Looking for Wood-Warblers

Canada Warbler

We are now nearly two weeks into September and I have not found as many warblers or songbird migrants as I had hoped. In a previous blog entry I wrote about how edge habitats can be productive for migrants, especially those with a good diversity of plants which provide cover and food sources for not just the birds of the two dominant habitats, but others as well. I’ve been spending most of my weekend mornings at the Eagleson Ponds, followed by trips to other places with good edge habitat – last weekend it was the Old Quarry Trail, Beaver Trail, and Sarsaparilla Trail; this weekend it was the Richmond Sewage Lagoons, Rideau Trail, and Sarsaparilla Trail. Each time I’ve been disappointed, wondering where all the migrants were. I suppose I could just go to Mud Lake and rack up a list of 30+ species there, but it is often packed with birders and photographers this time of year, and I prefer quieter places.

The Eagleson Ponds have been really quiet for songbirds, but busy with water-loving birds. Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs have been there for a couple of weeks now, and I’ve seen Semipalmated Plovers, Least Sandpipers, and Semipalmated Sandpipers recently as well. An adult Great Black-backed Gull has been there for two weekends in a row, while an adult Herring Gull has been present on most visits. In addition, the usual species of heron and at least one Belted Kingfisher are easy to spot, with at least two Great Blue Herons, two Great Egrets, and one Green Heron visible on almost every visit.

Robins and White-throated Sparrows are now the dominant species at Sarsaparilla Trail. However, an American Redstart on September 1st and a Blue-headed Vireo on the 9th added some variety. A Black-and-white Warbler at the Beaver Trail on September 2nd was my best find there that day. Perhaps all the migrants are sticking to migrant traps like Mud Lake, rather than the edge habitats where I’ve been looking.

This past Saturday I visited the Richmond Lagoons for the first time in several months and was disappointed. I walked all the way to the river and back and found only 13 species in an hour, all of which were common breeders in our area. There was no shorebird habitat, though I did see some small ducks in the middle cell which I couldn’t identify – I didn’t bring my scope.

However, a couple of insects made the trip worthwhile. The first was a beautiful green-form Lance-tipped Darner which landed right in front of me. For some reason I much prefer the green form darners to the blue form, and as a result, I took several photos.

Lance-tipped Darner

This photo shows the diagnostic rippled pattern of the first thoracic stripe.

Lance-tipped Darner

The trail that runs along the river now is a wide open area with lots of flowers for butterflies. I saw two fresh Monarchs in this area along with a couple of darners that wouldn’t land.

Monarch

My best find, though, was this Shamrock Orbweaver near the entrance to the woods. Not that many years ago, the vegetation at the Richmond Lagoons used to be thick with orbweaver webs; now these large conspicuous spiders are difficult to find. Shamrock Orbweavers don’t usually sit in the middle of their webs like the Black-and-Yellow Argiope or Garden Cross Orbweaver spiders do; instead, they sit tucked up beneath a curled up leaf to which the web is anchored, and wait for prey to land in the web. It was only because something had flown into the web that I noticed the spider wrapping its prey in a cocoon. Once finished, the spider carried it up to its secret hiding place.

Shamrock Orbweaver

The following morning I returned to the Eagleson Ponds with the hope of identifying the orbweaver I’d seen there on the Labour Day weekend. Its web was still in the same spot, and I was able to see its legs peeking out from under the curled leaf. While I was watching it, a small bird flying by overhead caught my attention; it landed at the top of a tree, and I recognized it as a warbler – finally! – but it flew off before I could identify it. I found no other migrant songbirds on my visit.

I did, however, photograph a new Bee Fly species. I wasn’t sure what it was, but as I’d been perusing Christine Hanrahan’s excellent photo gallery of Bee Flies recently, I’d notice that a few Bee Fly species had dark wings like Deer flies. Sure enough, when I went back to her gallery and checked, I found one that had the same pattern as my fellow. It does not appear to be very well known; there are few websites with any information on this species, and in fact, it doesn’t even have a common name.

Bee Fly (Exoprosopa decora)

I added another insect to the list of species at the Eagleson ponds; this one the relatively well-known Viceroy butterfly. I actually saw two there, one basking on a rock near the water (the morning was quite cool) and a second one nectaring on some flowers.

Viceroy

It wasn’t until I visited the Rideau Trail on Sunday that I finally found the warblers I was looking for. I found my first one, a Pine Warbler, when I heard it singing in an area full of pines; my next one was a Canada Warbler foraging right at eye level along the boardwalk! This is a species I don’t have any decent photos of, so I was happy when I managed to press the shutter button just as it hopped out into the open. It’s not the sharpest photo, but otherwise I’m happy with it!

Canada Warbler

A pair of Eastern Phoebes were hunting together in the alvar, where I also saw a male Purple Finch singing from the top of a tree. However, most of the migrants I saw were in the woods, including a Black-and-white Warbler, a couple of White-throated Sparrows, and two different Magnolia Warblers. In one small opening along the trail I was feeding the chickadees when a Cape May Warbler flew in as though checking me out – it even dropped down to the ground where I had left some seeds! It was quickly followed by a Nashville Warbler. In a larger, sunnier opening I found two Bay-breasted Warblers and a Northern Parula foraging for insects among the cedars.

Nashville Warbler

Normally the hydro cut is the best spot for flocks of migrants, but I only saw one while I was there – a Northern Flicker sitting in a dead tree. It seems all the activity was in the woods – which isn’t ideal in a conservation area as large as Stony Swamp, as stumbling across a large flock takes a lot of luck compared to a smaller migrant trap like Mud Lake. Still, when they are actually referred to as wood-warblers (also known as New World warblers) it only makes sense that the best place to look for them is in the woods!

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