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.
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.
I enjoyed myself so much the previous weekend at the South March Highlands that I returned to the milkweed patch today to see if I could find more Little Glassywing skippers to photograph. When I arrived just after 10:30 am it was warm but the sun was playing hide-and-seek among the clouds. I saw several Dun Skippers perching low among the vegetation, and every time I saw a dark brown female with white spots on her wings I stopped to see if it was a Little Glassywing instead. None of them were, and I continued my search. Then I found a pair of Dun Skippers, male and female, resting fairly close together and took a photograph to capture them in the same frame. A few shots later, my battery died. I decided to head home and charge the battery, and wait a while to see if the sun would come out. A few hours later it did, and I returned at 4:30.
After my visit to the South March Highlands on June 16, 2019, as I started logging all my photos into iNaturalist I thought how great it would be if there was a citizen scientist project that documented all the flora and fauna of the South March Highlands. This is an area that has already lost precious wetlands and old-growth habitat to developers, and still continues to be threatened today. As a few limited studies have already identified a number of species at risk within the South March Highlands, I was surprised to see that no one had created a project on iNaturalist – one of the easiest ways to document the flora and fauna living within a defined area.
iNaturalist is to plants and wildlife what eBird is to birds – a collective database that anyone can contribute to. And while the observations entered into iNaturalist depend heavily on photos submitted, the beauty of setting up a project is that it will automatically collect all the observations from the geographical area defined by the creator, subject to the parameters of the project – there are general species projects for geographical areas (such as Mud Lake and Gatineau Park), projects for specific types of wildlife (such as the Lady Beetles of Ontario or the CWF’s Help the Turtles project), and specialty projects dedicated to certain types of behavior (such as my personal favourite, Odonates Eating). It doesn’t take long to create a project – the most time-consuming part for me is defining the boundaries on the map. So during the next few days I spent some time tinkering with the iNaturalist website, and thus the South March Highlands Species Project was born. Continue reading →
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.
Most new or casual birders find the identification of flycatchers frustrating. Some are distinct enough in appearance to be easily identified, such as the black and white Eastern Kingbird and the Great Crested Flycatcher with its yellow belly and rich, rusty upperparts. The Eastern Phoebe pumps its tail, which is a great clue to its identity. I have the most difficulty with Eastern Wood-pewees (mostly when found in open areas – they breed in the woods) and Empidonax flycatchers, as they are confusingly similar in appearance. Empidonax flycatchers, or Empids for short, are brownish-gray above and white below, with white eye rings of varying sizes and two whitish wing bars. The only surefire way for me to identify them is to wait until they open their beak and sing – each flycatcher has a unique song, which makes things even easier as you don’t even need to get a great look at the bird.
Chris Traynor and I found more than just dragonflies in Gatineau Park – there were lots of other birds and bugs at the Sugarbush Trail and Dunlop Picnic area to keep us busy. The birds were typical of a morning in early summer – many were singing in the woods and open areas, but few were actually seen. We heard a Scarlet Tanager, White-throated Sparrow, Brown Creeper, Common Raven, Eastern Wood-Pewee, Great Crested Flycatcher, Veery, Black-and-white Warbler and a pair of Common Yellowthroats; I managed to see a Yellow Warbler, a Belted Kingfisher flying through the woods down the creek, and an Ovenbird that posed out in the open long enough for a few photos. It wasn’t the birds I had come to see, however, and the variety of odonates and insects we found was amazing. My previous post covers all the dragonflies we found; this post is limited to the damselflies and other insects we saw.
After leaving Cape Breton Doran and I spent the rest of our vacation in Greenwood. We stayed with Doran’s foster mother, Iris, just outside of town on the South Mountain; though at 275 metres in height, the “mountain” is the same height as the Eardley Escarpment in Gatineau. This granite ridge forms the southern edge of the Annapolis Valley and protects it from severe weather blowing in from the Atlantic Ocean. There are plenty of fields and small woodlots along the roadways on top of the mountain, and small lakes and larger swathes of mixed forest beyond the main roads. Iris’s property consisted of a large yard with a small woodlot containing a swampy area at the back; if that wasn’t enough for me, there was a dirt road close by which was wooded on one side and had a dense scrubby meadow on the other. All of this made for some excellent habitat to look for wildlife.
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.
The September long weekend is my favourite birding weekend. Large numbers of songbirds suddenly pour into Ottawa, including hummingbirds, flycatchers, tanagers, grosbeaks and, of course, those perennial favourites, the warblers. This early in the season, only a small percentage are likely to be Yellow-rumps, meaning that a good variety of species can be found with some persistence. Migrant traps like Mud Lake can be fabulous, but any place with a good edge habitat can be productive. Edge habitat typically means the boundary between two different ecosystems such as forest and field, lake and land, or any combination of these. The best edge habitats have a good diversity of plants of varying height and structure in the transition zone between the two habitats. These provide cover and food sources for not just the birds of the two dominant habitats, but also migrants and other creatures including butterflies, odonates, and mammals.