Year Bugs and Year Birds in June

Eight-spotted Forester Moth

June is one of my favourite months. Normally the weather is hot and sunny by the time the solstice rolls around, the birds are all in full song, and butterflies and dragonflies are emerging in woodlands, fields and wetlands. However, the weather this month has not been great. The rain from May continued on and off this month, keeping water levels of the rivers and ponds higher than normal, and likely delaying the emergence of many insects. The weekends have been nice, at least; I’ve been able to get out early in the day in order to look for new birds for my year list and any butterflies and dragonflies that may have emerged. While my enthusiasm has certainly declined since our amazing trip to Costa Rica, I’ve found myself regaining interest in visiting trails and conservation areas close to home, hoping to find some species I haven’t seen since the previous summer.

The day after my trip to the Bill Mason Center, I made plans with Chris Lewis and Chris Traynor to head out to the Cedar Grove Nature Trail in Marlborough Forest to look for odes around Roger’s Pond. I would be co-leading an OFNC outing there the following weekend with Jakob Mueller, a reptiles and amphibians guy, and wanted to get an idea of the dragonflies and damselflies that were flying. As we weren’t meeting at the parking lot there until 8:30, I headed out to Sarsaparilla Trail first, then the Rideau Trail for a quick look around.

A couple of Marsh Wrens singing and a Pied-billed Grebe swimming on the pond were the best birds at Sarsaparilla. There wasn’t much of interest at the Rideau Trail, but it was warm enough for a few insects to be flying. A Dot-tailed Whiteface still showed some of the yellow dots down its abdomen, indicating that it had emerged only recently:

Dot-tailed Whiteface

I saw a larger dragonfly zipping around, and when it landed I was surprised to see a Common Baskettail. I don’t see these very often in Ottawa, and have only come across one other in Stony Swamp before, flying in the alvar at Jack Pine Trail with some other emeralds. In Ottawa, Common Baskettails have a large black patch at the base of the hindwings, making them easy to identify; this feature is variable in other parts of the Northeast, so the appendages are also useful field marks. This is a female, and the appendages are shorter and much further apart than in the other two small baskettail species.

Common Baskettail

When I finished checking the hydro cut, I returned to the car and noticed a small, leaf-like silhouette at the top of a bare branch of one of the shrubs visible from the parking lot. I thought, “wouldn’t it be neat if that were a hummingbird?” and when I checked the “leaf” through my binoculars I noticed it was indeed a male Ruby-throated Hummingbird! If he had been facing into the sun the bright red feathers of his throat would have lit up like a stop light.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

From there it was off to the Cedar Grove Nature Trail on Roger Stevens Drive. The usual Chalk-fronted Corporals were present along the gravel road leading to the pond, as were some young teneral whitefaces with too much yellow to identify. I saw a Harlequin Darner flying with a swarm of baskettails along the road, and when it landed on the ground I put my net down on top of it. When I reached up inside the net to try to pull it out, I had difficulty getting a hold of it, and it managed to escape. That was the last we saw of it; indeed, that was my only sighting of a Harlequin Darner this season.

There were lots of dragonflies flying at the pond, and we saw our first Horned Clubtail of the season.

Horned Clubtail

We also found a couple of American Emeralds, including one with bright green eyes. Immature emeralds often have brownish-coloured eyes – which aren’t as striking in my opinion.

American Emerald

Several yellow orchids were in bloom, which was nice to see. I believe this is a Large Yellow Lady’s Slipper as the curly leaves behind the “slipper” are greenish, not purple.

Large Yellow Lady’s Slipper

We heard more birds than we saw, including several warbler species (Ovenbird, Black-and-white Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler). I didn’t get any year birds, but a Merlin zipping along was nice to see. We found a Chipping Sparrow singing near the open field again, and spent some time walking around the evergreens growing around the edges of the field to check out the emeralds. We found a Brush-tipped Emerald that actually perched for us – this was a first for Chris T.

Brush-tipped Emerald

There were no jewelwings or spiketails flying along the stream at the back of the trail, although we did find a young Racket-tipped Emerald with brown eyes there.

I resumed my search for year birds a few days later, taking a day off in the middle of the week. At the Nortel Marsh I heard, but did not see, two Virginia Rails grunting in the marsh; I tried using playback of a Sora Rail to see if any would respond, but they were silent. I heard one Willow Flycatcher calling and saw a Green Heron, but my most notable sighting was that of a butterfly – a Painted Lady flew in and started nectaring on a daisy. I don’t see these butterflies every year but had heard they were migrating, and I was glad to get one quick photo of it before it flew away.

Painted Lady

From there I headed to the trail on West Hunt Club (Trailhead P11), hoping it would be quiet on a weekday. There were few people, but plenty of birds – a Field Sparrow was singing in the hydro cut; two egrets and four Great Blue Herons were at the pond with a couple of Tree Swallows; a Scarlet Tanager and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak were both singing in the woods; and I counted five warbler species: Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Chestnut-sided Warbler, and Black-throated Green Warbler. Once again my best sighting was that of an insect, and a moth this time: an Eight-spotted Forester. I was watching a butterfly zip by when this moth flew out and landed on a leaf in the sunlight. Although common, I don’t see them very often (not as often as their smaller lookalike, the White-spotted Sable Moth), so I spent some time photographing it. While I was taking pictures, a small rodent – a vole, perhaps – shot out from the vegetation and ran across the trail! I saw all this because I stopped to watch a butterfly, reminding me that it pays to stand still once in a while, and wait to see what comes out!

Eight-spotted Forester Moth

A little further down the trail I spotted a couple of dragonflies flying about a clearing. When one landed, I was surprised to see that it was a Prince Baskettail – these large emeralds rarely perch, and when they do, they typically curl their abdomen up.

Prince Baskettail

I also saw a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail that I followed for a while, hoping to get a photo. Unfortunately it flew off above the trees and disappeared.

The following Sunday was our OFNC outing at Marlborough Forest. We had a good crowd, including a few children. I pointed out the common, easy to identify dragonflies such as Chalk-fronted Corporals and Four-spotted Skimmers, and spent some time watching the Prince Baskettails gliding overhead. They didn’t fly down low enough to catch, though we did see a teneral perching in a cedar tree at about shoulder-height on our way to the “junkyard” clearing. It seems to be a better year for Prince Baskettails than Spiny or Beaverpond Baskettails, as I haven’t encountered the latter two anywhere in good numbers (even at Mud Lake where there is usually a mass emergence in late May). I swung my net at a Common Green Darner which went in, then managed to fly right back out of my net, and pointed out a Horned Clubtail perching on a log beneath the dam. Jakob found an Eastern Red-backed Salamander beneath some junk at the junkyard, and caught a garter snake which promptly regurgitated an earthworm it had been eating – much to the delight of the small boys who were attending!

Unfortunately it was windy and storm clouds started threatening before we made it into the woods on the far side of the dam. I had wanted to check for Ebony Jewelwings, but a few raindrops convinced us it was time to leave. I didn’t take many photos as I was leading the walk, but when Diane Lepage pointed out a Baltimore Checkerspot, I had to take a photo. It turns out this was the only one I saw all year.

Baltimore Checkerspot

The clouds had dissipated by the time I got back home, so I stopped in at the storm water ponds. This Black Swallowtail was nice to see, and a new addition to my list of wildlife seen at the Eagleson storm water ponds.

Black Swallowtail

The following Saturday I was back out, looking for more year birds. I picked up two at the Beaver Trail, the first of which was a Broad-winged Hawk flying over the hydro cut. There was a nice assortment of birds at the trail, including Scarlet Tanager, Brown-headed Cowbird, Purple Finch, Hermit Thrush, Veery, Eastern Kingbird, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Wood-Pewee, and five warbler species (Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, a pair of Chestnut-sided Warblers in the hydro cut, and a Pine Warbler deep in the trail). I also heard a Winter Wren singing, and decided to shoot some video of its song – note the bird is not visible in this video. The song of the Winter Wren is one of my favourite songs of the deep woods; they seem to like areas close to water with lots of brush piles and downed trees or branches. My other favourite forest singer is the Hermit Thrush, and it is not uncommon to hear these two species singing a duet in this part of the Stony Swamp trail system.

My other year bird was another one that I heard, but did not see. I heard some rapid, high-pitched “keek-keek-keek!” calls by the marsh, and recognized the notes of a Common Gallinule. I thought it was going to walk right by the observation platform into the marsh, so I decided to shoot some video. It must have seen me on the platform and changed direction, as I caught a glimpse of the water moving in a small open area in the marsh before the calls stopped altogether.

After that I headed to Jack Pine Trail where I found two more Broad-winged Hawks, including one perching out in the open in a tree across the marsh, and a second one in flight being harassed by a Red-winged Blackbird. I heard another Winter Wren singing, as well as a Wood Thrush, a bird I hear far more often on the West Hunt Club Trail than I do here. I wondered if it was the one with the injured eye I had seen last month. There were only four warblers at Jack Pine Trail (Ovenbird, Black-and-white Warbler, Common Yellowthroats galore, and Black-throated Green Warbler), but another Scarlet Tanager and a Rose-breasted Grosbeak helped make up for it.

In the open alvar I found the usual Field and White-throated Sparrows, as well as a single Eastern Towhee. Quite a few dragonflies were flying high in the sky, and although I suspected they were all Prince Baskettails, a few of them looked different. Most of the time they were flying too high up for me to catch with my net, but a few times they descended much lower, though never where I was standing. A White Admiral kept flying around, too, distracting me.

White Admiral

At last I managed to catch a Prince Baskettail, as well as a female Brush-tipped Emerald. I was pleased to see that this species was still present at Jack Pine Trail – I had feared that last summer’s low water levels might have had an impact on some local populations. I checked the stream at the back of the trail twice this season, and did not see any jewelwings or Arrowhead Spiketails. It is unclear as to whether any survived, but at least this pretty emerald managed to survive last year’s drought.

Brush-tipped Emerald (female)

While I was waiting for the dragonflies to fly close to me, I noticed a strange-looking bumble bee visiting the Viper’s Bugloss. It was brownish, rather than black and yellow, so I submitted it to the Bumble Bee Watch website in order to get help identifying it. The website makes you attempt to ID it on your own before an expert will confirm it; my best guess was Northern Amber Bumble bee, which was confirmed by an expert (although it took about four months for them to do so – the site is run by volunteers).

Northern Amber Bumble bee (Bombus borealis)

It was an intriguing bumble bee, and seeing it made me think I should delve into bee identification as my next area of study; however, bumble bees are tough, as many species look alike except for minute details such as the colour of the hairs on the face!

Northern Amber Bumble Bee (Bombus borealis)

Despite the rain this month, my year list is progressing nicely, with eight new species seen since my return from Costa Rica. With the addition of the Broad-winged Hawk and Common Gallinule, my Ottawa year list now stands at 162 species. I also enjoyed seeing the regular butterflies and dragonflies again, as well as a few insect species I haven’t seen in years – such as the Eight-spotted Forester Moth and Baltimore Checkerspot – and the entirely new Northern Amber Bumble Bee. Best of all, my enthusiasm for going out and seeing the local wildlife is returning – although birding at home lacks the intense excitement of tropics, I am glad to see all the familiar trails and creatures of Ottawa!


One thought on “Year Bugs and Year Birds in June

  1. Lovely shots of B. borealis! I haven’t seen any in ages, so I’m glad to know they’re still around. I used to rear bumblebees for greenhouse pollination (mostly B. impatiens, but also occasionally B. affinis, bimaculatus, terricola, vosnesenskii and a couple of others), back in the early ’90’s. We’d go out on queen-hunting expeditions for fresh breeding stock in late May, so we got to know all the local ones from seeing many of them, mostly on Caragana, lilac and honeysuckle flowers.

    While the guides certainly make identifying bumblebees sound difficult, it’s not so bad in the Ottawa area. There are (or were) only about a dozen species locally. Bombus bimaculatus queens are always the first to emerge in the spring, so I always look forward to seeing them. B. bimaculatus, impatiens, affinis (possibly extinct locally), griseocollis, terricola, perplexus, fervidus and borealis queens all overlap in size, though I recall borealis being larger than impatiens. Interestingly, our local B. affinis queens (always called the rusty-patched bumblebee), didn’t have a rusty patch, just two light yellow bands on the abdomen. Without using a microscope, it was just about identical to B. impatiens, other than the second band.

    B. pensylvanicus is generally larger, and we were warned it had a reputation of being more likely to sting than most other bumblebees.

    B. vagans, sandersoni, rufocinctus and ternarius are all small queens. B. vagans and sandersoni are annoyingly similar. We generally had to distinguish them by how narrow the face was, with vagans having the narrow head. B rufocinctus comes in several colour phases, depending on which genes the bee inherited, making it the most variable. I have always loved ternarius, with the yellow and red bands on the thorax and abdomen.

    Bombus impatiens was always the most common, but B. bimaculatus and ternarius used to be runners-up, and then probably affinis. Once in a long while, we’d see a Psithyrus species, usually citrinus, I think.

    From what I recall, all of the above species except perhaps borealis and pensylvanicus had black facial hair if female, and yellow if male, which was handy to know. Impatiens workers could range in size from tiny to just about queen size, so once the queens were nesting (especially late in summer when the new queens came out), guessing which were small queens and which were large workers could get tricky.

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