Canada Day Breeding Birds and Butterflies

Gray Comma

Gray Comma

July has arrived, and today’s weather was typical of summer – hot and sunny for most of the day with thundershowers rolling in later in the afternoon. Fortunately there was no humidity, which made my morning in Stony Swamp looking for breeding birds and bugs comfortable.

It was clear from my outing today that we are at the peak of the breeding season, one of my favourite times of year. Although some birders become afflicted by the “summer birding doldrums” in the period between when the birds stop singing and songbird migration starts in the fall, I was surprised to find that the doldrums have already been referenced in both eBird’s latest monthly challenge and in every OFNC bird sighting report since June 16th. There are too many birds around – including nestlings and the newly fledged young following their parents about – and still so many birds singing right now that I probably won’t become desperately bored until about mid-August when I start longing for the first wave of warblers and insectivores to arrive.

This makes me wonder if those who are suffering from the doldrums now are the dedicated listers who have already seen all the regularly breeding species in the area and are anxiously awaiting the next big rarity or movement of birds, rather than spending the time watching and enjoying the ones that are here now. That kind of approach to birding is unfathomable to me, for although I enjoy keeping track of my bird sightings and keep various lists of what I see, the list is not the goal; I would rather spend time in my favourite spots to see what’s there, and how the nesting season is progressing, rather than chasing every breeding species each year for the sake of adding it to a list. In my opinion, the summer birding doldrums have nothing on the winter birding blues, especially since there are so many other wonderful creatures out and about to enjoy – reptiles, amphibians, butterflies, and of course dragonflies. This is why you might hear me refer to my “year list” fairly frequently during the first three months of the year, and then nothing about it until November – listing means more to me when there are fewer species around to see.

I started this morning’s walk at Trail 26 on West Hunt Club Road. I haven’t been there since April and thought I’d see if there were any birds there that I haven’t yet found at any of the other Stony Swamp trails this summer. The first part of the trail was fairly quiet, but when I reached the hydro cut I found a singing Gray Catbird and a Common Yellowthroat fairly close to the path. The catbird was incorporating parts of other songs into its long, rolling song, including the cry of a Killdeer. Unlike the mockingbird, however, the catbird still sounds like a catbird when singing, and isn’t able to reproduce the exact tone of the bird it is trying to reproduce.

The Common Yellowthroat, a female, must have had a nest nearby for she was carrying a mouthful of food and kept scolding me until I walked by.

Common Yellowthroat

Common Yellowthroat

A little further into the woods my attention was snared by a small brownish bird flying through the trees. When it landed on a stump I was surprised to see a Wood Thrush, even more so when I realized it was carrying food in its beak too! This was a happy sight as the Wood Thrush is a species of special concern in Ontario, and it was great to see evidence of its breeding in Stony Swamp. I am not sure if this was the same individual I later heard singing on my return trip, and as I heard two different birds that could mean there was as many as three in the general area.

Wood Thrush

Wood Thrush

Singing Red-eyed Vireos and Ovenbirds were also very much in evidence, and I managed to see both species as they foraged in trees right next to the path. I also added a new species to the eBird list for this hotspot when I found a pair of Veeries singing a duet from either side of the trail.

I thought I heard a Field Sparrow on my return trip across the hydro cut, and waded through the knee-deep grass to see if I could get close enough to confirm it. It was just getting warm enough for the butterflies to start flying, and I found a Northern Crescent, a Great-spangled Fritillary, and this White Admiral perching in the sunlight. I didn’t hear the Field Sparrow again, if indeed that was what I heard.

White Admiral

White Admiral

I headed over to the Beaver Trail next to continue to search for breeding birds and bugs. As I was just getting out of my car, another car pulled in behind me and a man holding a box got out. He said he was trying to find the Wild Bird Care Center and asked me where it was. I told him it was just down the path, and when I said I was going that way he asked if I could take the bird there. I peeked inside and found a baby Killdeer resting on a towel, making tiny Killdeer noises.

Killdeer chick

Killdeer chick

Killdeer chick

Killdeer chick

He said he had found it in Barrhaven on the bike path across from a farm and, as he didn’t see any other birds around, he took it home and called the NCC to find out where to take it. Fortunately the bird didn’t look injured, which made me wonder if it would have been better off left where it was. I was happy to oblige and dropped it off at the front desk, seeing an Eastern Phoebe, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, and seven Wild Turkeys on my way in.

After dropping off the Killdeer chick I returned to my car to get my net in case I found any spreadwings. I didn’t, though I found a Gray Comma fluttering in the sunny clearing near the outhouses.

Gray Comma

Gray Comma

Now that it had warmed up I headed to the meadow to see if there were any interesting bugs flying about. It was a treasure trove of insects, and the two bugs I really wanted to photograph eluded my camera. One was a yellow swallowtail butterfly, and at this point in time it could be either a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail or an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. The other was a Halloween Pennant which would be a new species for my Stony Swamp list. I must have startled it from its perch, for it flew up toward the top of a dead tree where I lost it against the sun. I did see markings on its wings, and as it looked orange in colour I am not sure what else it could be.

I also saw a couple of Four-spotted Skimmers, as well as my first meadowhawk of the year. This was a bittersweet moment; they are the last dragonflies on the wing in Ottawa, and although they have a long flight season, seeing them means the season is starting to wane. I found a whiteface and assumed it was a Frosted Whiteface, but a closer look identified it as a Belted Whiteface.

Belted Whiteface

Belted Whiteface

Although there is no red in between the wings, the wing venation helps to identify it: Belted Whitefaces have three rows of cells behind the forewing triangle, whereas Frosted Whitefaces have only two.

Belted Whiteface wing pattern

Belted Whiteface wing pattern

Two Great-spangled Fritillaries were flying, and although I looked for Meadow Fritillaries I didn’t see any.

Great-spangled Fritillary

Great-spangled Fritillary

A Northern Crescent posed nicely in the sun:

Northern Crescent

Northern Crescent

I found a pair of daisies side-by-side that each had a beetle feeding on the pollen in the center. The beetles are Checkered Beetles (Trichodes nuttalli), or as Bugguide calls them, Red-blue Checkered Beetles.

Red-blue Checkered Beetle

Red-blue Checkered Beetle

I’ve seen these beetles here before, but never really thought much about them. Since then I’ve learned that while the adults feed on pollen of various flowers, the larvae eat the larvae of wasps and bees. The adult Red-blue Checkered Beetles lay their eggs in the flowers where they inadvertently become stuck to wasps and bees foraging for pollen. The bees then carry the hitchhiking eggs to their nest or hive, and when they hatch the beetle larvae are then able to feed on the wasp or bee larvae.

Red-blue Checkered Beetle

Red-blue Checkered Beetle

Learning the connection between these beetles and bees and wasps delighted me, as this meadow is a hotspot for various bee and wasp species later in the summer once it is covered with tiny marjoram blossoms.

Red-blue Checkered Beetle

Red-blue Checkered Beetle

While walking through the grass looking for the Halloween Pennant I scared up a small hairstreak butterfly, my first at this location, several European Skippers, and a single Common Wood Nymph. The meadow is a great place to find these butterflies in the summer; also known as “Goggle Eyes”, these butterflies can be found in large sunny, grassy areas including prairies, open meadows, bogs, and old fields where they feed on rotting fruit or flower nectar. The Common Wood Nymphs in this location seem to like landing on me; this one landed first on my purple hoodie, which was tied around my waist, and then on my legs.

Common Wood Nymph

Common Wood Nymph

It kept opening and closing its wings as it rested on my hoodie, and I managed to get a picture of it with its wings open – only the second time I have been able to do so!

Common Wood Nymph

Common Wood Nymph

There weren’t many birds around the clearing, but I did discover another Yellow-bellied Sapsucker nest when I saw an adult delivering food to the nestling inside.

By then the trails were starting to become busy with families out enjoying the day. I stopped to check out the observation platform briefly but didn’t see anything much of interest except a Turkey Vulture soaring in the distance. The wet area beneath the boardwalks had become very dry, and although I saw a Racket-tailed Emerald on the boardwalk and a Phantom Crane fly in the vegetation, I didn’t see any other odes or interesting bugs in the area.

I did find another Gray Comma in the woods, resting on the ground in a patch of sunlight. You can see the distinct check-mark shaped comma on the hindwing here:

Gray Comma

Gray Comma

The water at the V-shaped boardwalk had also dried up, and the cattails are quickly taking over the pond. The beaver lodge at the back is no longer visible, and there were no dragonflies in sight. An Eastern Comma was resting on the bottom of the pond, obtaining moisture from the damp ground.

I didn’t see any other birds of bugs or interest on my way out, but the hairstreak in the meadow made me wonder if the Banded Hairstreaks were back at the Rideau Trail in their usual spot along the boardwalk, so I drove over there next. I reached the end of the of boardwalk without seeing them, and continued my walk in the woods to check on the Yellow-bellied Sapsucker nest – sure enough, I heard the nestling crying inside the tree and saw an adult delivering food to it moments later. I also found a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers when I heard a newly fledged youngster making begging noises as it followed an adult hitching its way up a tree. A little further along I heard a Brown Creeper singing.

Although I didn’t see any hairstreaks on my way in, I found four of them on my way out. Two were mating in a sunny patch along the boardwalk while a third sat on a fern nearby; it flew up after a fourth one that wandered too close. This is the third year that I’ve seen them in almost the exact same spot since discovering them here in 2013 – I saw them again in 2014 but missed them last year.

Banded Hairstreak

Banded Hairstreak

I checked the area beneath the power lines to see if the Coral Hairstreaks I had discovered in 2012 were around. I wasn’t able to find any, which makes it four years now since I last saw them here. While I hope this doesn’t mean the colony has since vanished, I usually only the check the area once or twice per season, so it’s definitely possible that they are still there and I’ve been missing them.

Still, I was happy to have found the Banded Hairstreaks once again, and to get some great photos of them mating.

It was getting hot by then, so I decided to call it a day. I wasn’t the only one who found the 30°C temperature unbearable; I found a robin taking a bath in the large puddle in the parking lot on my way home.

American Robin

American Robin

Although my outing today turned into more of a butterfly outing than a dragonfly outing, it was great to see the progression of the breeding season in Stony Swamp: from the Veeries, Brown Creepers, and Ovenbirds still singing on territory, to the Wood Thrush and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers gathering food for their young, and the fledgling Hairy Woodpecker following its parent around. The Chipping Sparrows in my own neighbourhood have been feeding fledglings for a few weeks now, but today I saw the first ones at the feeder in my backyard with the adults. I am far from bored with summer birding, and intend to enjoy it as long as I can.

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3 thoughts on “Canada Day Breeding Birds and Butterflies

  1. What a very summery post and a good tonic for today’s snowy weather. I admit to being one of thouse who slows down his birding in the summer. It’s not boredom but it isn’t something I can put a finger on. Of course, diversions are a plenty in the summer with other winged creatures.

    • Thanks for the comment, Chris! If you do manage to “put your finger on it” let me know, as I’m curious about the “summer doldrums” phenomenon. Even if there were no other winged creatures to distract me, I would still be happy birding this time of year, looking for birds feeding and raising their young. I guess I don’t constantly need to see something new when I go out; having a good number of summer breeding species around is more than enough to make my outings enjoyable.

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