The Conservation Area is a good spot to see odonates in general. Slender Spreadwings are among the most conspicuous damselflies, and I found a couple on my first walk of the trip.
Late August is a good time to see these large female American Pelecinid Wasps, which are harmless despite its sinister-looking appearance.
As usual, I spent most of my time on the ridge where the trail climbs above the tree level. This area is open to the sun and has lots of different flowers in bloom which makes it a good spot to find insects and soaring vultures. It was rather quiet for birds, though the sharp chip notes of a pair of Indigo Buntings caught my interest. Eventually I was able to spot them moving around the branches of a tall shrub, and tried pishing them into view. The bright blue male paid no attention to me, but this one – either a female or a juvenile – was curious and hopped out onto a branch in the open. I suspect it is a juvenile from the way it was following the male around.
Indigo Buntings are often found in weedy or brushy areas, particularly in the edge habitat where forest meets open fields. The ridge habitat is a prime example, and I was quite happy to watch them as the males are so gorgeous. He was much more wary, and refused to stay out in the open long enough for me to take a photo.
After watching the Indigo Buntings for a while I resumed my walk and found something even more spectacular: A Red-spotted Purple butterfly! This butterfly (Limenitis arthemis ssp. astyanax) is a subspecies of the White Admiral with a more southerly range compared to the White Admiral (Limenitis arthemis ssp. arthemis) – we don’t have them in Ottawa.
While White Admirals are more likely to be found along deciduous woodland roads and openings, Red-spotted Purples prefer more open areas, including brushy or scrubby meadows and their edges. Both forms visit flowers infrequently, preferring to feed on rotting fruit, sap, and animal droppings. They are also more likely to be found “mud-puddling” on the ground absorbing nutrients from the wet sand or mud.
Despite their different appearances, the two forms of this butterfly (sometimes referred to as the “Red-spotted Admiral”) have both developed protective colouration in order to deter predators. The Red-spotted Purple is a mimic of the Pipevine Swallowtail, which is toxic to the creatures that would try to eat it. Like the Monarch butterfly, the Pipevine Swallowtail ingests the toxins by feeding exclusively on one type of plant – in this case, Pipevines (Aristolochia sp.). Red-spotted Purples and Pipevine Swallowtails share much of the same range, and have similar flight styles. Thus predators who are familiar with the distasteful Pipeline Swallowtail tend to leave Red-spotted Purples alone.
White Admirals use a completely different strategy – the bold white stripe on their wings helps break up the outline of the resting insect and makes them harder to recognize as a butterfly, or potential food source, to predators.
I later saw a second Red-spotted Purple, but it did not appear as fresh as this one as it was missing half of its hindwings.
The spot on the ridge has been great for dragonflies in the past, in particular for darners and gliders that patrol for insects high above the ground. I didn’t see any gliders this time, but a small number of darners were present, all of which were flying beyond the reach of my net. I was disappointed I wasn’t able to catch any, for I’ve seen more darner species here than in Ottawa, and was looking to net something unusual. Finally, I noticed one land, and was happy that it wasn’t just a Canada or a Lance-tipped Darner – it was a Black-tipped Darner! These can be identified by the straight thoracic stripe and the completely black final segment of the abdomen.
The following day I checked the small swampy area along the main road – it, too, has been great for odonates in the past. I found the Black-tipped Darners and meadowhawks again, but what really caught my attention was a large black dragonfly patrolling the edges of the swamp. I waited a long time on the bank before it flew close enough for me to catch it, and when I did I was happy to identify it as a Williamson’s Emerald! I hadn’t seen one of these in a long time, though I am hoping they emerge in Stony Swamp again next year.
On our last morning we walked the Morton Trail. My goal was to find some darners to catch in the open field where I caught my lifer Green-striped Darner last year. Unfortunately the morning was cooler and windier than expected, and while I saw a few Monarchs and Common Green Darners, I wasn’t able to catch anything. I was quite disappointed as this field was the best part of my visit last year and I’d been looking forward to going back there ever since I planned my trip.
The birds weren’t as cooperative, either. We only saw one Turkey Vulture flying over, one Northern Flicker, one chickadee, two Field Sparrows, two Song Sparrows, some goldfinches, four crows, and this agitated House Wren. It immediately flew out when I started pishing, and started scolding me. It had food in its bill, suggesting it was still feeding its young nearby.
Although there weren’t any exciting birds this time, seeing an Indigo Bunting is always a treat, and I was thrilled with my Red-spotted Purple butterfly sightings. Southern Ontario is just far enough away that it gets some beautiful species we don’t here in Ottawa, and I am always glad to get away and look for some of these unique butterflies and dragonflies!