Adorable Tree Frogs

Gray Treefrog

Gray Treefrog

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.

I spent most of my time on the ridge and the western side of the lake, as the songbirds were quite abundant in those areas. A Purple Finch was a nice surprise; I don’t see these forest-loving finches very often at Mud Lake, so this species must be moving south now. Other highlights included a Veery calling its name from the thickets west of the lake (it is another species that only passes through here) and a singing Pine Warbler in the pines in the southwest corner. A couple of White-throated Sparrows in the open sumac field were nice to see; they don’t breed here either, and show up in good numbers during migration.

White-throated Sparrow

White-throated Sparrow

Other than that, it was mostly the same species I had seen the weekend before: Baltimore Orioles, a Brown-headed Cowbird, a Chipping Sparrow, Gray Catbirds, Eastern Kingbirds, Eastern Phoebes, a Great Crested Flycatcher, etc. This Red-eyed Vireo was searching for insects out in the open in the sumac field; I mostly hear them in the woods, where it is difficult to see them among the shadows of the leaves in the canopy. I was happy to be able to photograph one in the sun.

Red-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo

Red-eyed Vireo

Most of the warblers that I saw last weekend were still present this weekend, with the only difference being the singing Pine Warbler replacing the two Blackburnian Warblers from last weekend. Other than that I had more Black-and-white Warblers (3), more Common Yellowthroats (3), and fewer redstarts and Yellow Warblers. I observed the same number of Yellow-rumped Warblers (4), Nashville Warblers (1) and Chestnut-sided Warblers (1), and only the Chestnut-sided Warbler popped out in the open long enough for any photos.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

Chestnut-sided Warbler

My best find at Mud Lake was not a bird, but a pair of raccoons. I must have startled them coming along the trail, for when I passed this tree I heard a familiar scrabbling sound of an animal quickly climbing up (or down) a tree. I thought it was a squirrel at first until I realized there there two raccoons in the tree, disappearing into a large cavity.

Raccoon

Raccoon

I didn’t see as many odonates as I was hoping for – a Widow Skimmer and a couple of Powdered Dancers were the only ones that I noticed – so after I was finished my walk at Mud Lake I headed over to the Bruce Pit where I knew I would find spreadwings, skimmers, and darners. It was indeed much better for insects (more on that in a separate post!) than Mud Lake, but there were far fewer bird species; I didn’t even bother to keep an eBird checklist. This Warbling Vireo was nice enough to perch out in the open:

Warbling Vireo

Warbling Vireo

My best find at Bruce Pit was not an insect or a bird, but rather an amphibian. I was checking a large milkweed field for darners when I spotted a small pale green frog resting on a milkweed leaf. This wasn’t the first time I’d seen a Gray Treefrog at Bruce Pit, and if I hadn’t been looking down at the leaf at exactly the right angle, I might have missed it. Their camouflage is pretty amazing!

Gray Treefrog

Gray Treefrog

I started watching for tree frogs in the vegetation as well as darners, and barely a minute has passed before I stumbled across a second frog, this one a large adult. Gray Treefrogs are the only local frogs that are green with rough, warty skin. They can change colour from green to brown to gray in order to match the colour of their surroundings, which is why they were given the Latin name Hyla versicolor. These frogs breed in ponds, ephemeral wetlands, ditches and other still waters with nearby woodlands. Their feet are equipped with large toe pads that act like suction cups and enable them to climb high into trees or shrubs where they give their long, loud trill during the breeding season. Eggs are laid in late spring and early summer, which gives them enough time to hatch, mature, and transform from tadpole to frog by late August or early September.

Gray Treefrog

Gray Treefrog

I have heard many Gray Treefrogs calling in the woods on my birding outings, but have never been able to pinpoint the source of that call or spot the frog. Because of their camouflage and ability to climb they are often difficult to locate outside of the breeding season. I was surprised when I came across a third treefrog a moment or two after finding my second.

Gray Treefrog

Gray Treefrog

Five minutes later, I found a fourth one! This was completely astonishing to me, as I had only seen my first Gray Treefrog two years ago at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden while specifically looking for them after dark during breeding season, and came across my second one at Bruce Pit by accident. Given how seldom they are actually seen, it is sometimes difficult to believe how common they are, even if one is familiar with their summer calls.

Gray Treefrog

Gray Treefrog

The Gray Treefrogs were the highlight of my day, and I drove home quite happy with my finds. I wasn’t expecting to see anything else, but a buteo perched on the side of West Hunt Club Road caught my attention. It looked small, so I carefully pulled over and got out of the car (this is not a road I like to stop along; although the speed limit is 80 km/hr, drivers routinely do 100 km/hr). A view from the front confirmed my suspicions: it was a Broad-winged Hawk! This wasn’t too far where I’d seen a pair soaring over the hydro cut back on July 30th at Trail 26, so I imagined it must have been one of the family living in this section of Stony Swamp. I took a few photos and continued on my way home.

Broad-winged Hawk

Broad-winged Hawk

Even though I have been hearing Broad-winged Hawks in Stony Swamp more and more frequently, I usually only see them flying over – only once before have I seen one perching out in the open like this. Seeing this one along the roadside was the perfect way to end the day filled with birds, bugs and frogs. (For those of you interested in the insects that I saw, including two lifer bees, stay tuned for part 2!)

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