Birds and Bugs of the August Long Weekend

Gray Comma

Gray Comma

Today marked the beginning of the August long weekend and I found some great birds and bugs to start it off. I went to the Richmond Lagoons first, curious to see if any shorebirds had shown up in the first cell. None had, but I heard a Common Gallinule squeaking in the reeds near the observation deck. There were lots of flycatchers around; I heard two Alder Flycatchers still singing away, and saw one unidentified flycatcher in the parking lot and two more in the shrubs between the first two cells. None of these were singing, and I couldn’t identify them from their call notes. I thought the one in the parking lot made a sound like the “whit!” of a Least Flycatcher, but the ones along the berm sounded similar, and when I checked my birding app on my phone the Alder Flycatcher’s call note didn’t sound much different from a Least Flycatcher.

At least this male Purple Finch in the parking lot was easy to identify, even if he wasn’t singing or making any sounds!

Purple Finch

Purple Finch

I saw a pair of Wood Ducks and a large group of mallards in the second cell. A smaller bird swimming with them turned out to be Pied-billed Grebe. The mallards started swimming away from me, and where the mallards went, the grebe followed.

There wasn’t much else of interest in the marsh, so I decided to walk through the woods and along the river at the back of the conservation area. Along the way I heard a Warbling Vireo singing and saw a couple of Gray Catbirds. When I entered the large field between the lagoons and the woods, a horde of mosquitoes descended upon me. I stayed long enough to watch a Black-and-white Warbler ambling along the branch of a dead tree and was about to leave when I spotted a gorgeous male Rose-breasted Grosbeak in a nearby tree.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

I hear Rose-breasted Grosbeaks more often than I see them, and I don’t often see the males out in the open like this. I put up with the mosquitoes long enough to take a few photos as it has been a while since I’ve had the opportunity to photograph one.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeaks breed in moist deciduous or deciduous-coniferous forests, second-growth woods, thickets, and semi-open habitats such as suburban areas, parks, gardens, and shrubby forest edges next to water. During migration, grosbeaks can show up anywhere including primary and secondary forests, urban areas, and wetlands. I wasn’t sure if this one was was a local breeder or if he was just moving through.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Eventually the mosquitoes became so bad that I gave up on my idea of walking through the woods and returned back to the parking lot. Along the way I started noticing a few damselflies in the vegetation. Most were spreadwings, but I did encounter a Fragile Forktail as well. A few Lyre-tipped Spreadwings were still hanging around along the vegetation around the first cell.

Lyre-tipped Spreadwing

Lyre-tipped Spreadwing

I also found a couple of Slender Spreadwings along the trail leading to the parking lot. This one was out in the sun, but several more were in the shade below the pine trees. Unlike most odonates which like to perch in sunny, exposed areas, the Slender Spreadwing seems to prefer resting in complete shade. Also unlike other spreadwings, the Slender Spreadwing doesn’t develop much pruinosity on the final segments of the abdomen. The bluish downward-pointing triangle on segment 9 seems to be characteristic of this species.

Slender Spreadwing

Slender Spreadwing

My next stop was Sarsaparilla Trail. When I arrived I heard the usual White-throated Sparrow singing somewhere just off the parking lot; this is the first year that I’ve heard one singing consistently at this trail throughout the season. I also spotted a White Admiral mud-puddling in the parking lot.

White Admiral

White Admiral

I checked the grassy area between the outhouse and the picnic shelter for interesting bugs. There were lots of meadowhawks, and to my surprise, a Black-and-white Warbler was foraging in one of the trees. This is the first time I’d seen one here since spring migration.

Then a large orange butterfly zoomed past me. It was too pale and too fast to be a monarch; I followed it with my eyes for a couple of minutes until it finally landed on a leaf in the sun. It was a Great-spangled Fritillary, and from the missing pieces of its wings, had been flying for a while.

Great-spangled Fritillary

Great-spangled Fritillary

I proceeded to the observation dock and spent some time there watching the various wildlife. I saw a Great Blue Heron flying over (indeed, all my sightings of these large blue herons at Sarsaparilla this year have been fly-overs….I haven’t seen one yet foraging in the pond in a while) and heard a Green Heron call. Two Belted Kingfishers were present and spent some time chasing each other. A few Swamp Sparrows and a Marsh Wren were still singing, and from the woods I heard both a Great Crested Flycatcher and an Eastern Wood-pewee.

A couple of Painted Turtles were sunning themselves, and when I looked down I saw a Northern Water Snake basking on a log as well. There are actually two reptiles in this photo….a Painted Turtle is swimming in the water behind the snake!

Northern Water Snake

Northern Water Snake

There weren’t many dragonflies present at the boardwalk, though several large species (darners and Twelve-spotted Skimmers) were flying out over the water. I saw a couple of Eastern Forktails flying low over the water, and the only bluet I saw – and caught – turned out to be a Marsh Bluet. I spotted one Widow Skimmer perching in the cattails and a Belted Whiteface perching on a stick in the water. Then a Frosted Whiteface flew in and landed on the boardwalk.

Frosted Whiteface

Frosted Whiteface

While watching the odonates, a beautiful, fresh Red Admiral came flying in and spent some time with me on the boardwalk. It landed on the boardwalk a couple of times, and then spent some time probing the handle of my dragonfly net. It was probably attracted to the salts in the perspiration I’d left behind.

Red Admiral

Red Admiral

I left the boardwalk and entered the woods, finding a few Slender Spreadwings in the shade. I spent some time trying to photograph them, barely paying any attention to the long, rambling song of a bird singing somewhere in the woods. Eventually something clicked, and I realized that the bird – which I had unthinkingly assumed was a goldfinch – was NOT a goldfinch, but something much more interesting: a Winter Wren! Although it was off-trail, I managed to get close enough to hear its long, tinkling song coming from beyond a large brush pile. This is the first time I’d heard one here since last fall.

I reluctantly left the wren to its lovely song and returned to the open area by the outhouse. A medium-sized orange butterfly was fluttering around, and when it landed I realized it was a comma. It took about 15 minutes of following it around before I could get close enough to identify it as a Gray Comma, a species I haven’t seen in a couple of years. From the top, they look a lot like the Eastern Comma.

Gray Comma

Gray Comma

Beneath, however, the silvery comma looks like a thin check-mark. The comma on the Eastern Comma has rather thickened ends, making it look more like a smile.

Gray Comma

Gray Comma

It was thrilling to see one of these butterflies so close to home. I knew they must be around in Stony Swamp, as I had had one in my backyard several years ago; however, I had never seen one on any of the Stony Swamp trails before. Spending time watching the Gray Comma was a great way to end the day!

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