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Life Among the Milkweeds

Green Immigrant Leaf Weevil

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.

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Rain and Flooding in Ottawa

Palm Warbler

After one of the wettest Aprils on record, both the Ottawa and Gatineau Rivers have burst their banks, causing extensive flooding that has affected hundreds of homes on both sides of the provincial border. A combination of snow melt flowing into the Ottawa River through its various tributaries and the high volume of rainfall this spring caused the water to rise faster than could be controlled by engineers at the various dams along the river. The Ottawa River is the highest it has been in decades, and neither I nor the long-time birders here have seen anything like it.

This month alone (now only seven days old) has seen over 100 mm of rain, with 45mm rain on May 1st, 40mm on Friday, and 20 mm yesterday. In the 24-hour period between Saturday afternoon and Sunday afternoon, the Ottawa River rose 17cm, and, according to the Ottawa River Regulation Planning Board, is expected to rise a further 5cm before its peak on Monday. A state of emergency has been declared in Gatineau, where the Canadian Forces was on hand to help police reach difficult to access areas. On the Ontario side, Cumberland and Constance Bay were the two areas affected most, followed by Britannia, Dunrobin, Fitzroy Harbour and MacLarens Landing.

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Late October Sightings

Black-crowned Night-heron

Although migration continues to progress, I haven’t seen as many late-season migrants as I had hoped. Still, there have been a few highlights during the last week of the month, including the arrival of some of our winter birds.

I headed out to Shirley’s Bay on Sunday, October 23rd, but the wind was so cold and blustery that I didn’t spend much time there. I saw a Merlin perching in a tree along Rifle Road and found my first Snow Buntings of the fall picking their way along the shore. There were only two of them, and they flushed when a couple of photographers got too close – I don’t think they even realized they were there. They may have been trying to get close to a Common Loon swimming fairly close to shore, unremarkable in its gray winter plumage.

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Dragon-hunting at the Bill Mason Center

Azure Bluet

Azure Bluet

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.

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Lepidoptera Along the River

Coral Hairstreak

Coral Hairstreak

Even though we’ve reached the halfway point of the butterfly season, with many early species already gone for another year (including Henry’s Elfin and Juvenal Duskywing), mid-July is still a great time to see a wide diversity of butterflies and moths. I took Friday off work to do some birding and bug-hunting along the Ottawa River and was pleasantly surprised by the various species of lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) I found. Birds and dragonflies were also plentiful, but I took so many pictures that I will save them for another post!

I started the morning at Shirley’s Bay after dropping my fiance off at work. The trails east of the boat launch and the open fields near the Hilda Road feeders are a good spot to find different insects; I’ve seen Prince Baskettails, Halloween Pennants, Giant Swallowtails, and Banded Hairstreaks in this area, though my favourite six-legged discovery was actually a moth: the stunningly beautiful Scarlet-winged Lichen Moth (Hypoprepia miniata). It was probably too early in the season to see another one of these bright red moths, but I did find some other interesting and beautiful bugs.

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A Wood Thrush Duet

Hobomok Skipper

Hobomok Skipper

It feels like migration has ended. Although my focus was on breeding birds this morning, I had hopes of finding a few last migrants moving through, especially after finding a singing Bay-breasted Warbler in my own subdivision yesterday morning in a nearby park. I visited two spots with specific breeding birds in mind – Nortel Marsh for Willow Flycatcher and Savannah Sparrow, and Shirley’s Bay for Brown Thrasher. The trails along the river at Shirley’s Bay are also a good spot to find migrants, such as the Canada Warbler I had there two years ago. And once it warmed up, I had hopes of finding some butterflies and dragonflies.

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Migration Cools Down

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Rose-breasted Grosbeak

Yesterday I headed out relatively late in the morning (8:45 am) as the gray skies, cold temperature, and strong winds did not seem conducive to a productive morning’s birding. The previous week’s temperatures of the low to mid-twenties were gone; yesterday the thermometer plummeted, struggling to reach a paltry high of 9°C. It was one of those mid-spring days where a scarf, gloves, and a winter coat were necessary. I had the scarf and gloves, but didn’t bring my winter coat, thinking that my layers of sweaters beneath my spring coat would be enough. They weren’t.

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