Every time I leave Marlborough Forest I can’t wait to go back. My last visit occurred on June 12th, and as insects were my primary target, I was disappointed that the cloudy, rainy weekend weather toward the end of June meant I wasn’t able to return until July 1st. Once I saw the gorgeous, sunny forecast for Canada Day I knew immediately I needed to return to Trail E4 in the hope of finding some skippers and maybe some unique emeralds. Last year I had seen some large unidentified emeralds patrolling the trails well before the early morning shadows had vanished from the narrow trail, so I made sure I left early enough to find any that might be out and about despite the coolness of the hour.
The birds were in full song when I arrived, and I was happy to hear the chorus of Winter Wren, Eastern-Wood Pewee, Wood Thrush, Scarlet Tanager, Veery, Red-eyed Vireo and a single Blue-headed Vireo intermingling with the usual Marlborough warblers: Black-and-White, Nashville, Black-throated Green, Pine, Common Yellowthroat, Northern Waterthrush, and of course plenty of Ovenbirds. I also heard a cuckoo calling, and in the far distance, the bugling of a Sandhill Crane! I heard its prehistoric call twice from somewhere north of the T-intersection beyond the ponds. This is the second time I’ve heard this species here – the first was back in March when at least two were calling to the west of the pond.
As usual, the deer flies and mosquitoes were annoyingly thick. I didn’t see any large, mysterious emeralds at all, and it was too early for other helpful dragonflies to be zipping about and ridding me of the cloud of biting insects that enveloped me. I swung my net around to try and drive them off, and disturbed a Great-spangled Fritillary roosting in a tree as I did so. It fluttered off to a new spot close by, and I was able to photograph it using my flash.
In the marsh I heard a single Wilson’s Snipe winnowing overhead and managed to locate a second one in the water itself.
I noticed some activity around the dead snags to the north of the muddy clearing, and was surprised to see two Northern Flickers and an American Kestrel on the same dead tree! Neither species seemed to be interested in picking a fight, though the flickers seemed to be keeping a wary eye on the small falcon perched at the top of the snag.
By the time I reached the T-intersection at the back of the trail and followed it down a ways it had warmed up nicely. More and more butterflies were flying, including this Clouded Sulphur perching out in the open. Normally I see them perching in the grass much closer to the ground where they are difficult to photograph.
I also spotted a Northern Crescent and a few meadowhawks perching on the Oxeye Daisies growing next to the trail. The immature yellowish-orange ones are the most difficult to identify, although White-faced Meadowhawk is the most likely in our area.
It had warmed up by the time I headed back, and I saw a few more butterflies – including this Mourning Cloak:
A small orange angle-wing fluttered by, and when it landed I identified it as a Gray Comma. Although the commas are best identified by the shape of the silver comma on the underside of their wings, this summer form butterfly has two small black spots on the hindwings, along with a distinct row of yellow dots along the margin. The most similar species, Eastern Comma, usually does not show any yellow spots along the margin and has two large dark spots at the top the hindwing (the third is usually not visible in the summer form).
A Monarch butterfly was also present in the area, its wings looking scratched and worn…clearly it has been flying for some time now. It is always a delight to see these butterflies in the middle of breeding season; I find them less common in July than in August and September when they are migrating south.
I was even happier when a fritillary landed on the gravel nearby. I was hoping it would be an Aphrodite Fritillary but it was another Great-spangled Fritillary, the most common and widespread species in its family.
After seeing the Monarch butterfly I made it a point to check the milkweed plants growing near the marsh for caterpillars, and was pleased when I found two together on the same plant. They were quite large, likely fourth or fifth instars. An instar is a stage of development; caterpillars pass through five instar stages, growing and molting between each before they are ready to pupate.
A few skippers were flying, and when one landed in the vegetation near the marsh I tracked it down and identified it as a Delaware Skipper! These larger orange skippers are either becoming more common, or I’m noticing them more – prior to 2019 I’ve only seen one, but since then I’ve seen about two every year. Although they can be found in open dry or moist meadows or disturbed habitats, I most often find them close to marshy wetlands.
I haven’t identified any white butterflies in Marlborough Forest as Mustard Whites this year, so when I spotted a white butterfly in flying among the flowers at the edge of the large dirt clearing I tracked it down for a closer look. It turned out to be a Cabbage White, a very common non-native species that is so abundant and widespread it shows up in my backyard every year. This was a disappointment as Mustard Whites are not usually found in city parks or trails, and are difficult to see even in their preferred wooded habitats. I don’t see them every year, and haven’t found any in Stony Swamp in a long time, but after finding four in Marlborough Forest last year I was hoping they would be easier to find here.
There were a few small blue butterflies present, fluttering from flower to flower. A close inspection revealed them to be Eastern Tailed Blues, and I got some great close-ups of them on different flowers.
There didn’t seem to be much else around so I continued on my way back to the parking lot. I stopped by the culvert again to see if anything interesting was flying or perching above the pool of water, but found nothing intriguing. A few Ebony Jewelwings were perching along the trail, and I grabbed a photo of a male sitting on a leaf in the sun.
A few brown brushfooted butterflies were still flying, though the only one I photographed was the Eyed Brown.
Although I was hoping for some more interesting odes, it turned out to be a good day for butterflies and birds instead. I didn’t see any swallowtails, but all the other four families were well-represented. These trails have such an amazing variety of wildlife that they are worth visiting throughout the warmer months – there’s always something interesting to see!