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.

Our itinerary was as follows (from the website):

Itinerary: We will leave Ottawa the morning of the tour, leaving at 5:30 AM. Our first birding stop will be just south of Kaladar, in search of the Prairie Warblers that breed in the juniper scrub there. Next up, we are on to the eastern edge of Hastings County, in search of Blue-winged Warblers (best spot for this species in all of eastern ON), Golden-winged’s, and interesting hybrid combinations, such as Brewster’s Warbler (Blue winged x Golden-winged). We are then on to the Napanee Limestone Plain IBA, in search of Loggerhead Shrike, Grasshopper Sparrow, Clay-colored Sparrow, Bobolink, and Upland Sandpiper. From there, we’ll bird in Moscow, focusing on our next targets: Least Bittern, Marsh Wren, and Black Tern. Our final birding sites of the day will be a hike in Frontenac Provincial Park, and roadside birding along Canoe Lake Road. Our targets at these latter sites include Cerulean Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Golden-winged Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Scarlet Tanager, and Yellow-throated Vireo, among others. Ottawa birders in particular will enjoy birding some new areas, and hopefully see breeding birds they have yet to (or rarely) see.

The day was overcast and still cool when we arrived at the first site, the Sheffield Conservation Area. A nice trail wound up through the Canadian shield along the edge of the lake. Right away we heard, then saw, a Black-billed Cuckoo – a first of the year for me – and a Great Blue Heron flying over. As the trail proceeded up to a rocky area we found Field Sparrows, Eastern Towhees, an Eastern Wood-Pewee, a Scarlet Tanager, and a Veery. Warblers were represented by a couple of Common Yellowthroats, a Yellow-rumped Warbler, and a Yellow Warbler. Our main target, the Prairie Warbler, was neither seen nor heard.

Still, we found some interesting dragonflies in the area despite the cloudy skies. Both male and female Blue Dashers were present.

Blue Dasher (female)

A reddish dragonfly caught my attention, too, thought it preferred perching the middle of a juniper bush where I had a hard time seeing any details other than the brightly painted wings. I was hoping for a southern species, but a good look finally revealed the red hearts of a Calico Pennant.

Calico Pennant

Jon mentioned he had found Five-lined Skinks in the area on a previous trip, so we began turning over small rocks in a alvar-like area. The skink is the only lizard in Canada, and its range does not reach as far north as Ottawa. They can be found in places like Rondeau Park and Point Pelee, though I’d only ever caught quick glimpses of their tails disappearing under logs. Jon managed to find one skink during our search, and it paused long enough for a few pictures before slinking away.

Five-lined Skink

We headed further south and west into Hastings County. Although I’d never been birding there before, Hastings County was familiar from trips as a young girl to my grandmother’s house just outside of Tweed. Our destination wasn’t anywhere near the small town where I’d spent many summer days in my childhood, but rather a small trail seemingly in the middle of nowhere called the Cheese Factory Trail. Warblers again were our targets, this time the colourful Blue-winged and Golden-winged Warblers. We found a good variety of birds on this rather straight, sparsely wooded trail including House Wren, Wood Thrush, Black-and-white Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Eastern Towhee and Scarlet Tanager. We also heard a Clay-colored Sparrow singing, which came up as “rare” on eBird. However, we were not able to identify either of our target birds, although something small came flying in when Jon used a bit of playback to see if any were around. It kept to the shadows of the tree, however, refusing to show itself. We had no luck finding the cheese factory, either.

Despite the cloudy the skies, the insects didn’t disappoint – I saw a Widow Skimmer and this Band-winged Meadowhawk, a species that has become scarce in Ottawa these past few years.

Band-winged Meadowhawk

I was also thrilled to find a hairstreak on a Common Milkweed flower – and then I realized that there were about a dozen of them! They all looked to be Banded Hairstreaks, a common butterfly though one I haven’t seen in Ottawa yet this year (see top photo). That seemed like a lot, until we got to our next stop, an open area along the side of the road where we saw at least 50 or 60 brown hairstreaks clustered in the Common Milkweeds and Sumac flowers there. Most of them appeared to be Hickory Hairstreaks, which look almost identical to Banded Hairstreaks except for the lengthened blue spot on the wing.

Hickory Hairstreak

This is just one of the flowers – there are at least 17 butterflies in this image alone!

Hairstreaks on Common Milkweed

I believe this is another Hickory Hairstreak:

Hickory Hairstreak

The blue spot on this butterfly is more square in shape, and shorter in length, so I’m calling this one a Banded Hairstreak.

Banded Hairstreak

I’ve never seen any butterflies nectaring on sumac flowers before, so I took a picture of this one. I also believe this one to be a Banded Hairstreak.

Banded Hairstreak

We had actually stopped to check out a kettle of Turkey Vultures soaring overhead, but also noted an American Redstart, an Indigo Bunting, and a Chestnut-sided Warbler in the same area.

Our next couple of stops in Hastings County proved productive. We saw a Broad-winged Hawk, a Wilson’s Snipe in a ditch full of water, and found a field where Savannah and Grasshopper Sparrows were singing.

From there it was off to the Napanee Limestone Plain IBA in Lennox/Addington. We pulled over onto the shoulder of a busy road and started scanning various perches for our target, the Loggerhead Shrike. At first we were unsuccessful, but after a few minutes we saw a small bird fly in and land on top of a small evergreen. This was a life bird for me, and one I was happy to find as they are difficult to find in Ontario outside of a few known breeding areas. It was quite active, flying from tree-top to tree-top in search of prey. Other birds were present, too, including two American Kestrels, Bank and Barn Swallows, a Brown Thrasher, and several Eastern Meadowlarks.

I enjoyed our next stop much more, as we were able to get out of the car and walk into a marsh. It wasn’t much to look at – it looked like a lot like the Richmond lagoons, a trail disappearing between two cells overgrown with cattails – but we found our target bird almost right away when a Least Bittern flew out from the reeds next to the trail and gave us stunning looks. A Green Heron, an Eastern Kingbird, a Warbling Vireo, a Marsh Wren, a Common Yellowthroat, and a Swamp Sparrow were all heard or seen before dark clouds moved in and a heavy downpour sent us scrambling to the cars. I would have liked to have stayed longer to search for insects, but we drove out of there quickly to our next stop, Frontenac Provincial Park in Frontenac County.

I have never been to Frontenac Provincial Park before, and had high expectations. Unfortunately, it was very quiet, and we found very few birds. In addition, although the showers hadn’t arrived here yet, it was overcast and there weren’t as many insects flying as I had hoped. I was hoping for some southern dragonflies and butterflies, but all we saw were ones I could easily see in Ottawa, such as a Slaty Skimmer…

Slaty Skimmer

….and a Red Admiral.

Red Admiral

The Cerulean Warblers we hoped to see, or at least hear, were no-shows, continuing our hitless streak in the warbler department as far as our targeted species went. However, we had some luck with Yellow-throated Vireos when Jon played their calls a couple of times, and three birds flew in! Strangely, a Red-eyed Vireo flew in too, and got into an altercation with one of the Yellow-throated Vireos. The only other species we recorded here were Ovenbird, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, and Black-throated Green Warbler. This is probably my only eBird checklist ever which contains only vireos and warblers – we observed no chickadees, nuthatches, crows, jays, sparrows, or flycatchers, and a quick look at the lake near the Administration Building yielded only an Eastern Phoebe, a singing Pine Warbler, and more Red-eyed Vireos. I would love to go back sometime and give this place a more thorough examination.

We started heading back to Ottawa after that, with a couple of quick stops. One included a spot where a Louisiana Waterthrush has been known to breed, though it was silent when we stopped by the small creek. A few Ebony Jewelwings were great to see.

Ebony Jewelwing

A little further along we stopped to check out a couple of soaring hawks and found three buteos: Red-shouldered Hawk, Broad-winged Hawk and Red-tailed Hawk. Someone noticed a Blanding’s Turtle on the road close by, so I stopped for a few pictures before they moved it off the road.

Blanding’s Turtle

Finally, we stopped at Nolan Marsh in Lanark County which turned out to be incredibly productive as we added Wood Ducks, American Bittern, Virginia Rail, Black Tern, and Belted Kingfisher to the day’s list. The American Bittern gave us some great views as it flew out of the reeds and across the road to the marsh on the other side.

We reached Perth around 5:00, and were back in Ottawa in time for supper, making it a full 12-hour day. I added several new species to my Frontenac, Lanark, Hastings, and Lennox/Addington County lists and one new species to my life list. Despite a long list of no-shows it was an incredible day of birding. I hope that Jon offers this outing again next year, and if so I will definitely sign up for a trip earlier in the season when, hopefully, our target warblers will still be singing.

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