Turkeys and Clear-winged Moths

Hummingbird Clearwing

On the last day of July I spent some time at Old Quarry Trail, a place I hadn’t visited since March. I always like to visit this trail at least a couple of times each season; it’s great for robins, waxwings, Black-backed Woodpeckers, and porcupines in winter, warblers in migration, and a variety of breeding birds and odes in summer. It has a nice mix of habitats, with mixed coniferous-deciduous forest, a large, cattail-filled marsh, vernal ponds, and an open field which are all home to a variety of species. Summer, however, is my favourite time for visiting, as I’ve found a number of interesting odes there during the height of dragonfly season, including a Williamson’s Emerald patrolling the boardwalk a few years back.

I knew it was going to be a great day before I even left the house when a Northern Flicker landed on the roof of the house behind mine and started calling – this is a bird I’ve only seen once before in my neighbourhood, so it was a fantastic bird to start the day with! The other usual suspects were also around, including a Chipping Sparrow, six grackles, two chickadees, an adult and juvenile cardinal, and an adult and juvenile Blue Jay.

Northern Flicker

After seeing the Northern Flicker in my own backyard I was feeling optimistic and headed out around 8:30 am. It was already warm by the time I arrived at the Old Quarry Trail, and I hadn’t even reached the woods when I saw my first interesting bird of the day: a Wild Turkey in the open, rocky area on the north side of the conservation area. I took a side trail up to the alvar and found half a dozen turkeys walking along, pecking at the ground as they headed east. I haven’t seen this species here since May 2016, when I found a single bird. Obviously the population is doing well!

Wild Turkey

Wild Turkey

I followed them for a while from a distance, and they didn’t seem concerned when I circled ahead of them to put the sun behind me. In fact, a few of them settled down onto the ground as though preparing for a nap!

This one is a male, as evidenced by the reddish flap of skin hanging down above its beak (called a snood) and black, bristly feathers growing out of its chest.

Wild Turkey

Another male was resting on the ground close by.

Wild Turkey

I left the turkeys after that, and entered a more open area where I heard both a White-throated Sparrow and an American Redstart, though I didn’t see either bird. A few insects were buzzing in the vegetation at the edge of the trail, and this clear-winged moth intrigued me. It was a species I recognized from an encounter a few years ago, the Virginia Creeper Borer, which is named as such because the larvae feed on the roots of Virginia Creeper by burrowing inside. Many larvae of this taxonomic group (Family Sesiidae) are major wood-boring pests of woody plants.

Virginia Creeper Borer

While clearwing moths in Family Sesiidae share their name with more the familiar Hummingbird and Snowberry Clearwing moths, the latter two species are found in the Sphinx moth family instead and have quite a different appearance. The Sesiidae clearwing moths have long, narrow front wings and shorter, wider hindwings which are usually mostly transparent as seen in the photo below. These moths fly during the day or at twilight, and only live for about a week.

Virginia Creeper Borer

I continued on my way, and got side-tracked at a vernal pond where I spent some time looking for dragonflies. A few tiny Sedge Sprites were floating in the grass; they are so small that most people don’t even notice them.

Sedge Sprite

I also noticed tiny rustlings in the grass as I walked along, and when I bent down to examine the ground, a tiny Gray Treefrog hopped into view! As it wasn’t the only one in the area, I suspected that they were just dispersing from the pond. This is the first time I’ve actually seen a treefrog here before!

Gray Treefrog

I stopped in a sunny clearing in the woods to look for spreadwings, as I’ve had a few different species all in the same area before. I wasn’t disappointed – this male allowed for some great looks. I didn’t have my net with me, so I wasn’t able to catch it and identify it. Zooming in on the claspers in the photos, though, it looks like either a Northern or a Sweetflag Spreadwing.

Spreadwing sp.

My best bird encounter on the trail happened at the second boardwalk while I was searching for dragonflies. I heard something rustling in the reeds close to the ground and stood stock-still as I waited for the bird or animal to appear. Behind the first line of cattails I could see a channel of water, and a small rail poked its head out daintily before darting across the open area. It was a Sora, and it provided fantastic views although I couldn’t photograph it behind the first bunch of reeds. I haven’t seen an adult this close out in the open before, and it was amazing!

I checked the open field area to the south before leaving, and saw a Mourning Cloak and a duskywing butterfly. I also noticed a couple of clearwing moths feeding on the Common Milkweed, and spent some time photographing them. At first I thought they were both Snowberry Clearwings, as this is the species I usually see around Ottawa, and it had a dark line through the eye. However, it was pointed out to me that with the white legs and red abdominal patch, it was not a Snowberry Clearwing but rather a Hummingbird Clearwing Moth – a new species for me!

Hummingbird Clearwing

In contrast, Snowberry Clearwing Moths have a dark eye-line that extends along the thorax to the black legs, and a blackish patch on a yellow body.

Hummingbird Clearwing

It’s always great to spend time at the Old Quarry Trail and see what’s around. Though I didn’t venture too deep into the woods this time, I still found a lot of great birds and bugs, and particularly enjoyed the two different species of clearwing moths.

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