We are now nearly two weeks into September and I have not found as many warblers or songbird migrants as I had hoped. In a previous blog entry I wrote about how edge habitats can be productive for migrants, especially those with a good diversity of plants which provide cover and food sources for not just the birds of the two dominant habitats, but others as well. I’ve been spending most of my weekend mornings at the Eagleson Ponds, followed by trips to other places with good edge habitat – last weekend it was the Old Quarry Trail, Beaver Trail, and Sarsaparilla Trail; this weekend it was the Richmond Sewage Lagoons, Rideau Trail, and Sarsaparilla Trail. Each time I’ve been disappointed, wondering where all the migrants were. I suppose I could just go to Mud Lake and rack up a list of 30+ species there, but it is often packed with birders and photographers this time of year, and I prefer quieter places.
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.
In addition to a lifer bird at Presqu’ile, I also got a lifer butterfly! Presqu’ile Provincial Park is a fabulous place for insects during the summer, and because it is a peninsula, it is well-known for the large numbers of Monarch butterflies that concentrate here in the fall looking for a good north wind to carry them across the lake. Also, because it is 250 km southwest of Ottawa, there are insect species which regularly occur there that only occur in small number or as vagrants in Ottawa.
As soon as we got out of our cars at the beach parking lot I spotted one of my target species, an Orange Sulphur, flying by. I wasn’t able to chase it – it flew off quickly on the strong winds coming from the lake – and I figured I would have a chance to find and photograph one later in the day. As it turns out, that was the only one I saw during our trip that had a definite orange colour in flight.
After another rainy week the sun finally came out on Sunday. My plan was to do some birding and dragon-hunting close to home, starting with a visit to Trail 26 in Stony Swamp. This is the one off of West Hunt Club (Trailhead P11) that runs south to connect with the Jack Pine Trail system; I don’t visit it very often as it doesn’t have any boardwalks, which I prefer when looking for dragonflies. Still, it’s an under-birded gem that deserves more attention, especially in summer when the breeding birds are in full song. I tallied 28 species in just under two hours, with an additional species heard that I wasn’t sure of.
My last day off was Tuesday, and the forecast finally called for a decent amount of sun during the morning and afternoon. I invited a friend, Jon, to go dragon-hunting with me at Morris Island since he was eager to become re-acquainted with odonates after a long absence. There were a few particular species on his must-see list, including Cobra Clubtail, Cyrano Darner and Dragonhunter; I’d seen all of these at Morris Island before, though I wasn’t optimistic about our chances of seeing the Cyrano. Although it is considered to be a widespread species, inhabiting swamps, small lakes, and slow-moving rivers of the eastern half of the continent, adults are rarely seen. It is thought that once they emerge they immediately fly up into the tree tops where they spend most of their time. Adult males can sometimes be found patrolling their territory, and this appeared to be just such a case with the one that I caught in the parking lot of the Morris Island Conservation Area last year. That was on June 25th, however, I was worried that we might be too late to see them.
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.
Rain and thunderstorms were in the forecast Saturday morning, so I went birding close to home as I didn’t have much time before the rain was supposed to start. Although it was still sunny when I left, I decided to visit the Rideau Trail and Sarsaparilla Trail as I knew I didn’t have enough time to visit a larger trail like Jack Pine, though I’ve been meaning to return there for a while now. I haven’t been to these two trails since Labour Day, and was hoping to find some different migrants there, but once again the trails were disappointingly quiet.
When I reached the parking lot at Sarsaparilla Trail the first thing I noticed were a couple of crows flying up into the trees. The second thing I noticed was the Snowshoe Hare in the grass at the edge of the parking lot. It’s been a while since I’ve seen one here; it was good to see that at least one of the two was still around.