When most people think of milkweeds and the insects that are associated with them, they think of the iconic Monarch butterfly, which subsists solely on these plants in its larval stage. Others may recall the beautiful Red Milkweed Beetle, the black and orange Small and Large Milkweed Bugs, or the fuzzy Tussock Milkweed Moth caterpillars that sometimes gather together in groups of a dozen or more. However, milkweeds are an abundant source of nectar and pollen for many types of insects, and these in turn attract predators searching for easy prey. If you spend some time examining these plants at the height of their flowering season, an amazing secret world opens up, as all kinds of colourful creatures can be found on their flowers and leaves. Here are a few of the colourful and intriguing creatures I photographed in early to mid-July while looking for the more common butterflies and dragonflies.
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.
Sometimes it amazes me that even my own backyard can host an incredible variety of wildlife. I live in a townhouse with a tiny yard, and have very little in the way of shelter for birds or bugs – there is a large tree-like shrub on my front lawn which is as tall as the house and produces little helicopter seeds in the fall that the squirrels love (one of these years I’ll get around to asking my botanist friends to identify it for me) and a six-foot tall Arrowwood Viburnum in the backyard. A couple of small Weigela shrubs are still doing well in the backyard despite their location in a shady part of the garden, and that’s it other than the annuals and perennials chosen to attract hummingbirds, butterflies, and other pollinators. My yard is just too small and does not get enough sun to plant the kind of butterfly and pollinator garden I would really like. Further, our back lawn hosts a lot of different weeds as we aren’t exactly diligent about removing them. I hate applying any kind of chemical herbicide or pesticide, and while I go crazy a couple of times each summer trying to remove them by hand, they just keep coming back. Our neighbours probably don’t like us very much.
In July I wrote a post called “Among the Flowers” after finding a fantastic number of insects – including bees, beetles, odes and butterflies – in the wildflower meadow at Bruce Pit. Seven weeks have passed since that visit, and when I returned for a visit yesterday, I had no choice but to follow up that post with this one. The flowers in bloom have changed since that early-July visit, but the insect diversity has not – despite the lateness of the season, there were a fantastic variety of bugs there lurking among the flowers.
I originally chose to visit Bruce Pit in the hope of seeing some darners there – I’d seen none at Mud Lake earlier that morning, and recalled that Chris Traynor had found some Variable Darners late in the season last year (September 18, 2015) along the hydro cut. My plan was to spend some time near the water looking for spreadwings and skimmers, then check out the hydro cut for darners. I didn’t find much around the water – there were lots of Lyre-tipped Spreadwings still present – so I headed up into the field just above the water.
I haven’t done as much photography in my own yard this year as I would have liked; I’ve seen no butterflies other than the ubiquitous Cabbage Whites, no flashy moths visiting my flowers or perching on my house during the daylight, and no odes other than a couple of darners flying too high up to identify. Still, I knew there had to be some colourful insects around, and once I made the effort to go looking for them, I ended up finding some colourful old friends as well as quite a few new species for my yard.
I was car-less this weekend, as Doran spent most of it in Petawawa visiting friends. Unfortunately the best bird- and bug-watching trails are all difficult to reach by bus on a Sunday, so even a trip to one of the closer spots – such as Mud Lake or Andrew Haydon Park – was out of the question, as either would take two buses and much walking just to get there. And, given the high temperature forecast for today (almost 30°C) and the lack of air-conditioned food and washroom facilities nearby, I didn’t feel up to a long excursion. That left a walk around the neighbourhood as my only option, and fortunately the Emerald Meadows storm water ponds are close by. The ponds have been under construction for over a year now, but I haven’t seen any heavy machinery or workers there in ages, and none of the large gaps that appeared in the plastic orange fences surrounding the construction site have been repaired in weeks. As I’ve noticed people walking their dogs or jogging along the paths inside the construction zone, I thought it would be all right to take a look.
On July 17th, Chris Lewis and a few other friends and I went dragon-hunting at Petrie Island. Although the morning started out cool, it quickly warmed up, and as a result we saw lots of great bugs. We started our outing by searching the vegetation between the parking lot and the first small bay, usually a productive area for some of the smaller dragonflies and damselflies. This is the only spot at Petrie Island where I’ve seen Vesper Bluet and Orange Bluet, and we spent a good half hour examining the shrubs for these small damselflies. Although both species are considered common in the Northeast, Petrie Island is the only place where I’ve seen them. However, both species are more active later in the day, and since I usually do my birding in the morning and early afternoon, it is possible I’ve missed them in other places.