Cottage Life Day #1

Transverse-banded Flower Fly

During the first week of July my fiancé and I spent some time in Prince Edward County with my dad’s family. We rented a cottage on Loves Lane on Prince Edward Bay, a nice three-bedroom place with 8 acres of land only 20 minutes away from both Sandbanks and Picton. The weather was beautiful, and I spent most of my time getting to know the local residents. Chipping Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, American Robins, Northern Flickers, Downy Woodpeckers, Eastern Kingbirds, Cedar Waxwings, a Red-eyed Vireo, and a Yellow Warbler were seen or heard around the property every day. Barn Swallows often hunted for insects above the bay, and a couple of times they even landed on the sandy bank at the edge of the swamp just beyond the cottage deck. We saw some great water birds from the deck, including an Osprey perching on the far side of the bay, a trio of Hooded Mergansers diving close by, Caspian Terns hunting for fish further out, six Mute Swans swimming by, a Common Loon that appeared in the bay twice, a mother Mallard that swam by with 11 babies in tow every morning and evening, and the occasional Green or Great Blue Heron flyby. A Merlin flew over the cottage twice, and the second time it appeared to be carrying a bird – a couple of agitated Barn Swallows were chasing it, making me think that the falcon had carried off one of their young.

On our first full day at the cottage (Monday, July 1st), I was up early and eager to explore. This was the day of the Canada 152 Bioblitz – Canada Day Biodiversity Challenge 2019, a project on iNaturalist to try and record as many of Canada’s wild species as we can on Canada Day 2019. Although individuals were challenged to find and submit observations of at least 152 wild species, all observations were welcomed, and I fell dreadfully short of the goal with only 28 species submitted. One of the first creatures I saw was this toad in the swampy area next to the deck:

American Toad

I took a walk down the gravel lane, which after passing through the woodlot opens up to a large open area with shallow grassy ditches and low berry-filled shrubs bordering both sides. Two cottontail rabbits were busy munching on the grass:

Eastern Cottontail

I was surprised to see a large Snapping Turtle in the middle of road. Fortunately the road is a dead-end with only a couple of long driveways leading to more cottages on the water, so I wasn’t too worried about her being hit by a vehicle that early in the morning.

Snapping Turtle

After exploring the dead-end I walked all the way up to the main road, Morrison Point Road. Our lane passes through a narrow woodlot before intersecting with Morrison Point Road, but there is a large open field on the west side that can be seen through the screen of trees. I had heard an Eastern Meadowlark singing here on our drive in the day before, and stopped to listen for meadowlarks, Bobolinks, Savannah Sparrows and other grassland species but heard none.

On the main road at the top of the lane this old barn caught my attention. There was an Eastern Phoebe perching on the telephone wire singing away, but it flew off when I got too close.

Old Barn

Morrison Point Road is mostly open, with large pastures falling away to the south and farm houses and buildings sitting on large lots on the north. Woodlots of various sizes are interspersed between fields, providing an interesting mix of birds. I observed a couple of Common Yellowthroats and Yellow Warblers, two Baltimore Orioles, one Field Sparrow, one Gray Catbird, four House Wrens, two Eastern Wood-pewees, two Eastern Kingbirds, three Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, and three Indigo Buntings, including one that was singing out in the open. I also heard three Red-bellied Woodpeckers – a southern species I would have liked to have seen, as they are not common in Ottawa.

My walk took over two hours. One the way back I heard an Eastern Meadowlark singing in the field closest to our cottage, and noticed a small moth in the shaded part of our lane. It was a White-spotted Sable, a species I’ve seen once in my own yard. It was resting on the dirt road until I scared it up, then I watched as it bounced along until it found some small yellow flowers to nectar on.

White-spotted Sable

It turned out to be a hot day, but later, when the air conditioning got too cold for me in the afternoon, I went outside for a walk on the property to see what else I could find. It seemed to be a good spot for odonates; every now and then a couple of Prince and Common Baskettails flew in and started swooping above the deck. There were some other dragonflies present too, so I brought my net out in the hopes of catching one. The only one I “caught” was this handsome Racket-tailed Emerald which landed on my net voluntarily!

Racket-tailed Emerald

Every now and then a large swallowtail butterfly would fly through the area. Some of these were the Giant Swallowtails I was familiar with in Ottawa, others were smaller yellow ones that were likely Eastern Tiger Swallowtails. To my disappointment, they refused to land.

A closer look around the edges of the property yielded some interesting damselflies. The first was this Sedge Sprite at the edge of the swamp.

Sedge Sprite

An Eastern Forktail flew away too fast for me to photograph, but this Fragile Forktail was much more cooperative. It was very brave landing on the vegetation floating on the water, as the small swamp was full of large tadpoles.

Fragile Forktail

A Taiga Bluet found in the vegetation bordering the parking area surprised me. Normally I stop seeing these guys around the third or fourth week of June, and here was one in July! This is the only “intermediate-type” bluet I can identify without a hand lens, as the large black patch near the tip of its abdomen (segments 5 through 7) is distinctive. Other intermediate types – such as Marsh, Hagen’s, Tule and Familiar Bluets – have the same amount of blue and black which are similarly distributed. Black-type bluets, such as Stream, Azure, and Skimming Bluets, have other identifying features to help distinguish them.

Taiga Bluet

I was excited when I found a spreadwing resting in the vegetation as well. Fortunately it is also one of the easier ones to identify – with the long, thin abdomen and the wings that reach only halfway down the body it could only be a Slender Spreadwing.

Slender Spreadwing

I found another spreadwing in the open area of the gravel lane, this one a bright green Emerald Spreadwing. While considered common across North America’s temperate region, with a range extending as far north as Alaska and the Yukon, I hardly ever find this spreadwing in Ottawa any more, even though I used to find them in Stony Swamp. This species has a global range, and can be found across Europe and Asia where it is called the Scarce Emerald Damselfly. They tend to fly early in the season, laying their eggs in temporary pools before they dry up by the end of the summer.

This species is one of our few metallic green spreadwings – the other two, Swamp Spreadwing and Elegant Spreadwing, are both longer and thinner than the Emerald Spreadwing. In addition, I find the two larger species more closely tied to permanent waters, such as the still, well-vegetated bays at Petrie Island or the Mississippi Snye. In contrast, I’ve found Emerald Spreadwings in the grassy vegetation near water-filled ditches and temporary ponds, or along woodland paths in Stony Swamp.

Emerald Spreadwing

I also found a familiar hover fly in the vegetation as well. It’s not often I see these small flower flies nectaring on flowers in the middle of summer, so I was happy to find a Transverse-banded Flower Fly, one of our more common species.

Transverse-banded Flower Fly

In the sun-dappled woods along the cottage driveway I observed a couple of Hobomok Skippers, a Little Wood Satyr, and found another well-known moth, the White-striped Black Moth. This is another familiar denizen of Stony Swamp; it flies during the day in swampy woodlands and forest edges where its host plant jewelweed grows. It is only about an inch wide.

White-striped Black Moth

While spending some more time out on the deck later that afternoon, I saw a White Admiral land high up in a tree and noticed a few more swallowtail butterflies flying across the property. I really wanted the opportunity to photograph one, and I finally got the chance when a Giant Swallowtail landed on a leaf in the shrub next to the swamp! It spent half an hour there basking in the sun, so I got some great shots!

Giant Swallowtail

This was my first visit to Prince Edward County, and so far I was happy with the wildlife at the cottage. Although there were no hiking trails close by, the nearby roads were quite productive for woodland and open field birds. And while I hadn’t seen anything new, the location was just far enough south of Ottawa that some species that are scarce back home can be found more easily here. I was looking forward to seeing what the rest of the week would bring!

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