The first two times I saw a Two-spotted Skipper I didn’t know what they were. They were both perched on the vegetation with their wings folded, the size and shape closely resembling the introduced and often abundant European Skipper….small and plain and orange. That’s exactly what I thought they were, as the Two-spotted Skipper is very rarely mentioned among the local butterfly enthusiasts, let alone other nature generalists. It wasn’t until I uploaded my photos to iNaturalist that my identification was corrected, and I started learning about this rare and local skipper.
The Two-spotted Skipper is one of the sedge skippers, species that feed on various wetland sedges in the caterpillar stage. As a result the adults are most commonly seen nectaring on flowers, particularly milkweeds and Blue Flag Irises, in open areas adjacent to fens, marshes, and other wet meadows. The Two-spotted Skipper overwinters in the caterpillar stage, and only has one generation per year. Adults fly from mid-June to mid-July.
I did not get out to Marlborough Forest as often as I would have liked this past summer; ongoing medical issues early in the season left me feeling too tired and too sore for the long five-hour outings I enjoyed so much last year. On June 2nd I visited the E6 trail with Rick Collins to look for the Sedge Wrens breeding there. We heard one without too much difficulty, though we weren’t able to spot it. Our other highlight was a female Ruffed Grouse on the trail trying to lure us away from its chicks (none seen) by giving distress calls. It was a gray, drizzly day so I didn’t see any insects worth photographing. Indeed, I didn’t take my camera out of my bag at all.
The weather was much better on June 19th, so Chris Traynor and I went to trail E4 to look for Twin-spotted Spiketails and some different emerald species for his life list. I was also eager to how him the pool below the culvert as this was where I’d seen my one and only Ocellated Emerald hanging out in 2020. It was a bit windy, but the sun was shining and the weather was warm, and the breeze made the usual biting insects less of a distraction.
Spiders are not my favourite critters…generally I prefer wildlife with six or fewer legs. However, I find some orbweavers to be quite pretty, and the large fishing spiders to be as fascinating as they are terrifying. I’m less fond of those that live in webs than those that don’t, as well as those with disproportionately long, bristly legs. Of all the different types of spiders out there (and there are many!), there is one group of spiders that I find quite charming….the jumping spiders. They have a cuteness that their larger, longer-legged, smaller-bodied cousins lack. It’s not just their small size and shape, which resembles the creepy-looking orbweavers and wolf spiders about as much as a hummingbird resembles a duck. Their appeal comes from the eyes, specifically the two central forward-facing eyes that make them look more like a Disney creature than a grotesque alien. Jumping Spiders have four pairs of eyes, the largest of which are in the center of the head and can move to focus on potential prey; the three small secondary pairs on the sides of the head do not move.
On May 14th I wrote about a mass emergence of Spiny Baskettails at Mud Lake but didn’t explain much about how I identified them except to say my identification was based on the shape of the male claspers. Emerging dragonflies are pale and translucent, showing little to no colour of the mature adults they will become, but fortunately identification of the three small baskettail species in Ottawa does not depend the pattern of colours on its body (a fourth species, the Prince Baskettail, is much larger and has distinctive black spots at the base, tip and center of its wings). This post provides more detail about how to distinguish between the Common Baskettail, the Spiny Baskettail, and the Beaverpond Baskettail, three similar-looking species of the emerald family. While they are most likely to be found patrolling sunny woodland openings or grassy spaces next to water, they often perch on tree branches and plant stems at an angle, allowing good views or photographs.