I did not get out to Marlborough Forest as often as I would have liked this past summer; ongoing medical issues early in the season left me feeling too tired and too sore for the long five-hour outings I enjoyed so much last year. On June 2nd I visited the E6 trail with Rick Collins to look for the Sedge Wrens breeding there. We heard one without too much difficulty, though we weren’t able to spot it. Our other highlight was a female Ruffed Grouse on the trail trying to lure us away from its chicks (none seen) by giving distress calls. It was a gray, drizzly day so I didn’t see any insects worth photographing. Indeed, I didn’t take my camera out of my bag at all.
The weather was much better on June 19th, so Chris Traynor and I went to trail E4 to look for Twin-spotted Spiketails and some different emerald species for his life list. I was also eager to how him the pool below the culvert as this was where I’d seen my one and only Ocellated Emerald hanging out in 2020. It was a bit windy, but the sun was shining and the weather was warm, and the breeze made the usual biting insects less of a distraction.
I finally returned to Trail E6 in Marlborough Forest on Sunday, July 11th. My goal was to find some skippers, particularly the Two-spotted Skipper which I had found at both trails (E4 and E6) last year, and more emerald dragonflies. I didn’t arrive as early as I normally do, as I was more interested in finding bugs than birds this time. Even so, the birds seemed quieter as I started down the trail just before 8:00 am….although I heard a couple of Wood Thrushes and Winter Wrens and warblers, there seemed to be fewer of everything. It was a while before I even heard my first Red-eyed Vireo, Black-and-white Warbler, and Eastern Wood-pewee, and the silence was puzzling. It is sad to think that breeding season is coming to an end already.
The coyotes, too, were quiet, although the deer flies and mosquitoes that constantly buzzed around me were not. It was difficult to try and listen for birds with their annoying whine constantly droning in my ears. I thought I heard a distant Ovenbird, a distant Scarlet Tanager, and a faint Nashville Warbler, but they only called once and I was too distracted swatting the bloodthirsty bugs away to be sure.
On June 20, 2021 I accompanied fellow OFNC members Derek and Erik to the Carp Barrens Trail off of Thomas Dolan Parkway to assist them in a survey of breeding birds and other wildlife. Because of the sensitivity of the ecosystem and number of at-risk species which breed here, this trail is closed to the public during the summer. In order for us to access the site, Derek had acquired a permit to allow us to look for unique breeding birds such as Black-billed Cuckoo, Eastern Towhee, Common Nighthawks and Whippoorwills. Derek and Erik started around dawn to listen for both nightjars, but heard none. I joined them at 6:00 am while they were still walking along Thomas Dolan Parkway, and together we entered the trail system.
The trail follows a rocky outcrop around a long slough. Many birds were already singing, and we heard the typical open field and woodland edge species: Field Sparrow, White-throated Sparrow, Veery, Scarlet Tanager, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, and many warblers, the best of which (in my humble opinion) included two Pine Warblers, two Yellow-rumped and two Nashville Warblers.
The beginning of June arrived with plenty of warmth and sunshine, and I couldn’t wait to go back to Marlborough Forest at the peak of butterfly and dragonfly season to look for new species living there. Last year when I started going to Marlborough Forest in mid-June, I kept seeing large, dark dragonflies – almost certainly emeralds of some sort – zipping down the shadowy trail before the sun had fully risen above the trees. I never had my net on me when I saw them on my early-morning birding walks, so I was unable to catch one to verify their identity. This time I was prepared for these dawn-flying dragons, and brought my net with me. I had already added one dragonfly to my life list, the Ocellated Emerald at Trail E4 last year; was it possible that there were other species of interest here?
My first summer visit to Trail E4 occurred on June 6th. Although it started cool, it quickly warmed up. The usual birds were singing along the trail, including all the Red-eyed Vireos, Eastern Wood-pewees, Eastern Kingbirds, Veeries, and the Tree Swallows that were missing from my mid-May visit. I heard seven warblers (Ovenbirds, Northern Waterthrushes, Black-and-whites, Nashvilles, Common Yellowthroats, Black-throated Greens, and a single Magnolia Warbler), two Chipping Sparrows, a Field Sparrow, and a Blue-headed Vireo singing in its usual spot in the large open area devastated by motor bikes and ATVs.
My first real dragonfly outing of the year occurred on May 24, 2021, and as usual, took place at Roger’s Pond in Marlborough Forest. I invited a few friends to join me now that outdoor gatherings can include up to 5 people, and fellow OFNC members Derek and Gerald decided to join me. It was a warm, sunny day, and I hoped to find the usual common skimmers and clubtails, as well as a few uncommon species that I’d seen previously at Marlborough Forest such as the elusive Ebony Boghaunter and Harlequin Darner. I’ve already seen one boghaunter this season, but it’s been a few years since I’ve seen a Harlequin Darner, and the Cedar Grove Nature Trail has been a repeat site for this ode.
We met at 9:30 am, just early enough to get some birding in while waiting for the sun to rise higher in the sky. We had the usual Nashville Warblers, Black-throated Green Warblers, Great Crested Flycatchers, White-throated Sparrows, Veeries, and Yellow-bellied Sapsuckers on the walk in. At the pond itself we had Eastern Kingbirds, a Pied-billed Grebe, Common Yellowthroats and four Ring-necked Ducks. Many dragonflies were already flying along the open trail through the cedar forest, including a few teneral whitefaces and emeralds.
The first butterflies that emerge in the spring – usually in late March or April – are the ones that hibernated as adults in deciduous woodlots: Mourning Cloaks, Eastern Commas and Compton Tortoiseshells are the first ones I see every year on those warm, sunny days when the temperature starts reaching 13°C. The next wave emerges when it warms up long enough for those that hibernated in the chrysalis stage to emerge as adults: the elfins and azures and whites and swallowtails are included in this group, although I usually see the first Northern Spring Azures and Henry’s Elfins first, in late April and early May, with the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail and Black Swallowtail following in mid-May. Next come the species that overwintered as mature caterpillars, such as the duskywings – the first skippers to appear each year – and the crescents. All of these are typically seen in May in our region, while butterflies that overwinter as younger caterpillars (the browns and fritillaries) and eggs (coppers and hairstreaks) don’t emerge until June and July. This means that while you will never see all of Ottawa’s butterflies on the wing at the same time, the diversity is ever-changing up until the end of July. Even after that the appearance of regular but unpredictable influxes of migrants keeps things exciting throughout August and September: large population booms of Red Admirals, Painted Ladies, American Ladies and Monarchs might mean a wildly successful breeding season here in Ottawa, while smaller numbers of Orange Sulphurs, Common Buckeyes and American Snouts often find their way here from their breeding range further south.
Marlborough Forest has been long known to me as a special place to find some of the more unusual species of the Ottawa area – various trips to the Cedar Grove Nature Trail over the past ten years have turned up Mink Frogs, Eastern Newts and Red Efts, Blue-spotted Salamanders, Bronze Coppers, Silvery Checkerspots, Harvesters, Calico Pennants, Brush-tipped Emeralds, Lake Darners, Twin-Spotted Spiketails, Ebony Jewelwings, and Aurora Damsels. The one “specialty” of Marlborough Forest that I had not yet found, and search for every time I go, is the Smooth Green Snake – it has managed to elude me every single visit.
In most years dragonfly season begins around the Victoria Day weekend (which always falls on the third Monday of May). I remember visiting Mud Lake on the long weekend in years past and seeing up to a hundred of freshly emerged dragonflies perching in the trees there. However, in the last few years it seems that dragonfly season has started later than normal – the long-lingering cooler spring weather has played a large part in this, as emergence depends chiefly on the temperature of the water the dragonfly nymphs are living in. By the second weekend of May I’d go out eagerly hoping to see the first dragonflies of the year, and by the end of May I’d still be looking for them. Even when I eventually found some, such as last year, numbers would be low, and it would take time for the season to get back on track. Numbers remained low in Ottawa all summer last year for some reason, though we think that the unprecedented spring flooding might have been the cause, either washing away the small nymphs or dumping unhealthy amounts of debris, sediment, and chemical-laden runoff in areas where they breed.
On June 5th I headed out to Dunrobin to spend some time looking for odes and birds. My first stop was the Crazy Horse Trail on March Road at the end of Huntmar Road. This is a relatively new pedestrian-only trail for hikers, skiers, and snowshoers that was developed by the Friends of the Carp Hills under an agreement with the City of Ottawa. It is named for an old tavern that used to stand adjacent to the trailhead but has long since been demolished. The goal of the trail is to provide recreational access to the the Carp Hills on City-owned property while keeping impact on the environment to a minimum. The trail is narrow, and as there is no intention to groom or widen the trail, people are asked to respect the natural areas by staying on the trail, keeping dogs under control at all times (which means using a leash if necessary), leaving no waste, and respecting property boundaries. There are some rough, volunteer-built boardwalks in places too wet to cross which adds to its charm. In fact, all trail maintenance and improvement depends on volunteers, rather than the City, which makes it doubly important to respect the work they have done in creating this trail. Continue reading →
Back in 2015 I wrote a blog post about the odonates I found at Andrew Haydon Park one weekday afternoon near the end of July. Since discovering the colony of Halloween Pennants at AHP in 2014, I’ve made it a point to visit this park each year during mid-summer; it’s much closer than travelling all the way to Morris Island to see this stunning dragonfly! So far I’ve only made it out to Morris Island once this year, and when I found no Halloween Pennants flying along the causeway I decided to visit Andrew Haydon Park specifically to search for this species. With the strange, slow start to the season I was bit apprehensive about whether these odes would even be around at AHP, but thankfully I found a few on each of my visits, and in good numbers, too.