Labour Day Ramblings

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Yesterday morning I went birding on my own again, stopping in at Sarsaparilla Trail, the Rideau Trail, and Richmond Lagoons before ending up at the ponds on Eagleson. I arrived at Sarsparilla Trail at 7:30, but unfortunately I wasn’t the first one there; two young people were flying a drone from the boardwalk. I had never seen a drone in action before, and was momentarily intrigued by it; however, this put a damper on my birding experience as it was too noisy to hear any chip notes from the birds in the marsh. This resulted in an uncharacteristic zero-sparrow list, though I did hear a Gray Catbird, and find a Brown Creeper, a Pileated Woodpecker, and a Ruffed Grouse in my short time there. The Rideau Trail wasn’t much better, though I did see a phoebe flycatching from a post in the parking lot fence and two House Wrens in the hydro cut – I wondered if one was the same individual that I saw along the boardwalk on Saturday.

From there I drove over to the Richmond Lagoons, traditionally a great spot for shorebirds and ducks in the fall. The drought, however, had dried the ponds completely up and I was curious to see whether the ponds had filled again after the recent rains. To my disappointment they were still fairly dry, but the birding was still pretty good so I spent an hour walking the loop that goes through the woods, cutting close to the Jock River.

Woodpeckers were represented by a couple of Downy Woodpeckers and three of each of Northern Flicker and Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, which isn’t a species I see often here. On my walk my attention was drawn to a group of crows in a dead tree at the back of the lagoons squawking at something. Altogether there were 16 of them, and I thought I might have a chance at seeing a hawk or an owl. However, they all flew off before I could get there, and by the time I did get there wasn’t anything to see.

Two Swamp Sparrows were still singing in the marsh, and at least four Common Yellowthroats chipped at me as I walked by. Three Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, three Warbling Vireos, and four Gray Catbirds were great to see and hear, too. There weren’t many birds in the open meadow between the ponds and the woods; sometimes this area can be very birdy, but yesterday the usual Cedar Waxwings were gone, and I saw no warblers, orioles or flycatchers here. However, I did get a few warblers at the edge of the woods when a few emerged into the sunlight while foraging for bugs. These included at least two Magnolia and two Nashville Warblers, and one Cape May Warbler. A few other birds were moving about the shadows inside the woods, though they didn’t come out so I could identify them.

While watching the warblers I was thrilled when a fresh Mourning Cloak floated out into view and landed on a leaf. If it survives all the insect-eating predators migrating at this time of year, this individual will overwinter underneath some bark or in a brush pile in the woods and emerge in the first warm days of late March or early April. Because these butterflies and other nymphalids overwinter in the adult stage, their adult stage can last as long as seven or eight months – far longer than butterflies in other families. When taking into account the time they spend in the larval stage, some individuals can live almost a year.

Mourning Cloak

Mourning Cloak

I spent some time walking in the woods on the trail that runs along the river. I was surprised to see an Osprey emerge above the trail carrying a fish in its talons – I thought these large raptors preferred more open waters, such as large rivers and ponds and lakes. This part of the Jock River is not very wide and meanders through a thick wood. I was happy to see the Osprey on my way home later, eating the fish on top of a telephone pole by the (former) Richmond Nursery. A flyover Great Blue Heron was the only other water bird I saw on my visit.

On a much smaller scale, I was delighted when a Ruby-throated Hummingbird buzzed by me and flew up into a tree where it perched for a few minutes. It is either a female or a juvenile, as evidenced by the white throat; adult males with the eponymous bright red throat vacate their breeding grounds in July.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

There wasn’t much to see on the remainder of my walk, so I headed home. I drove by the Eagleson ponds and stopped in for a quick visit. When I saw a golden-red dragonfly patrolling above the mucky puddles of the floodplain I was intrigued; I knew it was a glider, but wasn’t sure which one it was. I spent some time watching it, but as I didn’t have my net I wasn’t able to identify it. As I was watching the dragonfly, I became aware of three crows calling raucously in the trees across the water. For the second time that day I wondered if they were harassing a hawk, but when a juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron flew out I thought it was strange – why would they be harassing a heron? The cawing continued, so I walked around to the small woodlot and tried to see what was disturbing the crows. I had to cut through some tall grass to get a better look, and disturbed a perching glider I didn’t even see – these guys never land, and my chance of finding another one perching was nil. I could have kicked myself for not paying attention! To make matters worse, there was a hawk hidden within the small woodlot, and it spooked, too, flying out of the trees. I thought it was a buteo, but couldn’t even tell that much from the terrific view of its backside as it kept going all the way across Eagleson and beyond.

Still, the ponds were proving the most productive stop of the day, so I walked around. I encountered two Solitary Sandpipers, a second Black-crowned Night Heron, two Great Blue Herons and a Great Egret. I was also charmed by the sight of a Belted Kingfisher perching on top of a concrete wall right above the juvenile Green Heron (this is a very distant shot; you’ll have to click to enlarge this one). I hadn’t realized they were similar in size until I saw them together.

Juxtaposition (click to enlarge)

Juxtaposition (click to enlarge)

I also got a nice photo of the juvenile night heron standing at the edge of what I call the floodplain:

Black-crowned Night Heron

Black-crowned Night Heron

There weren’t many songbirds in the northern part of the ponds, but I found some cool insects while walking through the grass north of Emerald Meadows Drive to check the pond there. The first was this pretty geometer moth, the Chickweed Geometer. These day-flying moths are colourful, like butterflies, and can be found in fields, meadows, lawns, and gardens; they are most common toward the end of summer, with a peak flight time in August. Males and females can be distinguished by their antennae. Females have threadlike antennae, as seen in the image below.

Chickweed Geometer

Chickweed Geometer

Males, on the other hand, have feather-like antennae. I was happy to see both sexes here and to get great photos of each.

Chickweed Geometer

Chickweed Geometer

The second insect was much smaller, and bright green – it was a Green Lacewing, an insect that looks like a fly but belongs to Order Neuroptera. These insects are beneficial to gardeners as the larvae are voracious predators of eggs and soft-bodied insects such as aphids, caterpillars, spider mites, leafhoppers and thrips. They overwinter as adults in the soil, emerging in spring to lay their eggs. Lacewings can produce several generations per year depending on the temperature. They are most often seen clinging to vegetation as the adults are not good fliers; they tend to fly only if disturbed. I noticed this when attempting to photograph the lacewing, as it flew once when I tried to move in close for a macro shot, then stayed put when I used the zoom.

Green Lacewing

Green Lacewing

The insect life at the Eagleson ponds continues to amaze me, and I really regretted not being able to ID the two gliders that I saw. Now that I know they are around I will have to keep an eye out for them….and any hawks lurking in the trees!

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