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 July I wrote a post called “Among the Flowers” after finding a fantastic number of insects – including bees, beetles, odes and butterflies – in the wildflower meadow at Bruce Pit. Seven weeks have passed since that visit, and when I returned for a visit yesterday, I had no choice but to follow up that post with this one. The flowers in bloom have changed since that early-July visit, but the insect diversity has not – despite the lateness of the season, there were a fantastic variety of bugs there lurking among the flowers.
I originally chose to visit Bruce Pit in the hope of seeing some darners there – I’d seen none at Mud Lake earlier that morning, and recalled that Chris Traynor had found some Variable Darners late in the season last year (September 18, 2015) along the hydro cut. My plan was to spend some time near the water looking for spreadwings and skimmers, then check out the hydro cut for darners. I didn’t find much around the water – there were lots of Lyre-tipped Spreadwings still present – so I headed up into the field just above the water.
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 the first day of June I brought my camera to work with me and headed over to Hurdman at lunch, hoping to find some interesting butterflies and odes to photograph. Hurdman can be a very “buggy” place, so I was sure to find something interesting; at that time I still hadn’t seen my first damselflies of the year, and Hurdman is a great spot to find Eastern Forktails, Elegant Spreadwings, Powdered Dancers, Stream Bluets and Rainbow Bluets during the month of June. However, with the closure of the transitway between Hurdman and Laurier stations, as well as the detours and increased traffic on Nicholas Street resulting from the sinkhole on Rideau Street, it now takes much longer to get there so I am no longer able to spend as much time there on my lunch hour as I would like. Getting around downtown has become and adventure, and timely bus schedules have become the first casualty of all the construction.
Hurdman Park along the shore of the Rideau River is a great spot for birding, but is not one of my top destinations for ode-hunting. This is because species diversity is generally low, and most dragons and damsels found here can readily be found in other spots. The two species that make it worthwhile visiting after spring migration has ended are the Rainbow Bluet and the Cherry-faced Meadowhawk, both of which have colonies here that I discovered here several years ago and have seen every year since. It used to be a great spot for Springtime Darners early in the summer, though it has now been a few years since my last a confirmed sighting. This is the one species I truly miss, as Hurdman is the only spot I’ve ever seen these early-flying darners. The one other notable species that makes Hurdman visiting later in the summer, while the Cherry-faced Meadowhawks are still flying, is the Wandering Glider. I have seen these migratory dragonflies flying in small swarms with Common Green Darners in open areas in at least three different years, and hope to see them later this year when they become more common.
On June 14th I returned to Roger’s Pond in Marlborough Forest to see if I could find another Twin-spotted Spiketail flying along the creek. I had had one there last year on June 2nd, and wasn’t sure whether it was too late for these large, handsome dragonflies. In any event, even if I couldn’t find the spiketail, there were plenty of other Marlborough Forest specialties to search for, including Silvery Checkerspots, Aurora Damsels, and Brush-tipped Emeralds. None of these were present on my visit here with Chris and Lorraine, but should have emerged in decent numbers by mid-June. I spent some time scanning the vegetation surrounding the parking lot for the Aurora Damsels, and found only one – then quickly lost it. Mindful of the poison ivy growing at the edges of the parking lot, I wasn’t able to search the thicker vegetation at the back too thoroughly, but I did come up with a few interesting bugs.
One flower that does really well in my garden in the late summer is the aster. I purchased a plant from a local nursery a few years ago, and although I don’t remember which type it is, every year it comes back and produces a bounty of small, purple flowers. It has spread over the years, turning my back garden into an untidy mess of green and purple each September; and this year I even noticed a few plants growing in my lawn!
Asters provide a wonderful source of pollen and nectar in the early autumn when few plants are flowering. In fact, the nectar provided by late-blooming flowers helps to ensure that bee colonies are strong enough to endure the winter. Other insects that benefit from the asters are beetles, butterflies, moths, wasps, hover flies, and sweat bees, such as the one shown to the right. I usually spend some time checking out the various visitors on the flowers each autumn, but for some reason this year I never made the time. Then one day just after the September equinox I happened to notice a large number of insects buzzing around the flowers when I came home from work. I went out with my camera to have a look and was surprised by the bugs that I found!
Migration is well under way, and although Hurdman Park was an excellent spot for seeing migrants last spring, it hasn’t been as active this fall. I have only been able to get out a few times so far this month, however, so I’m not sure whether there really are fewer birds around, or if the days that I go just happen to be quiet ones (sort of like my recent trips to Point Pelee!). Migration patterns ebb and flow throughout the season, with cold fronts providing the best conditions for seeing birds. September has been warm so far, which means there haven’t been any of the spectacular fall-outs that occur immediately after a cold front passes through. Yet the birds keep trickling in, so I’ve managed to see something interesting each time I visit! Usually I encounter only one flock of migrants each visit, rather than numerous birds spread throughout the park. The trick is to find that flock with only a 40-minute lunch break!
On August 31st I left Sarsaparilla Trail at about 9:30 am and drove over to Mud Lake, perhaps Ottawa’s best-known migrant trap. Situated on a constriction of the Ottawa River, it is bounded by the river to the north and east and by houses and shopping plazas to the west and south. Birds flying south from Gatineau Park likely end up at Mud Lake, which has hosted about 250 bird species, or approximately 75% of all species recorded in the OFNC study area (a 50-kilometer radius centered on the Peace Tower). It has had more than its fair share of rarities over the years, including Razorbill, Eurasian Wigeon, Harlequin Duck, Little Blue Heron, Forster’s Tern, Little Gull, Gray Kingbird, Connecticut Warbler, Prairie Warbler, Cerulean Warbler, Prothonotary Warbler, Worm-eating Warbler, and Yellow-breasted Chat.
Deb and I went to Algonquin Park last Sunday to enjoy some birds, fall colours, and late-season odonates. The fall colours were said to be at their peak, and with the temperature expected to reach a beautiful, sunny 20°C, we couldn’t have asked for a better day. Unfortunately the great weather enticed several other carloads and busloads of people to visit, so the park was the busiest we had ever seen it. Police were stopping people before they drove into the park to remind them of the speed limit (only 80 km/h in the park, and 50 km/h at the gate), and the parking lots along Highway 60 were full of cars – most even had a tour bus or two parked at the entrance. Some trails (such as the Lookout Trail and Peck Lake Trail) were so busy the cars had spilled out of the parking lot and were parked along the narrow shoulder of Highway 60.