Weather in April can be described in only one way: changeable. It can turn from spring to summer to winter in the matter of hours, making it difficult to know how to dress any given day – you may need a hat and gloves in the morning, then be wearing shorts in the afternoon. Even the weather toward the end of the month can be variable. Last Thursday (April 27th) Ottawa’s temperature reached a sunny, humid high of 26°C; yesterday (April 30th) the rain clouds moved in and temperatures barely reached 5°C.
Migrants have been returning in large numbers despite the inconstant weather. On Friday I woke up to see two White-crowned Sparrows on my backyard, and they were there again Sunday morning. This was a year bird for me, and the earliest date I’ve recorded them in my yard; normally they arrive during the first week of May, with my previous early date being May 4th.
On August 27th, the last Saturday of the month, I headed out to a spot I normally don’t visit so late in the summer – Roger’s Pond along the Cedar Grove Nature Trail. I usually go in May and June when early-season dragonflies are flying, such as the locally rare Ebony Boghaunter, the uncommon Harlequin Darner and Brush-tipped Emerald, as well as the usual whitefaces, Racket-tailed Emeralds, Spiny and Beaverpond Baskettails, and Aurora Damsels. I had two reasons for wanting to go: the first was the Band-winged Meadowhawk, a species I had seen in good numbers here on one late-summer visit several years ago but have had trouble finding recently, and the second was a yearning to find some Aeshna darners. After seeing such a good variety at my Dad’s trailer and failing to find the Variable Darner at Bruce Pit, I thought that Roger’s Pond might be a good spot to look for Ottawa’s common and uncommon species.
By the third week of May the weather finally warmed up enough to do some dragon-hunting, so on May 21st I made plans with Chris L. and Jakob M. to go to Roger’s Pond in Marlborough Forest to look for birds, bugs and herps. We had great luck with all three, though mammals were sadly lacking. I’m not sure why I don’t see many mammals at this trail; the only one I can remember seeing with any certainty was a Snowshoe Hare right on the gravel trail as it ran by me.
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.
When I returned to Ottawa on May 15th I was happy to hear that dragonfly season had begun – fellow OFNC member Chris Traynor had already reported seeing a Hudsonian Whiteface, American Emerald, and a baskettail species (likely a Beaverpond Baskettail) the day before I returned. Last year I didn’t have my first real dragonfly outing until May 31st (chiefly because I was away in Florida the weekend before that), but even so this seemed early.
Eager to see some dragonflies, I checked a few trails in Stony Swamp early on Saturday morning, but found none – though it was warm, the sky was too overcast. I did, however, observe a couple of new birds for my year list, including an Eastern Wood-Pewee, Alder Flycatcher and Clay-colored Sparrow at Jack Pine Trail and a Black-throated Blue Warbler at the Beaver Trail. I was also pleased to hear two Brown Thrashers at Jack Pine Trail, a species I have never observed there before, and a total of nine warbler species including Ovenbird, Black-and-white Warbler, Tennessee Warbler, Nashville Warbler, Common Yellowthroat, American Redstart, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Pine Warbler and Black-throated Green Warbler. In addition to these, a singing Black-throated Blue Warbler and a Yellow-rumped Warbler were at the Beaver Trail.
Marlborough Forest is not only a great place for birds and odonates, it is a wonderful spot for butterflies, too. When I arrived I spotted a couple of large butterflies fluttering through the parking lot as soon as I arrived; at least three White Admirals were basking on the sunlit gravel, though they kept chasing one another into the vegetation. I was hoping to get a photo of one perching on a leaf, but they were so active I wasn’t able to get any pictures. This Northern Crescent was much calmer, resting on a leaf while the much-larger Chalk-fronted Corporals hunted close by.
Today I left at 9:00 am – much later than I usually go out when I’m birding – to go dragon-hunting at Marlborough Forest. I had really enjoyed my outing there two weeks ago and wanted to see the Aurora Damsels and Brush-tipped Emeralds again. And while I didn’t think I would see the Twin-spotted Spiketail again, I wanted to go back to the bridge to look for Ebony Jewelwings.
When I arrived I checked the vegetation at the edge of the parking lot and found lots of Sedge Sprites, Chalk-fronted Corporals, three White Admirals and a couple of Northern Crescents, but no Aurora Damsels. This was likely because I had arrived earlier in the day than my last visit, and the western edge of the parking lot was still in shade.