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.
On Monday, November 14th, a female Summer Tanager was discovered in a small field east of the large pond at Bruce Pit. This was the same field where I’d seen an American Copper butterfly several years ago and had so much fun photographing bees and beetles last August. When I woke up on Saturday I really wasn’t planning on chasing this rarity; I wanted to get to the river early and scan for loons, scoters, Long-tailed Ducks, Dunlin and Purple Sandpipers. However, a dense ice-fog put an end to any hopes of birding that morning, and I had to content myself with a single juvenile Herring Gull among the Ring-billed Gulls in the Walmart parking lot after doing some shopping.
The sky remained gray all morning, and at lunch time I checked my email and learned that the Summer Tanager had been seen in the same group of birches in the same location earlier that morning. After I ate I headed out and was happy to see that the clouds were starting to break up. The temperature was 8°C, relatively balmy after a couple of cold mornings last week, and I even saw a few flies buzzing around. I was hoping to see one last Autumn Meadowhawk for the year, but I struck out in that regard.
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.
After my return to Ottawa from southern Ontario I was eager to get out and see what was going on in my favourite conservation areas. On Saturday morning I headed out to Mud Lake where I had an excellent morning, finding 39 species in two hours including nine warblers, three flycatchers, three sparrows, and two thrushes. I didn’t spend much time searching for water birds, but even so I saw the usual mallards, a couple of Wood Ducks, two Spotted Sandpipers, and one Great Blue Heron in the channel behind the ridge. A large number of gulls were roosting on the rocks in the rapids, and I spotted a couple of Herring Gulls among the Ring-bills.
After getting lucky with the Banded Hairstreak on Friday I decided to try for another hairstreak butterfly in a different location nearby: the Acadian Hairstreak. In July 2014 I had found a small colony of these small, gray butterflies at the Bruce Pit and hoped to find them there again this year. It’s also a good spot for birds and dragonflies, so I decided to bring my net and spend some time there. As the “pit” itself has become overgrown with cattails, I decided not to walk down to the water, but to check the meadow above it instead. This turned out to be a wise decision as there were a number of tiny toads at the water’s edge and I didn’t want to accidentally step on any.
It’s hard to believe that it’s mid-summer now; July is over, August is here, and songbird migration is only a few weeks away. When it comes to insects, I’m not thinking as much about seeing the first species of the season as I am wondering whether each individual (except for the darners and meadowhawks) is my last of the season. There are some species I seem to have missed completely this year, such as Emerald Spreadwing (which has a flight season from mid-June to mid-August), Horned Clubtail (mid-May to early July), Stream Cruiser (late May to mid-July), and any of the hairstreak butterflies (the peak of their flight season occurs in the first half of July). This is the result of a combination of bad luck and bad weather; I missed most of these bugs when I went looking in places where I have seen them before, and when I wanted to return later, the cold, overcast and/or rainy weather on the weekends prevented me.
The spreadwing damselflies are some of my favourite damselflies (along with the jewelwings and Violet Dancers and Aurora Damsels and Vesper Bluets and Rainbow Bluets…can I help it that there are so many beautiful and unique damselflies to admire?!) These past few weeks I’ve been able to see five different species, all close to home. Normally when I want to see spreadwings I think of Petrie Island, which usually has an abundance of them, but it seems that all but one of the nine species we have in Ottawa can be found elsewhere, in places like the Richmond Lagoons and Bruce Pit. The only species I haven’t found anywhere other than Petrie Island is the Swamp Spreadwing.