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Butterflies of Marlborough Forest (2020)

Mustard White

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.

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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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Exploring Marlborough Forest

Baltimore Checkerspot

Marlborough Forest has been long known to me as a special place to find some of the more unusual species of the Ottawa area – various trips to the Cedar Grove Nature Trail over the past ten years have turned up Mink Frogs, Eastern Newts and Red Efts, Blue-spotted Salamanders, Bronze Coppers, Silvery Checkerspots, Harvesters, Calico Pennants, Brush-tipped Emeralds, Lake Darners, Twin-Spotted Spiketails, Ebony Jewelwings, and Aurora Damsels. The one “specialty” of Marlborough Forest that I had not yet found, and search for every time I go, is the Smooth Green Snake – it has managed to elude me every single visit.

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Eastern Amberwings

Eastern Amberwing

On July 18th I headed over to the Cedar Grove Nature Trail in Marlborough Forest, as a summer visit was long overdue.  After a disappointing visit in June, when a lot of odes and butterflies seemed to be late due to the prolonged cold weather, I was hoping to find some of the early species still flying.  To be honest, I had no idea whether insect emergence was still late or back on track, or whether I would even see some of the specialties I was hoping for – such as Calico Pennant, Brush-tipped Emerald, Aurora Damsel, Silvery Checkerspot, fritillaries and more.  Regardless, I was looking forward to a change of scenery, and would be happy with whatever I saw.

There weren’t many birds of note, although I was surprised to hear both a Blue-headed Vireo and a Black-throated Green Warbler still singing.  It was after 1:00 p.m. by the time I arrived, so not only was it late in the season, but also late in the day. A pair of female or immature Hooded Mergansers near the bridge was a surprise; this was the first time I had seen this species on the pond. 

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Year Bugs and Year Birds in June

Eight-spotted Forester Moth

June is one of my favourite months. Normally the weather is hot and sunny by the time the solstice rolls around, the birds are all in full song, and butterflies and dragonflies are emerging in woodlands, fields and wetlands. However, the weather this month has not been great. The rain from May continued on and off this month, keeping water levels of the rivers and ponds higher than normal, and likely delaying the emergence of many insects. The weekends have been nice, at least; I’ve been able to get out early in the day in order to look for new birds for my year list and any butterflies and dragonflies that may have emerged. While my enthusiasm has certainly declined since our amazing trip to Costa Rica, I’ve found myself regaining interest in visiting trails and conservation areas close to home, hoping to find some species I haven’t seen since the previous summer.

The day after my trip to the Bill Mason Center, I made plans with Chris Lewis and Chris Traynor to head out to the Cedar Grove Nature Trail in Marlborough Forest to look for odes around Roger’s Pond. I would be co-leading an OFNC outing there the following weekend with Jakob Mueller, a reptiles and amphibians guy, and wanted to get an idea of the dragonflies and damselflies that were flying. As we weren’t meeting at the parking lot there until 8:30, I headed out to Sarsaparilla Trail first, then the Rideau Trail for a quick look around.

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Return to Roger’s Pond

Frosted Whiteface

Frosted Whiteface

On June 14th I returned to Roger’s Pond in Marlborough Forest to see if I could find another Twin-spotted Spiketail flying along the creek. I had had one there last year on June 2nd, and wasn’t sure whether it was too late for these large, handsome dragonflies. In any event, even if I couldn’t find the spiketail, there were plenty of other Marlborough Forest specialties to search for, including Silvery Checkerspots, Aurora Damsels, and Brush-tipped Emeralds. None of these were present on my visit here with Chris and Lorraine, but should have emerged in decent numbers by mid-June. I spent some time scanning the vegetation surrounding the parking lot for the Aurora Damsels, and found only one – then quickly lost it. Mindful of the poison ivy growing at the edges of the parking lot, I wasn’t able to search the thicker vegetation at the back too thoroughly, but I did come up with a few interesting bugs.

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Exploring the Carp Hills

Baltimore Checkerspot

Baltimore Checkerspot

On June 7th I headed west to Dunrobin, still hoping to find some more birds for my year list. My plan was to stop in at Pinhey’s Point first, a historical site along the Ottawa River that I’d never visited before. I’d heard there were Cliff Swallows nesting there, and as I haven’t seen one of these birds in Ottawa in years, I was hoping it would be an easy tick. I was also still hoping to find the Golden-winged Warblers and Eastern Towhees that breed along the Thomas Dolan Parkway, plus whatever interesting butterflies and dragonflies that were flying – I’ve had both Baltimore Checkerspots and Horned Clubtails at the Stonecrest Trail, and was eager to see both again.

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Marlborough Forest Butterflies

Silvery Checkerspot

Silvery Checkerspot

Marlborough Forest is not only a great place for birds and odonates, it is a wonderful spot for butterflies, too. When I arrived I spotted a couple of large butterflies fluttering through the parking lot as soon as I arrived; at least three White Admirals were basking on the sunlit gravel, though they kept chasing one another into the vegetation. I was hoping to get a photo of one perching on a leaf, but they were so active I wasn’t able to get any pictures. This Northern Crescent was much calmer, resting on a leaf while the much-larger Chalk-fronted Corporals hunted close by.

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Luskville Falls

Delta-spotted Spiketail

On June 24th my friend Melanie and I spent the morning at the Luskville Falls trail in Quebec; it happened to be Saint Jean Baptiste Day, a well-known Quebec holiday. Originally celebrated as the feast day of St. John the Baptist, the connection between Saint Jean Baptiste Day and French-Canadian patriotism was born in 1908 when St. John the Baptist was designated as the patron Saint of Quebec.

Melanie and I originally intended to spend the early part of the morning at the Champlain Lookout and Pink Lake in Gatineau Park, but as the only road up to these two places was closed to vehicular traffic until 11:00 a.m., we decided to make the drive to Luskville Falls instead.

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A New Checkerspot

Harris’s Checkerspot

On Sunday Deb and I met up to do some west end birding. It was supposed to be a gorgeous sunny day, but when I got up I was dismayed to see gray clouds overhead and a thick fog obscuring my neighbourhood. If the sun was shining above, I sure couldn’t see it! Still, I met Deb in our usual spot and was encouraged to hear that the sun was shining in the east end where she lives. We discussed our route for the morning, and as I loaded my gear into her car I noticed that one of the gulls in the parking lot was much bigger than the others. It was a Herring Gull, a sub-adult from the plumage; I snapped a few pictures, but as it was standing alone I wasn’t able to include any of the Ring-billed Gulls for size comparison.

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