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).
One of the wonderful things about this time of year is that when I go out somewhere hoping to see one thing, I often end up find myself captivated by something completely different. On June 16th I went to the South March Highlands hoping to find some new butterflies and dragonflies to add to the iNaturalist project I created a while back. This is such a large conservation area, containing a number of different habitats, that it seemed peculiar to me that I have not seen a corresponding variety in these two orders of insects…instead, I’ve seen only the most common species. I had a long walk (over 5 km in total) and saw some good birds, and even added a new dragonfly to the project (more on that later!), but it wasn’t until I was almost done that I came across something that absolutely fascinated me: an old stump covered in wasps.
On the first day of the long weekend I decided to look for odonates at Mud Lake. Specifically, I wanted to find some spreadwings, Fragile Forktails, darners, big river clubtails, or Swift River Cruisers, as I hadn’t seen any of these yet this season. I ended up seeing a couple of Slender Spreadwings, a few skimmer species, one big river clubtail perching on a rock in the river (likely a Black-shouldered Spinyleg), and little else in the way of odes. Unfortunately my best dragonfly of the day turned out to the first one of the day, a skimmer that flew in from the lake, landed, and hung from a leaf about two feet above my head. I could only see the underside and I registered only two things: that it had large coloured patches on the hindwings, and that it appeared red. My first thought was that it was a Calico Pennant, but the spots didn’t look quite right, and the dragonfly seemed larger than a Calico Pennant. I moved around the shrub to get a view of it from the top, but the dragonfly flew off before I could get a photo or even a better look. Only later did I wonder if it was a saddlebags of some sort, or perhaps even a Widow Skimmer whose colours I’d misjudged. I’m not sure what it was, but I really regretted not getting a photo or better look.
On Saturday, July 28th I wasn’t able to get out birding, so on Sunday I headed over to the Eagleson storm water ponds. There were only two species of herons (Great Blue Heron and Great Egret) and one species of sandpiper (Spotted Sandpiper) but the Osprey flew over and hovered over the main pond before flying off, and I found a Red-eyed Vireo feeding its offspring. This was a surprise to me as I have heard this species singing in this area only twice this year, both times in May, and thought that they were just passing through. Red-eyed Vireos sing long into the summer, well into the afternoon, and are easily detected on their breeding grounds, so I’m curious as to where the female actually nested – here at the ponds, or somewhere nearby. All the usual bird species were still present, including a few Barn Swallows and a Northern Flicker flying over the pond, but Common Grackles were noticeably absent – they have now dispersed from the ponds, and last weekend I had an even dozen at my feeder, mostly juveniles! Continue reading →
In late August I took my usual trip to southern Ontario to see my Dad. As usual, we spent a few days at his trailer in the Pinehurst Lake Conservation Area. The birding was fine, although this time there were no flocks of migrants moving through; instead the birds still seemed busy with raising and feeding their young, even this late in the summer. For example, I saw a Red-eyed Vireo feeding a Brown-headed Cowbird, a young Indigo Bunting following its parent around, and a House Wren carrying food. We didn’t see the Broad-winged Hawk family this year either, which was disappointing. However, the insects were fascinating, and I found a lot to photograph.
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.
On August 7th I met up with Chris Lewis at Shirley’s Bay for a morning of birding and dragon-hunting. The morning got off to a great start when I saw a group of Wild Turkeys along Rifle Road even before I met Chris at the parking lot; there were two adults and a couple of baby turkeys! As soon as I stopped the car the adult turkeys began herding their offspring away from the road. Although they weren’t that close to begin with, it was cute to watch the babies stop and peck at the weeds while Mom and Dad steadily walked toward the back of the meadow. I’ve seen Wild Turkeys in that field before, but this was the first time I’d seen them with any young, and it was a thrilling experience.
While at the Dunlop Picnic area, Chris and I got a call from Chris Traynor saying that he was on his way up to Meech Lake. Chris Lewis and I were on our way there next, and it didn’t take him long to catch up with us as we were walking down the large hill to the lake, listening to the vireos and a Blackburnian Warbler singing. Our destination was the waterfall at the old Carbide Wilson ruins where we hoped to find the snaketails Chris T. had reported seeing earlier in the week. However, first we spent some time exploring the shore of the lake where we found Powdered Dancers, a Chalk-fronted Corporal, and a couple of clubtails on logs too far from shore to identify. It was too early for the Slaty Skimmers to be flying; these dark blue dragonflies are one of my personal favourites, but we saw more than enough other species to make up for their absence.
On July 26th I decided to try a new trail in Stony Swamp instead of visiting my usual haunts. There is a parking lot on West Hunt Club (P11) just east of Moodie Drive; the trails there cross the hydro cut that runs past the Beaver Trail and Rideau Trail parking lots, and connect with the Jack Pine Trail system deep in the woods. I have visited the trails once or twice in the past, including last December when the OFNC conducted an impromptu woodpecker count and found a male Black-Backed Woodpecker there (which our group never saw). Because there is no water there I usually go elsewhere to look for dragonflies; however, the hydro cut near the Rideau Trail is a great spot for butterflies, and I thought I might find some interesting bugs at Trail 26.
After I got back from Nova Scotia I was looking forward to doing some birding and dragon-hunting at home. As I had a full work week I wasn’t able to get out until Saturday, July 18th. It was an overcast morning, not great for bug-hunting, so I made Andrew Haydon Park my first stop. It was too early for any songbird migrants to have shown up, but an adult Brant had been seen in the park several times over the past two weeks, and I was hoping that post-breeding dispersal had resulted in some other new arrivals.
I spent an enjoyable hour there, seeing 27 species in total. One of my highlights was watching four Caspian Terns hunting in the western bay along with two Common Terns. The size difference was amazing – the Common Terns appeared small and slender, while the Caspian Terns were larger and heftier. Several Purple Martins from the Dick Bell colony hunted insects in the sky, while one Great Blue Heron, two Great Egrets and three Hooded Mergansers hunted for fish in the river close to shore. A Lesser Yellowlegs and a Least Sandpiper had joined the resident Killdeer and Spotted Sandpipers in the developing mudflats in the western bay.