Other Highlights from September

Monarch

When I’m not busy looking for birds and bugs at the Eagleson Ponds, I’ll be at one of the many other trails and conservation areas in west end. Stony Swamp attracts its fair share of migrants, and is home to numerous fascinating reptiles, amphibians, and insects, so I spend a lot of time there in the warmer months. Jack Pine Trail and the Beaver Trail are my favourite trails as the loops are small enough that they can be completed quickly, with a variety of habitats to attract different wildlife; however, Sarsaparilla Trail can also be amazing, although the boardwalk is still closed for repairs. I really mean to spend more time at Old Quarry Trail and Lime Kiln Trail, but as these are a bit further away, with larger trail systems, I often opt for the convenience of one of the other trails instead – especially if I have plans to go elsewhere after, such as Mud Lake or Andrew Haydon park.

The Beaver Trail never fails to disappoint me, and that’s where I started my day on September 15th. An Eastern Phoebe and Gray Catbird were still present, and I heard a Scarlet Tanager calling in the meadow as well as two Common Yellowthroats at the boardwalks. A small brown bird on the trail with spots on its chest turned out to be an Ovenbird, one of the few times I’ve actually seen one here (instead of just hearing them). A couple of sparrows were flitting through the vegetation at the lookout at the back, and when one emerged into the open I was surprised to identify it as a Lincoln’s Sparrow. It darted back into the shrubs, so I began pishing to try to entice it back out into the open. To my surprise it popped out onto a branch, where I was able to get one good photo of it before it disappeared again. The fine streaking against the buffy chest, the adjacent black and buffy malar stripes meeting at the bill, and the characteristically raised head feathers are all good field marks that help distinguish this species from the similar-looking Song Sparrow.

Lincoln’s Sparrow

After watching the sparrows for a while, I decided to continue down the Lime Kiln extension and check the rocks for snakes and salamanders. I found a small Northern Water Snake under one rock, probably the same one I saw in the same area on September 2nd when I was delighted by the four Ruby-throated Hummingbirds flying around.

Northern Water Snake

The only other insect of note was a Pale Beauty moth resting on the ground. I knelt down to take several close-ups, and when it didn’t move I prodded it with a fingertip. The moth was dead, and I wondered if someone had accidentally stepped on it.

Pale Beauty

The sun came out the next day, and as I was on vacation I decided to head up to the river where I hoped there would be fewer people than on the weekend. I started my search for water birds at Dick Bell Park, but found an Elusive Clubtail instead (see my September Odes Summary for details). While looking for a sunny spot to put the Elusive Clubtail I stumbled across this Calligrapher beetle on its own leaf. These striking beetles are named for the fine markings on their elytra, and there are two similar-looking species in our area: the Common Willow Calligrapha (Calligrapha multipunctata) and the Dogwood Calligrapha or Dogwood Leaf Beetle (Calligrapha philadelphica). I’ve only seen the Common Willow Calligrapha before (on my house!) and wasn’t sure whether this was one too until I looked it up and found that the front part of the pronotoum on the Common Willow Calligrapha has a pale band, while the pronotum is entirely dark on the Dogwood Calligrapha. Here you can see that the pronotum – the segment between the wings and the head – is entirely dark.

Dogwood Leaf Beetle (Calligrapha philadelphica)

There weren’t many water birds present, although eight Blue-winged Teals – no males in breeding plumage – in the western bay were good to see. A Nashville Warbler and Yellow-rumped Warbler were foraging in the trees along the dyke and were the only notable species.

Blue-winged Teal

Andrew Haydon Park had a greater variety of species, including more Blue-winged Teal, a single Green-winged Teal, a Wood Duck, a Belted Kingfisher, a Common Yellowthroat, and a Cape May Warbler. The shrubs along the eastern creek were full of sparrows, and to my surprise a Swamp Sparrow popped into view along with the regular Song Sparrows. My last stop that day was Shirley’s Bay. I had an American Redstart there as well as my first Winter Wren of the fall. I also found Tom Hanrahan photographing some Giant Swallowtail caterpillars on a Prickly Ash tree. I had never seen the caterpillars before, and was happy when he pointed them out to me.

Giant Swallowtail caterpillar

The caterpillars resemble bird droppings, a type of mimicry that helps them to avoid being seen as potential food by predators.

Giant Swallowtail caterpillar

I took a walk along a couple of trails, but found only a couple of Variegated Lady Beetles to capture my interest.

Variegated Lady Beetles

On September 17th Chris Lewis and I went to the Bruce Pit to look for darners (more on that in my September Odes Summary to follow) and found a few neat things besides the dragonflies. The first was this Praying Mantis, one of two we would see. They’ve always been easy to find here, and I was glad that this continued to be the case, especially since other insects that used to be easy to find here – notably orbweaver spiders – are in decline.

Praying Mantis

Chris found this small Gray Treefrog in a patch of raspberry brambles just after we spent some time traipsing (unsuccessfully) through the field where I’d found four of them in seasons past. This was another species I was happy to see again here.

Gray Treefrog

I was still hoping to find an American Copper butterfly, a species I haven’t seen in quite a few years now. They used to be present in the back field, but have been absent all three times I’ve visited it this month. An Eastern Tailed Blue was a good find, as was a White Admiral – a species I wasn’t expecting this time of year.

Eastern Tailed Blue

It’s been a great month for finding some interesting and fascinating wildlife, although this is really the last of the “good months” for insect and wildlife viewing. October is right around the corner, bringing with it the first frosts of the fall and declining number of insects – the dropping temperatures will either kill off the remaining insect life, or compel them to fly south to try and survive. Mammals and herptiles will start thinking of hibernating, and the forests and lakes will become noticeably empty of birds. It’s a bittersweet time of year, though hopefully we will still have a few more weeks of nice weather to still to come!

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