A Monarch and other mid-summer finds

Monarch

It’s been a fantastic week both in terms of weather and finding wildlife. Last Saturday I visited Andrew Haydon Park to check out the developing mudflats in the western bay. Unfortunately the water was rising again, so the expanse of sand has diminished. Several swallows were flying out over the river (species unknown), and I realized a small bird flying with them was not a swallow but something else – a good look revealed a small shorebird being chased by one of the swallows! The shorebird headed toward Ottawa Beach before circling back and landing on the small muddy area in the western bay, where I was able to identify it as Semipalmated Sandpiper – my first of the year!

A Common Tern was also hunting for fish out on the river, and a few Purple Martins called as they soared high overhead. I was astonished by the number of flycatchers in the park – two Eastern Phoebes were present, along with at least seven Eastern Kingbirds! I may have under-counted them as they kept moving around and I kept finding more. A Warbling Vireo preening in a small bush next to the eastern creek was most cooperative:

Warbling Vireo

I found some warblers in the thick vegetation between the eastern and western parking areas, including a Black-and-white Warbler, a Yellow Warbler, a Northern Parula, and four American Redstarts, quite possibly a family group. Two Baltimore Orioles were also nice to see.

On Sunday a walk in the subdivision produced a Gray Catbird in Deevy Pines Park. It was in a small wooded area close to the road; you can see a house in the background here. It didn’t notice me at first, so I was able to get some nice photos as it explored this branch looking for insects.

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

Gray Catbird

It shaping up to be a nice morning, so I headed over to the Beaver Trail next where I heard a Common Gallinule and saw another Gray Catbird near the boardwalk at the back of the trail. Five Rose-breasted Grosbeaks all near the back boardwalk are a high count for me at this location; probably another family group undergoing post-breeding dispersal. A singing Brown Creeper was pleasant to hear, and I heard – but could not see – a Pileated Woodpecker calling from the woods.

In the meadow, this Lance-tipped Darner made for a beautiful sight perched among the flowers there – I have heard them referenced as Oregano or Wild Marjoram. If you look very closely, you will see a tiny Jumping Spider clinging to a thin stalk of vegetation.

Lance-tipped Darner

From there I headed over to Mud Lake to look for migrants, and was not disappointed. I ended up with 38 species there in two and a half hours, along with 9 warblers. I’m not sure whether the Northern Waterthrush in a swampy area behind the rige or the Canada Warbler in the woods was the best species, but I was also happy to see three Black-and-white Warblers, a couple of Yellow-rumped Warblers (a sure sign of migration), at least six Cape May Warblers, two Chestnut-sided Warblers, and a good number of Yellow Warblers and American Redstarts, both of which breed here. A singing Pine Warbler in the woods was the ninth species.

Four different flycatcher species were present – Eastern Wood-Pewee, Eastern Phoebe, Eastern Kingbird, and Great Crested Flycatcher – and at least 40 Tree Swallows and one Chimney Swift were hawking for insects above the ridge. An adult Cooper’s Hawk in the woods near the observation dock was great to see.

The only dragonfly I was able to photograph was this beautiful Common Green Darner. I was looking for other darners, in particular the Shadow Darner which I haven’t seen yet this year, but this was the only species I found.

Common Green Darner

Yesterday I started the morning off with a walk around the storm water ponds on Eagleson. I found a single migrant among the resident pond denizens, a Cape May Warbler high in the conifers near the channel. I had better luck at Sarsaparilla Trail where I found this Snowshoe Hare on the lawn behind the outhouse:

Snowshoe Hare

Chestnut-sided Warblers have been present here on more than one visit, making me suspect they are breeding here; I found one worn-looking adult next to the parking lot and two juveniles by the picnic shelter. I also found a Magnolia Warbler and a Gray Catbird.

Later that afternoon I returned to the storm water ponds to look for insects. I couldn’t find any dragonflies along the pond edges, but a Monarch in the wildflower field on the western side of the central pond was a terrific find.

Monarch

This was my second Monarch of the year, and it was much more cooperative than any Monarch I’ve seen in the last five or so years. It was busy feeding on the flowers (some sort of Monarda or Bee Balm species?), and while it didn’t linger on any one plant for very long, it stayed long enough for me to follow it and get a few photos.

Monarch

I love how the head and thorax of the Monarch is black with white spots, continuing the pattern found on the outer wing edges.

Monarch

It was also wonderfully fresh with no damage, making me realize it had emerged very recently – and probably very close by.

Monarch

When at last it alighted on a flower with its wings open, I was able to identify it as a male – the males have a thickened black spot on each hindwing, which is absent in females. While the spot is barely visible in this image, some other interesting details are present. The top view shows a black abdomen with a few faint white spots near the tip – not spots. It also shows that some of the spots along the edge of the forewing are pale orange instead of white. The more details I noticed while watching him, the more beautiful he became!

Monarch

It is heartbreaking to think of how drastically Monarch numbers have declined in the past couple of decades. Unfortunately there is no one single cause – illegal logging on their wintering grounds, catastrophic weather events while the Monarchs are migrating or overwintering, habitat loss on their breeding grounds, and diminishing sources of milkweed along migration routes have all contributed to population loss. Whenever I have the opportunity to photograph a Monarch, I cherish it, keenly aware that I might not have such a chance again. Hopefully this beauty will survive the long journey to Mexico, and live to breed the following spring.

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One thought on “A Monarch and other mid-summer finds

  1. I hope I’m wrong but the Monarch’s perch looks like it might be Spotted Knapweed. If it is, at least he was getting some benefit from it.

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