Cottage Life – Days 2 and 3

House Wren

The more you look, the more you see….this is a common theme among those of us who spend our time outdoors with a camera or binoculars, looking for birds, bugs, or just about any facet of nature. The longer a person spends searching an area, whether a quiet bay on a lake, a small urban park, one of the best-known birding hotspots in the city, or even one’s own backyard, the more species a person seems to find – whether they be colourful wildflowers, a new dragonfly or butterfly, small insects they’d never noticed before, or birds that would have been missed if they’d left after that first cursory glance. This, to me, sums up the joy of going outside – it’s a treasure hunt where, instead of targeting one specific thing, any colourful or interesting creature that catches my eye is a treasure! It’s one of the reasons I return to the same spots again and again – to see what “new treasures” might be found there. So of course when I got tired of being indoors at the cottage we rented on Prince Edward Bay in Prince Edward County, I grabbed my camera and went for a walk.

I did some birding at a nearby hotspot on the second morning of my vacation (more on that to follow), but in the afternoon I spent some time walking around the cottage grounds. My best find was a pair of fuzzy insects sitting on a sunny leaf. At first I thought they were mating, until I got close enough to realize that they were two different species – and that the larger one on top was a robber fly. Robber flies are predatory insects that perch on leaves, flowers, logs, or other horizontal surfaces and wait for a potential prey insect to fly by, then dart out to catch it – just like a flycatcher or dragonfly. They can be distinguished from other flies by the mustache-like bristle of hairs below the eyes (called a mystax). Once a robber fly captures an insect, it clutches its prey with its legs so it cannot move, then inserts its sharp proboscis into the soft body. Next, the robber fly injects a mixture of toxins and enzymes that immobilize the insect and liquefy its organs and muscles which the robber fly can then ingest using its proboscis as a straw.

Robber fly (Laphria thoracica) with prey

This is one of our largest robber flies, a hefty bee mimic that dines on large insects such as bees or beetles. I had found it eating a bee, though I couldn’t tell which species. It was surprisingly approachable, perhaps because I was moving slowly and it was busy feeding. It has no common name that I am aware of.

Robber fly (Laphria thoracica) with prey

The next morning I headed out early to check out Morrison Point Road again. I opened the door to find this raccoon outside, investigating the remains of the campfire pit. We hadn’t used it yet, but I imagine there might have been some half-burnt pieces of hot dogs or marshmallow drippings left from previous vacationers that had aroused its interest.


I walked up to Morrison Point Road, finding the usual Baltimore Orioles and Great Crested Flycatcher along the way. I heard two Eastern Meadowlarks in the field next to our lane and managed to spot them both; one sounded agitated, and then I saw the Red-tailed Hawk gliding over the field. Once I reached the main road, I heard the liquid squeak of a Brown-headed Cowbird and found the male perched on the cables running next to the road.

Brown-headed Cowbird

A female Rose-breasted Grosbeak was also a great find, though when I first saw her she was sitting on the road. I walked up to her to see if she was injured, but she flew up to a tree branch as soon as I got too close. I never realized what short legs they had until now.

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

As usual, I scanned the vegetation for bugs but found hardly any butterflies or dragonflies. I did find a bright orange European Skipper feeding on a pink clover blossom. When these small butterflies emerge, they usually emerge in such great numbers that it becomes difficult to find any of our native skippers. Fortunately these large numbers do not persist for very long, and once the population dies off it becomes easier to find later-flying native species.

European Skipper

I found a barn on the south side of the road which had a small muddy pond behind it – there were at least five Killdeer prowling around its edges, and four Barn Swallows were flying overhead. Just beyond the farm there was a large woodlot, and I heard two Warbling Vireos, a Common Yellowthroat, another Rose-breasted Grosbeak, a Field Sparrow, and a Gray Catbird in the area. In the woods themselves I heard a couple of Red-bellied Woodpeckers calling, one sounding quite close to the edge. I stood on the shoulder of the road and listened for a while, but they never flew into view.

I returned to the cottage after that, and found two Bobolinks in the field that runs along next to our private road. They were perching on a solitary shrub too far out to photograph, but it was great seeing them.

Later that afternoon I spent some time on the cottage deck reading and enjoying the sunshine. I wasn’t the only one basking in the heat – at some point I became aware of this Gray Tree Frog sitting on the edge of the deck close by. I have seen the small, smooth green young frogs and the large green lumpy adult frogs before, but never have I seen one that is actually gray.

Tree frogs are not considered true frogs, which are the aquatic frogs one usually sees sitting in the shallow water of marshes and ponds. Their arboreal habits have led to a number of adaptations which allow them to survive without the constant access to the water the true frogs require. These adaptations include differences in skin, reproduction, anatomy and even hibernation. A cottage deck is not the usual habitat for Gray Tree Frogs, as they are most often found in trees and shrubs close to permanent ponds and marshes. I hear them more often than I see them, and when I hear that rolling trill issuing from the woods I never seem to be able to find the source, no matter how hard I try! There is one place in Ottawa’s west end, however, where I frequently find non-calling tree frogs on leaves of milkweeds – Bruce Pit.

Gray Tree Frog

A little later on my dad spotted a Northern Water Snake slithering through the water. As we watched it actually swam down to the bottom of the lake and hunted among the rocks at the bottom.

Northern Water Snake

I took another walk up to Morrison Point Road later after dinner, and found three House Wrens foraging in a tangle of shrubs together. When I started pishing they all emerged out into the open, and I realized that two of them were quite young and still had a bit of a fleshy gape at the corners of their beaks.

House Wren

A bright blue Indigo Bunting was singing on the cable next to the road, though it flew into a tree when I approached it to take its picture. I have never seen as many Indigo Buntings singing out in the open in Ottawa as I have in Prince Edward County!

Indigo Bunting

I didn’t linger too long on the road, and when I returned to the cottage I found this American Toad sitting in the shadows of our lane.

American Toad

The variety and amount of wildlife seen around the cottage continues to impress me. It was exactly the kind of place I was hoping to for when we booked it through AirBNB; so far every day I’d seen something new or interesting – more treasures to to photograph for my collection!

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