Log in

No account? Create an account
02 July 2010 @ 08:59 pm
The Secret Treasures of Jack Pine Trail  

With the arrival of the Canada Day long weekend (I had taken Friday, July 2nd off work) it was time to head out and see how many bird species I could add to my brand new month list. I have been keeping month lists for a few years now, and they have become a great way for me to know what species to expect in any given month. With a beautiful four-day weekend ahead of me, I was looking forward to visiting a number of different places and see as much as possible.

I began the day with a stop at the Moodie Drive quarry ponds, also known as Burnside. This is an excellent spot to find waterfowl other than the mallards, black ducks and Wood Ducks that are abundant everywhere else this time of year. I was rewarded with a couple of male Ring-necked Ducks, one American Wigeon, and several Pied-billed Grebes...including a few very small, striped juveniles.

Eastern Kingbird

Next I visited the Jack Pine Trail, one of my favourite local woodland trails. The day was warm and sunny, and I was just as eager to find some insects as I was to look for birds. I hadn't gone very far when I found this beautiful brown butterfly fluttering along the path near the OFNC feeder. It is a common species of the woods, though rarely found in any great numbers. Unlike many species, it shuns open areas.

Northern Pearly-eye

I stopped by the boardwalk to look for sandpipers but found a family of mallards instead. The ducklings were still small and fuzzy, obviously a late brood. They were swimming about in the water until I came along, and then they became interested in a muddy wet patch where they began feeding.

Mallard duckling


At the second boardwalk I saw Great-crested Flycatcher at the top of a dead tree, a small flock of Cedar Waxwings, and a Pileated Woodpecker flying over the water. It landed in a dead tree on the other side of the marsh and began working away on it.

I walked over to the meadow next, hoping to find some butterflies. Although the day was sunny and warm, there weren't many flying so I had to content myself with photographing the flowers and looking for other bugs. These small Deptford Pinks were scattered throughout the area.

Deptford Pink

I left the main trail to explore a deer path just to see where it would lead. Sometimes it's fun to wander off the beaten track in search of unexpected treasures, such as a secret pond, ruins of an old building, or artefacts from a bygone era. I really wasn't expecting to find any man-made relics, and was thus surprised to come across this split rail fence in a treed area next to the meadow. I wasn't sure what it was supposed to be keeping in (or out) or how far it extended; the sight was so unexpected that it didn't even occur to me to see how long it was or search the area for other signs of human habitation. It was sufficiently long enough to deter me from seeking a way around it, so I turned around and made my way back to the main trail.

Split Rail Fence

I explored the meadow for a while, still searching for butterflies and dragonflies but seeing very little. However, I did come across a weevil on a Rudbeckia. Weevils have a bad reputation for devouring grains, fruits, vegetables and various crops. These small beetles have downward-curving snouts which they use to bore into plants. The weevil's mouth parts are located at the end of the long snout.

Weevil on Rudbeckia

I made another discovery in the meadow, this large nest box located in the fork of a tree. Although there are a few nest boxes located in trees in the marsh, presumably for Wood Ducks or other cavity nesters, I had never noticed this one in the meadow before as it's not visible from the trail. I found it accidentally while walking through the grass trying to track down a warbler singing in a clump of trees.

Nest Box

The warbler was a male Black-and-white Warbler, and he was singing a variation I'd never heard before. Normally they sound like squeaky wheels turning 'round and 'round.....weetsee, weetsee, weetsee...but this one's song dropped in pitch at the end. I was curious to see who was singing such an interesting song and left the trail in order to track him down. Not only did I locate the warbler, I also found a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, a White-throated Sparrow, and a field full of Field Sparrows. The Field Sparrows were obviously this year's young, begging noisily and scolding me when I disturbed their search for food among the grass. At least a dozen sparrows flew out of the grass while I was busy tracking down the warbler.

I finally saw a butterfly in the meadow, a slightly battered Mourning Cloak.

Mourning Cloak

Finished with my explorations, I left the meadow and followed the trail into the marsh. I heard an Alder Flycatcher singing from a tree at the back of the marsh, then later had a chance for a better view when he flew closer to the trail. An Eastern Kingbird was flycatching in the marsh as well and was much more cooperative for some photos.

Eastern Kingbird

While walking down the trail I noticed some clover flowers which were a beautiful deep red. I stopped to take a look, as I've never seen a clover this colour before. In fact, most clovers in the region are pale, purplish-pink in colour despite the common name "Red Clover" (Trifolium pratense). Here is a comparison of two flowers seen along the same section of the trail:

Trifolium pratense

Red Clover, a non-native plant which thrives in waste areas, disturbed sites, fields, and roadsides, is valued for its ability to fix nitrogen, which increases soil fertility. While some consider it a weed, others find it beneficial for its nitrogen-producing ability, its colourful blossoms, and the pollinators it attracts. The "red" Red Clover was definitely the most interesting plant that I found at Jack Pine; although it really wasn't very hidden, I considered it a treasure just the same!

I finally found a few more butterflies in the woods on the other side of the marsh, including a pair of Northern Pearly-eyes....

Northern Pearly-eye

...and this Mustard White. These butterflies have two broods per season in Ottawa, so this would likely be a second generation individual.

Mustard White

I found a couple of interesting flies as well. I saw this fellow gathering nectar from some yarrow and thought it was a wasp at first; however, the large eyes and short antennae indicate it is not a wasp but rather a hover fly (or "flower fly"). Many hover flies resemble bees, a protective adaptation which fools would-be predators into thinking they are more dangerous than they really are. It takes a closer look (or a long camera lens!) to separate the bees and wasps from their mimics.

Hover Fly on Yarrow

The second fly that I found was large, gold, and surprisingly furry. I wasn't sure what it was at first, but I knew it was something I hadn't seen before. When I checked my photos at home and saw the thick, bristly hairs where its mouth should be, I began to suspect it was a Robber Fly.

Robber Fly

Robber Flies, often called the flycatchers of the insect world, are predators. They feed on bees, beetles, moths, dragonflies, other flies, grasshoppers, leafhoppers, wasps, or any other type of insect it can capture. Like flycatchers, they perch in a prominent spot and then pursue the insects which fly into its range. The Robber Flies capture their victims in mid-flight, hold them with their strong legs, and then carry them off in order to consume the prey at their leisure. They do not devour their prey whole, but rather pierce the insect's body with their mouth parts and then suck out the insides.

I left Jack Pine Trail feeling privileged to have glimpsed some of its hidden treasures. The fence in particular captured my imagination, making me wonder about the history of this part of the greenbelt. Surrounded by swamp and forest, it hadn't occurred to me that people had attempted to settle in this particular area off Moodie Drive. Did the fence mark the edge of someone's property? Had a house ever been built there? Without digging further - either literally in the forest or metaphorically in the city's archives - I guess I'll never know.

With so many neat discoveries, I couldn't be disappointed with the lack of butterflies or dragonflies. I tallied 36 species altogether on Canada Day; only the beginning of what I hope will be a fantastic month!

Soul Diasporasoul_diaspora on August 2nd, 2010 03:03 am (UTC)
Last fall I went hiking at Stony Swamp with some friends, and we went through an area that had once been settled, a long time ago...remnants of foundations, old-fashioned ovens, etc. It wasn't actually at Jack Pine Trail, but pretty near.