Although I’ve found some new species for the ponds recently, as noted in my previous post, diversity has been lacking. The only migrants of note were a couple of White-throated Sparrows and a female or immature American Redstart travelling with a Ruby-crowned Kinglet. I heard the kinglet’s chatter in the trees on the north side of Emerald Meadows Drive and started pishing. That’s when I saw the redstart, although it quickly darted back into the pine branches for cover. The kinglet, at least, stayed out in the open long enough to get a few photos.
This is the species that changed me from a casual birdwatcher into a full-fledged birder. When I saw my first Ruby-crowned Kinglet in the spring of 2006, it was showing its bright red crown, and I couldn’t believe it was possible to see one of those gorgeous birds I’d read about in my field guide. After that I was no longer content to see what was in my yard or neighbourhood, but had to travel to new trails and new habitats to seek out other species I’d never seen before. Little did I know that the tiny Ruby-crowned Kinglet was a common migrant in Ottawa, easy to find both during spring and fall migration – and that it would eventually become a yard bird both heard and seen at least once a year!
I was hoping to see some butterflies around the ponds as there were numerous flowers still in bloom, mostly asters. However, the morning was still cool, and although I scared up a few Painted Ladies resting on the ground, they quickly settled back down in the vegetation. I didn’t see any nectaring on the flowers at all, so I thought I would check out Andrew Haydon Park for the jaeger and return after it warmed up. I parked in the western end of the parking lot, intending to check out the bay there and see if I could find anyone watching the jaeger. I got my hopes up when I saw a group of photographers watching something in the bay, but it turned out they hadn’t seen it, and the bird they were watching was a Great Egret fairly close to shore. I ignored the egret and started scanning the ducks; there were a few mallards swimming in the shallow water, along with a single American Wigeon (female), a Northern Pintail (also female), a Green-winged Teal, and two Hooded Mergansers.
After I left the bay I headed toward the eastern end of the park and ran into Tony Beck, who told me the jaeger had in fact been seen that morning in the area. It was somewhere between the Britannia Pier and Ottawa Beach, so I returned to the car, drove it over to the eastern parking lot, and headed out to the mouth of the creek with my scope. I joined a group of others who had seen it from Ottawa Beach and said it had flown west, so we all set up our scopes on what little beach there was and waited. Eventually someone picked it up – it was flying right toward us! A few of us raised our cameras as it flew right by us, but my camera wouldn’t focus on the bird at all. Some of the others got some nice shots. We watched the Parasitic Jaeger harass a couple of gulls, rest on the water for a while, and eventually fly off toward Quebec. It was my second new year bird of the day (the wigeon was the first) and one I wasn’t expecting to see.
I left the beach and walked around the park one last time. It was getting busy, and I started to long for the cold, crisp days of November when the only crowds around were the geese, the gulls, the diving ducks, and the birders watching them. The only songbirds of note were a couple of Golden-crowned Kinglets, Yellow-rumped Warblers, and an Eastern Phoebe flycatching above the eastern creek. The Great Egret in the western bay had flown into one of the ponds while I was watching the jaeger, and I stopped to get some photos. The only other heron species I saw was a young Great Blue Heron on the island by the bandshell.
I went out again later that afternoon, returning to the ponds to check out the butterflies. This time I found lots – especially in the field of asters next to the bridge and the wildflower meadow on the western side of the central pond. However, one small clump of asters along the eastern edge of the pond was particularly productive for photos, as the flowers were only about knee-height instead of shoulder-height, and there were seven Painted Ladies taking turns feeding on the flowers.
Painted Ladies are having a banner year in Ontario, and huge numbers have even been found in Quebec, Nova Scotia, and PEI. Members of the butterfly group to which I belong speculate that this species has had a very successful year breeding on the abundant soybean fields in eastern North America; one member reported that the number of Painted Ladies at one field in Ottawa were so high that there must have been several generations among the soybeans, with just about 100% survival rate each time. Another member who had driven from PEI to Ontario said that they were abundant in PEI, and omnipresent on the trip down and back, particularly along the north shore of the Saint Lawrence between Montreal and Quebec, where they were by far the most frequent insect road kill. He estimates that the total population of this final generation of Ladies has to be in the tens if not hundreds of millions!
Painted Ladies are migrants, like Monarchs, and the reason why such large numbers are present is the long-lasting warm weather – like the Monarchs that gather at Presqu’ile Provincial Park and Point Pelee each fall, waiting for a favourable wind to carry them across the water, the Painted Ladies that emerged nearby are waiting for the northern winds to carry them on their journey south. Until that wind arrives, good numbers can be expected anywhere there are flowers in bloom, particularly asters, goldenrod and cultivated garden flowers.
I left the clump of asters after a while, and spent some time observing all the butterflies (at least 40 or 50) fluttering in the field of asters. These flowers were much taller and I had no intentions of walking into the field – until I saw my first Monarch of the day feeding on the asters along with the Painted Ladies. Then I had to wade in and take a few photos! Monarchs are still being seen fairly often these days, as this year continues to be a good one for them. Not long after I spotted my first, I saw a second one sail by gracefully. Monarchs have a unique way of flying compared to other brushfoots – instead of flying hard toward something as thought it were the only destination they have in mind, Monarchs gracefully float through the air, as if they are happy to go wherever fate takes them.
I had even better luck photographing the butterflies in the relatively sparse wildflower meadow on the other side of the pond. The plants were low and thinly scattered, making it easy for me to walk around. Asters were particularly abundant there too, as most of the other flowers have finished blooming for the season – possibly due to the hot, drought-like conditions over the past week.
I found another Monarch butterfly and started following it around – until I realized it was landing in the same patch of flowers again and again. Then I just stood there, waiting until it returned, hoping to get a picture of a Painted Lady landing on the same clump of asters as the Monarch. I waited several minutes in vain – the Monarch did not seem to like sharing its bounty with the far more numerous Painted Ladies.
I also saw a few white butterflies (presumably Cabbage Whites), Clouded Sulphurs (although one that flew by was suspiciously orange – I tried to run after it, but it got away), and a couple of Eastern Tailed Blues. The Eastern Tailed Blues were so tiny compared to the Painted Ladies and Monarchs, and their habit of flying only a few inches above the ground makes it easy for them to go unnoticed.
Still, it was the Painted Ladies who were the stars of the show, and it was so amazing just to stand among the flowers, surrounded, as they all flitted in and out of view as they visited flower after flower. I don’t think I’ve experienced anything like this in Ottawa – at least, not in several years – and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It’s been a lackluster year for butterflies for me this season; I missed so many species that I normally come across in my regular outings, such as Bronze Copper, all the hairstreaks, Giant Swallowtail, Meadow Fritillary, and even the Mustard White. This influx of butterflies helped to make up for an otherwise disappointing butterfly summer, and I was glad I was able to take an hour and enjoy it.
Pingback: Painted Ladies at Mud Lake | The Pathless Wood
Pingback: Bronze Coppers at the Eagleson Ponds | The Pathless Wood