Back when the lockdown started in March and the provincial parks, national parks, and local conservation areas started closing, I thought I would be spending the summer in my own backyard. It’s a nice enough yard, but it’s quite small and doesn’t boast the number of fauna of the even the small urban parks nearby. If I had known when we bought our little townhouse in 2003 that one day in the not-too-distant future I would consider myself a naturalist, I would have looked for a house with green space behind it or at least a park next door to increase the number of species that visit my yard. Hindsight, as they say, is 20/20.
When the local lockdown restrictions finally lifted in late May, I was able to enjoy my summer visiting new and well-loved places beyond the boundaries of my neighbourhood and seeing the amazing wildlife of the Ottawa region. As such, I didn’t spend as much time at home as I thought I would. This is in part due to the fact that I spent the summer working from home – perhaps if I had been going to the office downtown every day I wouldn’t have felt the desperate need for escape on the weekends, looking for a much-needed change of scenery. I was able to watch the birds and squirrels from my office window, but didn’t spend much time getting up-close-and-personal with the bugs and other critters. Still, I was able to eat lunch outside on occasion, and spent some of the nicer weekend afternoons working on the garden. Even just walking out to the car sometimes I found a few things of interest!
When I’m not busy looking for birds and bugs at the Eagleson Ponds, I’ll be at one of the many other trails and conservation areas in west end. Stony Swamp attracts its fair share of migrants, and is home to numerous fascinating reptiles, amphibians, and insects, so I spend a lot of time there in the warmer months. Jack Pine Trail and the Beaver Trail are my favourite trails as the loops are small enough that they can be completed quickly, with a variety of habitats to attract different wildlife; however, Sarsaparilla Trail can also be amazing, although the boardwalk is still closed for repairs. I really mean to spend more time at Old Quarry Trail and Lime Kiln Trail, but as these are a bit further away, with larger trail systems, I often opt for the convenience of one of the other trails instead – especially if I have plans to go elsewhere after, such as Mud Lake or Andrew Haydon park.
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.
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.
In September 2016, I started a project on iNaturalist to document the non-avian species I’ve found at the Eagleson Road ponds just after the reconstruction that took place in 2015 and 2016 was completed. I was chiefly interested in the mammals and odonates (I use eBird, of course, for birds), largely in part because I wondered if the beaver would be back after its lodge was destroyed and if there were any Rainbow Bluets or Fragile Forktails left. Then, seeing the extensive wildflower plantings after the reconstruction, I began to wonder what species of butterflies might feed here. Since then I’ve started documenting all kinds of insects, turtles, plants and mammals that I can identify on my own, and even some that I can’t…one of the functions of iNaturalist is to connect experts and knowledgeable nature enthusiasts with those who aren’t as experienced in order to assist with identifications. I have hesitated to use the site for this purpose, because identifications are done entirely by volunteers, and (a) there is no guarantee that your species will be identified, particularly for lesser known or more difficult genera (for example, I have some photos of Red-blue Checkered Beetles from July 2016 that have yet to be confirmed); and (b) there is no guarantee that the observation will be identified correctly. Generally the more people who add their identification to an observation, the better; the main identification is decided by a two-thirds majority, and once it has received two or more confirmatory identifications it is considered “research grade” and can be used by scientists for their own projects.
Although I went birding this morning, it was the bugs today that stole the show. The temperature reached an unseasonable 18°C, and with the sun shining brightly until about mid-afternoon, this was probably the last nice day of the year. We haven’t had any hard frosts yet, so a lot of insects were on the wing today. I overslept, so I skipped my usual walk at the storm water ponds and headed out to Old Quarry Trail around 9:00 to search for Black-backed Woodpeckers. I didn’t find any, although I was happy to find a Pileated Woodpecker and a couple of Fox Sparrows deep in the woods. This is one of my favourite sparrows, with its rusty red spots on its chest and red face and back.
I also found a singing male Purple Finch at the boardwalk and saw an accipiter fly over – it seemed small, so perhaps it was the same Sharp-shinned Hawk I saw last week. There were still several Golden-crowned Kinglets around, and I heard one or two Ruby-crowned Kinglets as well.