Wood Frogs and the First Butterflies

Compton Tortoiseshell

The following day was gorgeous, so I hit a few hotspots before returning to the Rideau Trail to continue my quest for the first butterflies of the year. My day started with a junco visiting my backyard for food, and a baby chickadee in our front tree emitting begging noises while fluttering its wings at the adult searching the gutters for insects or cached seeds. I had a Tree Swallow and a flyover Killdeer at Kristina Kiss Park, a drumming Ruffed Grouse and more Dark-eyed Juncos at Old Quarry Trail, and two Snowy Owls sitting on chunks of ice out on the river at Andrew Haydon Park. Only the Eastern Phoebe calling near the western creek made it seem like spring….it was slow to warm up to its alleged high of 15°C.

After finishing up at Andrew Haydon Park I decided to head home for lunch, and go out again once it had warmed up. This proved to be a good decision, as almost right away I found a Garter Snake slithering through the leaf litter at the Rideau Trail!

Garter Snake

There still weren’t too many birds around, but I did hear a raven calling as it flew over, as well as a Pine Siskin and a Purple Finch. Three Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers were in residence near where I had seen them nesting the previous year.

Yellow-bellied Sapsucker

Once I entered the deciduous area along the hydro cut I began hearing the frogs calling. I counted at least four separate Spring Peepers peeping, multiple Western Chorus Frogs, and at least a dozen Wood Frogs quacking like ducks. Unlike the other two small species, I was at least able to see the Wood Frogs in the vernal pools bordering the hydro cut.

Wood Frog

The Wood Frog is one of the true frogs, and typically lives in moist woodlands where it breeds in vernal woodland pools. Outside of the breeding season, this frog hides in logs, leaf litter, or under rocks – either in the water or out. The best time to see these small frogs is early spring, after the snow has melted but before the vernal pools evaporate.

Wood Frog

The Wood Frog is the most widely distributed amphibian in Canada, living in every province and territory. They are the earliest frog to breed, each female laying up to 2000 eggs in the vernal woodland ponds. I didn’t see any eggs, though I did see a few frogs mating!

Wood Frog

Once I had gotten my fill of the frogs (and thoroughly frustrated by not being able to see a single Spring Peeper or Western Chorus Frog) I turned to leave. A few moments later something fluttered by in the warm sunshine, and I realized it was my first butterfly of the year! It was quite orange so I thought it was a comma of some sort, but when it landed I realized it was something else – a Compton Tortoiseshell!

Compton Tortoiseshell

These butterflies had had a good year in 2017, so it’s not surprising that at least this one made it to adulthood and survived the winter. I don’t see them very often, so it was a great species to have as my first butterfly of the year!

The Compton Tortoiseshell is a member of the brush-footed butterfly family, which means that the first pair of legs is reduced in size, resembling a pair of brushes. Their diet consists of sap, rotting fruit, carrion, and scat; as such, these butterflies are able to emerge from hibernation as early as March since they do not rely on flower nectar in order to survive the way later-flying species do.

Compton Tortoiseshell

As I was following the butterfly a frog hiding among the leaf litter hopped out of my path. I was hoping it was either a Spring Peeper or a chorus frog, but of course it was another Wood Frog. At least I was able to get a much nicer photo of it out in the open!

Wood Frog

The next day I went over to the Jack Pine Trail to see if I could find any other butterflies. It was great for birds, with a singing Winter Wren, a flyover Pine Siskin, a couple of White-throated Sparrows and several juncos. A Wild Turkey was looking for seed in the middle of the path:

Wild Turkey

Best of all, I found two Mourning Cloaks sunning themselves!

Mourning Cloak

I found two more Mourning Cloaks at the Beaver Trail across the street, along with three Garter Snakes taking advantage of the warm sunshine, a Golden-crowned Kinglet and three Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers.

I always say that spring is my favourite time of year, though it’s a long wait from the return of the first Ring-billed Gulls and Red-winged Blackbirds to the emergence of the first butterflies and snakes and the return of my favourite bird species. The forest is coming alive after the long, dull winter; it’s marvelous to see so much colour and life again!

4 thoughts on “Wood Frogs and the First Butterflies

  1. I’m not sure if spring 2019 is ever going to get here but it least this post proves such a thing as spring exists. Somewhere, somewhence.

    • Yep. I can’t wait to go out and look for frogs and butterflies again. Maybe in a few weeks, though it sure doesn’t seem like it with the snow coming down right now.

      Speaking of which, I think that the old adage that March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb needs to change as the effects of climate change continue to worsen. It hasn’t gone out like a lamb the past couple of years, that’s for sure. Spring just keeps getting later and later.

  2. And sometimes we don’t even get a spring. We jump right to hot and muggy with nothing in between. It would be nice to have some real seasons.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s