A lifer butterfly

Broad-winged Skipper

In addition to a lifer bird at Presqu’ile, I also got a lifer butterfly! Presqu’ile Provincial Park is a fabulous place for insects during the summer, and because it is a peninsula, it is well-known for the large numbers of Monarch butterflies that concentrate here in the fall looking for a good north wind to carry them across the lake. Also, because it is 250 km southwest of Ottawa, there are insect species which regularly occur there that only occur in small number or as vagrants in Ottawa.

As soon as we got out of our cars at the beach parking lot I spotted one of my target species, an Orange Sulphur, flying by. I wasn’t able to chase it – it flew off quickly on the strong winds coming from the lake – and I figured I would have a chance to find and photograph one later in the day. As it turns out, that was the only one I saw during our trip that had a definite orange colour in flight.

A few Clouded Sulphurs were also flying, and I was lucky enough to get a picture of one resting on a leaf. I find these butterflies difficult to photograph as they spend more time in flight than they do perching.

Clouded Sulphur

The vegetation along the trails leading to various beach lookouts can be a great place for insects, and we found a good number of butterflies there waiting for the sun to emerge. A worn-looking Viceroy was fluttering around the edges of the next parking lot, and paused long enough for me to point out the dark band across the hindwing that separates it from the Monarch.

Viceroy

A fresh azure butterfly resting on a leaf also caught my eye. In Ottawa we only have the Northern Spring Azure (Celastrina lucia) but I know that further south other species are present, so I wasn’t sure which one this was. Ross Layberry told me that both the Northern Spring Azure and the Summer Azure (Celastrina neglecta) occur at Presqu’ile, however, this butterfly is obviously a Northern Spring Azure – the Summer Azure has smaller ventral spots on a brighter white ventral ground colour; more reduced marginal markings; and a solid white dorsal hindwing fringe.

Northern Spring Azure

One spot in particular had a lot of flowers in bloom, and a lot of butterflies were attracted to those flowers. Here we saw our only White Admiral of the day, as well as a few more Viceroys and an uncooperative Monarch.

Viceroy butterflies

Then I saw a skipper resting on a blade of grass. The skipper was at head-height and the blade was twisted away from me, making it difficult to photograph. Finally the wind blew it just enough for me to get most of the butterfly in view. I knew it was something I hadn’t seen before, but I wasn’t sure what. Few skippers are still flying this time of year, and the Checklist of the Butterflies of Presqu’ile Provincial Park helped to narrow down the choices. It didn’t look like a Leonard’s Skipper or a Fiery Skipper, and I wasn’t sure it was right for Broad-winged Skipper, which was what iNaturalist suggested. I uploaded it as a Skipper sp. (family Hesperiidae) and right away Ross Layberry confirmed its identity as a female Broad-winged Skipper, noting that the female’s uppermost spots on the forewing are white, rather than yellowish. David Bree (the retired park naturalist who was there with me when I saw my first and only Fiery Skipper at Presqu’ile in 2011) also confirmed the skipper as a Broad-winged Skipper, noting that this species is not uncommon in the Phragmites along Owen Point Trail this time of year (despite the checklist’s status showing it as a vagrant). So not only did I get a new bird for my life list, I also got a new butterfly too!

Broad-winged Skipper

I saw a second Broad-winged Skipper, or perhaps the same one, on a return trip to the beach lookout. This time it was perching with its wings open, letting me get a better look at the markings on its wings. I later found out that its association with Phragmites is not uncommon, and that the Broad-winged Skipper has even been called the “Phragmites skipper” because of its association with this invasive plant! Broad-winged Skippers are closely associated with marshes, sedge meadows and other wetlands, so populations are usually very local.

Broad-winged Skipper

Goldenrod was very much in evidence on our trip, though the only butterfly I was able to photograph nectaring on the blossoms was this crescent species. Crescents confound me, as individuals are often variable and there is no one single ironclad identifying mark that can reliably separate Northern from Pearl Crescents. I tend to leave them as “crescent sp.”, particularly later in the season and when I’m travelling.

Crescent sp.

A second trip to beach lookout #3 on our way back from Owen Point revealed this unusual sight: a Viceroy feeding on the carcass of a Double-crested Cormorant. While many butterflies obtain nutrients from flower nectar, others obtain their nutrients from other sources, including scat, sap, mud puddles, and even animal carcasses. This was the first time I’d observed the latter.

Viceroy on carcass

We saw a couple of Eastern Commas in the same area, including a beautifully fresh winter form Eastern Comma resting on a blade of grass. The winter form has an orange hindwing with bright yellow spots along the margin, whereas the summer form has a black hindwing with few visible yellow spots along the margin. The winter form is the one that will hibernate over the winter and emerge again in late March or April, looking much more tattered.

Eastern Comma

We observed numerous Cabbage Whites in the park, and never did I see as large a concentration of these butterflies as I did at Owen Point. They were landing everywhere, particularly on the Purple Loosestrife.

Cabbage Whites

After finishing our walk at Owen Point, we headed to the picnic tables at the day use area on the eastern shore of the peninsula. There is a wildflower meadow here that has been good for butterflies and perching dragonflies in the past, and I thought it would be the best spot for insect watching in the park. As soon as I finished eating I grabbed my net and headed to the lawn adjacent to the meadow. I saw two gliders, a Common Green Darner, and several Black Saddlebags zipping by overhead, but none were flying low enough or in a predicable enough pattern for me to catch. Then I noticed several Black Saddlebags buzzing close to the limbs of a dead conifer, and was surprised to see several of them perching on the bare twigs!

Black Saddlebags

There were so many of them perching that I was reminded of the way the Spiny Baskettails all perch together on the same branches at Mud Lake after they emerge (I missed them this year as they weren’t out when I went on Victoria Day). I went over to tell Jon, who was looking for this species in particular for his life list, and pointed out one perching low enough to the ground that we had a spectacular view of its upper side. This sighting really made his day!

Black Saddlebags

Unfortunately, there weren’t many flowers blooming in the meadow, probably because of the recent lack of rain, so it wasn’t great for butterflies. I saw several Clouded Sulphurs but no Orange Sulphurs, azures, or Giant Swallowtails, all of which I’d had here in the past. Instead, the best place for insects turned out to be the parking area by the Calf Pasture. I saw Eastern Pondhawks, Halloween Pennants, Blue Dashers, and a Widow Skimmer flying over the water and managed to get photos of most for Presqu’ile Provincial Park’s iNaturalist project. We also saw a couple of Monarchs and Viceroys, and this Red Admiral perching on a tree trunk.

Red Admiral

About four Monarchs were nectaring on the plants in the area, so it was easy to get a decent photo of one!

Monarch

The more we looked around the vegetation, the more we saw. Someone pointed out a male Eastern Forktail, and while we were looking at it a small orange moth flew out of the vegetation nearby and landed on a leaf. I only managed to get one photo, but it was enough for me to identify it. Generally I find moth identification difficult since there are hundreds of species in our area, but I was able to narrow it down when I realized it looked similar in shape to the Raspberry Pyrausta moth that I see in my own yard annually. This was a lifer for me.

Bicolored Pyrausta moth

A small orange and black insect resting on a flower caught my attention, and when I realized that it was a butterfly – possibly a Least Skipper based on the size – sitting on its side I took a closer look and saw the Goldenrod Crab Spider feeding on it.

Goldenrod Crab Spider

There were few birds around, but we did see a Mute Swan family and a few more warblers, including Yellow and Blackburnian. Later, after getting ice cream from the park store we saw an American Redstart and Jon found a Northern Redbelly Snake resting in the middle of the trail! We weren’t sure if it was alive or not, but after some gentle prodding the snake quickly wriggled into the surrounding vegetation. I haven’t seen one of these snakes in years, so it was a fantastic find!

Northern Redbelly Snake

To me, a visit to Presqu’ile in late August is as much about the insects as the birds, and I was glad that the others found them interesting. I enjoyed all the butterfly species, and especially the perching Black Saddlebags – something I never see in Ottawa!

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