After another rainy week the sun finally came out on Sunday. My plan was to do some birding and dragon-hunting close to home, starting with a visit to Trail 26 in Stony Swamp. This is the one off of West Hunt Club (Trailhead P11) that runs south to connect with the Jack Pine Trail system; I don’t visit it very often as it doesn’t have any boardwalks, which I prefer when looking for dragonflies. Still, it’s an under-birded gem that deserves more attention, especially in summer when the breeding birds are in full song. I tallied 28 species in just under two hours, with an additional species heard that I wasn’t sure of.
July has arrived, and today’s weather was typical of summer – hot and sunny for most of the day with thundershowers rolling in later in the afternoon. Fortunately there was no humidity, which made my morning in Stony Swamp looking for breeding birds and bugs comfortable.
It was clear from my outing today that we are at the peak of the breeding season, one of my favourite times of year. Although some birders become afflicted by the “summer birding doldrums” in the period between when the birds stop singing and songbird migration starts in the fall, I was surprised to find that the doldrums have already been referenced in both eBird’s latest monthly challenge and in every OFNC bird sighting report since June 16th. There are too many birds around – including nestlings and the newly fledged young following their parents about – and still so many birds singing right now that I probably won’t become desperately bored until about mid-August when I start longing for the first wave of warblers and insectivores to arrive.
The end of September is a good time to see a variety of hover flies (also known as flower flies, syrphid flies, or syrphids). It is also the end of dragonfly season. Most odonates are already done for the season – only a handful of species will continue flying into October, with the last species, Autumn Meadowhawk, flying into November if the weather cooperates.
As the last week of September was still quite warm, I was able to find and photograph a few different species of both insects – even in my own backyard! I finally added Autumn Meadowhawk to my official yard list on September 19th. I’ve seen a few meadowhawks in my yard over the years, but have only identified White-faced Meadowhawk and Band-winged Meadowhawk so far. I found it on the asters at the back of the yard, although it flew up onto the fence when I tried to get closer for a photo. Given how abundant and widespread it is, the Autumn Meadowhawk was the most likely species to be added to my yard list. Now that it has shown up in my yard, I’m not sure what the next likeliest species is – Common Green Darner? Twelve-spotted Skimmer?
Changing the calendar page from August to September is often a bittersweet moment. On the one hand, songbird migration is just starting to hit its peak, with all sorts of colourful warblers, vireos, grosbeaks, orioles and tanagers moving through the region. It is an exciting time for birding, which will be excellent from the beginning of September through to the end of November – and perhaps beyond. On the other hand, the warm summer days are definitely numbered, with hints of fall showing in the changing colour of the leaves and cooler mornings. Insect diversity is much lower, and by the end of the month perhaps only a couple of odonate species will be left. Autumn is in the air, and even though birding is now my main focus, I still take the opportunity to photograph the colourful and interesting non-avian species that cross my path, as each sighting could be my last until next season. Here are some of the critters that I’ve seen in my travels lately.
On Saturday, August 8th I spent my morning in the west end, heading out early (6:40 am) to the Richmond Lagoons before returning to the unnamed Stony Swamp trail on West Hunt Club Road. According to the official NCC map, this trail, which starts at parking lot no. P11, is designated as Trail #26. This is where I had the Black-billed Cuckoo on July 26th and found a good number of birds to add to the eBird checklist for this site. I wasn’t sure if I could repeat that feat, but it seemed worth a try.
The Richmond Lagoons were very rewarding, though difficult to navigate as the side trails had not been mowed in some time. Worse, the dreaded Wild Parsnip has invaded the area. I first noticed huge swathes of this plant along the side of Highway 417 just outside the city while driving back from Nova Scotia in mid-July. Since then I’ve noticed it growing in the ditch along Old Richmond Road and small patches at Mud Lake (right where Chris and I started our dragonfly walks a few years ago) and Trail #26. This plant has gained a bad reputation for its phototoxic properties – if get the sap on your skin and are then exposed to sunlight, it will burn you.
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.