A late summer visit to Marlborough Forest

Philadelphia Vireo

Philadelphia Vireo

Marlborough Forest has become one of my favourite spots to visit because of its bounty of butterflies, breeding birds, and dragonflies. The best month for visiting is June, when birds are are still singing and insect diversity is at its peak. The first few weeks of July are also a fine time to visit, as different butterflies are present than were initially flying in early June. By mid-August, however, it is harder to detect birds as most have stopped singing, and insect diversity is on the wane. Still, I thought I would visit the E4 trail on the third Saturday of August, a place I hadn’t been to since Canada Day. I was curious to see what birds might still be present, and whether it might be a good spot to see different darners and meadowhawks.

I arrived a little later than I usually do at the height of nesting season – 9:00 am instead of 7:00 am – to give it time to warm up. The biting bugs were not as bad as they are in the middle of summer, but I was annoyed to still find myself slapping mosquitoes away. The woods were very quiet compared to June; the Red-eyed Vireos and one Eastern Wood-pewee were still singing (both sing late into the season, sometimes into September), but the Ovenbirds, Scarlet Tanagers, Veeries, Nashville Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, White-throated Sparrows, and Swamp Sparrows were silent.

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Ode-hunting along the River

Shadow Darner

Shadow Darner

Mud Lake and Andrew Haydon Park are usually excellent places to find different species of dragons and damsels throughout the summer months. In both 2015 and 2019 I had a good number of species at Andrew Haydon Park in late July, and an OFNC dragonfly outing at Mud Lake on July 21, 2013 also netted some fantastic species. I was hoping for some similar luck on an ode-hunting trip on July 24th, but this time I found fewer species and fewer individuals overall. I am not sure why there seem to be so few dragonflies around good pond habitat these past two years (such as the Eagleson ponds), but the trend is concerning.

My first stop was the shoreline at Mud Lake where I hoped to find some large river clubtails perching on the rocks in the channel behind the filtration plant. When I arrived I was happy to find two dragonflies perching on the rocks right away, and managed only to photograph one before a couple of people came along and scared them both – while I’m certain one of them was a clubtail, the one I photographed turned out o be an Eastern Pondhawk. The clubtail did not return, although I saw a couple flying out over the water several times on my visit.

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Five Butterfly Families at Marlborough Forest


Acadian Hairstreak

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.

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Local Butterfly Colonies

Peck’s Skipper

July is here, so today I went out in the afternoon in search of two local hairstreak colonies. Most hairstreaks overwinter as eggs in our area, and as such, don’t metamorphose into butterflies until mid-summer. They often tend to be quite localized, and while some species are quite common and widespread, such as the Banded Hairstreak, many others are found in small, local colonies where their preferred larval foodplants are found. Over the past few years I have found colonies of three different species in my 5-mile radius (Banded, Acadian and Coral), and while the Coral Hairstreaks seem to have disappeared, I now check on the other two colonies every July.

I started with a visit to Bruce Pit to look for the Acadian Hairstreaks that I have seen regularly in the wildflowers at the base of the toboggan hill since 2014. I got my hopes up when I spotted a small, grayish gossamer-winged butterfly perched out in the open at a distance, but it turned out to be a worn Eastern Tailed Blue.

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Bruce Pit Specialties

Gray Treefrog

Although Bruce Pit is chiefly known as a popular dog park, the walking trails around the pond (which are not part of the off-leash area) are great for finding all kinds of interesting flora and fauna. I usually make a couple of trips to the pond each summer, looking for specific butterflies, frogs and odonates which are difficult to find elsewhere. Although it’s been a few years since I’ve seen some of the more unique insects – including American Copper, Eastern Red Damsel, Amber-winged Spreadwing and Saffron-winged Meadowhawk – other frog and insect populations are still doing well.

My first visit of the summer occurred on July 5th in the hope of finding an Acadian Hairstreak at the base of the toboggan hill – the only place I’ve ever seen one in the west end. I hadn’t seen any here since 2014 and 2016 and doubted they were still around, especially after I saw how few wildflowers were left to grow near the marshy area in my failed attempt to see them last year. I failed again on this visit, too, but proceeded to check a few other spots where the milkweed was blooming as these flowers are known to be insect magnets.

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South March Skippers

Dion Skipper

I enjoyed myself so much the previous weekend at the South March Highlands that I returned to the milkweed patch today to see if I could find more Little Glassywing skippers to photograph. When I arrived just after 10:30 am it was warm but the sun was playing hide-and-seek among the clouds. I saw several Dun Skippers perching low among the vegetation, and every time I saw a dark brown female with white spots on her wings I stopped to see if it was a Little Glassywing instead. None of them were, and I continued my search. Then I found a pair of Dun Skippers, male and female, resting fairly close together and took a photograph to capture them in the same frame. A few shots later, my battery died. I decided to head home and charge the battery, and wait a while to see if the sun would come out. A few hours later it did, and I returned at 4:30.

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The Gorgeous Dogbane Leaf Beetle

Dogbane Leaf Beetle

I’ve spent some time birding around home recently, visiting places in Stony Swamp and Shirley’s Bay looking for breeding birds and butterflies. Hairstreaks have been on my mind, and after lunch on July 4th I headed up to Shirley’s Bay where I have seen both Banded (June 2012) and Coral (July 2016) Hairstreaks along Hilda Road in years past. I also thought I might find some baskettails patrolling the open trails, as I’ve seen both Common and Prince Baskettails there as well. Finally, Giant Swallowtails breed on the Prickly Ash plants in the area, and I was hoping to add Ottawa’s largest butterfly to my year list with a visit. Unfortunately it was much quieter than expected, with no baskettails zipping along above my head and no hairstreaks or swallowtails of any kind despite the gorgeous 30°C temperature. The only butterfly I noticed was a very worn skipper in the clutches of Goldenrod Crab Spider hiding in the Purple Cow Vetch.

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South March Butterflies

Little Glassywing

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.

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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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Life in a Pond: Underwater Predators

Eastern Newt

On Saturday June 6th I spent some time at the Beaver Trail, mostly looking for birds and dragonflies. There weren’t as many odes flying as I had hoped, but I did catch both Spiny and Beaverpond Baskettails, and found a Belted Whiteface at the boardwalk. Taiga Bluets have emerged, and a Fragile Forktail at the boardwalk was my first of the year. I only found 23 species of birds, with both warblers and flycatchers well-represented; species included Eastern Wood-Pewee, Alder Flycatcher, Eastern Phoebe, Great Crested Flycatcher, Eastern Kingbird, Black-and-white Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Chestnut-sided Warbler (seen), and Black-throated Green Warbler. The only other species worth noting are Purple Finch and Virginia Rail.

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