On Saturday, July 3rd I accompanied the McNamara Field Naturalists on their first in-person outing since the latest Stay-at-Home Order ended on June 2nd. Ontario entered Stage 2 of its reopening plan on July 2nd, which raised the number of people who could attend outdoor social gatherings and organized public events to 25 people (as well as allowing haircuts and personal care services again). Although I am not a member of the McNamara Field Naturalists Club, which calls Arnprior home but whose explorations include a large swath of the Ottawa Valley, one of my friends happens to be in charge of putting field trips together, and asked if I wanted to help lead a dragonfly walk. I said yes, and suggested Morris Island as it’s a great place to find all sorts of odes, including several flashy skimmers and clubtails that can be found perching in the vegetation and along the trails. I was thrilled when my mentor Chris Lewis joined us, as it would be easier to find some more of the unique species with a couple of knowledgeable people looking.
I never thought I would see three butterfly species on a single day this late in October. But when the forecast called for a sunny high of 24°C on Friday before dropping back down to a week of temperatures hovering in the single digits, I took an extended lunch to explore one of my new favourite places: Steeple Hill Park in the small village of Fallowfield. As soon as I pulled up to the soccer field behind the church I saw a Turkey Vulture gliding south, followed by a Red-tailed Hawk heading in the same direction. I didn’t see many other bird species this late in the day (it was after 1:00 by the time I arrived), even though I started in my usual spot in the weedy field behind the graveyard. There were no sparrows in the field today, and it wasn’t until I reached the furthest corner that I saw my first butterfly: a worn Clouded Sulphur fluttering close to the ground. The day was quite breezy, and the sulphur kept landing low among the vegetation where I couldn’t get a decent photo. Then, as I was following it around trying to get an unobstructed photo, I found a second butterfly, this one much smaller: an Eastern Tailed Blue.
When I’m not busy looking for birds and bugs at the Eagleson Ponds, I’ll be at one of the many other trails and conservation areas in west end. Stony Swamp attracts its fair share of migrants, and is home to numerous fascinating reptiles, amphibians, and insects, so I spend a lot of time there in the warmer months. Jack Pine Trail and the Beaver Trail are my favourite trails as the loops are small enough that they can be completed quickly, with a variety of habitats to attract different wildlife; however, Sarsaparilla Trail can also be amazing, although the boardwalk is still closed for repairs. I really mean to spend more time at Old Quarry Trail and Lime Kiln Trail, but as these are a bit further away, with larger trail systems, I often opt for the convenience of one of the other trails instead – especially if I have plans to go elsewhere after, such as Mud Lake or Andrew Haydon park.
This morning I stopped by the Eagleson Ponds to see if any new migrants had arrived. Other than one unidentified flycatcher and one vireo – possibly a Philadelphia Vireo – it was quiet, with no warblers seen. The Green Heron had returned, and I heard a Gray Catbird again, but there were fewer shorebirds and migrants than there had been the day before. The day was mild, with a thick, damp overcast sky, so looking for insects was out. I decided to head over to the Beaver Trail, which can either be fantastic for migrants this time of year, or very quiet. After a disappointing visit to Mud Lake yesterday, I was hoping the woods and swamps would be more productive.
On July 22nd I received an email from Chris Lewis about a new dragonfly spot along the Ottawa River. I’d been to Shelia McKee Park out near Dunrobin just once, on an OFNC trip in 2015 to look for herps; it has a network of woodland trails and a steep staircase that leads down from the top of the cliff to the rocky beach at the bottom. Chris said she found evidence of a very recent dragonfly emergence of in the form of both exuviae and teneral dragonflies; she recognized exuviae of both clubtails and emeralds, though she was not able to identify them to species. She saw an unidentified darner and several teneral meadowhawks in the woods, and several Powdered Dancers and a pair of Stream Bluets in tandem near the water. However, it was her clubtail report that intrigued me: she mentioned one Lancet Clubtail, both mature and teneral Black-shouldered Spinylegs, several Midland Clubtails, and one Cobra Clubtail which had become the unfortunate meal of a Midland Clubtail. It is amazing that I’ve never considered going back to this park for odes before – the shoreline here is quite rocky, with little or no emergent vegetation, reminiscent of Britannia Point at Mud Lake or the causeway at Morris Island, both of which are great spots for clubtails. Curious to see these clubtails for myself, I headed out the following Sunday (July 28th) and brought my net in case there was anything worth catching.
On July 2nd I woke up early, and before anyone else got up, drove 20 minutes to the Macaulay Mountain Conservation Area just outside of Picton. This was the most interesting birding hotspot in our area of Prince Edward County, although only 96 species have been recorded there to date – the 178 hectare (440 acre) property features a large grassy area and a quiet pond near the parking area, as well as meandering trails through the thick forest leading up to the top of the escarpment. It was the forest I was interested in, as our area of Prince Edward County was largely open farm and pasture land, without any extensive forest on a par with Stony Swamp back in Ottawa. The Macaulay Mountain Conservation Area is also the location of Picton’s famous Birdhouse City, observable from the road, which contains over 100 bird apartments designed to resemble many of the county’s historic buildings.
The more you look, the more you see….this is a common theme among those of us who spend our time outdoors with a camera or binoculars, looking for birds, bugs, or just about any facet of nature. The longer a person spends searching an area, whether a quiet bay on a lake, a small urban park, one of the best-known birding hotspots in the city, or even one’s own backyard, the more species a person seems to find – whether they be colourful wildflowers, a new dragonfly or butterfly, small insects they’d never noticed before, or birds that would have been missed if they’d left after that first cursory glance. This, to me, sums up the joy of going outside – it’s a treasure hunt where, instead of targeting one specific thing, any colourful or interesting creature that catches my eye is a treasure! It’s one of the reasons I return to the same spots again and again – to see what “new treasures” might be found there. So of course when I got tired of being indoors at the cottage we rented on Prince Edward Bay in Prince Edward County, I grabbed my camera and went for a walk.
In addition to a lifer bird at Presqu’ile, I also got a lifer butterfly! Presqu’ile Provincial Park is a fabulous place for insects during the summer, and because it is a peninsula, it is well-known for the large numbers of Monarch butterflies that concentrate here in the fall looking for a good north wind to carry them across the lake. Also, because it is 250 km southwest of Ottawa, there are insect species which regularly occur there that only occur in small number or as vagrants in Ottawa.
As soon as we got out of our cars at the beach parking lot I spotted one of my target species, an Orange Sulphur, flying by. I wasn’t able to chase it – it flew off quickly on the strong winds coming from the lake – and I figured I would have a chance to find and photograph one later in the day. As it turns out, that was the only one I saw during our trip that had a definite orange colour in flight.
One of my favourite places to go birding in late May and early June is the South March Highlands in Kanata North. It is said that this forest has the highest ecological value and biodiversity of any area within the City of Ottawa, with more than 654 species found within its borders – some of which are considered to be species at risk, such as the Blanding’s Turtle, Least Bittern, and Butternut Tree. These Canadian Shield uplands are rich in wetlands and mature forest, with marshes, ponds, deciduous forest and coniferous forest all accessible via a network of trails. Despite its ecological significance, the City of Ottawa has allowed parts of the forest to be sold to developers and clear-cut for new homes and the infamous Terry Fox Drive extension. Still, the forest that remains is a beautiful spot for birding, though it is extremely popular with mountain bikers and caution should be taken not to block the trails while scanning the tree tops for warblers!
The following day was gorgeous, so I hit a few hotspots before returning to the Rideau Trail to continue my quest for the first butterflies of the year. My day started with a junco visiting my backyard for food, and a baby chickadee in our front tree emitting begging noises while fluttering its wings at the adult searching the gutters for insects or cached seeds. I had a Tree Swallow and a flyover Killdeer at Kristina Kiss Park, a drumming Ruffed Grouse and more Dark-eyed Juncos at Old Quarry Trail, and two Snowy Owls sitting on chunks of ice out on the river at Andrew Haydon Park. Only the Eastern Phoebe calling near the western creek made it seem like spring….it was slow to warm up to its alleged high of 15°C.