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01 July 2009 @ 09:26 pm
Shirley's Bay in the summer  

Despite a forecast of rain for the next five days, the sun came out today and so I was able to get out for a little while. It's been a while since I've gone birding at the Shirley's Bay area, and as it's also a great place to find dragonflies and butterflies I thought it would be fun to spend some time there.

A flock of Cedar Waxwings flew by overhead, and an Eastern Phoebe was calling with its typical vehemence as I got out of the car. As usual, the first thing I did was scan the bay for ducks. I didn't see any waterfowl except for a pair of mallards near the shore. However, in the distance near the end of the dyke I saw a large bird flying above the water. It could have been an eagle, an osprey or a heron but I had left my scope in the car and will never know for sure.

Eastern Comma

I followed the trail from the western end of the parking lot along the shore. I saw lots of Eastern Forktails, bluets, and Sedge Sprites as I made my way through the grass. Then the path forked, and instead of following the path along the water's edge, I took the higher path through a small meadow. I saw a few grass skippers, more damselflies, and two of these large dragonflies. The black and yellow striped abdomen and large, dark wing patches were quite visible, and I knew I found a species I had never seen before.

Widow Skimmer

When I got home I was able to identify this as a female Widow Skimmer, a relatively common dragonfly found in Ottawa. These dragonflies can be found in typical skimmer habitats such as ponds, lakes and marshes. The adult male differs from the females pictured here in that it develops broad white spots at the midwing and a black abdomen with a thin whitish pruinosity.

Widow Skimmer

Several grass skippers, an unknown blue, and a couple of crescent butterflies were also flying in the same area. Then I spotted a familiar black, orange and white butterfly - my first Baltimore Checkerspot of the season.

Baltimore Checkerspot

I didn't walk all the way to the dyke, but turned around when I came to the end of the meadow and decided to check out the trails. Along the way, I saw a large orange butterfly land on a leaf and was happy to photograph this Eastern Comma. I find these butterflies very striking though they can be difficult to photograph.

Eastern Comma

You can see the silvery comma on the lower wing that gives this species its name:

Eastern Comma

Along the trails I saw a House Wren and heard several American Redstarts and Yellow Warblers singing. I also heard the sound of a young bird begging for food, and as it was a call I couldn't place, I tracked it down until I came across a couple of Northern Flickers!

Northern Flicker

In the same area I saw an Eastern Wood-pewee and a Great-crested Flycatcher, and I heard the squeaky song of a Black-and-white Warbler. I also saw a number of these tiny pink flowers growing in sunny parts of the trail.

Deptford Pink

This small, colourful wildflower is supposed to have been abundant in the fields near Deptford UK during Tudor times (i.e. the sixteenth century). This area is now an industrial section of London, and although the population of these pretty wildflowers is believed to be increasing in Europe and North America, they are declining in the UK. The genus name Dianthus comes from the Greek dios, meaning “of Zeus” and anthos, meaning “flower”. Dianthus, then, translates roughly to “flower of the gods”.

I exited the trail on Lois Avenue, where I heard another familiar song. However, this was one that I hadn't heard yet in Ottawa this year: a Wood Thrush! This lovely songster is a bird of the interior forest, seldom seen outside the deep woods. I had seen one in the same area last year, and I was surprised to find one again here this year as the woodlot is not a big one. However, these large thrushes often return to the same breeding territory in successive years. I tried to take a picture of it, but a Blue Jay came along and the two birds squabbled for a moment, resulting in the Wood Thrush flying up to another tree branch where it disappeared.

I walked down Lois Avenue to the end, where I saw a large brown butterfly flying near the edge of the road. When it landed I knelt down to take this photo. Just after photographing it, the butterfly left its perch and landed on my shoulder!

Northern Pearly-eye

Finally I walked down to the river, where I noticed that the water level had decreased since my last visit, and took the path back to the parking lot. Hearing more redstarts, I left the trail in order to see if I could find one out in the open. I didn't see the warbler, but two more Widow Skimmers were present, eating the mayflies that I stirred up.

Widow Skimmer eating a Mayfly

After that I left, content with the all the species I had seen and heard, my photos of the Eastern Comma, and the great views of the Widow Skimmers. Shirley's Bay is a remarkable place at any time of the year, but I love visiting in the summer when the trails are alive with birdsong and butterflies, and filled with the scents and colours of all the wildflowers that are found there. Now that I know that it's a great place for odonates, I'm sure I'll return there before the season has ended.