I first heard about this trail when it became an eBird hotspot. I would receive year-needs bird alerts every now and then for species seen along the trail, and wondered where it was. Viewing the location on eBird made something click in my memory – I remembered seeing cars parked along March Road with a trail entering the woods at the end of Huntmar, though I wasn’t sufficiently curious to check it out in years past.
The trail enters the thick forest and continues straight along an unopened road allowance about 20 metres wide. A couple of narrow bridges pass over trickles of water that would be much wetter in the spring; after about three-quarters of a kilometre, the road allowance reaches a 200-acre block of land owned by the City of Ottawa, and the remainder of the trail continues on this city property in a couple of loops. The woods thinned out after a while, and some sunny openings were populated by some emeralds flying around. One landed where I could see it; it was an American Emerald.
There weren’t as many birds in the woods as I was hoping for; I heard a couple of Veeries, a couple of Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, two Scarlet Tanagers, three Eastern Wood-pewees, three Great Crested Flycatchers, a Nashville Warbler, a Yellow Warbler and a Chestnut-sided Warbler, plus the usual blackbirds, chickadees and Red-eyed Vireos. I found a couple of Pink Lady’s Slipper orchids in bloom; these are fairly widespread around the region, though not particularly abundant in any one spot that I have seen.
A couple of moths flitting near the ground caught my attention, and when one landed on a leaf I was taken by the delicate pattern on its wings. As best as I can tell, it’s a Decorated Owlet (Pangrapta decoralis) based on iNaturalist’s suggestion; no one has confirmed it. The caterpillars feed on blueberries.
I saw a few young whitefaces flying in an opening looking out over a large beaver pond, as well as a few mature Dot-tailed Whitefaces; when I spotted this brilliant black and red Hudsonian Whiteface in a juniper shrub I was thrilled, as this species is much less common than the others in our region. The only places I’ve seen Hudsonian Whitefaces are at the Bill Mason Center (once), Mer Bleue, and at Old Quarry Trail (once). Hudsonian Whitefaces prefer boggier habitats with denser vegetation than other whitefaces, but may be found in marshes, sedge meadows, fens, and bog ponds with sphagnum. It would be nice to find a reliable site for this species closer than Mer Bleue; perhaps the Crazy Horse Trail is it.
Four-Spotted Skimmers, Racket-tailed Emeralds, and Common Whitetails were also present along the trail. I was hoping to find some clubtails perching on the ground in the rocky openings overlooking the water, but found none. The trail climbed high above the beaver pond with a few small spots looking out over the water, but didn’t really get close enough to the water’s edge to see many odes. As the trail is over 6 km in length, I knew I wasn’t going to hike the whole way around, and eventually turned around after about 1.6 km. I thought it might have some interesting butterflies, but I saw none; perhaps it was too early.
This Green Heron was perching in a tree above one of the smaller marshes on the trail leading back to March Road.
I startled a moth resting on the ground, and tracked it down when it landed. It was a master of camouflage, resembling one of the dead leaves nearby.
I left the Crazy Horse Trail a little disappointed my bird sightings but impressed with its potential for all types of wildlife; despite the narrow trail and limited opportunities to get to the shorelines of the ponds, I thought it was definitely worth visiting again.
I headed to the Bill Mason Center, using Marchurst Road to cut across from March to Thomas Dolan. This is prime breeding territory for grassland birds such as Eastern Meadowlarks and Bobolinks, and I drove slowly down the road while listening. Along the way I heard a House Wren, several Savannah and Field Sparrows, one Eastern Meadowlark, and a couple of Bobolinks! A male was singing on the fence on the opposite side of the road, so I stopped and took a couple of photos.
At the Bill Mason Center I parked in the little subdivision closest to the small creek that runs out of the sand pit as it was the shortest way in. This meant skipping the marsh and the boardwalks, but as the temperature had increased to almost 30°C I wasn’t sure how long I wanted to stay out in the sun anyway. On the way in I saw this male Spiny Baskettail zip by and land; note the colour of the back of the eyes is black. Large close-ups of the claspers also show that they curve upward.
A small clubtail was hunting in the weeds next to the road, and I was able to snap one quick picture of her before she flew off. I assumed it was a Lancet Clubtail, the most common clubtail species at the pond, but a review of my photos show it to be a female Dusky Clubtail instead. The female Lancet Clubtail has yellow all the way down the length of her abdomen; the Dusky Clubtail has a small yellow spot on the tenth segment and the segment above it is entirely black.
Once I reached the sand pit I found a few more clubtails, including a pair in a mating wheel, and several Racket-tailed Emeralds, Dot-tailed Whitefaces, Four-spotted Skimmers and Chalk-fronted Corporals. I was hoping for more variety, but it seemed to be too early for some species such as Eastern Pondhawks, Calico Pennants, and the Crimson-Ringed Whitefaces I had seen here on June 10, 2017. These whitefaces were flying at the end of May when I first saw them here in 2016, so as an early-season dragon they should have been present; however, I took a walk to the field at the back of the loop and saw none there either.
A few butterflies were flying as well, including my first Canadian Tiger Swallowtail of the season and this Dreamy Duskywing.
The only brushfoots I saw were a Mourning Cloak, a few Little Wood Satyrs, and this Viceroy….all but the Mourning Cloak were new for the year.
There weren’t as many birds around as I had hoped, given the lateness of the morning, but I heard a few singing walking to the back meadow. I’ve heard Hermit Thrushes here before, but if any were present they were silent; a few Veeries helped make up for their absence. A Winter Wren trilling away in the woods was nice to hear, and I heard five different warblers including Black-and-white, Ovenbird, Nashville, Common Yellowthroat, and a Black-throated Warbler which kept dropping the last note of its song – instead of “Zee-zee-zee-zoo-zee” I heard “”Zee-zee-zee-zoo” multiple times. The bird’s tone and rhythm were spot-on for Black-throated Green Warbler, so I didn’t think of anything else it could be.
A few emeralds were flying around the field at the back, but there was little else around. I returned to the sand pit after a brief visit and found a male Lancet Clubtail perching in the vegetation on my way out, identified by the yellow line extending the length of the abdomen.
It was a wonderful adventure in an area I haven’t visited in a long time. A return trip later in the season will be needed to confirm the potential of the Crazy Horse Trail for interesting and unusual wildlife species, and the Bill Mason sandpit is one of those places where interesting odes can be found all season long. It’s definitely worth the drive out to Dunrobin to visit both of these places!