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.
On July 5th I headed over to the South March Highlands to check the open milkweed field at the Klondike entrance for butterflies. It was a little earlier than my visit last year when I added the Striped Hairstreak to my life list on July 13th, but after having seen a Banded Hairstreak at the Rideau Trail yesterday, I figured the large milkweed patch might hold a few surprises.
I arrived at 10:00 am, and it was already heating up a tad uncomfortably – the daily high temperature hasn’t dipped below 30°C this month so far, and the forecast called for another 30°C high today. It’s great weather for looking for bugs, although they, too, retreat to the shade during the hottest part of the day when the temperature becomes unbearable.
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!
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.
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.
On August 7th I met up with Chris Lewis at Shirley’s Bay for a morning of birding and dragon-hunting. The morning got off to a great start when I saw a group of Wild Turkeys along Rifle Road even before I met Chris at the parking lot; there were two adults and a couple of baby turkeys! As soon as I stopped the car the adult turkeys began herding their offspring away from the road. Although they weren’t that close to begin with, it was cute to watch the babies stop and peck at the weeds while Mom and Dad steadily walked toward the back of the meadow. I’ve seen Wild Turkeys in that field before, but this was the first time I’d seen them with any young, and it was a thrilling experience.
July has arrived, and today’s weather was typical of summer – hot and sunny for most of the day with thundershowers rolling in later in the afternoon. Fortunately there was no humidity, which made my morning in Stony Swamp looking for breeding birds and bugs comfortable.
It was clear from my outing today that we are at the peak of the breeding season, one of my favourite times of year. Although some birders become afflicted by the “summer birding doldrums” in the period between when the birds stop singing and songbird migration starts in the fall, I was surprised to find that the doldrums have already been referenced in both eBird’s latest monthly challenge and in every OFNC bird sighting report since June 16th. There are too many birds around – including nestlings and the newly fledged young following their parents about – and still so many birds singing right now that I probably won’t become desperately bored until about mid-August when I start longing for the first wave of warblers and insectivores to arrive.
The day after the excellent snaketail adventure in Gatineau Park, I headed over to Jack Pine Trail to see if any of its unique dragonflies were on the wing. Two years ago I found a healthy population of Brush-tipped and Williamson’s Emeralds, and Arrowhead Spiketails are regularly seen along the stream at the back. Although I’d heard that it takes four years for Williamson’s Emerald larvae to mature, I had hopes of at least finding the Brush-tipped Emerald; I still think it’s amazing that all these wonderful dragonflies live and breed so close to home. I was also hoping to find some spreadwings, as I’ve seen both Northern and Emerald Spreadwings along the trails here in the past – though none in the past couple of years.
Changing the calendar page from August to September is often a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, songbird migration is just starting to hit its peak, with all sorts of colourful warblers, vireos, grosbeaks, orioles and tanagers moving through the region. It is an exciting time for birding, which will be excellent from the beginning of September through to the end of November – and perhaps beyond. On the other hand, the warm summer days are definitely numbered, with hints of fall showing in the changing colour of the leaves and cooler mornings. Insect diversity is much lower, and by the end of the month perhaps only a couple of odonate species will be left. Autumn is in the air, and even though birding is now my main focus, I still take the opportunity to photograph the colourful and interesting non-avian species that cross my path, as each sighting could be my last until next season. Here are some of the critters that I’ve seen in my travels lately.
On June 13th I went for a walk at Jack Pine Trail. This large Stony Swamp Trail can be good for odonates, and although I thought it was probably early for the Arrowhead Spiketail and various emerald species I’d seen on June 29th last year, I was hoping to find some Fragile Forktails, Emerald Spreadwings, or Northern Spreadwings as well as the usual breeding birds and butterflies. I didn’t see any really exciting birds; my best birds were a Double-crested Cormorant flying over, a Red-breasted Nuthatch feeding its newly-fledged young, two House Wrens singing in the alvar, a Brown Thrasher, two Alder Flycatchers, and six species of warbler (Ovenbird, Black-and-white Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler and Pine Warbler).