselfly

I didn’t see the Yellow-throated Vireo again, but I heard the Hermit Thrush across the bay again, saw a Scarlet Tanager near the beach, and witnessed a pair of Red-shouldered Hawks flying together across the bay. Both were very vocal. I also counted four Common Loons in Hogg Bay.

As this was our last day at Murphy’s Point, Doran and I decided to do the Silver Queen Mine Trail again. I was hoping to find some of the Golden-winged Warblers that are supposed to breed there, but once again we came up empty. We started off on the Beaver Pond loop, where we got caught in another shower. I saw my first Spotted Spreadwing of the trip here, as well as the usual Halloween Pennants and meadowhawks. There weren’t very many birds in the woods, but we did come across a flock of robins. On the way back I spotted this dark skipper sitting in the vegetation. It had white spots on its wings, and I believe it is a Little Glassywing:

Little Glassywing

Little Glassywing

We checked the Lally Homestead Trail afterward. The Indigo Bunting, Field Sparrow and Eastern Towhee were singing near the entrance, and at the marsh we had three Turkey Vultures soaring overhead, a Killdeer calling from the marsh, and a distant Swamp Sparrow and Gray Catbird. We headed back to camp after that and decided to head home.

Murphy’s Point Provincial Park is small compared to some other parks I’ve been to. We didn’t do two of the trails as I didn’t think I’d see anything different there that I hadn’t already seen – the Sylvan Trail, which is a 2.5 km loop that cuts through the woods of the Frontenac Arch, the southernmost extension of the Canadian Shield; and the Point Trail, a 5.5 km loop that takes hikers to the peninsula and provides views of a sandy beach and the Big Rideau Lake along the way. I didn’t like that the campsites were close together, with little privacy between sites (at least in Hogg Bay; I don’t know about the Fallows Campground). I think for a birder/nature enthusiast who lives close by it would make a pleasant day trip. It would be a good spot to visit again in the spring or early summer, when there will be more birds singing and perhaps different odes flying.

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6 thoughts on “Murphy’s Point Provincial Park

    • It is neat, isn’t it the way people do that? I think because I carry a net and binoculars they think I’m a naturalist or someone “official”. I’m just glad they tell me!

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