Summer Bugs and Butterflies

Long Dash Skipper

The beginning of June is an exciting time as more and more insects start emerging from their winter dormancy. I had the second week of June off work, and with the COVID-19 pandemic putting an end to travel plans – we could not go to the Atlantic provinces without a mandatory 14-day isolation period upon arrival, and the Canada-U.S. border is still closed to non-essential travel – I planned to spend the week exploring trails near me and looking for birds and bugs close to home. My plan was to get out and see some new places, and hopefully find some new species, and the weather actually looked nice for the whole week – plenty of sun and no rain in the forecast.

On Sunday, July 14th I returned to the Munster area still hoping for the two cuckoos and Northern Mockingbird. A stop along Franktown Road produced many of the same birds that had been present the day before, including Barn Swallows, the Brown Thrasher, two Eastern Meadowlarks and one Upland Sandpiper, which I could hear but not see. The mockingbird was absent, so I continued on my way to Munster Road where I heard the Olive-sided Flycatcher singing further back from the road. I did not see it, nor did I hear or see any cuckoos. Spending 75 minutes on Kettles Road was productive for flycatchers and warblers, but once again I could not hear a single cuckoo calling. I saw a Wilson’s Snipe perch on the antenna of the house beside the tracks, and heard both Alder and Willow Flycatchers singing from the wet meadow on the other side of the tracks near the intersection with Kettles Road. Warbler species heard or seen include Ovenbird, Black-and-white Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler and Chestnut-sided Warbler. A few other people eventually joined me, and then we got word that the Yellow-billed Cuckoo had been heard on Munster Road. We all piled back in our cars and drove to the intersection of Munster and Soldier’s Line. We had a nice suite of birds there – including an Eastern Meadowlark and two American Bitterns flying directly overhead – but no Yellow-billed or Black-billed Cuckoos.

Something with large brownish wings fluttering in the ditch next to the road caught my attention, and, expecting to see one of the larger dragonflies, I was surprised to identify it as a fishfly of some kind crawling through the vegetation. I scooped it up to take a closer look.

Summer Fishfly

Fishflies are members of the family Corydalidae and are closely related to dobsonflies, although they differ from these in the mandibles and antennae: fishfly mandibles are much smaller and less noticeable than the large mandibles of the dobsonflies, and the males have feathery antennae resembling those of many moths.

Fishfly larvae are aquatic, feeding on small underwater creatures, while adults feed on aquatic plants, minnows and tadpoles. While an individual can live several years, it only spends about a week in its adult form. They are harmless to humans. There are several types of fishfly in our area, and this was identified on iNaturalist as a Summer Fishfly. Once I was done photographing it I placed it in a shrub next to the road.

Summer Fishfly

So once again the Munster area turned out to be bust for cuckoos for me, and I never did end up going back.

The next day I was in the mood to look for butterflies and dragonflies, and headed to Jack Pine Trail later in the day. The parking lot was busy despite the weekday; one thing the pandemic has brought home to me is that the local trails get busy earlier than usual, and that I need to get out as soon as it gets light in order to avoid the crowds and enjoy a serene, peaceful birding experience. Fortunately, bugs are usually much more accommodating when it comes to coping with crowded trails – they are likely to remain in the area even if they get flushed by someone getting too close. However, even the odes were quiet, with only a handful seen on my walk: a female Spiny Baskettail (caught and identified), a couple of Racket-tailed Emeralds, and a Four-spotted Skimmer were the highlights. I was surprised how few dragonflies and damselflies were around, even after a few weeks of warm weather. My best find was this Prince Baskettail flying in an open area beyond the Arrowhead Spiketail creek. To my delight, it landed in a shrub just above my head and I was able to track it down and photograph it.

Prince Baskettail

The butterflies were much more active. I spotted a Viceroy at the back of the trail near the turn-off to the creek and a Silvery Blue in the alvar. An Arctic Skipper in the wet grassy “island” between the two branches of the creek was a highlight; this is one of my favourite skippers, though I didn’t get any photos worth sharing. In the meadow beyond the stream I found a few more skippers, mostly Long Dash Skippers. These butterflies are named for the thick black line on the upper side of the male’s wings near the edge of the wing, which connects to another thick black structure in the center of the wing called a stigma. The stigma is a patch of modified scales on the wings of males that release pheromones during courtship. They are most prominent on the upper side of the forewing in skippers and gossamer-winged butterflies.

Long Dash Skipper (male)

The Long Dash Skipper is one of the most common skippers in our area, perhaps following only the Hobomok Skipper in abundance and distribution. They are typically found along wetland edges, streams, grassland areas, and roadsides. This species is also fairly easy to identify when perched with its wings closed: both sexes display a line of yellow bars arrayed in a crescent on the hindwing below together with a single yellow spot near the base of the wing. It is only confused with the Indian Skipper in our area, which has the same pattern on the underside of the wings composed of squared spots instead of bars.

Long Dash Skipper

The most interesting bird sighting was of two Hairy Woodpeckers – an adult and an juvenile – looking for food near one of the homemade feeders. The adult female was searching for food on the ground while the juvenile was on the ground making begging noises. I stopped and threw some peanuts toward them, and the female immediately grabbed one, broke it up with her sharp bill, and fed the baby. This is not the first time I’ve come close to feeding a Hairy Woodpecker, but it was one of the most memorable!

After I finished at Jack Pine, which was indeed a little too crowded for my liking, I went for a quick walk around the Eagleson ponds. Bird highlights include a Green Heron, a Purple Finch and a Warbling Vireo; the only notable insect was this tiny Green Lacewing, a member of the Order Neuroptera whose larvae feed on aphids.

Green Lacewing

They next day I went out late in the morning with the hope of seeing more butterflies. I had been thinking that Steeplehill Park would be a good spot to find them, with its large, open fields full of wildflowers; my visit on June 15th produced several promising species. I saw my first White Admirals of the season just beyond the parking area, including one that looked like it had just emerged.

White Admiral

I saw a couple of Common Ringlets as well; these butterflies prefer open grassy areas, making the park a perfect place to see them.

Common Ringlet

A few Little Wood Satyrs had also emerged recently. These are the earliest of the brown butterflies to appear in the late spring, most of which prefer forests, forest edges, and more heavily shaded areas than the other members of its family, the brushfoots. I photographed this one at the edge of the trees near the parking lot.

Little Wood Satyr

Two other types of butterfly were present: the first was a Silvery Blue, a gossamer-winged species that was either having a good year, or that I was seeing in higher numbers because I was getting out more. I’d even had one in my own backyard on June 8th, although I wasn’t able to get a photo; it was investigating the columbine flowers in my backyard before it flew off over the fence. This one was feeding on a Red Clover blossom.

Silvery Blue

The last species I saw on my visit to Steeplehill Park was a female Black Swallowtail flying over the lawn of the ball field near the parking lot. Females have smaller yellow spots on the wings than the males, as well as a much larger blue area on the hindwings. I was hoping she would perch on a leaf or in the vegetation next to the lawn, but instead she landed right in the middle of the grassy field. I usually see about two or three of these distinctive butterflies each season, and never more than one at a time.

Black Swallowtail

It was great to see a nice selection of bugs and butterflies on my first couple of days off. With more warm, sunny weather in the future I only hoped my luck would continue!

2 thoughts on “Summer Bugs and Butterflies

  1. Hi Gillian, Per usual,  great post here. Question about insect sounds: Years ago, it was possible to hear crickets at night and,  as you are no doubt aware, it was feasible to use the number of chirps as a method to calculate temperature. However, the sound of crickets seems to be washed out by other insects. I assume they are cicadas, but I am not sure. Or could it be katydids? Do you have any idea what I am hearing and do Katydids and Cicadas have different sounds? Thanks, David

    • Hi David,

      I’m not too knowledgeable about insect sounds, but I do know that katydids say their name (I’ve only read this, never heard it) and cicadas have the long single-note buzzing sound high up in trees on hot summer days. We have different species of crickets here that call at different times of the day – we have Fall Field Crickets in our backyard that have somehow been getting into our basement – I think that’s the most common cricket call that people are familiar with, and I hear them during the day and evening. Apparently another species sounds quite similar to the American Toad’s trill.

      Someone posted this link to different cricket sounds in the OFNC Facebook group – I’m sure if they are the same species we have here in Ottawa, but it might help you out.

      Thanks for reading!

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