Birding Southern Ontario

American Rubyspot

American Rubyspot

On Tuesday I left Dad’s trailer at Pinehurst and drove north to Kitchener, where my Mom and Step-Dad had been living since winter. I hadn’t been to their new apartment, and was interested in the birding opportunities nearby. Mom told me that there was a community trail within walking distance of their apartment, though she hadn’t been there before. We visited the trail on Wednesday, and enjoyed the walk alongside a shallow, swift-moving creek through a tangle of trees and shrubs. The riparian zone looked perfect for migrating songbirds, with lots of dense vegetation for them to find cover. There were also a few open places filled with wildflowers such as Spotted Jewelweed, goldenrod and Joe Pye Weed which looked great for butterflies and perhaps hummingbirds.

Spotted Jewelweed

Spotted Jewelweed

The creek itself looked fantastic for odonates, and had it been a month or two earlier I thought I might see all kinds of interesting damselflies, clubtails, and perhaps a spiketail or two. As it was we saw a couple of Ebony Jewelwings and a single Violet Dancer on our first walk there.

Creek along the Schneider Greenway

Creek along the Schneider Greenway

A large toad was sitting in the middle of the path and seemed disinterested in us as we both took its picture.

American Toad

American Toad

A large butterfly drifted past, and I was thrilled to see a Giant Swallowtail! Although becoming more common in Ottawa, I’ve only seen two this year, and haven’t managed to photograph any. This one was missing one of its tails:

Giant Swallowtail

Giant Swallowtail

We only tallied 11 species on that visit; highlights included a couple of Barn Swallows flying overhead, a pair of House Wrens, and a Magnolia Warbler which popped out of the shrubs when I started pishing. As Magnolia Warblers don’t breed this far south, it was clearly a migrant and a good sign that the habitat was in fact attractive to migrants.

From there we traveled south to Cambridge to Grass Lake to see if the Sandhill Cranes were present. They weren’t, but we had a pair of small herons fly over as soon as we arrived; Mom didn’t see them, and I couldn’t get the binoculars up in time to identify them. The wetland was almost overgrown with cattails and other marsh vegetation so we didn’t see any interesting water birds. However, a quartet of Horned Larks dustbathing on a mound of dirt in the field on the other side of the road were the best birds of our stop there.

From there we drove to Bannister Lake where we saw even less. A large white swan at the back of the lake was just too far away to identify. However, two more were swimming on Wrigley Lake across the road, much closer, and were easy to identify by the shape of the bill and the wing tags. This wasn’t the first time we’d seen Trumpeter Swans here; I got my lifer here in October 2007 when we saw a group of adults and juveniles flying out of the fog right above us.

Trumpeter Swan

Trumpeter Swan

We got another swan species a little further down the road in Ayr. Like Ottawa, Ayr has a pair of captive Mute Swans that breed on the quiet pond. The juvenile is allowed to migrate south in the winter, while the adult swans are returned to indoor captivity during the winter. The people of the town feed them during the summer, and they are so used to handouts that they swam right up to us when they saw us at the water’s edge.

Mute Swan

Mute Swan

The juvenile came, too, although we didn’t have any food to give them.

Mute Swan (juvenile)

Mute Swan (juvenile)

There were several mallards and Ring-billed Gulls on the lake; we didn’t see anything else of interest.

The next day Mom and I went to Hamilton to do some birding along the lake with Len Manning. Len and I have known each other online for a number of years, first at Birdforum.net, then on Facebook. He showed us a couple of birding hotspots such as the Tollgate Ponds and Windermere Basin along Eastport Drive and the tiny but productive Edgelake Park close by.

It was a bit scary birding the Tollgate Ponds; birding is done from the shoulder, with a concrete barrier in front of you and cars whizzing by at 80 km/hr behind you. A narrow, elevated strip of land separates the pond from Lake Ontario beyond. We saw four juvenile Black-crowned Night-herons perched in trees along the berm, numerous Double-crested Cormorants, a couple of tiny shorebirds too distant for me to identify (though Len thought one was a Baird’s Sandpiper), one Spotted Sandpiper, and a Great Blue Heron all along the berm. In the pond we saw a couple of Green-winged Teals, a couple of Lesser Scaup, and some mallards. Two Osprey and one Caspian Tern flew over while we were watching, and dozens of Barn Swallows were hawking for insects over the water.

Windermere Basin was a much quieter experience, though the birds were equally distant. We saw two Mute Swans, a Great Egret, one American Coot, a couple of distant peeps, at least one Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, and at least 100 Caspian Terns. Len also identified a Yellow Warbler by its chip notes, a pair of Common Terns, a Baird’s Sandpiper and a Pectoral Sandpiper. I prefer my shorebirds nice and close, such as at the mudflats of Andrew Haydon Park or the Richmond Lagoons (which are nowhere near as good as they used to be).

I enjoyed the last spot, Edgelake Park, most of all. At first it looked like a small park the size of a city block with a playground and tennis courts next to a wooded area. Then once you got inside the wooded area you noticed it was so dense that you couldn’t see the street beyond. It had a narrow channel of water in the middle and reminded me of the southwest woods at Mud Lake where the trees close in over the path. Here we observed a Ruby-throated Hummingbird, two Eastern Wood-pewees, a House Wren, a Carolina Wren, a Blue-gray Gnatcatcher, a Magnolia Warbler and a Canada Warbler.

We had fun birding with Len and seeing some of the hotspots; it is always great to meet up with fellow birders and have them show you around! I was hoping the winds would be better for some jaeger-watching on the lake, but it was not to be.

On Friday Mom and I spent some more time exploring the pathway along the creek. We didn’t see as much on the north side of the trail as we did on the south side, though I found a Common Whitetail and a Lance-tipped Darner. Mom had to do her volunteer work in Cambridge that afternoon, so I returned to the south side after dropping her off. At first I didn’t see much of interest; then this yellowish teneral odonate flew out of the vegetation and landed in front of me.

American Rubyspot

American Rubyspot (female)

At first I wasn’t sure what it was, but then when I saw the reddish edges of its forewings it occurred to me that this might be an American Rubyspot, a damselfly I’ve always wanted to see! I took photos until I lost it in the vegetation, then set out find some more. At first I had no luck, though the Giant Swallowtail fluttering around was a nice consolation prize. Then I reached the bridge and found a number of Ebony Jewelwings sitting in the vegetation over the water. A few females were ovipositing as well. I took this picture of an Ebony Jewelwing not realizing there was an American Rubyspot perching behind it! Both species belong to the same group, the broad-winged damsels, though the wings of the Rubyspot are nowhere near the width of the Ebony and River Jewelwings that I’ve seen.

Broad-winged Damsels

Then a rubyspot flew out of the trees as I ducked under some low-hanging branches to reach the water’s edge. It actually landed on my shoulder for a bit before flying back up into the trees. After examining the banks of the stream for a while I gave up and decided to return the way I came. When I reached the gravel area I wandered down there to watch some birds bathing (Song Sparrows, House Sparrows and chickadees were all taking their turns in a shallow pool at the edge of the water). As I turned to leave, I saw a large red bug land in the grass close by. This was an adult male American Rubyspot.

American Rubyspot

American Rubyspot (male)

What amazed me is that even the face is red! The damselfly was very accommodating and allowed me to take some great close-ups of it as it rested on a clover leaf.

American Rubyspot

American Rubyspot

Although I didn’t see any new birds, it was great seeing the Horned Larks, American Coot, Carolina Wrens and the Caspian Terns. I have to say, however, that the star of the second part of my visit to southern Ontario was definitely the American Rubyspot!

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3 thoughts on “Birding Southern Ontario

    • Thanks Pat! I knew we had them in southern Ontario, but didn’t think they would be around where my folks live. I have always wanted to see one, and was thrilled when I finally did!

      By the way, thanks for “liking” my posts – you gave me my 500th like a couple of posts ago! 🙂

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