I also saw five does foraging together in the woods and took a few pictures of one in the early morning light:
I was hoping to hear some marsh species such as American Bittern or Virginia Rail but none were calling. There were plenty of Swamp Sparrows around, however:
From there I drove over to Shirley’s Bay. Although I hoped to find some loons and diving ducks, the river was completely empty. I walked around the former cottage area off of Hilda Road and found three Brown Thrashers singing, three Eastern Phoebes, a House Wren singing deep in the bush, and two different Field Sparrows singing deep in the bush. Finally – some new birds for my year list!
After lunch, I went back out to look for butterflies. The very first butterflies that emerge in the spring (Mourning Cloaks, Eastern Commas, Compton Tortoiseshells, etc.) are the ones that spend the winter as adults tucked inside brush piles, beneath loose tree bark, and in other nooks and crannies in the woods. The next butterflies that emerge overwinter in the pupal stage, safe inside their chrysalis until it warms up. I had heard that those butterflies were starting to be seen, in particular the Spring Azure, which looks like a tiny blue snowflake flitting through the woods, and the Henry’s Elfin, a small brownish butterfly. Both belong to a group called Gossamer-winged Butterflies (the Lycaenidae Family), named because of their delicate, shimmering wings. Stony Swamp is a good place to find many species in this family, so I started my afternoon with a walk through the Old Quarry Trail. Spring Azures are easy to find there, and it didn’t take me long to find a few.
These butterflies prefer to perch with their wings closed, hiding the brilliant blue colours of their upper wings. As such, they can be easy to overlook while perched on the ground. I came across a mating pair and was able to get some great close-ups. These butterflies are variable in appearance, as can be seen the photos above and below, but all are deep blue above and whitish-blue with brown markings on the underside of the wings.
I also saw one Mourning Cloak and one polygonia species that flew off too fast to get a good look. There were few interesting birds around, including at least two Pine Warblers singing in the pines, a Hermit Thrush, a Northern Flicker, and one Pine Siskin flying over.
Still in the mood for butterflies, I headed over to the Beaver Trail next. I have had Henry’s Elfin here before, and it was one of the species I most wanted to see given its short flight season. I was happy to see the Trout Lilies (aka Dogtooth Violets) in bloom. Each spring these plants send up hundreds of leaves, but only those with two leaves develop the lovely yellow flowers.
I saw more Spring Azures in the woods, but the clearing where I photographed the Henry’s Elfin three years ago was empty. Near the V-shaped boardwalk I spotted a trio of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers; two males were competing for a female, chasing each other from tree to tree while raising and lowering their crests.
I took a short hike down the side trail that leads to Lime Kiln, hoping to see some more butterflies there. There are lots of pines in the area, which makes it good for both Pine Warblers and Eastern Pine Elfins. I saw the warbler, but had no luck with any elfins. My best find was a group of people flipping over rocks – they had found a tiny water snake curled up beneath one and let me get close enough to take few photos.
On the other side of the alvar I discovered a huge patch of Spring Beauties with a few white-flowered Hepaticas mixed in. I had never realized this colony existed before – while I had seen Spring Beauties at Jack Pine before, I had only seen them in small groups. This colony sprawled over several metres on both sides of the trail!
Some flowers were pale while others were bright pink. These ephemerals bloom early in the spring, taking advantage of the sun before the leaf canopy develops and blocks it out. Blink and you might miss them!
I headed toward the Wild Bird Care Center to see if Violet the Turkey Vulture was out in her pen (she was), and in the clearing just before the large wooden building I spotted a small brown butterfly flitting up and down the trail. I suspected it was a Henry’s Elfin, and waited a long time before it landed in order to confirm it.
These small, tailed butterflies are most often found along the edges and clearings of open deciduous woods, but are also encountered less frequently in other habitats such as dry, open pine woods. They frequently spend time at damp spots on the ground to obtain moisture; males also perch on host plants during warm daylight hours.
I spent a good fifteen minutes tracking the butterfly as it flew up and down the clearing. A second Henry’s Elfin was in the area, and when the two met they would fly upward in frantic circles together, disappearing against the brown mosaic of the leafless trees. One would always return, however, stopping to land on the ground or at the end of a twig occasionally.
This one is a different individual – it has the subtle green scales on the outer edges of its wings of a very fresh butterfly.
A Mourning Cloak was sunning itself on a large rock next to the trail, and whenever any other butterfly flew over the area it would chase it away. While tracking the Henry’s Elfins I saw it chase several Spring Azures, another Mourning Cloak, and the Henry’s Elfin.
While watching all these butterflies in the same clearing I noticed a raccoon casually walk over to the feeder area and begin eating the seed on the ground. It stopped in the middle of the path and stared at me when it realized I was present, but as I was a good distance away and showed no signs that I was a threat to it, it continued eating and ignored me. The raccoon has no tail, making it easy to identify if I should see it again.
Stony Swamp in the early spring can be a beautiful place. It was fantastic to see so many wildflowers blooming and so many different creatures out and about. This is the beginning of my favourite time of year, and it can only get better from here!