Other Creatures Along the River

Great Golden Digger Wasp

Great Golden Digger Wasp

Butterflies aren’t the only creatures I was looking for on my day off on Friday – I spent a lot of time watching birds, dragonflies, frogs, and other insects, too. Before I found myself captivated by the butterflies in the field next to the Hilda Road feeders, I spent a lot of time wandering around the trails at Shirley’s Bay and came up with a decent list of birds – 22 species in just over an hour, including several open-field and scrub-land species such as House Wren, White-throated Sparrow, Field Sparrow, Gray Catbird, American Redstart, and Yellow Warbler.

I heard two Brown Thrashers singing and managed to locate one of them. Unfortunately the angle of the sun made the bird appear backlit; when I tried to move around into a better position it saw me and flew off. No wonder I don’t have very many good photos of this species!

Brown Thrasher

Brown Thrasher

In the wooded area along Lois Avenue I found two Black-and-White Warblers foraging in the same tree. This one was a juvenile; I watched its parent stuff some food into its mouth. When I started pishing, the juvenile flew out onto an open branch and gazed at me with bright-eyed curiosity. Its parent, intent on finding food, completely ignored me.

Black-and-white Warbler

Black-and-white Warbler

I also heard two different Great Crested Flycatchers and saw about eight Cedar Waxwings. Four Northern Flickers were present, possibly a family group. This one landed at the top of a dead tree and began preening while a second one perched on a lower branch. I was pleased to get this shot of its outstretched wing, showing the yellow feather shafts that identify it as the eastern subspecies.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

Northern Flickers come in two different colour forms, which were once considered two different species: the Red-shafted Flicker in the west, and the Yellow-shafted Flicker in the north and east. Because they freely interbreed in the west where their ranges overlap, they are now considered one species. In the Pacific Northwest, both subspecies are present (though Red-shafted Flicker is the expected subspecies), as are intergrades between the two. Intergrades will have features of both subspecies, for example, yellow feather shafts but a red malar stripe. We don’t have intergrades in Ottawa, but even so, it is always nice to get a good look at the field marks of the subspecies that we do have.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

I headed over to Mud Lake next, spending most of my time along the Ridge. It was wonderfully birdy – there was so much activity that it felt almost as if migration had started early! I soon realized, however, that the abundance of birds was likely a result of a successful breeding season in the conservation area. This young Baltimore Oriole was one of two seen one the ridge; this photo of it doing the splits is one of my favourites of the day.

Baltimore Oriole

Baltimore Oriole

I heard a few Warbling Vireos and Red-eyed Vireos singing in the trees, and saw Yellow Warblers, American Redstarts, Red-winged Blackbirds, Common Grackles, and a couple of House Finches. This Great Crested Flycatcher on the ridge was a nice find.

Great Crested Flycatcher

Great Crested Flycatcher

I checked the edges around the pond for dragonflies, but didn’t see any close enough to photograph. The usual Mallards, Wood Ducks, Canada Geese, Great Blue Herons, a single Green Heron, and three Spotted Sandpipers were all present on or near the water. A bullfrog sitting on the lilypad caught my attention:

Bullfrog

Bullfrog

As the odonates weren’t being very cooperative (Common Green Darner, Dot-tailed Whiteface, Twelve-spotted Skimmer, Widow Skimmer, and Hagen’s Bluet were the only species that I noted), and as I had already spent enough time at Mud Lake watching the Snowberry Clearwing Moth featured in my previous post, I headed over to Andrew Haydon Park next. To my surprise, it was much more productive for dragonflies. A Common Green Darner and Prince Baskettail were patrolling the ponds for insects, and the usual skimmers were perching around the edges of the ponds and creek, including Common Whitetail, Widow Skimmer, Twelve-spotted Skimmer, and Four-spotted Skimmer. Several small bluets were also flying around the ponds, but I had left my net in the car as I was expecting it to rain. I was quite happy to find a couple of Halloween Pennants perching in the short vegetation at the edges of the water.

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

They kept flying off to snatch insects, but returned to the same perch most of the time. Then one flew too close to the other, and the perching male chased the other out over the water. I found more Halloween Pennants as I walked around the ponds; at least half a dozen were present, probably more. It was great to see this colony here, saving me a second trip out to Morris Island!

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

As I rounded the western pond I noticed that one of the young Hooded Mergansers was perching on a rock where the Painted Turtles normally like to bask. I was happy to see that the merganser family was still here, and stopped to take a couple of pictures.

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

I moved around the pond to photograph the bird from a different angle, and was thrilled when it began to preen. Here are a couple of photos showing it cleaning its tail feathers:

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

Hooded Merganser

It appeared to be quite satisfied by the time it had finished.

Hooded Merganser

There was another Halloween Pennant perching close by, so I took a few more photos.

Halloween Pennant

Halloween Pennant

After I finished photographing the merganser I wandered over to the river to check out the western bay. I saw a single Wood Duck among the mallards, a Great Egret, and three Lesser Yellowlegs. All were too far out to photograph, so I spent most of my time taking pictures of the butterflies in the milkweed. A few other insects were feeding on the milkweed as well, and I found this colourful wasp especially striking:

Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus)

Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus)

The black-tipped orange abdomen, orange legs, and black head and thorax covered in fine golden hairs made it easy to identify as a Great Golden Digger Wasp. Although its large size makes it appear fearsome, the Great Golden Digger Wasp is not aggressive, and does not defend its territory or nest the way other wasps do. These wasps feed on the nectar of flowers, and nest in tunnels in sandy soils. Females dig the tunnels in the soil, with each tunnel ending in a cluster of cells. The female then captures a grasshopper or katydid for each cell, paralyzes it with its stinger, and drags the prey into one of the cells by the antennae. There she lays a single egg on the grasshopper or katydid before flying off to find another one for the next cell. The grasshopper or katydid becomes a source of food for the wasp larvae after it hatches.

Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus)

Great Golden Digger Wasp (Sphex ichneumoneus)

Eventually I left the river and headed over to the eastern pond where I found two more juvenile Hooded Mergansers standing on a log in the water. They, too, were having a good preen.

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

Hooded Mergansers

I thoroughly enjoyed my day off along the river, and was happy that the rain held off long enough to check all three of my favourite spots. Although the butterflies and moths were the stars of the day, I was thrilled to see the Halloween Pennants, the juvenile Hooded Mergansers, and all the other young birds learning to become independent.

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