Archive | July 2017

Mini-update: Wildlife Close to Home

I’ve seen a few interesting things in my own backyard and in conservation areas close to home these days, but haven’t taken enough photos for a full blog post; here are a few photos from the past couple of weeks.

On July 10th I visited the Eagleson storm water ponds for an hour in the afternoon. Even though this was much later in the day than I usually visit, I still found 21 species including a Green Heron, an Osprey and a Belted Kingfisher. I also counted three Spotted Sandpipers around the pond. It seems odd that I haven’t seen any tiny precocial sandpiper chicks running around here at this point in the breeding season; either they aren’t breeding here, or they are keeping their young well-hidden. This adult kept a wary eye on me as I photographed it from a respectful distance.

Spotted Sandpiper

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A Hot Morning in Stony Swamp

Compton Tortoiseshell

After another rainy week the sun finally came out on Sunday. My plan was to do some birding and dragon-hunting close to home, starting with a visit to Trail 26 in Stony Swamp. This is the one off of West Hunt Club (Trailhead P11) that runs south to connect with the Jack Pine Trail system; I don’t visit it very often as it doesn’t have any boardwalks, which I prefer when looking for dragonflies. Still, it’s an under-birded gem that deserves more attention, especially in summer when the breeding birds are in full song. I tallied 28 species in just under two hours, with an additional species heard that I wasn’t sure of.

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Morris Island

Halloween Pennant

My last day off was Tuesday, and the forecast finally called for a decent amount of sun during the morning and afternoon. I invited a friend, Jon, to go dragon-hunting with me at Morris Island since he was eager to become re-acquainted with odonates after a long absence. There were a few particular species on his must-see list, including Cobra Clubtail, Cyrano Darner and Dragonhunter; I’d seen all of these at Morris Island before, though I wasn’t optimistic about our chances of seeing the Cyrano. Although it is considered to be a widespread species, inhabiting swamps, small lakes, and slow-moving rivers of the eastern half of the continent, adults are rarely seen. It is thought that once they emerge they immediately fly up into the tree tops where they spend most of their time. Adult males can sometimes be found patrolling their territory, and this appeared to be just such a case with the one that I caught in the parking lot of the Morris Island Conservation Area last year. That was on June 25th, however, I was worried that we might be too late to see them.

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Curious Wood-Pewees

Eastern Wood-pewee

On July 10th I took the day off work and went birding. It was another overcast day, and I found myself at Shirley’s Bay to see how bad the damage was to the dyke from the spring flooding. Although I was warned that it was bad in spots, I was allowed to go out birding on the dyke by the DND Range Control. While some areas had been heavily eroded, the part birded by most people – about halfway to the first island – was fine. After that it began to resemble the crumbled path between the first and second islands, with huge chunks of earth torn away. I did not go any further, though I was curious if anything was left between the two islands.

My attention was immediately caught by an adult Bald Eagle perching in a tree right out on the dyke, though it flew off before I could get close to it. I heard a Common Gallinule, two Common Yellowthroats, and several Marsh Wrens in the reeds, and saw an Osprey flying over the water. Two Spotted Sandpipers, a kingfisher, and a Common Tern were also present along the dyke. I didn’t stay long, as there wasn’t much of interest right in the middle of breeding season, and there was no shorebird habitat yet for early migrants heading south.

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Birds and Bugs with Eastern Ontario Birding

Hickory Hairstreak

On July 8, 2017, I attended an Eastern Ontario Birding tour with Jon Ruddy that crossed four counties in the southwestern and southern portion of eastern Ontario in an effort to find some of the harder-to-find breeding birds. Target species included American Bittern, Least Bittern, Common Gallinule, Upland Sandpiper, Black Tern, Common Nighthawk, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Red-headed Woodpecker, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Black-billed Cuckoo, Willow Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, Yellow-throated Vireo, Sedge Wren, Blue-winged Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Indigo Bunting, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Clay-colored Sparrow. However, fortunately for me, Jon’s tours aren’t just limited to birds; his description noted that we would be birding “in prime insect and herptile (reptile and amphibian) country as well. During our previous tour(s), we have seen four species of Swallowtail, Monarch Butterfly, Viceroy, many species of dragonfly, and an excellent variety of herps, including Gray Ratsnake, Eastern Ribbonsnake, Five-lined Skink, Pickerel Frog, Red-backed Salamander, and so on.”

He had had tremendous luck finding most of these target birds on the same tour at the end of June, so I was excited at the chance to see some of these difficult-to-find species. I was also looking forward to adding some new species to my county lists for Lanark, Lennox/Addington, Frontenac, and Hastings.

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Life Among the Milkweeds

Green Immigrant Leaf Weevil

When most people think of milkweeds and the insects that are associated with them, they think of the iconic Monarch butterfly, which subsists solely on these plants in its larval stage. Others may recall the beautiful Red Milkweed Beetle, the black and orange Small and Large Milkweed Bugs, or the fuzzy Tussock Milkweed Moth caterpillars that sometimes gather together in groups of a dozen or more. However, milkweeds are an abundant source of nectar and pollen for many types of insects, and these in turn attract predators searching for easy prey. If you spend some time examining these plants at the height of their flowering season, an amazing secret world opens up, as all kinds of colourful creatures can be found on their flowers and leaves. Here are a few of the colourful and intriguing creatures I photographed in early to mid-July while looking for the more common butterflies and dragonflies.

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Breeding Swallows

Barn Swallow (juvenile)

Six species of swallows breed in the Ottawa area, and most are easy to find. Tree Swallows like open fields and agricultural areas, particularly where there are lots of natural tree cavities or nest boxes. Barn Swallows also like open fields and farms, but need water in order to build cup-shaped nests of mud on the walls of man-made structures, such as the undersides of bridges and in the rafters of barns or other open structures. Purple Martins nest almost exclusively in man-made houses that can be single gourd-shaped boxes or large multi-cavity apartments; it is difficult to find colonies away from human settlements these days, at least in the east. Northern Rough-winged Swallows nests in burrows or cavities in various substrates, particularly near water, and often use circular drainage holes in the cement walls along bridges and canals. Bank Swallows also nest in burrows and cavities, but are much more particular about using vertical cliffs or banks along streams, lakes, or man-made quarries where they nest in colonies of 10 to 2,000 pairs. Finally, Cliff Swallows – personally the most difficult swallow species for me to find in Ottawa outside of a few known colonies – nest on buildings, bridges, and other man-made structures close to fields or pastures for foraging, and a source of mud for nest building.

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