On August 27th, the last Saturday of the month, I headed out to a spot I normally don’t visit so late in the summer – Roger’s Pond along the Cedar Grove Nature Trail. I usually go in May and June when early-season dragonflies are flying, such as the locally rare Ebony Boghaunter, the uncommon Harlequin Darner and Brush-tipped Emerald, as well as the usual whitefaces, Racket-tailed Emeralds, Spiny and Beaverpond Baskettails, and Aurora Damsels. I had two reasons for wanting to go: the first was the Band-winged Meadowhawk, a species I had seen in good numbers here on one late-summer visit several years ago but have had trouble finding recently, and the second was a yearning to find some Aeshna darners. After seeing such a good variety at my Dad’s trailer and failing to find the Variable Darner at Bruce Pit, I thought that Roger’s Pond might be a good spot to look for Ottawa’s common and uncommon species.
On Friday night I decided to make a quick stop at the ponds after dinner. There was a nice mix of shorebirds foraging in the muck on the other side of the channel, and I began to regret not taking the car over so I could bring my scope. About 10 Killdeer were present, as usual, but one Greater Yellowlegs, one Semipalmated Plover, one Semipalmated Sandpiper, and about five Least Sandpipers were spread out along the water’s edge. Another small shorebird caught my attention, a little bit larger than the peeps with a light brown head contrasting with the neat scalloped pattern of its grayish-brown back. It had dark legs, a straight, dark bill, and the barest hint of a pale supercilium. It was the contrasting light brown head that made me think “Baird’s Sandpiper”, and despite the low light and the distance I took enough photos to confirm one of the key field marks: the wingtips were longer than its tail. This was the first Baird’s Sandpiper I had seen here – an amazing find!
Sometimes it amazes me that even my own backyard can host an incredible variety of wildlife. I live in a townhouse with a tiny yard, and have very little in the way of shelter for birds or bugs – there is a large tree-like shrub on my front lawn which is as tall as the house and produces little helicopter seeds in the fall that the squirrels love (one of these years I’ll get around to asking my botanist friends to identify it for me) and a six-foot tall Arrowwood Viburnum in the backyard. A couple of small Weigela shrubs are still doing well in the backyard despite their location in a shady part of the garden, and that’s it other than the annuals and perennials chosen to attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators. My yard is just too small and does not get enough sun to plant the kind of butterfly and pollinator garden I would really like. Further, our back lawn hosts a lot of different weeds as we aren’t exactly diligent about removing them. I hate applying any kind of chemical herbicide or pesticide, and while I go crazy a couple of times each summer trying to remove them by hand, they just keep coming back. Our neighbours probably don’t like us very much.
In July I wrote a post called “Among the Flowers” after finding a fantastic number of insects – including bees, beetles, odes and butterflies – in the wildflower meadow at Bruce Pit. Seven weeks have passed since that visit, and when I returned for a visit yesterday, I had no choice but to follow up that post with this one. The flowers in bloom have changed since that early-July visit, but the insect diversity has not – despite the lateness of the season, there were a fantastic variety of bugs there lurking among the flowers.
I originally chose to visit Bruce Pit in the hope of seeing some darners there – I’d seen none at Mud Lake earlier that morning, and recalled that Chris Traynor had found some Variable Darners late in the season last year (September 18, 2015) along the hydro cut. My plan was to spend some time near the water looking for spreadwings and skimmers, then check out the hydro cut for darners. I didn’t find much around the water – there were lots of Lyre-tipped Spreadwings still present – so I headed up into the field just above the water.
After my return to Ottawa from southern Ontario I was eager to get out and see what was going on in my favourite conservation areas. On Saturday morning I headed out to Mud Lake where I had an excellent morning, finding 39 species in two hours including nine warblers, three flycatchers, three sparrows, and two thrushes. I didn’t spend much time searching for water birds, but even so I saw the usual mallards, a couple of Wood Ducks, two Spotted Sandpipers, and one Great Blue Heron in the channel behind the ridge. A large number of gulls were roosting on the rocks in the rapids, and I spotted a couple of Herring Gulls among the Ring-bills.
During the third week of August I spent some time at my Dad’s trailer in the Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area near Glen Morris, Ontario. Although more of a campground/recreation area than a conservation area, it is nevertheless a great spot to spend a few days and see some “southern” wildlife. The last time I was here (August 2014) I was treated to the antics of a couple of juvenile Broad-winged Hawks, found a small pond where female Black-tipped Darners laid their eggs in the late afternoon, observed a Blue-winged Warbler on a morning walk, saw my first Red-spotted Purple butterfly, and even saw a bat near one of the washroom lights after dark. I didn’t see any Broad-winged Hawks or cool southern bird species this time, but I still ended up with 28 species over three days – the same number I saw in 2014. Here are some of the interesting creatures that I saw on my trip.
After I returned home from Mud Lake I spent some time packing for my upcoming trip to southern Ontario to visit my Dad. As is my habit, I kept a close eye on the avian activity in my yard throughout the morning. A Mourning Dove visited briefly to eat the seeds beneath the feeder, while a House Finch and Cedar Waxwing were noted flying over. Two Chipping Sparrows visited later, followed by a large group of House Sparrows. The most I ever saw at one time was eight, but there might have been more. Then I noticed this bird:
On Saturday the temperature dropped and we finally got some desperately-needed rain. It started falling early in the morning and continued throughout the day, putting a damper on my plans to go dragon-hunting along the river. However, as the rain wasn’t falling too heavily when I got up, I headed out to do some birding instead. While my chief target was the three Short-billed Dowitchers at Andrew Haydon Park, I made a quick stop at Sarsaparilla Trail first to check out the action there. The birds were very quiet, however, and if it weren’t for the Virginia Rail scurrying in the reeds next to the boardwalk, it wouldn’t have been worth the stop.
On August 7th I met up with Chris Lewis at Shirley’s Bay for a morning of birding and dragon-hunting. The morning got off to a great start when I saw a group of Wild Turkeys along Rifle Road even before I met Chris at the parking lot; there were two adults and a couple of baby turkeys! As soon as I stopped the car the adult turkeys began herding their offspring away from the road. Although they weren’t that close to begin with, it was cute to watch the babies stop and peck at the weeds while Mom and Dad steadily walked toward the back of the meadow. I’ve seen Wild Turkeys in that field before, but this was the first time I’d seen them with any young, and it was a thrilling experience.
I haven’t done as much photography in my own yard this year as I would have liked; I’ve seen no butterflies other than the ubiquitous Cabbage Whites, no flashy moths visiting my flowers or perching on my house during the daylight, and no odes other than a couple of darners flying too high up to identify. Still, I knew there had to be some colourful insects around, and once I made the effort to go looking for them, I ended up finding some colourful old friends as well as quite a few new species for my yard.