So far it’s been a strange spring. It took a long time to warm up to 0°C and then a while longer to warm up to double digits. Early April was cold and very windy; it didn’t get consistently above 10°C until April 21, but even then it was too gusty in the afternoons to go looking for butterflies. My first butterfly of the year was a Mourning Cloak seen on April 5th at the Rideau Trail on Old Richmond Road. It was a beautiful day of 13°C, and I figured I had a good chance of seeing my first butterflies of the year there….though it was a toss-up as to whether it would be a Mourning Cloak or an Eastern Comma, both of which hibernate as adults in woodlots. While I saw a few more Mourning Cloak in mid-April, butterfly season didn’t really start until the second last day of the month.Continue reading
More Marlborough Butterflies
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.Continue reading
My first real dragonfly outing of the year occurred on May 24, 2021, and as usual, took place at Roger’s Pond in Marlborough Forest. I invited a few friends to join me now that outdoor gatherings can include up to 5 people, and fellow OFNC members Derek and Gerald decided to join me. It was a warm, sunny day, and I hoped to find the usual common skimmers and clubtails, as well as a few uncommon species that I’d seen previously at Marlborough Forest such as the elusive Ebony Boghaunter and Harlequin Darner. I’ve already seen one boghaunter this season, but it’s been a few years since I’ve seen a Harlequin Darner, and the Cedar Grove Nature Trail has been a repeat site for this ode.
We met at 9:30 am, just early enough to get some birding in while waiting for the sun to rise higher in the sky. We had the usual Nashville Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, Great Crested Flycatchers, White-throated Sparrows, Veeries, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers on the walk in. At the pond itself we had Eastern Kingbirds, a Pied-billed Grebe, Common Yellowthroats and four Ring-necked Ducks. Many dragonflies were already flying along the open trail through the cedar forest, including a few teneral whitefaces and emeralds.Continue reading
The first butterflies that emerge in the spring – usually in late March or April – are the ones that hibernated as adults in deciduous woodlots: Mourning Cloaks, Eastern Commas and Compton Tortoiseshells are the first ones I see every year on those warm, sunny days when the temperature starts reaching 13°C. The next wave emerges when it warms up long enough for those that hibernated in the chrysalis stage to emerge as adults: the elfins and azures and whites and swallowtails are included in this group, although I usually see the first Northern Spring Azures and Henry’s Elfins first, in late April and early May, with the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail and Black Swallowtail following in mid-May. Next come the species that overwintered as mature caterpillars, such as the duskywings – the first skippers to appear each year – and the crescents. All of these are typically seen in May in our region, while butterflies that overwinter as younger caterpillars (the browns and fritillaries) and eggs (coppers and hairstreaks) don’t emerge until June and July. This means that while you will never see all of Ottawa’s butterflies on the wing at the same time, the diversity is ever-changing up until the end of July. Even after that the appearance of regular but unpredictable influxes of migrants keeps things exciting throughout August and September: large population booms of Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, American Ladies and Monarchs might mean a wildly successful breeding season here in Ottawa, while smaller numbers of Orange Sulphurs, Common Buckeyes and American Snouts often find their way here from their breeding range further south.Continue reading
I never thought I would see three butterfly species on a single day this late in October. But when the forecast called for a sunny high of 24°C on Friday before dropping back down to a week of temperatures hovering in the single digits, I took an extended lunch to explore one of my new favourite places: Steeple Hill Park in the small village of Fallowfield. As soon as I pulled up to the soccer field behind the church I saw a Turkey Vulture gliding south, followed by a Red-tailed Hawk heading in the same direction. I didn’t see many other bird species this late in the day (it was after 1:00 by the time I arrived), even though I started in my usual spot in the weedy field behind the graveyard. There were no sparrows in the field today, and it wasn’t until I reached the furthest corner that I saw my first butterfly: a worn Clouded Sulphur fluttering close to the ground. The day was quite breezy, and the sulphur kept landing low among the vegetation where I couldn’t get a decent photo. Then, as I was following it around trying to get an unobstructed photo, I found a second butterfly, this one much smaller: an Eastern Tailed Blue.Continue reading
Wildlife Around the Garden
Back when the lockdown started in March and the provincial parks, national parks, and local conservation areas started closing, I thought I would be spending the summer in my own backyard. It’s a nice enough yard, but it’s quite small and doesn’t boast the number of fauna of the even the small urban parks nearby. If I had known when we bought our little townhouse in 2003 that one day in the not-too-distant future I would consider myself a naturalist, I would have looked for a house with green space behind it or at least a park next door to increase the number of species that visit my yard. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.
When the local lockdown restrictions finally lifted in late May, I was able to enjoy my summer visiting new and well-loved places beyond the boundaries of my neighbourhood and seeing the amazing wildlife of the Ottawa region. As such, I didn’t spend as much time at home as I thought I would. This is in part due to the fact that I spent the summer working from home – perhaps if I had been going to the office downtown every day I wouldn’t have felt the desperate need for escape on the weekends, looking for a much-needed change of scenery. I was able to watch the birds and squirrels from my office window, but didn’t spend much time getting up-close-and-personal with the bugs and other critters. Still, I was able to eat lunch outside on occasion, and spent some of the nicer weekend afternoons working on the garden. Even just walking out to the car sometimes I found a few things of interest!Continue reading
Butterflies of Marlborough Forest (2020)
One of the reasons I enjoyed visiting the two new trails in Marlborough Forest so much this year was the wide variety in butterfly species. Even though I didn’t start visiting until mid-June and missed several early-flying butterflies I was still impressed with the different species I found, which included representatives from all five families: swallowtails, whites and sulphurs, gossamer-winged butterflies, brushfoots, and skippers. What was particularly amazing was the number of species that were either lifers for me (Common Roadside Skipper, Two-spotted Skipper) or species that I don’t see very often (Mustard White, Acadian Hairstreak, Aphrodite Fritillary, Baltimore Checkerspot, Crossline Skipper). I visited these two trails seven times between June 19th and August 8th; every visit featured a different suite of species. Skippers were most most varied between the middle of June and the beginning of July; by the end of that month I saw only a few Dun Skippers and a Crossline Skipper – a species I have only seen once before. While the trails were full of crescents and brown butterflies such as Eyed Browns and Little Wood Satyrs in June and at the beginning of July, by the middle of the month they had been replaced with Common Wood-nymphs and fritillaries. Here is a list of species that I saw on those visits.Continue reading
Gatineau Park: Specialty Dragon-hunting
Gatineau Park is a special place for dragonflies – many species of the National Capital Region can be found there that aren’t found on the Ontario side of the Ottawa River, while others seem to be much more common there than in Ottawa. Chris Traynor has been exploring the park quite a bit these past couple of years, searching for dragonflies that breed in the quiet lakes, sluggish streams, and fast-flowing creeks of the Gatineau Hills. Not surprisingly, he has found a good number of species that have not been reported in Ottawa, such as Eastern Least Clubtail, Mustached Clubtail, Beaverpond and Harpoon Clubtails, and even a couple of snaketails. Many of these species prefer clear, swift-moving streams with rocky bottoms, which might be the reason for their absence in Ottawa; the Ontario side of the National Capital Region is relatively flat, with more marshes and slow-moving, mucky streams winding through suburbs and forest rather than down the foothills and escarpments which form the Canadian Shield. One of Chris’s best finds was a portion of Meech Creek where Zebra Clubtails and Fawn Darners are quite common, with the occasional Dragonhunter and Violet Dancer. I accompanied him twice to this magical spot, once during the August long weekend last year, and once again this year. As I never did get around to posting those photos last year (remember I mentioned I’d fallen behind?), I will incorporate both sets of photos in this post.
Summer Bugs and Butterflies
Sometime in early 2020 I decided to put in the effort this year to see or hear 200 bird species in Ottawa this year, something I’ve failed to do since 2015 when I observed 210 species while working full-time. I also managed to observe 202 species in 2013 and 205 species in 2011. After 2015 my annual totals dropped to 182, 196, 166 and 177. This was probably about the time that I decided not to chase birds as much as I used to, as it’s not the most enjoyable aspect of birding for me. I prefer exploring new areas or old favourites, just to see what species breed or spend the summer there, or migrate through in the spring and fall. This meant I haven’t gone to see the Sandhill Cranes at Milton Road in the fall since 2015, the Snow Geese in the east end since 2015, or the grassland sparrow species (Vesper, Clay-colored and Grasshopper) at the airport since 2017. Sometimes I get lucky and find those species closer to home; individual Snow Geese are usually seen annually in the west end during spring and fall migration, while Clay-colored Sparrows were found at the Goulbourn sparrow field in 2017 before development ruined that area as a birding spot. Continue reading