On August 8th Doran and I left Scot’s Bay and made our way to the cottage in Kingston. We returned to the old farmhouse called Crow’s Landing where we had stayed in November 2019; it sits on about 20 acres with its own nature trails, providing the perfect spot for me to enjoy a few quiet early morning walks before visiting friends and family. As it is situated far from the coast, and its only water is a small slow-running trickle too mucky to be called a creek at the back of the trails, the birding wasn’t spectacular; however, it was certainly better than the birding on the cottage property in Scot’s Bay or even my own house in Kanata. The large trees surrounding the house, the open meadow habitat at the back, and the conifers and thickets surrounding the creek area all provided different habitats attractive to different types of wildlife. During our week there I found 33 bird species and several different bugs, mostly butterflies and moths.
The forested areas of the property were the most productive for birding. Migrants as well as residents appeared to be present; it was strange to see what appeared to be flocks of migrants (including Blue-headed Vireo, Northern Parula, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Ovenbird, Yellow-rumped Warbler, and Ruby-throated Hummingbird) alongside a Chestnut-sided Warbler still feeding a pair of fledglings! A fourth Chestnut-sided Warbler in non-breeding plumage was also seen, which is the first time I’ve ever seen three different plumage variation of this species on the same outing!
I heard a Red-eyed Vireo, American Redstart and Least Flycatcher on multiple days, heard a Purple Finch flying over multiple times and a Red Crossbill flying over once. A Merlin liked hanging out in an adjacent sand quarry; I heard the crows harassing it frequently on my walks, and got a great photo of it one particularly cloudy day.
That same day I was thrilled to hear a cuckoo calling from the dense thickets surrounding the sluggish creek; its rapid coo-coo-coo sounded to me like the Black-billed Cuckoos I hear in Ottawa. I tried to track it down in the thick shrubs at the back of the property, but the rule of thumb for cuckoos (at least for me) is that you can never see a cuckoo that is calling, while cuckoos that perch out in the open are always silent. I left it as Black-billed/Yellow-billed Cuckoo on my eBird checklist as I wasn’t sure (a) how Nova Scotia birders treat cuckoos that are heard only; and (b) if Yellow-billed Cuckoo is rare enough that I can count this as a Black-billed Cuckoo.
Fortunately, the Ruby-throated Hummingbird I found the same day wasn’t as shy.
The property was surprisingly good for bugs. I saw four butterfly species: Cabbage White, Mustard White, Common Ringlet, and Common Wood Nymph. To my delight the Common Wood-Nymph had the same yellow patch on the forewing as the one that I saw in Scot’s Bay; this variation is not found in eastern Ontario! I discovered the butterfly in an overgrown grassy area and got a much better photo than the one in Scot’s Bay.
Mustard Whites are surprisingly common in open residential areas in the Kingston-Greenwood area, and I saw not only this one visiting the lawn at Crows Landing, but others in Stronach Park on a walk later in the week. I enjoyed seeing them as I never did come across any in Ottawa this year.
The only dragonflies I saw were common skimmers (an unknown meadowhawk and a Twelve-spotted Skimmer), however, this Tomato Bristle Fly was a new species for me. It is one of the Tachinid Flies, a type of parasitoid whose larvae feed on the larvae of other types of bugs and are mainly beneficial. Interestingly, a Google search for this bug leads to one link which describes this species as “our ugliest fly”!
I was surprised that there was just as much nightlife as day-flying insects. This was an accidental discovery, as I hadn’t realized how many moths were attracted to the outdoor lights until one evening when we had a visitor and spent some time talking outside before he left. I thought long and hard about putting a sheet up to attract them, but instead settled for nighttime checks of the porch light if the weather was good. Had I known so many interesting moths were around, I probably would have stripped one of the beds and tried hanging up a sheet with a couple of flashlights pointed at it to see what flew in! Among the moths attracted to the porch light were:
- This White-ribboned Carpet Moth, which then found its way inside;
2. This Blackberry Looper Moth, one of the Emerald moths;
3. This Bristly Cutworm Moth, which has mint green spots on a chocolate brown background;
4. This Glassy Cutworm Moth, who is much prettier than my picture shows;
5. This Purple-backed Cabbageworm Moth, which also is much better-looking in real life. This one, too, found its way inside;
Seeing all these different moths hovering around the light and settling on the window screen made me realize just how poor my own suburban yard in Kanata is for moths, and how much richer the wildlife is where there is a lot of natural green space around – this property isn’t even in the country, but in a part of town with large yards and plenty of wild (uncultivated) spaces in between!
On our last morning there (which was already hot by 10:30 am) I took a walk through Kingston up to Stronach Park, following the old rail trail to a dirt path running alongside the golf course to the Annapolis River. There weren’t many bugs present, but the one skipper I saw was a show-stopper. It kept landing on the damp edges of a puddle in the middle of the dirt path, and I took a closer look as there aren’t too many skippers still flying in August. It was orange with bright white spots on its wings, and I had to look it up online as I wasn’t sure what it was – the only August skipper I’m familiar with is Leonard’s Skipper, although it’s been a long time since I’ve seen one. It turns out it was a Common Branded Skipper – a lifer for me!
In Ontario it is found west and north of Algonquin Park; it does not live in southern Ontario, including Ottawa. I wasn’t expecting to see one in Nova Scotia of all places, where it usually inhabits grassy meadows, fields, and roadsides. It is considered uncommon, and after uploading a photo to iNaturalist I realized my observation is the first record for King’s County in iNaturalist!
A cursory search through eButterfly shows other observations in Kings, leading me to ponder just how many platforms I should be using – I use eBird for all my bird sightings and iNaturalist for everything else, although with an app now available for Odonata Central I dabbled in submitting a few checklists to that earlier this summer. The issue with eBird, eButterfly and Odonata Central is they are now all checklist-driven, requiring survey protocols (i.e. an area-based checklist vs. stationary vs. travelling) and/or count estimates, while iNaturalist simply requires the GPS coordinates of the organism submitted. It’s tough enough to manage one travelling checklist for eBird while juggling camera, net, hand lens, and binoculars; I can’t imagine running checklists for odes and butterflies at the same time too! This is why when I go out in the morning in the summer, I start an eBird checklist to keep track of birds on the way in, and photograph everything that I see and upload all non-avian subjects to iNaturalist later. The good thing about iNaturalist is that researchers interested in a particular subject can create projects to see what specific organisms have been found in a specific place; all of my Ontario butterfly observations automatically are entered into the Ontario Butterfly Atlas project, and it appears that my Nova Scotia butterflies are entered into a similar provincial project. It is only when I go out in the afternoon specifically looking for odes (when few birds are singing or foraging openly anyway) that I don’t bother with eBird and instead use Odonata Central.
The last interesting butterfly I saw on my walk – other than the Mustard Whites mentioned above – was almost a letdown. Still, I hadn’t seen many Monarchs on this trip, and this one was very fresh-looking. I found it in an open waste-land area along the dirt path along with a sulphur that wouldn’t land.
It was a great way to end the week in Kingston, and our time in Nova Scotia….it’s not often I get life birds any more, but a life butterfly was just as amazing!