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24 May 2010 @ 10:53 pm
Return to the Beaver Trail  

On Monday I dropped my fiance off at work then drove over to the Fletcher Wildlife Garden. It was a lovely morning for a walk, though again not very "birdy"; most of the birds that I encountered were regular summer breeding birds.

I walked around the amphibian pond, looking for Green Herons and muskrats among the cattails, or any of the four species of turtle (Blanding's, Snapping, Painted, and Red-eared Slider) that have made their home in the pond; however, only a few Red-winged Blackbirds were visible among the reeds, and the turtle raft was empty. The rest of my walk was likewise unproductive, with a single Rose-breasted Grosbeak, several Yellow Warblers, Warbling Vireos, Tree Swallows, Barn Swallows, and my first White-crowned Sparrows in Ottawa. I also heard a Least Flycatcher snapping out its unmusical "Ch-bek! ch-bek!" but couldn't locate him in the trees, and a warbler singing in a thicket. I recognized the song from my Peterson CDs but couldn't place it; too many warblers sing a variation of the song rendered as "Pleased, pleased, please to meet you!" including Magnolia and Chestnut-sided Warblers. This song, however, sounded more like "Churry churry churry to meet you!" and when I later checked it out on my iPod and realized I'd heard my first Mourning Warbler, I nearly kicked myself for not taking the time to track him down!

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

I didn't take very many photos while at the Fletcher Wildlife Garden. I saw a very worn Mourning Cloak fly by and land on a sunny log while at the Arboretum; however, he kept his wings closed so my photos didn't turn out as well as I'd hoped. The flowers in the Backyard Garden behind the Interpretive Center, however, were too gorgeous not to take any photos.

Backyard Garden

The Tree Swallows also looked quite gorgeous with the sunlight turning their feathers a brilliant shining blue.

Tree Swallow

After a while I began to crave the peace and solitude of the woods and drove over to the Beaver Trail. It was growing hot, and I saw plenty of butterflies around, including my first Harvester of spring. Fortunately this small orange butterfly landed on the ground at my feet, allowing me to identify it. I saw at least seven other orange butterflies zip by me which were likely Harvesters, but fluttered off into the distance without giving me a chance to ID them.

Several dragonflies were flying as well, including two Beaverpond Baskettails locked in a mating pair. They flew past me and then landed on a tree close by.

Mating Beaverpond Baskettails

Further along the trail I noticed a large yellow swallowtail flying around a clearing. When it landed on a leaf I hurried forward, thrilled at the prospect of finally taking some decent photos of this magnificent butterfly. I've had no luck in the past, for they tend to fly by at high speeds without stopping, or else they land too high in the trees to photograph them. I've only managed to photograph this species once, three years ago when I came across a worn swallowtail obtaining nutrients from the mud.

I had much better luck with this individual. Although he flew off before I could photograph him on the leaf, he began patrolling the area, flying back and forth above the same section of the trail before finally landing. He spent several minutes on the ground, while I slowly edged closer to see what the attraction was. I couldn't help but feel amused when I realized he was obtaining nutrients from a fresh pile of animal scat - even though I was close enough to get some wonderful shots of this butterfly, the setting was far from beautiful!

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

This species is very similar to the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, which normally occurs further south but has recently started to appear in the Ottawa Valley (indeed, my only sighting of this very uncommon species occurred on July 25, 2009 at the Beaver Trail parking lot). While the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail usually shows up after the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail's flight season (mid-May to early July) has ended, they can be differentiated by the pattern of yellow on the underside of the forewing. The outer margin of the Canadian Tiger Swallowtail's forewing is made up of a continuous yellow column along the edge of the wing, whereas the outer margin of the Eastern Tiger Swallowtail's forewing is made up of a line of yellow dots.

Canadian Tiger Swallowtail

The swallowtail spent several minutes nectaring (if that is the right word!) on the scat, which is the longest I've seen one stay put in one place. I've also learned from this experience just how beneficial a fresh pile of animal dung can be while looking for butterflies!

I continued along to the first boardwalk where I saw my first Great-crested Flycatcher of the year sitting at the top of tree. I'd been hearing them ever since I got back from southern Ontario, and was thrilled to finally catch up with one. Lots of dragonflies were skimming over the water, mostly Dot-tailed Whitefaces and Four-spotted Skimmers. While watching them I noticed something moving in the water. At first all I saw was a small reptilian head sticking out of the water, but when it passed by the end of the boardwalk I saw that it was a snake! I'd seen Northern Water Snakes at this location here before, though not recently, so I spent an enjoyable half an hour watching them.

Northern Water Snake

There were three together in all; one was patrolling the water when two more slithered out of the vegetation between the two sides of the boardwalk. All three began patrolling the water, occasionally crossing paths. This one was the largest; he swam up out of the aquatic vegetation then stayed in this position for several minutes. A few small fish swam within reach and he lunged at them, though he didn't catch any while I was watching.

Northern Water Snake

The afternoon was growing hot, so I left the boardwalk and continued my walk along the rest of the trail. A Black-throated Green Warbler was singing in the tree tops, but I wasn't able to locate him. There wasn't much else around to interest me, perhaps because it was so hot and all the birds and wildlife were taking an afternoon siesta. Still, I found a few skimmers in the meadow, including this one which posed so obligingly for me.

Four-spotted Skimmer

I was very happy I had stopped by this trail; I doubt I'll ever spend such an immensely enjoyable afternoon with three water snakes and a tiger swallowtail again!