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.
June is one of my favourite months. Normally the weather is hot and sunny by the time the solstice rolls around, the birds are all in full song, and butterflies and dragonflies are emerging in woodlands, fields and wetlands. However, the weather this month has not been great. The rain from May continued on and off this month, keeping water levels of the rivers and ponds higher than normal, and likely delaying the emergence of many insects. The weekends have been nice, at least; I’ve been able to get out early in the day in order to look for new birds for my year list and any butterflies and dragonflies that may have emerged. While my enthusiasm has certainly declined since our amazing trip to Costa Rica, I’ve found myself regaining interest in visiting trails and conservation areas close to home, hoping to find some species I haven’t seen since the previous summer.
The day after my trip to the Bill Mason Center, I made plans with Chris Lewis and Chris Traynor to head out to the Cedar Grove Nature Trail in Marlborough Forest to look for odes around Roger’s Pond. I would be co-leading an OFNC outing there the following weekend with Jakob Mueller, a reptiles and amphibians guy, and wanted to get an idea of the dragonflies and damselflies that were flying. As we weren’t meeting at the parking lot there until 8:30, I headed out to Sarsaparilla Trail first, then the Rideau Trail for a quick look around.
After our birdwatching excursion on Monday we spent Tuesday relaxing at the resort. Once again I awoke hideously early and slipped out just after dawn to go birding around the resort. I heard the chatter of the parakeets coming from behind our building and headed off in that direction instead of the hummingbird spot. The usual White-winged Doves and Great-tailed Grackles were around, and I heard a couple of Rufous-naped Wrens near the mango trees. In the dead tree by the pool I found about ten Orange-chinned Parakeets perching out in the open.
Yesterday morning I went birding on my own again, stopping in at Sarsaparilla Trail, the Rideau Trail, and Richmond Lagoons before ending up at the ponds on Eagleson. I arrived at Sarsparilla Trail at 7:30, but unfortunately I wasn’t the first one there; two young people were flying a drone from the boardwalk. I had never seen a drone in action before, and was momentarily intrigued by it; however, this put a damper on my birding experience as it was too noisy to hear any chip notes from the birds in the marsh. This resulted in an uncharacteristic zero-sparrow list, though I did hear a Gray Catbird, and find a Brown Creeper, a Pileated Woodpecker, and a Ruffed Grouse in my short time there. The Rideau Trail wasn’t much better, though I did see a phoebe flycatching from a post in the parking lot fence and two House Wrens in the hydro cut – I wondered if one was the same individual that I saw along the boardwalk on Saturday.
From there I drove over to the Richmond Lagoons, traditionally a great spot for shorebirds and ducks in the fall. The drought, however, had dried the ponds completely up and I was curious to see whether the ponds had filled again after the recent rains. To my disappointment they were still fairly dry, but the birding was still pretty good so I spent an hour walking the loop that goes through the woods, cutting close to the Jock River.
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.
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.
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.