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.
We are now nearly two weeks into September and I have not found as many warblers or songbird migrants as I had hoped. In a previous blog entry I wrote about how edge habitats can be productive for migrants, especially those with a good diversity of plants which provide cover and food sources for not just the birds of the two dominant habitats, but others as well. I’ve been spending most of my weekend mornings at the Eagleson Ponds, followed by trips to other places with good edge habitat – last weekend it was the Old Quarry Trail, Beaver Trail, and Sarsaparilla Trail; this weekend it was the Richmond Sewage Lagoons, Rideau Trail, and Sarsaparilla Trail. Each time I’ve been disappointed, wondering where all the migrants were. I suppose I could just go to Mud Lake and rack up a list of 30+ species there, but it is often packed with birders and photographers this time of year, and I prefer quieter places.
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.
The August long weekend is here, and it’s been brutally hot and humid. Temperatures have reached as high as 32°C with a humidex of 41. It didn’t feel quite so hot yesterday, but today was awful. The sun was relentless, and there was no cooling breeze to provide relief. Being in the shade helped, but even so, I didn’t feel like staying out for very long.
We haven’t had much rain in the last month, so the water levels of the Ottawa River have dropped and mudflats are developing in Shirley’s Bay and Ottawa Beach. I wanted to look for shorebirds, but Shirley’s Bay didn’t sound too appealing – a long mosquito-infested walk through the woods to get to the dyke, which is almost completely open to the baking sun – all the while carrying a scope that sometimes feels like it weighs as much as I do. So yesterday I drove over to Andrew Haydon Park instead.
Late this past winter I discovered a new place for birding in my own neighbourhood: Kristina Kiss Park. It really isn’t much of a park; there’s a soccer field at the northern end (Kristina Kiss is a famous Canadian soccer player from Ottawa), a playground at the southern end, and the two are connected by a footpath that runs next to what I consider its most interesting feature: a channel of water that eventually drains into the Eagleson storm water ponds. Last winter I was driving through the area one day when I noticed what looked like an ice-covered pond behind the soccer field. Sure enough, there is a pond in the northeastern corner of the park according to Google maps. When March came and the ice melted, I found my first Killdeer of the year here, and I thought it could be interesting for shorebirds later in migration. However, as the spring progressed, the pond dried up and revealed itself as a large square patch of gravel with no apparent purpose but to collect the run-off from rainwater and snow-melt. The water channel that runs between the footpath and the houses on the next street over turned out to be more interesting, though it was choked with cattails in most places – there were muskrat push-ups scattered throughout, and when the spring returned, I found many of the more common city birds nesting within the vicinity: House Finches, robins, grackles, Red-winged Blackbirds, even a pair of Tree Swallows nesting in a nest box in one of the backyards!
On Saturday, July 28th I wasn’t able to get out birding, so on Sunday I headed over to the Eagleson storm water ponds. There were only two species of herons (Great Blue Heron and Great Egret) and one species of sandpiper (Spotted Sandpiper) but the Osprey flew over and hovered over the main pond before flying off, and I found a Red-eyed Vireo feeding its offspring. This was a surprise to me as I have heard this species singing in this area only twice this year, both times in May, and thought that they were just passing through. Red-eyed Vireos sing long into the summer, well into the afternoon, and are easily detected on their breeding grounds, so I’m curious as to where the female actually nested – here at the ponds, or somewhere nearby. All the usual bird species were still present, including a few Barn Swallows and a Northern Flicker flying over the pond, but Common Grackles were noticeably absent – they have now dispersed from the ponds, and last weekend I had an even dozen at my feeder, mostly juveniles! Continue reading →
The equinox has passed and summer is showing no signs of leaving despite the changing colours of the leaves. Once again the temperatures reached the high 20s, and a heat warning went into effect yesterday, as forecasters say that the continuing sunshine would result in daytime temperatures reaching the low 30s, with humidex values approaching 40C. When I went out yesterday morning I had two targets in mind: the Parasitic Jaeger seen off Andrew Haydon Beach for the past two days, and the influx of Painted Lady butterflies that has reached eastern Ontario. I left early, as I knew the day would warm up quickly, stopping at the Eagleson storm water ponds first to see if anything new had arrived.
On the last Sunday in June I drove over to the airport to continue my quest for year birds. I had six target species, and figured I would be doing well if I managed to see only three of them: Eastern Bluebird, Indigo Bunting, Grasshopper Sparrow, Vesper Sparrow, Black-billed Cuckoo, and Mourning Warbler. The Eastern Bluebird and Indigo Bunting were probably the easiest targets, while the cuckoo and the Mourning Warbler were the most difficult – I had only heard these species around the trails once before, and would be happy if I heard them again. I usually hear or see Grasshopper Sparrows on every visit, while Vesper Sparrows are hit-and-miss. The day was warm and sunny, so I was looking forward to seeing some butterflies and dragonflies, too.
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.
Migration is well under way, and although Hurdman Park was an excellent spot for seeing migrants last spring, it hasn’t been as active this fall. I have only been able to get out a few times so far this month, however, so I’m not sure whether there really are fewer birds around, or if the days that I go just happen to be quiet ones (sort of like my recent trips to Point Pelee!). Migration patterns ebb and flow throughout the season, with cold fronts providing the best conditions for seeing birds. September has been warm so far, which means there haven’t been any of the spectacular fall-outs that occur immediately after a cold front passes through. Yet the birds keep trickling in, so I’ve managed to see something interesting each time I visit! Usually I encounter only one flock of migrants each visit, rather than numerous birds spread throughout the park. The trick is to find that flock with only a 40-minute lunch break!