The Richmond Lagoons were very rewarding, though difficult to navigate as the side trails had not been mowed in some time. Worse, the dreaded Wild Parsnip has invaded the area. I first noticed huge swathes of this plant along the side of Highway 417 just outside the city while driving back from Nova Scotia in mid-July. Since then I’ve noticed it growing in the ditch along Old Richmond Road and small patches at Mud Lake (right where Chris and I started our dragonfly walks a few years ago) and Trail #26. This plant has gained a bad reputation for its phototoxic properties – if get the sap on your skin and are then exposed to sunlight, it will burn you.
I noticed the vegetation growing next to the parking lot had been mowed, as had the plants along the trail leading to the lagoons. However, all the plants – including the Wild Parsnip – lay dying on the open ground, making me wonder the wisdom of this if the plants were in the process of going to seed. I proceeded into the conservation area, walking first to the back of the back of the lagoons, and then through the meadow to the woodland trail. Wild Parsnip was growing profusely along the side trails and in the meadow, and given how overgrown these trails were I couldn’t help brushing against it. Fortunately it was a cool enough morning that I was wearing a jacket.
I saw a couple of swallows and two Chimney Swifts flying overhead, and heard an Eastern Wood-pewee in the woods – the pewee is a new bird for me at this site. Another new bird was the juvenile or female Bobolink in the field at the southern-most edge of the conservation area. There were lots of Common Yellowthroats, including a successful breeding season, two American Redstarts, and several Yellow Warblers. I heard a Green Heron call, and watched two Eastern Kingbirds chase an unidentified accipiter across the lagoon. A juvenile Hooded Merganser was a surprise, as was the American Bittern flying out of the cattails. A couple of Virginia Rails called from the marsh and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak squeaked high in a tree. It was a great start to the day with 34 species, not including the accipiter.
I did not find as many birds at Trail #26. After spending 1.5 hours there, I only tallied 15 species – just over half of the number that I found on July 26th (28). A large flock of Red-winged Blackbirds flying over was new for my list, as was a Pileated Woodpecker calling loudly from deep within the woods. The Black-billed Cuckoo, Wood Thrush, Brown Thrasher, Eastern Phoebe, and Black-and-white Warblers were all gone or hiding quietly from view.
The insects, however, made the stop worthwhile. I only saw two different butterflies, a Mustard White and this Common Wood Nymph at the hydro cut. This is now the third Stony Swamp trail where I’ve seen them; it’s interesting how they are NOT present at the two I visit most (Jack Pine Trail and Sarsaparilla Trail).
In another open area I came across the same patch of Wild Parsnip that I’d seen at the end of July; however, it had gone to seed and was turning brown. Goldenrod flowers were now blooming profusely, as were Queen Anne’s Lace and a number of thistles. The goldfinches found them to their liking.
I noticed several bees and wasps feeding on the goldenrod, and when I spotted the black, yellow and red colours of a Tricolored Bumble Bee I decided to spend some time photographing them. They are a bit smaller than the regular bumble bees, and more wary. A couple of times I approached them to take a couple of macro shots, and they flew off before I got within a couple of feet. Eventually I found a couple individuals which were more accommodating.
This bumble bee is easy to identify by three colours of its abdomen: closest to the thorax is a band of yellow, followed by two reddish-orange bands, then another yellow band, and then two bands of black. However, queen and worker bees do not have a yellow band after the two reddish-orange bands; instead, all three remaining abdominal segments are black. I usually only see the drones, pictured here, with their distinctive tri-coloured abdomens.
The adults feed on nectar, preferring that of goldenrods and milkweeds, and collect pollen to take back to their nests. At the nests – which are simply holes in the ground – they produce honey which the larvae eat. Although the amount of honey produced by these bees is small, the Tricolored Bumble Bee has the distinction of being the only native bee in North America that produces honey.
While I was watching the Tricolored Bumble Bee, another insect coloured in orange and black caught my attention. Although I had never seen one before, I knew that it was a net-winged beetle – a peculiar insect that looks like a moth except for the raised ridges on its outer wing-coverings (the elytra). I hadn’t expected it to be so small – it is only 8-16 mm in length.
Some species of net-winged beetles have another black patch in the middle of the orange area; this one doesn’t, which made it easy to identify as an End Band Net-winged Beetle. They live in deciduous forests where they feed mainly on decomposing plant juices and nectar. The larvae are predators, so the adult beetles lay their eggs on dead or dying trees where the larvae feed on small invertebrates found under bark. I looked for more of these colourful beetles on the goldenrod, but could only see the one.
It spent a long time trundling up and down the stems of the goldenrod, avoiding a close call with a Harvestman (also known as a “Daddy Long Legs”) lying in wait, before eventually reaching the flowers at the top.
While I was searching the goldenrods for more interesting bugs to photograph, I noticed a large damselfly fly by and land on a tree at the edge of the clearing. Spreadwings don’t perch horizontally the way jewelwings, bluets, and dancers do, but rather hang vertically from leaves or out at an angle while grasping the stem of a plant. I wasn’t expecting to see any spreadwings in a clearing in the middle of the woods – most of them prefer to be much closer to water. As this one is a female, I am not sure of the species; given its appearance and distance from water, I am guessing either Emerald Spreadwing or Northern Spreadwing, both of which I’ve seen at Jack Pine Trail well away from the marshes.
There were several meadowhawks in the clearing too, including this one which had a dirty reddish face. I’ve seen these meadowhawks at a few trails in Stony Swamp now, including the Beaver Trail (where the photo on my blog’s main page was taken several years ago) and more recently at Sarsaparilla Trail. This is the third trail where I’ve found them now, making me wonder if their population is increasing. If you enlarge the photo, you will notice that this individual’s hindwings are both incredibly tattered. Still, he seemed to fly well enough for me to notice him landing on the leaf.
I reluctantly left the clearing after realizing I had spent far more time there than I had planned. On my way back I caught sight of a pair of meadowhawks mating on a leaf and stopped to take their picture.
It was another wonderful outing with lots of fascinating insects, and it wasn’t over yet. When I got home, I noticed a white moth sitting on my garage door so I took some pictures of it. I was later able to identify it as a Lesser Maple Spanworm moth, a small geometrid that is nocturnal and attracted to lights (which is probably why it was on the garage door close to the light). These moths have a flight season of June to August in the north and are found in deciduous and mixed woods. The larvae feed mainly on the leaves of maple trees (especially Red Maple), but have also been recorded on birch, cherry, poplar, fir, hemlock, and tamarack trees. This is the first time I recall seeing this moth; according to Bugguide.net, it is quite distinctive as no other pure white moth has four orangish-yellow markings along the forewing costa.
Altogether I got a new beetle and a new moth for my life list and got some great pictures of the Tricolored Bumble Bee, a species I don’t see too often. What could be better than that?