European Skippers

Least Skipper

Least Skipper

Yesterday was a great day for seeing new things. I started the morning at Old Quarry Trail with no particular goals in mind; it’s been a few years now since I’ve been there at the height of breeding season, so I just thought I’d take a look around and see what I could find. This was a good decision as I ended up adding two new birds to the eBird hotspot list (one of which was also new for my Stony Swamp patch list!), and found a new lady beetle species.

The usual Chipping Sparrows were chipping in the trees next to the parking lot; I could hear their young begging for food, a sound I’ve become very familiar with in my own neighbourhood these days. I hadn’t gotten far down the trail when I spotted a brown butterfly fly by and land in a sunny spot in the grass. It was a Little Wood Satyr, one of the few butterflies found in the deep woods.

Little Wood Satyr

Little Wood Satyr

I continued down the path, through the dense patch of woods into a more open area. A small reddish bug flew past me and landed on a tree branch, so I stopped to check it out through the binoculars in case it was something interesting. I was quite surprised to see a lady beetle trundling along the branch toward the trunk; it had yellow spots with black centers, giving it a unique tricoloured appearance.

Eye-spotted Lady Beetle

Eye-spotted Lady Beetle

It wasn’t until I got home and checked the lady beetles of Ontario web page that I identified it as an Eye-spotted Lady Beetle (Anatis mali). These large lady beetles prefer hanging out in trees – particularly pine trees – and like other members of its family, eat aphids. Despite having a range that extends across Canada and as far south as Virginia, this appears to be one of the less commonly known species as there doesn’t seem to be much written about it on the web. Perhaps because it is an arboreal species and unlikely to be found on flowers like the Seven-spotted Lady Beetle or the Spotted Lady Beetle, the Eye-spotted Lady Beetle goes largely undetected and unremarked upon. I was very happy with the find, as it was my third new lady beetle in the past two weeks (more on that to follow)!

Eye-spotted Lady Beetle

Eye-spotted Lady Beetle

As I was trying to photograph the lady beetle, I became aware of a new song coming from a short distance away. It was one that I recognized, but don’t hear very often: an Eastern Bluebird! A second bird was responding from further away, and I really wanted to get visual confirmation of this species as I had never seen a bluebird at any of the Stony Swamp trails before. They sounded as though they were somewhere north of the “Deer John” feeders, which made sense to me as there are bluebird nest boxes in the pastures on the other side of Robertson Road. I followed the trail out to the field north of the main trail but wasn’t able to spot the birds. I did, however, find a Snowshoe Hare grazing on some vegetation in the shade.

Snowshoe Hare

Snowshoe Hare

I saw a bird fly south into the trees, and sure enough a few minutes later I heard the bluebird singing from somewhere south of me. I returned to the main trail, listening to an American Redstart singing a duet with the bluebird, and a moment later the male Eastern Bluebird appeared on the tip of a branch of a dead tree. This was a new bird for my Stony Swamp list, and one that I never expected to find. I only wish I could have gotten a picture of him singing, but he was too far away and there were too many branches in the way.

I continued along the trail, following it through the woods where I found a Northern Pearly-eye resting on a sunlit leaf. I had seen three of these already, all of which were flying in the deep shade of the forest.

Northern Pearly-eye

Northern Pearly-eye

A brief return to the open area south of Robertson Road revealed a Common Yellowthroat singing out in the open. This was a new bird for me at this trail, but one that already been listed here in eBird. It’s not often that I see males perching out in the open like this; normally they like to skulk in the bushes.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

I returned to the woods where I heard the usual woodland species, including an Eastern Wood-pewee, an Ovenbird, and a couple of White-breasted Nuthatches. I spotted a Downy Woodpecker fly to its nest and deliver some food; when it flew off again I watched the baby in the tree cavity for a while.

Downy Woodpecker in nest

Downy Woodpecker in nest

The usual Swamp Sparrows and Red-winged Blackbirds were singing in the marsh, and I even heard a couple of Common Yellowthroats. I had hoped to hear the rails again but they were silent. A Four-spotted Skimmer perching on a cattail was the only dragonfly I saw from the boardwalk, while a couple of Painted Turtles were basking out in the open.

Painted Turtle

Painted Turtle

I found a sunny, open area in the woods where a few insects were flying. I’d had spreadwings in this clearing in the past, and it’s the right time of year for these large damselflies to be emerging, with Northern, Sweetflag, Emerald, and Slender Spreadwings all likely to be on the wing in Stony Swamp in late June. However, there were none around. I was, however, happy to see a couple of dragonflies flying around the clearing, including a freshly emerged Widow Skimmer and a lovely green-eyed Racket-tailed Emerald.

Racket-tailed Emerald

Racket-tailed Emerald

Several European Skippers were fluttering through the clearing low to the ground, nectaring on the flowers of the Viper’s Bugloss. The European Skipper is one of the smallest skippers in our area and, as its name suggests, it is of European origin. Since its accidental introduction to Ontario more than 100 years ago it has become of one our most abundant skippers.

European Skipper

Most people who study butterflies have the same dislike for this species that birders have for starlings – they are both non-native, and both are present in large numbers, competing with native species for limited resources. When they emerge in the summer, European Skippers can outnumber all other butterfly species combined, particularly in agricultural areas where Timothy Grass is grown for hay. However, this species can be found in any type of grassy habitat, including city parks, gardens, forest trails and clearings, marshes, and roadsides. Unlike all the native North American skippers, they overwinter as eggs, which is how they arrived in Canada in 1910 – in contaminated imported seeds of Timothy Grass.

European Skipper

European Skipper

Once I had finished exploring a few side trails in the woods, I followed the trail to the open area south of the parking lot and was happy to hear the House Wren singing there. I also found a Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing out in the open; this was another new bird for the Old Quarry Trail eBird list, which now stands at 99 species. What will be the 100th species recorded here?

After leaving Old Quarry Trail, I was in the mood for more butterfly-hunting, so I decided to stop by the Rideau Trail on my way home. This is a good spot to find other skippers and maybe some hairstreaks – I’d had some good luck with Banded Hairstreaks and Coral Hairstreaks here in the past. Although I didn’t see any off these tiny gossamer-winged butterflies – it is likely still too early in the season – I did find a couple of Long Dash skippers, and spent some time trying to photograph them. This was more difficult than I thought it would be, as they rarely landed long enough for my camera to focus on them, and when they did, they often turned their bodies so that I no longer had a nice profile shot of their wings. I was happy with only one or two photos, including this one.

Long Dash Skipper

Long Dash Skipper

There weren’t very many birds around, either, though butterflies were my main focus and I didn’t spend too much time looking for them. I heard a Red-shouldered Hawk calling, but didn’t see it. I checked the woods next, where the best bird of my visit was a pair of Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers feeding their young in a tree cavity. I managed to photograph the male with his bright red throat:

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at Nest

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker at Nest

Other species included Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Red-eyed Vireo, Blue Jay, Common Yellowthroat, White-throated Sparrow, a Swamp Sparrow in the wet spot beneath the hydro towers, and a Purple Finch. This isn’t surprising for a trail with no water other than the temporary vernal pools in late winter/early spring; bird diversity is much higher in places like Jack Pine Trail, Andrew Haydon Park, and even Sarsaparilla Trail where there are marshes, ponds, creeks, and of course the Ottawa River. A lack of water is likely why the Rideau Trail has never been made into an eBird hotspot; I have only recorded 73 species here, and I doubt that very many birders visit this trail, except perhaps in winter when looking for Black-backed Woodpeckers and northern finches.

Even though I didn’t see as many butterfly species as I had hoped, it was a great day to be outside, and I was thrilled to see the Eye-spotted Lady Beetle and the Eastern Bluebird at the Old Quarry Trail. I’m always happy to add new bird species to my Stony Swamp patch list (which now stands at 158 species), and this was one I wasn’t expecting to find here. The Old Quarry Trail is a great trail to explore, and I keep meaning to go back throughout the seasons. Hopefully I can get back again later in the summer to see more dragonflies, and maybe in the fall I’ll find the 100th species for the eBird hotspot list!

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