On August 16th I drove from Ottawa to southern Ontario to spend a week with my family: three days with my Dad in Cambridge and four days with my Mom in Kitchener. Both of my parents are nature lovers, so a lot of my time with them was spent outdoors.
It’s a been a really long time since I have spent any time in southern Ontario in late August, so I was eager to discover what kinds of interesting birds and bugs would be present. I didn’t see any new birds, but I did get one new butterfly and one new damselfly for my life list, and I saw two additional dragonflies that I’ve only seen once before.
My dad has a trailer at the Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area (eBird hotspot: Pinehurst Lake) just south of Cambridge, and we spent two nights there. It has a large lake popular with swimmers and kayakers, a few trails, and a number of camp sites and year-round trailer lots. According to its website, notable species found in the conservation area include Bald Eagle, Cooper’s and Red-shouldered Hawks, Acadian Flycatcher, Cerulean Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush and Red-headed Woodpecker. I would be happy with seeing even half of these species!
I didn’t see much wildlife on the first day there, as my sister-in-law and her family spent the afternoon with us. I thought I glimpsed a raptor flying over, but it was gone before I could note any details. This very small American Toad was one of at least three American Toads seen around Dad’s trailer. Its black colouration seemed unusual; however, toads may come in a variety of colours, including brick-red, yellow, greenish-gray, and black. In addition, toads may change colour in response to stress or environmental conditions such as temperature, humidity, or the time of day. The other two toads we saw at the trailer were both a typical brown colour, though one was tiny and the other was about as large as my fist!
I also noticed a couple of large, female Pelecinid Wasps flying around the trailer each day. Although scary-looking, these wasps are entirely harmless to humans. They do not possess stingers; the long abdomen terminates in an ovipositor which is used for laying eggs in beetle grubs in the ground. At two inches long, the female is quite impressive, while the much smaller males are very rarely encountered. These wasps are important as they help control the June Bug population whose subterranean larvae can cause so much damage to the roots of lawns, ornamental plants, herbs, and trees. The female Pelecinid Wasp inserts her abdomen deep into the soil to locate June Bug larvae beneath the surface, then lays one egg on an individual beetle grub each time. When the Pelecinid larvae hatch, they burrow into the grubs, killing them and using the remains as a food source until they pupate. So each Pelecinid Wasp you see literally means one less June Bug in the world!
On Monday morning I was the first person awake and left the trailer to go clean up in the bathroom. I didn’t bring my birding gear as I didn’t think I would see anything interesting; I planned to go birding after, as I figured I had at least an hour until the rest of my family got up. I had only gone about 50 feet when I noticed a hawk sitting motionlessly in a tree about 10 feet up. It was a juvenile, but the pattern of the breast didn’t match the pattern of a Cooper’s or Sharp-shinned Hawk. It had the look of a buteo, though I wasn’t sure which one. I slowly backed away and went back to get my camera. The hawk was still there when I returned, and I got a couple of photos before it flew off. When it flew, another one flew up off the ground as well. Both landed in the trees across the gravel road. I was still puzzling out their identification when I heard the long, whistled two-part call: chi-KEEEEEEEEE….. I knew then that it was a Broad-winged Hawk!
After that I would hear the two juvenile Broad-winged Hawks calling to each other and their parents frequently over the next two days. This was fantastic as I had never been in such close proximity to these woodland hawks before.
At the bathroom I discovered quite a few insects on the glass window. One positively huge moth looked to be about 2.5 to 3 inches long. The Habilis Underwing moth has drably coloured, mottled forewings which helps it blend in with tree bark. These wings conceal bright reddish-orange bands on the hindwings which is why this group of moths is known as the “underwing” moths. This moth remained on the window both days I was there, and not once did I catch of glimpse of its colourful hindwings!
A Pale Beauty on the building was also nice to see – it was the only moth I didn’t need to look up in order to identify it.
After cleaning up I grabbed my birding gear and went birding. The weather was not great for bug-hunting so I left my net at the trailer – it was cool enough to require a jacket, with enough cloud cover to make it feel even cooler. I followed the path through the woods and came out to a dead-end road with a number of campsites. The trail continued through the woods on the other side of the road, but when I heard the chickadees and an unusual chipping noise in the shrubby field behind the last two campsites I stopped to see what was around. I started pishing, and was rewarded with two brownish Indigo Buntings, something that might have been a Blackburnian Warbler (the light was terrible beneath the trees) and a Blue-winged Warbler! The Blue-winged Warbler was a happy surprise as we usually don’t see this species in Ottawa.
I knew my dad would be interested in the Indigo Buntings, so I returned to the trailer and, a little after breakfast, we returned to the same spot. The sun had come out at last, and we saw a Great-spangled Fritillary and an unidentified flycatcher in the shrubby field, but no Indigo Buntings. Then I saw a dark butterfly flit past me. When it landed on the ground I was amazed to see a Red-spotted Purple butterfly; I had never seen this sub-species of White Admiral before and was happy to get at least one lifer on the trip!
After lunch I went for a walk with Sharon and Ashley to a swampy pond next to the main road with the intention of looking for dragonflies. I had seen an emerald flitting around there on my morning walk and was hoping the warm sunshine had brought out a few more species. On the way, we spotted the pair of juvenile Broad-winged Hawks along a wooded trail.
There were lots of odonates at the pond, including many meadowhawks and spreadwings mating in the vegetation surrounding the water. A large number of darners were present as well, most of which were ovipositing on the emergent reeds. While many dragonflies lay eggs by tapping their abdomen repeatedly against the water’s surface, darners have sharp ovipositors which are used to insert eggs into plant stems, rotting wood or wet soil. This photo shows a Black-tipped Darner laying eggs on the same reed where another darner (likely a Common Green Darner) had emerged and shed its exuvia!
The straight thoracic stripes made me think they were Black-tipped Darners; it took me a while to catch one and confirm this.
When I finally did manage to catch one, I was able to see the relevant field marks: the fine brown cross-stripe on the face, the all-back 10th segment, the long, narrow appendages with the pointed tips, and of course the thoracic stripes. This was only the second time that I’ve ever seen a Black-tipped Darner, so I was thrilled with the find.
We also saw the emerald zooming by, skirting the edges of the pond; I hit him with my net, but didn’t catch him, and after that I didn’t see it again.
Later that evening, as we were eating dinner outside, I saw a large, dark dragonfly patrolling the open area of dad’s trailer site. It looked very brown, which intrigued me and recalled images of the large, brown dragonflies patrolling Algonquin Park’s trails at dusk. I grabbed my net and caught her; it was a female Shadow Darner, a species which is common though I never see more than one or two a year. Note the typical “walking cane” pattern on the thorax and the missing appendages.
The next day was my last at the trailer. When I got up the following morning I went for a walk, coming across a large flock of Baltimore Orioles foraging in the treetops. I found a trail that overlooked a high scrubby area and found a flock of chickadees and a male Indigo Bunting. There were no warblers, to my disappointment.
I also saw a couple of large darners but had left my net in the trailer. Still, I tracked one down when it landed. I was very surprised to identify it as a Variable Darner. The thoracic stripe looked pinched in the middle, and it had a dark cross-stripe on the face. I had never seen a live one in Ontario before (though I found a dead one in the grill of our car after returning from Grundy Lake last year).
A Common Ringlet and a Red-spotted Purple were the only butterflies of note.
I enjoyed my time with my dad and seeing the various wildlife of the Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area. I tallied 29 bird species, four Aeshna species (Canada Darner, Shadow Darner, Black-tipped Darner, and Variable Darner)_ and six amphibians (American Toad, Wood Frog, Spring Peeper, Gray Treefrog, Leopard Frog and Green Frog). I didn’t record the total number of odonates or butterflies that I saw but I had one lifer, the Red-spotted Purple butterfly. The best mammal find was a bat flitting around the bathroom night after dark on both nights. It is a neat place, and I am sure I’ll be spending more time there in the future!