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Costa Rica: Birding the Palo Verde area

Social Flycatcher

I hired a bird guide for two of our days in Costa Rica, and on Monday we spent half a day in the Palo Verde area. Olivier (pronounced Olive-YAIR, not O-liv-ee-ay) Esquivel of Natural Discovery was recommended to me by another tour guide who was unavailable for any one-day birding tours during our week, and has excellent reviews on several internet sites including Trip Advisor and Birdforum.net. Ollie, as we were told to call him, met us at the resort gate at 6:00 am, which isn’t as bad as it sounds since we were still operating on Eastern Daylight Time, which is two hours ahead. I liked him right away, as he managed to project both experienced professionalism and keen enthusiasm during our initial meeting, and his knowledge quickly became apparent during our time together.

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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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At Petrie Island

Reticulate Fruitworm Moth

Reticulate Fruitworm Moth

On July 17th, Chris Lewis and a few other friends and I went dragon-hunting at Petrie Island. Although the morning started out cool, it quickly warmed up, and as a result we saw lots of great bugs. We started our outing by searching the vegetation between the parking lot and the first small bay, usually a productive area for some of the smaller dragonflies and damselflies. This is the only spot at Petrie Island where I’ve seen Vesper Bluet and Orange Bluet, and we spent a good half hour examining the shrubs for these small damselflies. Although both species are considered common in the Northeast, Petrie Island is the only place where I’ve seen them. However, both species are more active later in the day, and since I usually do my birding in the morning and early afternoon, it is possible I’ve missed them in other places.

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The “Wild Ode West” Dragon-hunting Adventure

Widow Skimmer

Widow Skimmer

Chris Lewis and I had such a great time dragon-hunting in Gatineau last weekend that on June 25th we decided to hit several spots west of Ottawa to search for several local and unique species. On our list of locations were the Quyon Ferry Dock near Fitzroy to look for big river species, Morris Island for clubtails and skimmers, and Pakenham, Blakeney and Almonte for Rapids Clubtail. Before heading out to the Quyon Ferry Dock we stopped in at the fields near Constance Bay to look for Upland Sandpipers. We got lucky and found four. Not only did we see a couple of them flying over the fields, giving their distinctive call, we found one standing right on the shoulder of the road! Unfortunately we caused it to flush before I could get a photo of this bird; I still have yet to photograph this speices. Indeed, this was the closest I’ve ever come to one of an Upland Sandpiper, which are difficult to find as they breed and feed in dry grasslands rather than muddy shorelines.

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An OFNC outing at Petrie Island

Eastern Amberwing

Eastern Amberwing

On August 2nd, 2015 I led a dragonfly outing at Petrie Island for the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club. Because I would be leading it on my own, and because the small size of dragonflies and damselflies makes it difficult to point them out to large groups, I decided to limit the group to ten people. Fellow dragon-hunters and Birds Committee members Chris Traynor and Lorraine Elworthy signed up for the outing, as did Jakob Mueller, who led the reptile and amphibian outing at Sheila McKee Park earlier in the year. I recognized Lynne Ovenden from the OFNC; the others were all unknown to me.

I started our outing by talking about the differences between dragonflies and damselflies, as well as the different groups belonging to each family. We would be looking for spreadwing damselflies, which hold their wings out at a 45° angle instead of parallel to their back; emeralds and darners, which are most commonly found flying through the air searching for aerial prey; and skimmers, which tend to hunt from a perch and are usually the most approachable types of dragonflies for photography. As I was speaking, a bright green female Eastern Pondhawk was hunting from a perch in the vegetation, often flying out to snatch an insect from the air. At one point it even landed on one of the group members!

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Mid-summer

Giant Swallowtail

Giant Swallowtail

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.

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Dragonflies on Lily pads

Slaty Skimmer

Slaty Skimmer

On Friday, June 26 I took the day off work to go dragon-hunting at Morris Island. First, however, I stopped in at the Deschenes Rapids parking lot at the end of Woodroffe Avenue to go searching for not one, but two rare birds. The Little Egret was back after having spent some time wandering along the Jock River near Manotick, the ponds along Eagleson Road, the pond near Palladium Drive in Kanata, and however many unknown places in between. The egret has finally found a spot to its liking along the Ottawa River, spending the past few days at the mouth of Pinecrest Creek on the east side of Mud Lake or along the shore of Andrew Haydon Park in the mornings before flying off to spend the day elsewhere. In the evenings, it has been seen flying in to roost on Conroy Island, presumably because it feels at home with the colony of Great Egrets, Black-crowned Night Herons and Ring-billed Gulls that nest there. This pattern has become somewhat predictable, so that many people who missed it elsewhere have been able to see it.

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