September is a fantastic time to visit the Eagleson Ponds. The asters and goldenrods are in full bloom, there are usually plenty of butterflies and dragonflies still flying, the resident gulls, shorebirds and waterfowl are sometimes joined by migrants from further north, and migrant songbirds can often be found foraging in the groves of trees. Some years are fantastic for migrants with all sorts of birds stopping by (I’ll never forget the September of 2016 when a Lesser Black-backed Gull spent a day here and a large flock of American Pipits found the rocky shoreline to their liking), while others are lackluster. This September has proven to be the latter, much to my disappointment; however the sunny days mean that lots of insects are still flying, and I can usually find something to catch my interest even if the warblers and other songbirds all seem to be elsewhere.
I was off work on Monday, and after seeing all the Painted Ladies at Mud Lake the day before I decided to go to the Eagleson Storm Water Ponds later in the morning to see if I could find the similar numbers there – I had had great luck seeing them there in 2017 and was hoping to repeat that experience. Lots of asters are in bloom, and after photographing them on the yellow blossoms of the Jerusalem Artichokes yesterday I was eager to photograph them on the purple flowers of the asters! It was another warm day, with a few clouds in an otherwise blue sky – perfect for looking for bugs.
It’s been a surprisingly good month for butterflies at the Eagleson storm water ponds. The highlight, of course, was the American Snout seen there on August 11th, but in addition to that particular rarity I’ve seen members from all five butterfly families – not a difficult achievement over the course of a month, but one that is almost impossible to do in a single outing. Swallowtails are large butterflies with long tails, and their wings are mainly yellow and black with iridescent spots of blue and orange. The whites and sulphurs in our area are medium-sized butterflies with either yellow or white wings, most of which perch with their wings closed. The gossamer-winged butterflies are very small butterflies that also perch with their wings closed, and come in many different colours. The brushfoots are large to medium-sized butterflies with only two functional pairs of legs; they count the most well-known butterfly species among their number, and many are migratory. Skippers are small butterflies mainly dressed in orange or brown, and many species hold their forewings and hindwings at two different angles, giving them a characteristic “fighter jet” appearance.
The weather continued to be gorgeous after we got back from the cottage in Prince Edward County, so the following day – Sunday – I headed out to the Eagleson storm water ponds for an afternoon walk to see if anything had changed in the week we had been away. Despite the late start, I found some great birds there – a feisty Eastern Kingbird had joined the resident breeding birds, trying to convince them all that it now ruled the pond; I watched as it chased a Belted Kingfisher and some grackles from the Hopeside pond, then later saw it fly after a Spotted Sandpiper until the sandpiper flew into the water! A Common Tern sitting on a rock was also interesting, as normally we only get them here during spring migration. Up to three were present between May 17 and 24th, which is around the same time period I’ve seen them in years past. The Osprey and and a Northern Flicker flew over, and a female-plumaged Common Merganser diving for fish was also unusual for this time of year. However, now that post-breeding dispersal is under way, birds are moving around and looking for food-rich areas to spend the rest of the summer in order to prepare for either a long journey south or a cold winter here in Ottawa.
On August 27th, the last Saturday of the month, I headed out to a spot I normally don’t visit so late in the summer – Roger’s Pond along the Cedar Grove Nature Trail. I usually go in May and June when early-season dragonflies are flying, such as the locally rare Ebony Boghaunter, the uncommon Harlequin Darner and Brush-tipped Emerald, as well as the usual whitefaces, Racket-tailed Emeralds, Spiny and Beaverpond Baskettails, and Aurora Damsels. I had two reasons for wanting to go: the first was the Band-winged Meadowhawk, a species I had seen in good numbers here on one late-summer visit several years ago but have had trouble finding recently, and the second was a yearning to find some Aeshna darners. After seeing such a good variety at my Dad’s trailer and failing to find the Variable Darner at Bruce Pit, I thought that Roger’s Pond might be a good spot to look for Ottawa’s common and uncommon species.
On August 2nd, 2015 I led a dragonfly outing at Petrie Island for the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club. Because I would be leading it on my own, and because the small size of dragonflies and damselflies makes it difficult to point them out to large groups, I decided to limit the group to ten people. Fellow dragon-hunters and Birds Committee members Chris Traynor and Lorraine Elworthy signed up for the outing, as did Jakob Mueller, who led the reptile and amphibian outing at Sheila McKee Park earlier in the year. I recognized Lynne Ovenden from the OFNC; the others were all unknown to me.
I started our outing by talking about the differences between dragonflies and damselflies, as well as the different groups belonging to each family. We would be looking for spreadwing damselflies, which hold their wings out at a 45° angle instead of parallel to their back; emeralds and darners, which are most commonly found flying through the air searching for aerial prey; and skimmers, which tend to hunt from a perch and are usually the most approachable types of dragonflies for photography. As I was speaking, a bright green female Eastern Pondhawk was hunting from a perch in the vegetation, often flying out to snatch an insect from the air. At one point it even landed on one of the group members!
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.
I returned to Mud Lake in mid-August in the hope of finding some interesting dragonflies. It was a much a nicer day than we’d had for the OFNC dragonfly outing, but there were fewer dragonflies flying, and nothing as interesting as the Spot-winged Glider and Swift River Cruiser we’d found two weeks ago. June and July are the best months for finding a good diversity of odonates; by mid-August a number of species have already finished flying for the year, including many emeralds and common summer species such as the Dot-tailed Whiteface. However, other species are just becoming abundant around this time, such as the mosaic darners, and it was these that I was hoping to find.
On June 11, 2011, I participated in a BioBlitz in Russell, and spent the morning surveying an area which has been proposed for a new landfill. The people who organized the BioBlitz, many of whom live nearby, were interested in finding out how many different species of flora and fauna are present, and whether any are considered at risk. This area is mostly agricultural, with some forested areas and open, grassy fields. Bobolinks inhabit the grasslands and were of particular interest. This species, which nests primarily in hayfields, pastures, and wet prairies, has been declining in recent years because of loss of habitat, pesticides, climate change and farming practices. Farmers are cutting and mowing hayfields earlier in the season, and as a result, mowing-induced nest mortality has increased dramatically over the past 50 years.