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29 August 2010 @ 09:03 pm
Butterflies and Spreadwings  

Migration is now in full swing, and the reports from Mud Lake and Shirley's Bay have been tantalizing. It's frustrating being a birder when you have to work full time...you can't always get right out when a rare or uncommon bird is found, or a major fallout occurs; and by the time the weekend comes the birds that were around mid-week have often vanished.

I was happy when the work week finally ended, and even happier when I woke up on Saturday and found the sun shining. I headed out to Mud Lake first thing in the morning, hoping to find some of the warblers that had been reported. As usual, I headed up to the Ridge first; the first bird I noticed was a falcon gliding fast over the Ridge toward the lake. I'm not sure whether it was a Peregrine Falcon, a species which likes to hunt along the river, or a Merlin as I only caught a glimpse of it before it disappeared. However, the pointed wings were distinctive and ruled out any of the accipiters.

Spotted Spreadwing

I was delighted to find a number of different warbler species in the shrubs along the Ridge. These included Nashville, Black-and-white, Black-throated Green, Yellow-rumped and - best of all - a couple of Wilson's Warblers. The Wilson's Warbler was a year bird for me. Three species of vireo, Red-eyed, Warbling and Blue-headed, were also present, as were a singing Baltimore Oriole, a singing Eastern Phoebe, and a mewing Gray Catbird.

Behind the Ridge, I came across another stunning warbler, this one a fall-plumaged Cape May Warbler. Like most warblers, he darted quickly from branch to branch in search of insects, but as he kept to the same group of trees I was able to follow him without too much trouble. Getting a decent photo was a different matter; this was the best that I got.

Cape May Warbler

I saw both Green and Great Blue Herons but no Black-crowned Night-herons, and after checking the lake, I headed back up to the Ridge where the most activity was anyway. I heard an Osprey calling from the river but couldn't locate him, and in the insect department I saw a fresh Red Admiral, one Eastern Forktail and a couple of mosaic darners, none of which landed close enough for me to identify them.

Then I spotted this beautiful, fresh Monarch butterfly on the Viper's Bugloss which grows along the path on top of the Ridge. Although I've been seeing at least one Monarch on almost every outing lately, I haven't yet been able to get any good photos. This individual was most obliging!

Monarch on Viper's Bugloss


I saw another butterfly, this one small and dark, fly across the path and land on a patch of Butter-and-Eggs. I knew it was a duskywing, and because I hadn't seen any duskywings since the late spring I decided to spend some time photographing it instead of the Monarch.

Columbine Duskywing

I thought it was a Juvenal's Duskywing at first, because it had white spots on the forewing and because I had seen this species in the conservation area frequently in May. However, the season for the Juvenal's Duskywing ended in July. With the warm, early spring we'd had and the dry, hot summer, I thought perhaps it was a second generation butterfly. However, after sending my image to the members of the butterfly club, they agreed that it was not a Juvenal's Duskywing after all, but a Columbine Duskywing, which is well-known to have two generations per year. This ID was based on the size of the butterfly compared to the size of the buckthorn berries in the bottom right-hand corner; the Columbine Duskywing is small, while the Juvenal's is not. Secondly, this butterfly does not have a second white spot near the midpoint of the leading edge of the forewing, in the dark area. Juvenal's almost always have another spot in this area, while the Columbine Duskywing almost never does. Although I didn't realize it at the time, I had a new butterfly for my life list!

Columbine Duskywing

I left Mud Lake shortly after that, as I wanted to stop by the Bruce Pit and look for spreadwing damselflies and butterflies. I brought my insect net and rubber boots with me, so I could walk around all the way around the edge of the water. A couple of Greater Yellowlegs and a Solitary Sandpiper were foraging on the southern edge of the pond, although they quickly - and noisily - flew off to another part of the pond when they saw me.

There were plenty of meadowhawks around, and I was surprised by how many I saw in tandem, ovipositing in the shallow, marshy areas....there must have been over 100 individuals in the southwestern side of the pond. I also found the spreadwings I was looking for and managed to net two different species. Without Chris and Bob around, I had to learn how to hold the damselflies by the legs in order to photograph them with my free hand.

Spotted Spreadwing

Spotted Spreadwings are common late-season damselflies which are very dark. They are named for two dark spots, not shown here, on the side of the thorax. This species is relatively easy to find at Bruce Pit.

Northern Spreadwings have two pale shoulder stripes on the thorax which often become obscured with age. The best way to tell spreadwings apart is by the shape of the claspers at the tip of the abdomen. Even without magnification you can see that the shape of the claspers differs greatly in these two species.

Northern Spreadwing

While looking for more spreadwings in the vegetation growing at the base of the slope, I came across four large spiderwebs right next to each other, all occupied by large Banded Argiopes. One web had two spiders in it - a large female feasting on an unidentified insect and a small male tentatively approaching the female. The male courts the female by tapping the outer strands of her web or by presenting her with insects wrapped in silk in order to win her approval and ensure he doesn't end up as her next meal. After mating, the male dies, and is sometimes then eaten by the female.

Banded Argiopes

This image shows the underside of a different Banded Argiope.

Banded Argiope with dinner

The Ambush Bug is a much smaller predator, and I saw a couple of them lurking in the flowers. Like many spiders, it has adopted the strategy of waiting motionlessly for an unsuspecting insect to wander within its grasp.

Ambush Bug

I came across a few more Spotted Spreadwings in my search for damselflies, and this one allowed me to get close enough to photograph it without having to catch it in my net.

Spotted Spreadwing

I made it halfway around the pond before deciding it was time to head back. The clouds were beginning to move in, and I'd been out long enough. Along the way I ran into Chris Bruce, who pointed out a large yellowish dragonfly patrolling a section of the shore. This was my first confirmed Wandering Glider of the year, and in return I showed him the Banded Argiopes. He too was heading out, and on our walk back we came across the beautiful blue flowers of the regionally uncommon Fringed Gentian, which for some reason seems to have flourished in the Bruce Pit area.

Fringed Gentian

I saw my second Monarch butterfly of the day at Bruce Pit, and thought the Purple Loosestrife (a terrible, invasive plant despite its beautiful flowers) made a lovely backdrop for the black and orange butterfly. Unfortunately the Monarch stayed on the other side of the Purple Loosestrife, but it still made quite a pretty picture.

Monarch on Purple Loosestrife

It was a wonderful outing, with lots of exciting migrants and many interesting insects. This is why the end of August and beginning of September is one of my favourite times of the year!