Archive | June 2019

Backyard Encounters

As anyone who has followed this blog for a while knows (or who has picked me up to go birding!) I live in a townhouse in the sterile suburban wastelands of Kanata on the southwestern edge of Ottawa. My backyard is the size of a postage stamp, and my front yard is half the size of that as the driveway takes up the rest. We used to have two mature trees on the front lawn we share with our neighbours, until the one closest to the road came down suddenly in a windstorm. Thankfully no people were injured or property was damaged, but this was the same tree I’d seen a Pine Warbler in during the spring of 2017 and I was looking forward to seeing what else might turn up during migration. The tree closest to the house is right outside my computer room, and in recent years the Eastern Gray Squirrels have built leafy dreys right outside my window. Sometimes the squirrel sits on the branch outside its nest of leaves and twigs and stares at me while I’m working; I usually wave to it, but it just stares back at me. I always wondered if they realized that I’m the one who fills the feeders out back and tosses peanuts to them when they visit.
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Dragonflies at Mud Lake

White Admiral

By the end of June it seemed that summer had finally arrived and the weather had returned to normal: the temperature had reached a consistent near 30°C, the state of emergency caused by the unprecedented spring flood had ended on June 12th, water levels were returning to normal, and the sun had finally come out! I was hoping that this meant that the dragonflies were also emerging on schedule again, and decided to head to Mud Lake on the last Saturday of June. Mud Lake is a fantastic place to see dragonflies in mid-summer, as all the dragonfly families except for Cordulegastridae – the spiketails – can be found there. Among the damselfly families both the spreadwings and pond damsels are well-represented; the broad-winged damselflies, mainly Ebony Jewelwings, are seen there from time to time. I had high hopes for my visit.
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A Barred Owl Family

Barred Owl fledgling

Last year a friend told me about a Barred Owl nest at a trail fairly close to where I live. I checked it out a few times over the summer – the nest was located in a natural tree cavity – but saw no owls on any of my visits. I completely forgot about the owls until I visited again late in April 2019 and someone told me that an owl was sitting out in the open. I was delighted, as this was a species I needed for my year list. I found the owl fairly easily, sitting quietly on a branch along a different part of the trail, and when I continued on to the nest I was happy to see that it was occupied as evidenced by the tail visible within the entrance.

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Fascinating Flower Flies

White-spotted Pond Fly

While I was visiting the South March Highlands Conservation Forest last weekend I kept an eye out for other insects as well as butterflies and dragonflies. Flower flies (or hover flies) are one of my favourite types of insects. Some are tiny and hard to see, some are large and conspicuous, some are drab and some are brightly coloured. They are often striped with yellow and black, resembling bees and wasps, and many people fear them thinking that they, too, sting or bite. Flower flies rely on such mimicry to protect them from predators that would otherwise eat them, but are perfectly harmless to humans. They are often found around flowers in open areas such as parks, gardens, meadows, and sunny woodland clearings where they visit the flowers for nectar. Like hummingbirds, they often hover in place, their wings beating so fast they become invisible. They can dart forward and backward, making them fascinating to watch.
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The Sunny South March Highlands

Red Columbine

It rained almost all day on Saturday, June 15th, so my hopes of going out and finding butterflies and dragonflies were ruined. At least Sunday promised to be gorgeous, and although the ground was soaking wet when I got up, there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. I drove out to the South March Highlands, one of my favourite conservation areas in Ottawa, hoping to find some skippers and swallowtails, and hoping to find the Yellow-throated Vireo that has been dominating my eBird alerts these days – I still haven’t seen this bird in Ottawa.
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A Fishy Situation

Common Carp

Fish are something I’ve never been much interested in. I’m not a big fan of water sports such as snorkeling or scuba diving, and have never gone fishing; to me fish are dull, predictable creatures that live in the murky depths of lakes and rivers where I am not likely to go. In addition, the ones we seem to have here in Ontario are dully coloured – brown or gray or some muddy earth tone shade. Perhaps one day on a visit to the tropics I’ll try snorkeling to see some of the more colourful species; I just don’t think I’d bother trying to identify them all or keep a list of all the fish I’ve ever seen. It’s not that I find all sea creatures uninteresting… I love examining the tidal pools in Nova Scotia to see what neat things have been washed up in the Bay of Fundy, and my fiancé and I were excited to discover a neat sea urchin among the rocks of the beach in Costa Rica after the tide had gone out. It’s just fish.

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The Beginning of Dragonfly Season

Dusky Clubtail

Usually by the time the Victoria Day long weekend arrives the first odes have emerged – in the past I’ve seen baskettails in large numbers at Mud Lake and whitefaces and emeralds in Stony Swamp. This year has been different. A persistent wind from the north has prevented the daytime temperatures from rising much above 20°C; nighttime temperatures are still in the single digits. As dragonfly emergence depends largely on water temperature, it isn’t surprising that I had only seen one dragonfly before the May long weekend, a Common Green Darner at Parliament Hill on May 6th. This is usually one of the first species I see, as they migrate north from the warm south where they emerge. Temperatures had risen from 10°C on May 3rd to 20°C on the 6th, although the morning had started out as a chilly 5°C – perhaps an influx of warm air brought this gorgeous dragonfly up from somewhere where the north wind and flooding weren’t wreaking havoc on the wildlife.

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From Migration to Breeding Season

Baltimore Oriole

By late May/early June most birds are exactly where they want to be, having claimed a territory and found a mate with which they will raise their offspring over the next few months. Even so, by Victoria Day several migrants are often still passing through the region; it’s still worth looking for late migrants even into the beginning of June, as migrating birds may stray off-course or get caught up in a bad weather system which may temporarily halt or divert their journey. With the lingering cold north winds and temperatures reluctant to hit the 20°C mark, it’s no wonder that there are plenty of songbirds which haven’t yet settled on a territory of their own.
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