I finally returned to Trail E6 in Marlborough Forest on Sunday, July 11th. My goal was to find some skippers, particularly the Two-spotted Skipper which I had found at both trails (E4 and E6) last year, and more emerald dragonflies. I didn’t arrive as early as I normally do, as I was more interested in finding bugs than birds this time. Even so, the birds seemed quieter as I started down the trail just before 8:00 am….although I heard a couple of Wood Thrushes and Winter Wrens and warblers, there seemed to be fewer of everything. It was a while before I even heard my first Red-eyed Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, and Eastern Wood-pewee, and the silence was puzzling. It is sad to think that breeding season is coming to an end already.
The coyotes, too, were quiet, although the deer flies and mosquitoes that constantly buzzed around me were not. It was difficult to try and listen for birds with their annoying whine constantly droning in my ears. I thought I heard a distant Ovenbird, a distant Scarlet Tanager, and a faint Nashville Warbler, but they only called once and I was too distracted swatting the bloodthirsty bugs away to be sure.
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.
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.
Back in March, when my law firm’s downtown office shut down and I began working from home as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, I had expected some semblance of normal life to return by the fall. I had guessed that by September the office would be open again, and that once again I would lose two hours of my day to the daily commute. I was wrong, however, and Covid-19 cases are climbing once again in an indisputable second wave. My law firm is still not fully open yet; however, I’m back at work downtown providing administrative support for a lengthy civil trial. The trial is taking place over Zoom, with the judge, court staff, court reporter, both sets of counsel, both sets of experts, and all parties to the lawsuit participating via videoconference. Once again I’m a slave to the city’s public transportation schedule, and while I’m really happy that both the bus and LRT are virtually empty, I’m not thrilled to lose those precious two hours and almost all of my weekday birding time as a result. I am really hoping that when life does return to normal one day, full-time attendance in the office won’t be mandatory and that I will still be able to enjoy at least a couple days a week working from home and getting out for birding walks in the morning and butterfly walks at lunch.
October is a month of transition – we leave the hot days of summer behind (although September didn’t feel like summer this year, as the sultry 25-plus-degree temperatures of years past never materialized) and enter true fall, enjoying those crisp sunny days where the north wind carries a hint of winter and the brilliant orange and red foliage slowly starts to carpet the ground. The sun casts longer shadows as its zenith drops lower and lower in the sky each day, and the shorter days become evident when I have to leave for work in the dark in the morning. The birds, too, are transitioning, as most of the insect-eaters are now gone and the bulk of the seed-eaters – mainly sparrows – start moving through. It’s not going to be a good year for seeing finches in the south, as Ron Pittaway’s Winter Finch Forecast indicates bumper crops up north will keep the crossbills, redpolls and Pine Grosbeaks on their summer territory. Waterfowl and shorebirds are still moving through, although heavy rain toward the end of the month obliterated the remaining shorebird habitat along the Ottawa River – so much for the flocks of Dunlin and White-rumped Sandpipers I was hoping to find at Andrew Haydon Park again.
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.
September is not the best month to find a great variety of insects in most of Canada, but the weather in Edmonton was still warm enough that I saw four butterfly species, five dragonfly species, and two damselfly species. There were quite a few individuals flying, too, so there was no shortage of insects to photograph whenever I went out. The best spots were the gravel path that runs along the edge of the urban forest and the vegetation around Lake Crystallina. The day I’d visited the large lake to photograph the three Swainson’s Hawks was too cold and windy for many insects to be out, but I suspect due to the untouched wilderness surrounding it – no manicured lawns there! – it would be even more productive for bugs, especially in June or July when insects are at the height of diversity. The last site I’d visited was Poplar Lake, another protected storm water pond on the other side of 82nd Street in Klarvatten. My sister dropped me off there to check it out on our way home one afternoon, however, I soon discovered that the pond was entirely fenced with no trails or access to the wetland whatsoever. This was too bad because I always saw lots of waterfowl on the pond, and I was hoping to find a good spot for shorebirds and grebes.
This was the hardest post of my Dominican series to write, though I really didn’t expect it to be as difficult as it was; this is because it took a long time to find some good internet resources for identifying butterflies of the island of Hispaniola.
When travelling to a new place, the first thing I do is look for field guides or online checklists of species found in that area. This is easy for birds, but not so easy for types of wildlife, such as reptiles and amphibians, dragonflies, and of course butterflies. Once I get home with all my hundreds of photos, it’s easier to narrow down the species I’m interested in. Fortunately, finding online guides to the odonates of the Dominican Republic wasn’t difficult, even though there are fewer people studying odes than there are people studying butterflies; I was surprised that it was much more difficult to find similar websites or articles dedicated to the butterflies of the Dominican Republic, even when I widened my search to the island of Hispaniola. The best checklist I could find was the one on the BAMONA website (Butterflies and Moths of North America). Still, I wasn’t sure how accurate the list was, or if it encompassed all the species of the Dominican Republic or just those that have been recently reported by members of the BAMONA website. I ended up with a lot of photographs of skippers (one of the most difficult groups of butterflies to identify), and clicking on each species link to view the photos quickly became a tedious chore.
At last, Saturday arrived. Our last morning in Costa Rica, and our last morning at the beautiful Occidental Grand Papagayo resort. The final hours of our wonderful trip to the tropics were trickling through the hourglass, and I was sad to see it coming to an end. I got up, started packing up as much of my stuff as I could without disturbing Doran, then went out for a quick walk to the red-flowering trees – my favourite bird-watching spot on the resort. I still hadn’t given up on seeing those Squirrel Cuckoos again.
After our swim Doran and I had time to go back to our room before lunch, then headed up to the dining room shortly after noon. As mentioned before, the days seem longer in Costa Rica – it was just lunch time and already I’d gone on a walk and had a swim in the ocean; it felt like a full day when it was barely even 12:00pm! Lunch was quite tasty, as were all our meals at the Occidental. The buffet menu was quite good, and varied every day so we didn’t get tired of eating the same thing. My only disappointment was that the pineapple mint and pineapple ginger juices at breakfast weren’t available every day, nor were they available at lunch. Once we were done eating we headed out a different way, passing by the tennis courts to see what the rest of the resort looked like – it was definitely too hot and humid to play beneath the sweltering tropical sun, and the courts were empty.