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.

As usual, the first couple hundred meters along the trail were quiet. Once I got deeper into the woods and away from the traffic noise, however, I started hearing more birds: Red-eyed Vireos and Eastern Wood-Pewees singing, a Blue Jay calling, at least two different Wood Thrushes in song. There are usually lots of great birds around the hydro cut, and I wasn’t disappointed when I reached the sunny opening. I usually spend some time here looking for butterflies nectaring on the flowers, but this time I was focused on the birds. I heard a Common Yellowthroat singing close by, and quickly found it singing near the top of a shrub.

Common Yellowthroat

I also heard another warbler singing nearby, but wasn’t able to identify the song. When I tracked the singer down I was surprised to see a male Chestnut-sided Warbler, as he wasn’t singing the usual “pleased-pleased-pleased-to-MEETCHA” song, nor the rendition that could pass for the song of a Yellow Warbler – sometimes I have trouble distinguishing between the two warblers when the Yellow Warbler isn’t singing its “sweet-sweet-sweet-a-little-more-sweet” song. It seems to be a good year for Chestnut-sided Warblers in Stony Swamp; this is now the third trail where I’ve seen singing males. Normally I only see them passing through in migration.

Chestnut-sided Warbler

After leaving the warblers, I saw a fritillary flying along, and waded into the grass to try and catch up with it. It disappeared before I could get close enough to photograph it, though I did get nice and close to a Goldenrod Crab Spider on some Queen Anne’s Lace, the only one I’ve managed to see this year. This spider does not build a web; rather, it relies on its cryptic colouration to blend in with the flower on which it waits for unwary prey. It can change colour from white to yellow to better camouflage itself.

Goldenrod Crab Spider with prey

Just then I heard a distinctive metallic chip coming from behind me, and when I turned around and saw the bird making the sound I was stunned – it was a beautiful blue male Indigo Bunting, a bird I have trying to add to my year list for weeks now! I’d been travelling far and wide in my attempts to find one, and here was one only five minutes away from home. He wasn’t happy with my presence, and kept chipping at me until he finally gave up and flew off in disgust.

Indigo Bunting

I also heard an Alder Flycatcher and a Field Sparrow in the hydro cut, and saw a Northern Flicker, a flock of Cedar Waxwings, and a Turkey Vulture flying over. Then, when I reached the far side of the hydro cut, I heard something else: a couple of Black-throated Green Warblers and a vireo singing along the forest edge. The vireo’s song intrigued me as it sounded slow and wiry like a Blue-headed Vireo, but as I wasn’t able to get visual confirmation I left it as unidentified.

I walked the loop, adding more species to the day’s list as I went: a Winter Wren singing in a dead cedar grove, a Scarlet Tanager, an American Redstart, a couple of Ovenbirds, a couple of White-throated Sparrows, and a Chipping Sparrow. I checked in at the pond where I saw a Great Blue Heron and heard a few Swamp Sparrows and Red-winged Blackbirds. I also heard the brief song of a House Wren, and realized that both this and the Winter Wren were new birds at this location for me. With so many great birds here, it is surprising that it is birded by so few people.

From there I drove over to the Beaver Trail, hoping to find some more butterflies and dragonflies. The first thing I saw, however, was an Eastern Phoebe going through some sort of stretching routine on top of the outhouse. It raised its wings three times, spread its tail feathers, and opened its beak – I’m guessing it was trying to deal with the heat.

Eastern Phoebe

Eastern Phoebe

Other highlights include an adult and juvenile Yellow-bellied Sapsucker working together on a tree, an Eastern Kingbird, both Red- and White-breasted Nuthatches, and a flock of Cedar Waxwings. I also came across several Common Yellowthroats, including a family group of three in the meadow where I’ve never seen them before, and a territorial male at the boardwalk. It was singing in a shrub right next to the boardwalk, and when I started pishing it immediately flew onto the boardwalk and fluttered around as though its wing were broken. This looked like a typical broken wing distraction display most familiar in Killdeer – but I didn’t know that Common Yellowthroats also used it to lure potential threats away from its young! I didn’t linger to take any photos, but hurried away in case he did have a nest nearby.

A male Rose-breasted Grosbeak moving through the shrubs was also nice to see, as these birds become hard to find after they stop singing in the middle of the summer.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

I didn’t have much luck with any dragonflies, but I was happy when a wonderfully fresh Compton Tortoiseshell landed on the gravel path in front of me. These butterflies seem to be having a good year – I’ve seen three so far, while in recent years I haven’t seen any.

Compton Tortoiseshell

The only other bird of interest I saw was a Ruby-throated Hummingbird in a tree near the parking lot. I usually only see them here late in the summer when the jewelweed is in bloom near the observation dock.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Although my dragon-hunting didn’t go so well, it turned out to be a great morning as I did get one new year bird and heard or saw many other species along the trails. Stony Swamp is full of hidden treasures, and a great place to see an amazing variety of species close to home.

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