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17 July 2009 @ 08:58 pm
Revisiting the Dunrobin Area  
Last weekend I decided to go back to the Dunrobin area to see if I could find some of my nemesis birds. Although I had seen an Eastern Towhee this year, I still wanted to find a Black-billed Cuckoo, Golden-winged Warbler, Upland Sandpiper and Sora. I drove north along Huntmar (still no Rough-winged Swallows at the bridge), then along Marchurst where I saw a single Eastern Bluebird, Bobolinks, Savannah Sparrows, and an Eastern Meadowlark sitting on the fence.

Once I reached the Thomas Dolan Parkway, I turned left and opened my windows, listening for the songs of my target birds. I didn't hear any, so I stopped at a few places along the way, including the trail across from Stonecrest, to walk about and see what I could find.

Field Sparrow

I hadn't driven too far along Thomas Dolan when I saw a doe and her fawn crossing the road. I pulled over to take a few photos, and as soon as she saw me the doe ran down into the ditch and bounded over the fence. The fawn tried to follow, but couldn't jump the fence. It ran back and forth, climbed back up to the road once or twice, and even tried to squeeze beneath the fence.


I kept my distance so they wouldn't panic, and left the two deer when the fawn crossed to the other side of the road (where there was no fence). It was my hope that the mother would join her offspring after I had left and the "threat" had passed.


A stop along the trail that begins opposite the end of Stonecrest turned out to be unproductive for birds. The sun hadn't risen very high yet, so I didn't even find any butterflies or dragonflies to photograph. The trail was too wet to continue following anyway, and so I retreated to my car and drove along until I found another interesting spot to stop and look for insects. There was a large swamp at the bottom of a hill, with rocks rising high above it. I scanned the vegetation for dragonflies, found one unidentified whiteface dragonfly perching on a rock, then went exploring.

The songs of the White-throated and Field Sparrows accompanied me as I scanned the low, thin grass for butterflies and odonates. I saw a few Sedge Sprites and a few newly-emerged meadowhawks before the sound of a sparrow scolding me caught my attention. I saw this juvenile Field Sparrow perching on a bare branch, chipping away at the sight of me. Although it doesn't have the plain, unmarked breast or red cap of an adult, the pink bill, long tail, and white eyering mark this as a Field Sparrow.

Field Sparrow

At least one other juvenile Field Sparrow was perched on a branch in the same area, and I took a few photos until both disappeared. I walked further on, hearing a Red-eyed Vireo close by, and was surprised when I caught a glimpse of it on a branch out in the open, only a few feet above the ground. During my explorations I found one singing Chestnut-sided Warbler, a Yellow-bellied Sapsucker, more Field Sparrows (mostly juveniles), unknown species of meadowhawk dragonflies, and a hairstreak butterfly that perched too high in a tree above me to take a clear photo.

I stopped a few more times along Thomas Dolan without seeing else of interest, then turned around to go to the Bill Mason Center. On the way I noticed a couple of small, black, furry creatures at the edge of a cattail marsh along the side of the road. When I stopped to find out what they were, I discovered four baby Virginia Rails scuttling along the edge of the marsh, all giving high-pitched cries! Their parent was in a small swamp across the road, calling back to them. I watched the adult scurry among the reeds but wasn't able to photograph it as it refused to come out into the open.

Virginia Rail chick

My luck changed at the Bill Mason Center, for in the grass near the parking lot I saw a Wilson's Snipe, and as soon as I stepped out onto the boardwalk I saw another adult Virginia Rail! This one proved to be much more cooperative, for it was actively searching for food and came right out into the open.

Virginia Rail

She walked out on the vegetation, probing for food. These rails eat insects, larvae, aquatic invertebrates, fish, frogs, and even small snakes!

Virginia Rail

I saw or heard all the usual marsh denizens such as Common Yellowthroat, Yellow Warbler, Red-winged Blackbird, Green Heron and Swamp Sparrow, but none of the less common marsh inhabitants such as Sora, American Bittern or Least Bittern. These birds are all very secretive and do not spend a lot of time out in the open.

A few dragonflies zoomed by, as did a few butterflies, as I continued on my walk to the woods at the back of the trail. I saw a Veery foraging in a tall shrub near the gazebo and a male Common Yellowthroat feeding his two fledglings. I followed the trail to a large, sandy opening where I spotted this Canada Darner hanging from the branch of a fallen tree.

Canada Darner

There were quite a few whitefaces flying around as well, and when I saw this fellow on the ground I thought it might be a juvenile given his white face and the pattern of his abdomen. However, the blue eyes made me wonder, and when I searched my field guides at home I realized it was my first clubtail species! I was quite happy that he stayed put long enough for me to get a few macro shots.

Lancet Clubtail

I also saw some newly emerged (teneral) meadowhawks; their wings are shiny and very reflective, looking like glass. A few Common Whitetails, an unidentified spreadwing, and at least one male Widow Skimmer were also present. This was the first male Widow Skimmer that I had seen, and it looks very distinctive in flight, almost like a dark butterfly. He didn't like being followed, for whenever I tried to track him to where he had landed, he flew off before I could get close enough. Finally, I got a few pictures of him.

Widow Skimmer, male

I re-entered the woods and scanned any sunlit openings for other interesting insects. I found one Racket-tailed Emerald before this butterfly flew by me and, after fluttering about for several minutes, finally landed on this leaf. I was not surprised to see this Harvester here after Mike and Bob pointed out the woolly aphids on our dragon-hunt a few weeks ago; these aphids are a chief source of food for this butterfly.


I left the Bill Mason Center shortly after that without finding any of my target birds. I was a bit disappointed, but thought I would stop by the pond along March Valley Road to look for the spreadwing damselflies I had seen there a few weeks ago. After finding a gorgeous blue adult spreadwing at Bill Mason, I was hoping to find a few along March Valley Road. I got lucky....as soon as I started making my way through the waist-high grass I started seeing beautiful little blue damselflies all over the place.

Lyre-tipped Spreadwing

I thought they were Northern Spreadwings at first, but when I got home and examined the claspers in my photo, I realized they were Lyre-tipped Spreadwings instead. The lower claspers (the ones in the middle) are faintly curved in an S-shape instead of straight.

Lyre-tipped Spreadwing claspers

So even though I wasn't able to add any new birds to my year list, I was still able to add a new damselfly to my life list. That's the reason why summer is one of my favourite seasons for going out...there is just so much wildlife around, not just birds but butterflies, dragonflies, turtles, beetles, frogs, chipmunks, snakes and more. When I go out in the summer I'm not just "birding", but rather wildlife watching instead!