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04 July 2010 @ 09:07 am
Exploring the West End  
Friday was another gorgeous morning so I headed out early. While my ultimate destination was the Bill Mason Center, I planned to make a few stops along the way. One of these was the stormwater management ponds near Eagleson, where one day last year I'd seen about seven Black-crowned Night Herons hunting along the edges of the ponds. I hoped to have the same success that morning, but only found two night herons in total...one adult and one young bird whose plumage showed characteristics of both adult and juvenile.

There wasn't much else to see on the ponds, so I drove over to Huntmar Road next. I parked near the bridge and looked for the Northern Rough-winged Swallows (with no success) before walking down the road to see what I could find along the Carp River or the marshy areas next to the road. When I saw a Northern Harrier flying over the marsh I knew it was going to be a great day.

Black-crowned Night-heron

One species I was looking for was the Green Heron...as I have only seen one in all of 2010 to date, I've had less luck with them this year than any other year since I started birding. I had seen Green Herons in the swampy areas next to Huntmar a few years ago and was hoping they would still be around. If they were, they were well hidden; I found a single Painted Turtle basking in the sunlight instead.

Painted Turtle

Although the Green Herons were absent, a few other birds were around. I saw a Belted Kingfisher perching in a tree above the water, and while I was watching it a Northern Flicker flew in and landed in the tree above my head.

Northern Flicker

I heard a Least Flycatcher and a Gray Catbird singing in the trees which bordered the swamp and Veeries singing in the woods across the road. While walking back to my car a red bird landed on the telephone wire above the road some distance away; however, the sun was behind it and my pictures turned out horribly backlit. I suspect it was a Scarlet Tanager, as it didn't have the tell-tale crest of a cardinal, but as I didn't get a good look at it either I suppose I'll never know.

A male goldfinch was enthusiastically singing his heart out in a tree right next to the road so I took a few pictures of him before I returning to my car.

American Goldfinch

Just before I reached the bridge I heard something big walking through the vegetation near the river on the other side of the road. I peered through the screen of shrubs and saw three deer making their way to the river for a drink! Unfortunately they saw me as well and bounded off before I could get any pictures.

I left Huntmar Road and proceeded to the ruins just off Old Carp Road. Last year I'd had some luck in finding breeding Chestnut-sided Warblers and Indigo Buntings in this area and thought it was worth stopping in for a check. I got out of the car to listen and found a singing Chestnut-sided Warbler right away. I also heard a male Rose-breasted Grosbeak singing in the treetops, and several Great-crested Flycatchers which I found foraging together. I took a walk in the overgrown field toward the ruins and found a Baltimore Oriole, a phoebe, a Downy Woodpecker, but no Indigo Buntings.

I heard a small bird moving in one of the shrubs and stopped to take a look. It flew off before I could identify the bird, but as I was about to step forward to continue along the trail I realized there was a beautiful Common Green Darner sitting in the vegetation right in front of me! I backed up to get this photo of him:

Common Green Darner

After taking a few photos from a couple of feet away, I knelt in the grass next to him for some macro shots. I was thrilled to get these photos, as I rarely have the chance to photograph mature males and thought the dragonfly was perching in a more picturesque setting than the one I found at Hurdman a month ago.

Common Green Darner

I looked around for a little while after leaving the dragonfly, but couldn't find an Indigo Bunting so I returned to the car. I had driven only a couple of metres when a Northern Flicker flew right in front of me and landed on the road on the opposite side. I stopped the car, put my window down and eased my camera out the window, but a car came along right at that moment and frightened it off.

I was just about to raise my windows and drive off when a small, bright blue bird flew across the road and landed in the weeds at the side of the road. He wasn't singing, but he was chipping as he attempted to glean insects and/or seeds from the wildflowers. He was very camera-shy; I couldn't get any photos with his full head showing!

Indigo Bunting

A female also flew across the road and landed in the weeds. Unlike the males, female Indigo Buntings are brown and may be mistaken for sparrows. I was only able to identify her by the same high, thin chip notes that the male was making. She flew low into the vegetation and disappeared from sight.

Happy with the sighting, I continued my way to the Bill Mason Center. The marsh was relatively quiet; there were fewer species around than I had expected. Swamp Sparrows and Common Yellowthroats were still singing, but I didn't see any grackles, Cedar Waxwings or Blue Jays around the marsh, and I didn't hear any Yellow Warblers singing. I didn't see any rails, either. However, I heard at least two different Wilson's Snipes, and saw one as it flew down into the vegetation.

Fortunately the insects proved much more interesting. I saw two Great-spangled Fritillaries, one of which was obviously poaching on the other's territory. The first fritillary immediately confronted the second whenever it flew into its territory, and chased it off. The second butterfly was not deterred; he came back at least three times, ending up in an altercation with the first butterfly each time! I managed to get this photo in between bouts:

Great-spangled Fritillary

While I was chasing the fritillary and trying to get a photo I came across another interesting lepidopteran sitting on a leaf in the sun. This one was a moth, but its wings were transparent and colourless except for a dark red border. The Snowberry Clearwing Moth is one of two clearwings which I have been hoping to see this summer; the other is the Hummingbird Clearwing Moth, a larger species which people are usually more familiar with. Both species visit flowers during the day, and while the Hummingbird Clearwing may be mistaken for a hummingbird due to its size, the Snowberry Clearwing is more likely to be mistaken for a large bee.

Snowberry Clearwing Moth

I also looked for dragonflies in the area and found very few. Other than a few Dot-tailed Whitefaces, the only dragonflies that seemed to be around were ones I had not expected to find here....Calico Pennants! I saw my first ones at the Cedar Grove Nature Trail last month and thought I would have to return there if I wanted to see more of them....I didn't know of any other reliable location for these gorgeous dragonflies. I saw perhaps eight different individuals (including at least two females) in total. Unlike the ones at Marlborough Forest, these Calico Pennants were more interested in hunting than in mating.

Calico Pennant

I was really pleased with the success of my outing. I found a nice variety of birds early in the day, including a few (Chestnut-sided Warbler, Indigo Bunting) which I don't come across very often; and later in the morning, it was the insects which fascinated me. The Snowberry Clearwing Moth was a new species for me, and the Calico Pennants were a wonderful surprise. It was the best kind of outing...one with a fantastic variety of both birds and insects!