Wandering Glider

Monarch Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

Migration is well under way, and although Hurdman Park was an excellent spot for seeing migrants last spring, it hasn’t been as active this fall. I have only been able to get out a few times so far this month, however, so I’m not sure whether there really are fewer birds around, or if the days that I go just happen to be quiet ones (sort of like my recent trips to Point Pelee!). Migration patterns ebb and flow throughout the season, with cold fronts providing the best conditions for seeing birds. September has been warm so far, which means there haven’t been any of the spectacular fall-outs that occur immediately after a cold front passes through. Yet the birds keep trickling in, so I’ve managed to see something interesting each time I visit! Usually I encounter only one flock of migrants each visit, rather than numerous birds spread throughout the park. The trick is to find that flock with only a 40-minute lunch break!

My first great day was Wednesday, September 3rd. I saw what turned out to be my last Eastern Kingbird and Yellow Warbler of the year, as well as a Baltimore Oriole and a Scarlet Tanager. Eventually I came across a pocket of birds along the second part of the feeder path; these included a couple of Magnolia Warblers, a Bay-breasted Warbler, a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers, and a Wilson’s Warbler. A couple of American Redstarts and Red-eyed Vireos were also in the same area, though it was hard to tell whether these were migrants or residents. I wasn’t able to get any photos of the birds, although I did photograph a Monarch butterfly resting on a leaf.

Monarch

Monarch

On Monday, September 8th I returned and found one flock that contained a Nashville Warbler, an American Redstart, and Northern Parula, at least two Magnolia Warblers, and a few Yellow-rumped Warblers. There were quite a few birds in the flock, though I wasn’t able to identify them all. I also noticed a small swarm of about 10 Common Green Darners flying over one of the fields. I always check these swarms carefully after noticing a few Wandering Gliders mixed in with them last year, but I had no luck finding any on that occasion. I also noticed at least two Monarch butterflies flying around and this raccoon tail high up in a tree. I wasn’t able to see the raccoon itself, though when I returned to the same spot again a few days later it was gone.

Raccoon Tail

Raccoon Tail

I returned again the following day, but it was so windy that I couldn’t hear anything and didn’t see much. Only a Merlin flying over the field west of the Transitway made it a worthwhile stop, as this was a new addition to my Hurdman Park list.

When I returned two days later, I saw a large flock of Cedar Waxwings near the beginning of the feeder path. I stopped just inside the woods and started pishing. To my surprise, a Northern Flicker and a fall-plumage Scarlet Tanager flew out of the foliage in response! The Scarlet Tanager had some berries in its mouth which would have made for a nice photo if there hadn’t been a dozen branches in the way. I have never had those two species react to pishing before, which made for a thrilling new experience. Also seen on that outing was an adult Cooper’s Hawk sitting on a low branch in a thicket at the very end of the feeder trail, a Ruby-throated Hummingbird investigating the jewelweed along the bike path, and a Common Raven croaking as it flew over the Rideau River.

I saw another swarm of Common Green Darners flying over one of the fields and this bright green stink bug:

Green Stink Bug

Green Stink Bug

On the way back to the bus station I noticed a groundhog in the grassy area where the feeder trail begins. I don’t see these mammals at Hurdman very often, though I have seen one in this area before. I can’t believe it’s mid-September and this is my first groundhog photo of the year!

Groundhog

Groundhog

I went back again today and decided to visit the area west of the Transitway where I had seen the Merlin previously. I was cutting through the vegetation (clearly the trail wasn’t used enough to maintain the path I usually take) when I spotted a couple of dragonflies circling the air above me. One was a Common Green Darner, but the other clearly wasn’t. It was shorter, with a thicker abdomen and the golden colour of a Wandering Glider. It began flying lower and lower, just like the one I had seen last year which landed in the grass right in front of me just as my camera battery died (I’m not still bitter about that….really)! The glider dropped out of sight behind a small tree as I watched; I hurried over and managed to find it perched in another shrub just above my head!

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider

As mentioned previously, despite being a member of the skimmer family, this species spends most of its time in flight and is rarely seen perching. Their long, broad wings are designed to spend hours, even days, on the wing, and this is the only dragonfly with a worldwide tropical distribution because of its ability to spend days and nights flying over the ocean. Like migratory birds, Wandering Gliders are able to store fat as an energy source for use during long flights.

Wandering Glider

Wandering Glider

They behave more like darners than skimmers, feeding on small swarming insects while on the wing and perching vertically from a branch or low in the grass. They are not able to survive our Ontario winters and thus must migrate here from the south each new season. They are most common later in the summer, before they migrate south to avoid the cold weather.

As you can imagine, I was incredibly thrilled to finally see and photograph a Wandering Glider perching….this was more exciting than the four Nashville Warblers and the Tennessee Warbler that all flew out of a small patch of waist-high grass when I passed by a little later! This is only the second glider I’ve seen this year; the other one was patrolling a grassy soccer field in my subdivision a few weeks ago, and I wasn’t able to get a good enough look at it to identify it. I expect it will be a long time before I find another one perching out in the open like this…hopefully they will return to Hurdman next year as well!

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4 thoughts on “Wandering Glider

    • I know you already commented on my Facebook photo, Chris, but thanks for commenting here too. Yes, those wings are amazing compared to the size of the body, and it was an amazing encounter that really made my day!

      The best way to find one is to carefully look at all flying dragons (as opposed to perching dragons) in late August and September for ones that looks orange or yellow instead of blue or green (for darners) or black (for emeralds, though they fly earlier in the season).

    • Hi Jason,

      I think it may stop haunting me now after getting those photos!

      Our groundhogs usually disappear around the end of September or early October. I saw one six days ago which could be my last of the year…they hibernate early, but fortunately they also emerge early in the spring, usually around the March equinox.

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