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.Continue reading
The Last Dragonfly and the Last Moth
By the time November arrives, all but the hardiest of insects have vanished, leaving only those few species that are adapted to the cold temperatures of mid-autumn in Canada. The last dragonfly on the wing here in Ottawa is the Autumn Meadowhawk, a small red or brownish dragonfly with very little black along the abdomen and yellow or brown legs. It is these two traits that make them easy to distinguish from other local meadowhawks – the other common species have distinct black markings on the abdomen and black legs. The most similar dragonfly in our area is the Saffron-winged Meadowhawk, which also lacks distinct black abdominal markings. However, the Saffron-winged Meadowhawk is larger, usually has a noticeable amber-coloured tint to the leading edge of its wings, and has black legs with brown stripes. In addition, most of the other meadowhawk species are gone by mid-October.Continue reading
A late summer visit to Marlborough Forest
Marlborough Forest has become one of my favourite spots to visit because of its bounty of butterflies, breeding birds, and dragonflies. The best month for visiting is June, when birds are are still singing and insect diversity is at its peak. The first few weeks of July are also a fine time to visit, as different butterflies are present than were initially flying in early June. By mid-August, however, it is harder to detect birds as most have stopped singing, and insect diversity is on the wane. Still, I thought I would visit the E4 trail on the third Saturday of August, a place I hadn’t been to since Canada Day. I was curious to see what birds might still be present, and whether it might be a good spot to see different darners and meadowhawks.
I arrived a little later than I usually do at the height of nesting season – 9:00 am instead of 7:00 am – to give it time to warm up. The biting bugs were not as bad as they are in the middle of summer, but I was annoyed to still find myself slapping mosquitoes away. The woods were very quiet compared to June; the Red-eyed Vireos and one Eastern Wood-pewee were still singing (both sing late into the season, sometimes into September), but the Ovenbirds, Scarlet Tanagers, Veeries, Nashville Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, White-throated Sparrows, and Swamp Sparrows were silent.Continue reading
Nova Scotia 2021: Moths and a Lifer Butterfly
On August 8th Doran and I left Scot’s Bay and made our way to the cottage in Kingston. We returned to the old farmhouse called Crow’s Landing where we had stayed in November 2019; it sits on about 20 acres with its own nature trails, providing the perfect spot for me to enjoy a few quiet early morning walks before visiting friends and family. As it is situated far from the coast, and its only water is a small slow-running trickle too mucky to be called a creek at the back of the trails, the birding wasn’t spectacular; however, it was certainly better than the birding on the cottage property in Scot’s Bay or even my own house in Kanata. The large trees surrounding the house, the open meadow habitat at the back, and the conifers and thickets surrounding the creek area all provided different habitats attractive to different types of wildlife. During our week there I found 33 bird species and several different bugs, mostly butterflies and moths.Continue reading
A Backyard Lifer: the Squash Vine Borer Moth
I haven’t been spending as much time in the backyard this summer, mostly because of how hot it has been – I find I have less tolerance for the heat and humidity than I once did. Still, I do check the insects buzzing around my flowers in case anything interesting turns up – perhaps a new lady beetle or hover fly, or an interesting bee or wasp. There hasn’t been much.
Today when I went out to refill the feeders and clean my bird bath I saw something very unusual buzzing around my white Swamp Milkweed flowers – a large bug with fuzzy red legs that often hovered over the blossoms to feed. I wasn’t sure what it was at first, until I downloaded my photos and recognized it as a moth when I saw the antennae and the outline of the wings in my photos. Only then did I realize it was one of the clearwing moths. I tried Googling “clearwing moth with fuzzy red legs” but this only brought up hummingbird moths as a result. It wasn’t until I uploaded my photos to iNaturalist that it was identified as a Squash Vine Borer moth (Melittia cucurbitae).Continue reading
Ode-hunting along the River
Mud Lake and Andrew Haydon Park are usually excellent places to find different species of dragons and damsels throughout the summer months. In both 2015 and 2019 I had a good number of species at Andrew Haydon Park in late July, and an OFNC dragonfly outing at Mud Lake on July 21, 2013 also netted some fantastic species. I was hoping for some similar luck on an ode-hunting trip on July 24th, but this time I found fewer species and fewer individuals overall. I am not sure why there seem to be so few dragonflies around good pond habitat these past two years (such as the Eagleson ponds), but the trend is concerning.
My first stop was the shoreline at Mud Lake where I hoped to find some large river clubtails perching on the rocks in the channel behind the filtration plant. When I arrived I was happy to find two dragonflies perching on the rocks right away, and managed only to photograph one before a couple of people came along and scared them both – while I’m certain one of them was a clubtail, the one I photographed turned out o be an Eastern Pondhawk. The clubtail did not return, although I saw a couple flying out over the water several times on my visit.Continue reading
Local Butterfly Colonies
July is here, so today I went out in the afternoon in search of two local hairstreak colonies. Most hairstreaks overwinter as eggs in our area, and as such, don’t metamorphose into butterflies until mid-summer. They often tend to be quite localized, and while some species are quite common and widespread, such as the Banded Hairstreak, many others are found in small, local colonies where their preferred larval foodplants are found. Over the past few years I have found colonies of three different species in my 5-mile radius (Banded, Acadian and Coral), and while the Coral Hairstreaks seem to have disappeared, I now check on the other two colonies every July.
I started with a visit to Bruce Pit to look for the Acadian Hairstreaks that I have seen regularly in the wildflowers at the base of the toboggan hill since 2014. I got my hopes up when I spotted a small, grayish gossamer-winged butterfly perched out in the open at a distance, but it turned out to be a worn Eastern Tailed Blue.Continue reading
Dragon-hunting in the Carp Hills
On June 20, 2021 I accompanied fellow OFNC members Derek and Erik to the Carp Barrens Trail off of Thomas Dolan Parkway to assist them in a survey of breeding birds and other wildlife. Because of the sensitivity of the ecosystem and number of at-risk species which breed here, this trail is closed to the public during the summer. In order for us to access the site, Derek had acquired a permit to allow us to look for unique breeding birds such as Black-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Towhee, Common Nighthawks and Whippoorwills. Derek and Erik started around dawn to listen for both nightjars, but heard none. I joined them at 6:00 am while they were still walking along Thomas Dolan Parkway, and together we entered the trail system.
The trail follows a rocky outcrop around a long slough. Many birds were already singing, and we heard the typical open field and woodland edge species: Field Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Veery, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and many warblers, the best of which (in my humble opinion) included two Pine Warblers, two Yellow-rumped and two Nashville Warblers.Continue reading
The Invasive LDD (aka Gypsy Moth)
This morning I went for a walk at Monaghan Forest, hoping to find the Northern Waterthrushes I’ve heard singing there in years past. Although this species was reported in our square in the previous atlas, it was only as a “possible” breeding species as it was observed in its breeding season in suitable nesting habitat – no additional nesting evidence was determined. I was also hoping to see the Bank Swallows I’d seen last year at the quarry, as I was still missing this species for my year list. In addition to these two species, I was hoping to find a number of other interesting species – from Black-throated Green and Black-and-White Warblers to Scarlet Tanagers and Wood Thrushes. If was I was lucky I might even see some falcons and hawks soaring above the quarry – it is suspected that Peregrine Falcon nests there, and it would be terrific if we could confirm evidence of breeding in our square.Continue reading
The first butterflies that emerge in the spring – usually in late March or April – are the ones that hibernated as adults in deciduous woodlots: Mourning Cloaks, Eastern Commas and Compton Tortoiseshells are the first ones I see every year on those warm, sunny days when the temperature starts reaching 13°C. The next wave emerges when it warms up long enough for those that hibernated in the chrysalis stage to emerge as adults: the elfins and azures and whites and swallowtails are included in this group, although I usually see the first Northern Spring Azures and Henry’s Elfins first, in late April and early May, with the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail and Black Swallowtail following in mid-May. Next come the species that overwintered as mature caterpillars, such as the duskywings – the first skippers to appear each year – and the crescents. All of these are typically seen in May in our region, while butterflies that overwinter as younger caterpillars (the browns and fritillaries) and eggs (coppers and hairstreaks) don’t emerge until June and July. This means that while you will never see all of Ottawa’s butterflies on the wing at the same time, the diversity is ever-changing up until the end of July. Even after that the appearance of regular but unpredictable influxes of migrants keeps things exciting throughout August and September: large population booms of Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, American Ladies and Monarchs might mean a wildly successful breeding season here in Ottawa, while smaller numbers of Orange Sulphurs, Common Buckeyes and American Snouts often find their way here from their breeding range further south.Continue reading