June is my favourite month of the year. This is the month when most insects begin to emerge, their bright wings bringing life and colour to forests, meadows, ponds and backyard gardens. Birds are in full song, and the air is fragrant with all the flowers in bloom. While butterflies and dragonflies become my main focus this time of year, this month I had a second agenda: to continue to look for evidence of breeding for the third Ontario Breeding Bird Atlas. Since I am still working from home as a result of the pandemic, I devoted my morning weekday walks to looking for birds and my longer weekend excursions to looking for all types of wildlife, particularly dragonflies. I thought birding would become boring once migration ended and the resident birds settled down into the more predictable routine of nesting season, but to my surprise I was wrong.
In 2014 and 2016 I found a small population of Acadian Hairstreaks at the base of the toboggan hill at Bruce Pit. It’s been a while since I’ve been there to look for them, or the Gray Treefrogs that I once found scattered on milkweed leaves on a hot August day in 2016, but with hairstreaks now flying I thought it would be a great time to go look for them – especially after finding my lifer Striped Hairstreak at South March Highlands earlier this morning (more on that to follow in a separate post). Hairstreaks are small butterflies with plain brown or gray wings that contain a multitude of colourful blue or coral spots when viewed up close. They always perch with their wings closed, often sit out in the open on leaves or branches between one and five feet above the ground, and are among my favourite local butterflies.
As soon as I arrived I headed to the bottom of the hill to look for the butterflies…and was disappointed to see very few wildflowers. When I had last visited this part of Bruce Pit in July 2016, the edge of the lawn was covered in a large swath of the pink, purple, and yellow flowers of Common Milkweed, Purple Cow Vetch, and Bird’s-foot Trefoil; now there were a few flowers scattered along the margins of the marsh, but it was a far cry from the rampant wildflower meadow I remembered from three years ago. Needless to say, I found no hairstreaks and no treefrogs.
The more you look, the more you see….this is a common theme among those of us who spend our time outdoors with a camera or binoculars, looking for birds, bugs, or just about any facet of nature. The longer a person spends searching an area, whether a quiet bay on a lake, a small urban park, one of the best-known birding hotspots in the city, or even one’s own backyard, the more species a person seems to find – whether they be colourful wildflowers, a new dragonfly or butterfly, small insects they’d never noticed before, or birds that would have been missed if they’d left after that first cursory glance. This, to me, sums up the joy of going outside – it’s a treasure hunt where, instead of targeting one specific thing, any colourful or interesting creature that catches my eye is a treasure! It’s one of the reasons I return to the same spots again and again – to see what “new treasures” might be found there. So of course when I got tired of being indoors at the cottage we rented on Prince Edward Bay in Prince Edward County, I grabbed my camera and went for a walk.
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.
Changing the calendar page from August to September is often a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, songbird migration is just starting to hit its peak, with all sorts of colourful warblers, vireos, grosbeaks, orioles and tanagers moving through the region. It is an exciting time for birding, which will be excellent from the beginning of September through to the end of November – and perhaps beyond. On the other hand, the warm summer days are definitely numbered, with hints of fall showing in the changing colour of the leaves and cooler mornings. Insect diversity is much lower, and by the end of the month perhaps only a couple of odonate species will be left. Autumn is in the air, and even though birding is now my main focus, I still take the opportunity to photograph the colourful and interesting non-avian species that cross my path, as each sighting could be my last until next season. Here are some of the critters that I’ve seen in my travels lately.
On June 28th Chris Lewis, Mike Tate and I spent some time searching for dragonflies at Bruce Pit and Mud Lake. Mike and I arrived at the Bruce Pit first, and when we heard an Indigo Bunting singing in the trees south of the parking lot we went to get a closer look. Not only did we see the beautiful blue male Indigo Bunting, we also found our first White-faced Meadowhawk of the year. This was a bit of a surprise as the meadowhawks are late-season odes that fly well into September and October….it seemed a bit wrong to find one in June! Chris arrived shortly after this discovery and from there we made our way down into the pit. Cattails had grown up along the southwest corner of the pond, making it difficult to navigate. The Marsh Wrens, however, loved this new habitat…we heard at least four of them singing in the reeds.
My fiancé and I spent the week of August 19-23 camping at Grundy Lake Provincial Park with my dad, his girlfriend Sharon, and Sharon’s daughter Ashley. Grundy Lake is a six-hour drive from Ottawa, and is located west of Algonquin Provincial Park about half way between Sudbury and Parry Sound. I couldn’t find any wildlife checklists for the park online, and presumed that it would have many of the same species as Algonquin. Indeed, Grundy Lake is included in the “surrounding area” of my dragonfly field guide The Dragonflies and Damselflies of Algonquin Park and the Surrounding Area, so I knew that this guide at least would be useful.