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A late summer visit to Marlborough Forest

Philadelphia Vireo

Philadelphia Vireo

Marlborough Forest has become one of my favourite spots to visit because of its bounty of butterflies, breeding birds, and dragonflies. The best month for visiting is June, when birds are are still singing and insect diversity is at its peak. The first few weeks of July are also a fine time to visit, as different butterflies are present than were initially flying in early June. By mid-August, however, it is harder to detect birds as most have stopped singing, and insect diversity is on the wane. Still, I thought I would visit the E4 trail on the third Saturday of August, a place I hadn’t been to since Canada Day. I was curious to see what birds might still be present, and whether it might be a good spot to see different darners and meadowhawks.

I arrived a little later than I usually do at the height of nesting season – 9:00 am instead of 7:00 am – to give it time to warm up. The biting bugs were not as bad as they are in the middle of summer, but I was annoyed to still find myself slapping mosquitoes away. The woods were very quiet compared to June; the Red-eyed Vireos and one Eastern Wood-pewee were still singing (both sing late into the season, sometimes into September), but the Ovenbirds, Scarlet Tanagers, Veeries, Nashville Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, White-throated Sparrows, and Swamp Sparrows were silent.

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Marlborough Wildlife

Great-spangled Fritillary

After my vacation ended and I returned to work, memories of Marlborough Forest continued to distract me. This was by far the best new place I had discovered during the pandemic and I couldn’t wait to return. Even with another hot weekend in store and deer flies and mosquitoes at their peak I dreamed of going back and finding interesting new birds and wildlife in this amazingly diverse place. I returned on Sunday, June 28th after a successful morning birding in Stony Swamp – I got Least Bittern for the year when I saw one fly across the pond at Sarsaparilla Trail, heard a Virginia Rail, and heard a vireo singing just off the parking lot which initially sounded like a Yellow-throated Vireo, but turned out to be a Blue-headed Vireo when I used a Yellow-throated Vireo call to call it in. I normally only see these vireos as migrants at this trail; I’ve never heard one singing here in the summer before, so this was a good bird to find at the trail in late June!

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Spiketails Flying in Stony Swamp

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

Perhaps more than Mud Lake, the one place I enjoy visiting most during migration and the summer breeding season is Stony Swamp. Pre-Covid it was always less busy than Mud Lake, especially early in the morning; however, after the pandemic hit the trails have become really popular and the parking lots are getting full before 10:00 on the weekend. If my goal is to look for birds, I try to get there before 7:00 am; but if it’s insects I’m looking for it doesn’t matter so much, as insects are not as likely to be disturbed by people, and I arrive whenever it’s convenient for me. It’s still quieter during the week than on the weekend, so I arrived at the Beaver Trail at 8:15 hoping to find some good birds as well some interesting insects as the day warmed up.

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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.

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Dragonflies at Mud Lake

White Admiral

By the end of June it seemed that summer had finally arrived and the weather had returned to normal: the temperature had reached a consistent near 30°C, the state of emergency caused by the unprecedented spring flood had ended on June 12th, water levels were returning to normal, and the sun had finally come out! I was hoping that this meant that the dragonflies were also emerging on schedule again, and decided to head to Mud Lake on the last Saturday of June. Mud Lake is a fantastic place to see dragonflies in mid-summer, as all the dragonfly families except for Cordulegastridae – the spiketails – can be found there. Among the damselfly families both the spreadwings and pond damsels are well-represented; the broad-winged damselflies, mainly Ebony Jewelwings, are seen there from time to time. I had high hopes for my visit.
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A lifer butterfly

Broad-winged Skipper

In addition to a lifer bird at Presqu’ile, I also got a lifer butterfly! Presqu’ile Provincial Park is a fabulous place for insects during the summer, and because it is a peninsula, it is well-known for the large numbers of Monarch butterflies that concentrate here in the fall looking for a good north wind to carry them across the lake. Also, because it is 250 km southwest of Ottawa, there are insect species which regularly occur there that only occur in small number or as vagrants in Ottawa.

As soon as we got out of our cars at the beach parking lot I spotted one of my target species, an Orange Sulphur, flying by. I wasn’t able to chase it – it flew off quickly on the strong winds coming from the lake – and I figured I would have a chance to find and photograph one later in the day. As it turns out, that was the only one I saw during our trip that had a definite orange colour in flight.

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Annual Trip to Pinehurst Lake CA

Red-spotted Purple

In late August I took my usual trip to southern Ontario to see my Dad. As usual, we spent a few days at his trailer in the Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area. The birding was fine, although this time there were no flocks of migrants moving through; instead the birds still seemed busy with raising and feeding their young, even this late in the summer. For example, I saw a Red-eyed Vireo feeding a Brown-headed Cowbird, a young Indigo Bunting following its parent around, and a House Wren carrying food. We didn’t see the Broad-winged Hawk family this year either, which was disappointing. However, the insects were fascinating, and I found a lot to photograph.

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Dragon-hunting at the Ponds

Eastern Amberwing (female)

I have never really spent much time looking for odes at the Eagleson storm water ponds, as most of my outings start there first thing in the morning when it isn’t hot enough for many dragonflies to be flying. However, after seeing the unidentified female spreadwing there on Saturday morning, I decided to head over on Sunday after my visit to the Old Quarry Trail. While I’ve seen Common Green Darners, Twelve-spotted Skimmers, Autumn Meadowhawks, Eastern Forktails, Tule Bluets, and Familiar Bluets there since the reconstruction, the arrival of the unidentified spreadwing and even the Delaware Skipper made me wonder whether other species had taken up residence recently. I wasn’t expecting anything too exciting or unusual, but I figured I might at least see some of the common pond skimmers found nearby at places like Bruce Pit and Stony Swamp. Perhaps I should have raised my expectations a bit, for what I found there surprised me!

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A Day of Firsts

Spotted Sandpiper

I didn’t intend to spend three hours at the Eagleson Storm Water Ponds on Saturday morning. However, it was one of those days where the longer I stayed, the more I saw, and the more I saw, the longer I wanted to stay! The birds were quite active, with two woodpecker species (Downy Woodpecker and Northern Flicker), eight Canada Geese (one group of seven and a singleton by itself), a family of Yellow Warblers, a Turkey Vulture flying over, 16 Barn Swallows perching on the roof of one of the buildings on the west side, two Belted Kingfishers, and several young Common Grackles following their parents around, begging for food. All four heron species were present, including one Great Blue Heron, one Green Heron, one Great Egret, and one juvenile Black-crowned Night-heron and two adults.

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Birds and Bugs with Eastern Ontario Birding

Hickory Hairstreak

On July 8, 2017, I attended an Eastern Ontario Birding tour with Jon Ruddy that crossed four counties in the southwestern and southern portion of eastern Ontario in an effort to find some of the harder-to-find breeding birds. Target species included American Bittern, Least Bittern, Common Gallinule, Upland Sandpiper, Black Tern, Common Nighthawk, Eastern Whip-poor-will, Red-headed Woodpecker, Yellow-billed Cuckoo, Black-billed Cuckoo, Willow Flycatcher, Loggerhead Shrike, Yellow-throated Vireo, Sedge Wren, Blue-winged Warbler, Golden-winged Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Mourning Warbler, Louisiana Waterthrush, Indigo Bunting, Grasshopper Sparrow, and Clay-colored Sparrow. However, fortunately for me, Jon’s tours aren’t just limited to birds; his description noted that we would be birding “in prime insect and herptile (reptile and amphibian) country as well. During our previous tour(s), we have seen four species of Swallowtail, Monarch Butterfly, Viceroy, many species of dragonfly, and an excellent variety of herps, including Gray Ratsnake, Eastern Ribbonsnake, Five-lined Skink, Pickerel Frog, Red-backed Salamander, and so on.”

He had had tremendous luck finding most of these target birds on the same tour at the end of June, so I was excited at the chance to see some of these difficult-to-find species. I was also looking forward to adding some new species to my county lists for Lanark, Lennox/Addington, Frontenac, and Hastings.

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