So far it’s been a strange spring. It took a long time to warm up to 0°C and then a while longer to warm up to double digits. Early April was cold and very windy; it didn’t get consistently above 10°C until April 21, but even then it was too gusty in the afternoons to go looking for butterflies. My first butterfly of the year was a Mourning Cloak seen on April 5th at the Rideau Trail on Old Richmond Road. It was a beautiful day of 13°C, and I figured I had a good chance of seeing my first butterflies of the year there….though it was a toss-up as to whether it would be a Mourning Cloak or an Eastern Comma, both of which hibernate as adults in woodlots. While I saw a few more Mourning Cloak in mid-April, butterfly season didn’t really start until the second last day of the month.
While it is true that fall migration proceeds at a much more leisurely pace than migration in the spring, each species moves according to its own internal calendar. In late August and early September you might find warblers, Rose-breasted Grosbeaks, flycatchers, vireos, orioles, Cedar Waxwings, and Scarlet Tanagers foraging together in a single patch of woods. A month later the same patch of forest might hold sparrows, kinglets, Winter Wrens, Rusty Blackbirds, nuthatches, Hermit Thrushes, and boreal finches, while waterfowl on rivers and ponds increase in numbers and diversity. I usually notice the switch around the fall equinox, when the sparrows start to outnumber the warblers and I realize that it’s been a while since I last saw a flock of Cedar Waxwings. Now is the time to look for American Pipits in open scrubby areas or along rocky shorelines, scoters and grebes along the river, hawks and Turkey Vultures soaring toward southern climes, and any lingering warblers in the hope it is something other than a Yellow-rumped.
On Saturday, July 31st my fiancé and I took two days to make the long drive to Nova Scotia. We planned to stay two weeks, although we were both working remotely at a cottage on the shore of Scot’s Bay, Kings County during the first week and used the second week as a true vacation week in Greenwood. By then there were no restrictions to enter Quebec or New Brunswick, although we had to show proof of vaccines and a travel permit at the Nova Scotia border. Once inside the border we were still subject to gathering regulations, mask mandates, and contact tracing protocols to dine indoor at restaurants, something we hadn’t done in Ontario since last fall.
Scot’s Bay is a community on Cape Split. The cape juts out into the Bay of Fundy, separating it from the Minas Basin. This continuation of Nova Scotia’s North Mountain range is 7 kilometres long and ranges between several kilometres to several dozen metres in width. It reaches 200 metres above sea-level at the scenic Look-Off halfway along the highway, and terminates in the relatively new (2019) Cape Split Provincial Park at the end. It also has a second provincial park, Blomidon, on the Minas Basin side, and a tiny access point to the beach on the Bay of Fundy side called Scot’s Bay Provincial Park. This is where I got my lifer Sanderling in 2008.
I was off work on Monday, and after seeing all the Painted Ladies at Mud Lake the day before I decided to go to the Eagleson Storm Water Ponds later in the morning to see if I could find the similar numbers there – I had had great luck seeing them there in 2017 and was hoping to repeat that experience. Lots of asters are in bloom, and after photographing them on the yellow blossoms of the Jerusalem Artichokes yesterday I was eager to photograph them on the purple flowers of the asters! It was another warm day, with a few clouds in an otherwise blue sky – perfect for looking for bugs.
During the first week of July my fiancé and I spent some time in Prince Edward County with my dad’s family. We rented a cottage on Loves Lane on Prince Edward Bay, a nice three-bedroom place with 8 acres of land only 20 minutes away from both Sandbanks and Picton. The weather was beautiful, and I spent most of my time getting to know the local residents. Chipping Sparrows, Song Sparrows, Red-winged Blackbirds, American Robins, Northern Flickers, Downy Woodpeckers, Eastern Kingbirds, Cedar Waxwings, a Red-eyed Vireo, and a Yellow Warbler were seen or heard around the property every day. Barn Swallows often hunted for insects above the bay, and a couple of times they even landed on the sandy bank at the edge of the swamp just beyond the cottage deck. We saw some great water birds from the deck, including an Osprey perching on the far side of the bay, a trio of Hooded Mergansers diving close by, Caspian Terns hunting for fish further out, six Mute Swans swimming by, a Common Loon that appeared in the bay twice, a mother Mallard that swam by with 11 babies in tow every morning and evening, and the occasional Green or Great Blue Heron flyby. A Merlin flew over the cottage twice, and the second time it appeared to be carrying a bird – a couple of agitated Barn Swallows were chasing it, making me think that the falcon had carried off one of their young.
While I was visiting the South March Highlands Conservation Forest last weekend I kept an eye out for other insects as well as butterflies and dragonflies. Flower flies (or hover flies) are one of my favourite types of insects. Some are tiny and hard to see, some are large and conspicuous, some are drab and some are brightly coloured. They are often striped with yellow and black, resembling bees and wasps, and many people fear them thinking that they, too, sting or bite. Flower flies rely on such mimicry to protect them from predators that would otherwise eat them, but are perfectly harmless to humans. They are often found around flowers in open areas such as parks, gardens, meadows, and sunny woodland clearings where they visit the flowers for nectar. Like hummingbirds, they often hover in place, their wings beating so fast they become invisible. They can dart forward and backward, making them fascinating to watch. Continue reading →
Usually by the time the Victoria Day long weekend arrives the first odes have emerged – in the past I’ve seen baskettails in large numbers at Mud Lake and whitefaces and emeralds in Stony Swamp. This year has been different. A persistent wind from the north has prevented the daytime temperatures from rising much above 20°C; nighttime temperatures are still in the single digits. As dragonfly emergence depends largely on water temperature, it isn’t surprising that I had only seen one dragonfly before the May long weekend, a Common Green Darner at Parliament Hill on May 6th. This is usually one of the first species I see, as they migrate north from the warm south where they emerge. Temperatures had risen from 10°C on May 3rd to 20°C on the 6th, although the morning had started out as a chilly 5°C – perhaps an influx of warm air brought this gorgeous dragonfly up from somewhere where the north wind and flooding weren’t wreaking havoc on the wildlife.
On May 15th I again woke up early, got my breakfast at the Country Kitchen restaurant in Westport, and hit the road before 7:00 am. It was a bright sunny day, and although I knew the forecast was calling for showers in the afternoon, I hoped to have enough time to explore Frontenac Park while the sun was shining and find some interesting birds and butterflies. Southern species such as Yellow-throated Vireo and Cerulean Warbler were on my wish list, as was a butterfly called the West Virginia White. Peter Hall had seen a couple in the park only a week earlier, and I had received directions as to where I would find them. The morning was cool, but I hoped it would warm up enough for a few to be flying before the rain moved in! Continue reading →
I didn’t intend to spend three hours at the Eagleson Storm Water Ponds on Saturday morning. However, it was one of those days where the longer I stayed, the more I saw, and the more I saw, the longer I wanted to stay! The birds were quite active, with two woodpecker species (Downy Woodpecker and Northern Flicker), eight Canada Geese (one group of seven and a singleton by itself), a family of Yellow Warblers, a Turkey Vulture flying over, 16 Barn Swallows perching on the roof of one of the buildings on the west side, two Belted Kingfishers, and several young Common Grackles following their parents around, begging for food. All four heron species were present, including one Great Blue Heron, one Green Heron, one Great Egret, and one juvenile Black-crowned Night-heron and two adults.
I’ve seen a few interesting things in my own backyard and in conservation areas close to home these days, but haven’t taken enough photos for a full blog post; here are a few photos from the past couple of weeks.
On July 10th I visited the Eagleson storm water ponds for an hour in the afternoon. Even though this was much later in the day than I usually visit, I still found 21 species including a Green Heron, an Osprey and a Belted Kingfisher. I also counted three Spotted Sandpipers around the pond. It seems odd that I haven’t seen any tiny precocial sandpiper chicks running around here at this point in the breeding season; either they aren’t breeding here, or they are keeping their young well-hidden. This adult kept a wary eye on me as I photographed it from a respectful distance.