Baskettail Emergence at Mud Lake

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

On Victoria Day I decided to spend some time at Mud Lake as I haven’t been there at all since warbler migration got underway. This has been a deliberate decision on my part, mainly because I had heard it had become very busy in recent weeks. Mud Lake’s popularity as a birding and nature photography site has really increased in the last couple of years, which is really great considering what a treasure trove of species can be found there; however, crowds have never really been my thing, so I’ve found other places to spend my time.

I started the morning off with a stop at Sarsaparilla Trail. Even at 6:30 in the morning there was some activity, although I only heard three warbler species altogether: one Blackpoll Warbler and three Ovenbirds in the woods, and a couple of Common Yellowthroats in the marsh. The pond was quiet and peaceful. I spotted a lone Canada goose on the water, a cormorant and three Green Herons flying over, at least one Tree Swallow and two Eastern Kingbirds among the stand of dead trees, and three Spotted Sandpipers flying over the pond to another log. This was the first outing I can recall where I counted more Green Herons than chickadees and more Spotted Sandpipers than Canada Geese!

From there I went to Mud Lake, arriving at 7:00 in the morning. I entered via the back of the conservation area on Howe Street. Almost immediately I heard an interesting warbler singing in the woods – the song rambled a bit before finishing up with the rolling phrase of a Common Yellowthroat. As I rarely find yellowthroats at Mud Lake, I started pishing in order to draw it out – and was surprised when I came face-to-face with a Canada Warbler! These birds have a rambling song with no distinct pattern except for an unmusical “chip” at the beginning. I watched him sing and this time I heard the faint “chip” – I probably missed it the first time because he was too far away.

I followed the trail along the western fence line to the sumac field, encountering a phoebe, a White-throated Sparrow, and a couple of Tennessee and Blackpoll Warblers along the way. As usual, there were plenty of American Redstarts and Yellow Warblers in the open sumac field.

Yellow Warbler

Yellow Warbler

I followed the trail all the way to the Cassels Street entrance, finding a few Gray Catbirds and two Brown-headed Cowbirds along the way. Then I turned around and headed back, encountering only one other person on my walk.

By the time I returned to the open field near the Rowatt Street entrance it had warmed up enough for the dragonflies to start flying. I saw a number of baskettails flying over the grassy field, and stopped to watch them for a while. I didn’t have my net, but I did find a flowering tree in which many were perching. Most of the ones that I saw in the tree were female.

Beaverpond Baskettail

Baskettail sp. (female)

Beaverpond Baskettail

Beaverpond Baskettail (female)

Without a net I was unable to catch them and determine whether they were Spiny or Beaverpond Baskettails. I thought they were likely Beaverpond Baskettails, until I got home and found one photo with a male Spiny Baskettail in it. An unidentified female is in the foreground, while the male Spiny Baskettail is in the background. Even though the terminal appendages are not quite in focus, you can see how they curve upward at their tips instead of sharply angling downward (click to enlarge for a better view).

Male and Female Baskettails

Male and Female Baskettails

I was amazed by how many baskettails were present in the area (at least 30), either patrolling the sky above the open field or perching in the tree. I was also amazed by how many I was able to approach and photograph in the shrubs along the path. Chris Traynor had reported a large emergence several days earlier, but when he went back he said most were gone. Either this was a new emergence, or they hadn’t dispersed very far. This isn’t the first time I’ve seen a great many baskettails in this part of the conservation area; it seems to be an annual event.

After leaving the clearing I followed the trail back to the western fence line, stopping to photograph the lovely blue Forget-me-nots growing next to the trail.

Forget-me-nots

Forget-me-nots

Forget-me-nots

Forget-me-nots

I heard the Canada Warbler singing again somewhere off the trail as well as a Black-throated Blue Warbler and a Scarlet Tanager singing among the trees, but couldn’t track any of them down. I also found a pair of Great-crested Flycatchers moving together through the woods, calling as they went. I emerged into an open area and saw movement out of the corner of my eye. When I turned my head to look, I noticed a Swainson’s Thrush perching on an exposed branch. It saw me watching it, then flew into the dense thickets across the trail. A second one quickly followed it, and then I spotted a third in a large tree! A small warbler was also darting through the branches high overhead, but as I only saw it from the underside, I wasn’t able to identify it. I did notice it had a yellowish throat, and was thinking Blackburnian Warbler, but the facial markings didn’t look right. As I was turning to leave, I saw something small zip through the air above me and land on a dead branch. It was too large to be a dragonfly; instead, it was a gorgeous male Ruby-throated Hummingbird.

I proceeded from there to the turtle bridge, which has become quite unstable, where I found Jakob Mueller watching for turtles. We spotted a tiny Painted Turtle on a log quite far out and watched as a large Snapping Turtle swam slowly toward us, disappearing beneath the bridge before emerging on the other side. I checked the area for damselflies – usually there are some perching on the vegetation in the water, but I didn’t see any. A Leopard Frog sitting on a mossy log made for a pretty picture.

Leopard Frog

Leopard Frog

We also saw a Spotted Sandpiper on a rock across the bay and the usual Wood Ducks.

After that it was time to leave. On my way back to the Howe Street entrance I encountered a Baltimore Oriole feeding on some flowers right next to the trail.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

As I headed back through the woods I saw a female bluet in a sunny opening and another baskettail perching close to the ground. This one was a male Beaverpond Baskettail; note how the terminal appendages angle downward rather than curve upward.

Beaverpond Baskettail

Beaverpond Baskettail

I really enjoyed seeing so many baskettails – their mass emergence in the spring is something I look forward to every year, just like the Halloween Pennants at Morris Island, the Orange and Vesper Bluets at Petrie Island and the spreadwing damselflies at the Bruce Pit later on in the season. It’s been a fantastic start to the season so far!

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