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Life Among the Milkweeds

Green Immigrant Leaf Weevil

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.

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A Plethora of Shorebirds

Belted Kingfisher

Shorebird migration is in full swing right now. This is one of my favourite groups of birds, and normally I have to go to places like the Richmond Lagoons, Shirley’s Bay or Andrew Haydon Park to see them – and this summer’s drought has left the Richmond Lagoons with zero habitat. However, there’s a terrific spot to see these particular birds only a 10 minute walk from my house. The Emerald Meadows storm water pond system has had fabulous habitat these past few months, resulting in 11 species so far since I started visiting in July. This was about the time that the work on the ponds had been completed, and as the southern ponds had been completely drained while the construction was going on, for several weeks they had held only an inch or two of water. Since then the water levels have been slowly increasing, but the water is still low enough – particularly in the southern-most pond – to attract some shorebirds to the muddy edges.

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Among the Flowers – August Edition

Asian Lady Beetle

Asian Lady Beetle

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.

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A Lifer Dragonfly at Pinehurst Lake

Green-striped Darner

Green-striped Darner

During the third week of August I spent some time at my Dad’s trailer in the Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area near Glen Morris, Ontario. Although more of a campground/recreation area than a conservation area, it is nevertheless a great spot to spend a few days and see some “southern” wildlife. The last time I was here (August 2014) I was treated to the antics of a couple of juvenile Broad-winged Hawks, found a small pond where female Black-tipped Darners laid their eggs in the late afternoon, observed a Blue-winged Warbler on a morning walk, saw my first Red-spotted Purple butterfly, and even saw a bat near one of the washroom lights after dark. I didn’t see any Broad-winged Hawks or cool southern bird species this time, but I still ended up with 28 species over three days – the same number I saw in 2014. Here are some of the interesting creatures that I saw on my trip.

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Bugs of Gatineau Park Part II – Damselflies and Other Bugs

River Jewelwing

River Jewelwing

Chris Traynor and I found more than just dragonflies in Gatineau Park – there were lots of other birds and bugs at the Sugarbush Trail and Dunlop Picnic area to keep us busy. The birds were typical of a morning in early summer – many were singing in the woods and open areas, but few were actually seen. We heard a Scarlet Tanager, White-throated Sparrow, Brown Creeper, Common Raven, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Veery, Black-and-white Warbler and a pair of Common Yellowthroats; I managed to see a Yellow Warbler, a Belted Kingfisher flying through the woods down the creek, and an Ovenbird that posed out in the open long enough for a few photos. It wasn’t the birds I had come to see, however, and the variety of odonates and insects we found was amazing. My previous post covers all the dragonflies we found; this post is limited to the damselflies and other insects we saw.

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Searching for River Jewelwings

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

On May 30th I met with Chris Traynor for a morning of bug-hunting in the west end. My main goal was to look for River Jewelwings, a damselfly that I see much less frequently than the similar-looking Ebony Jewelwing. Both of these broad-winged damselflies (genus Calopteryx) breed in the flowing waters of medium-sized creeks and streams, particularly in forested areas. While Ebony Jewelwings are most commonly found in shallow, shady streams with much emergent vegetation, River Jewelwings prefer swifter and somewhat rocky streams. There aren’t too many streams I would characterize as “rocky” in Ottawa’s west end (they are more common up in the Gatineau Hills); indeed, I have found only one stream inhabited by these colourful damselflies: Watts Creek near Shirleys Bay, on the south side of Carling Avenue. However, the bank is very steep where I have seen them – it is about a five- or six-foot vertical drop to the water, and the top of the stream bank is too thickly vegetated to walk along in order to find another spot with a shorter drop. This makes photographing them quite difficult, as they like to perch on vegetation close to the water.

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Migration Summary: Late April/Early May

Red-tailed Hawk

Red-tailed Hawk

Migration finally started picking up toward the end of April, though the only interesting bird that showed up in my yard this year was a Ruby-crowned Kinglet on two occasions. Hurdman Park turned out to be great spot to take in migration this year. On one occasion I spotted 40 or 50 swallows flitting over the fields and river; they were probably mostly Tree Swallows, though I did spot a brown swallow and what was likely a Barn Swallow among them. On the first day of May I spotted a different flock of birds soaring over the area – a large kettle of Broad-winged Hawks! I had seen them fly over Hurdman before, though the most I had seen together was three. This time I spotted a large flock of over 20 birds, with another flock of 11 following behind it. As the birds were constantly moving in and out of the main group, I didn’t want to double-count any; it is likely that there were as  many as 50 hawks altogether – the most I had ever seen at one time!

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