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28 July 2009 @ 07:15 pm
The weekend's excursions: after the rain  

We had a huge rainstorm on Friday, with extremely heavy downpours in Kanata and Stittsville that resulted in flooded intersections, hundreds of flooded basements, and swollen streams and rivers. More than 100 millimetres of rain fell over four hours, and there were reports of up to 170 millimetres in some neighbourhoods. Thankfully it started during the evening rush hour on our drive home, with more downpours overnight.

The forecast for the weekend called for more showers and thunderstorms for both Saturday and Sunday and so I didn't expect to get out at all. However, Saturday morning turned out fairly nice and sunny, so my fiancé and I went out for a bike ride around the Eagleson storm water ponds. There we noticed the effects of the storm; the water levels were much higher (indeed, the mudflats of the Fernbank pond had completely filled with water), water had risen over the path in one area, and the small stream that leads from the storm water ponds to the Jock River more resembled the Carp River.


Brant


We saw a Great Blue Heron perching on a rock at one of the ponds, and the Barn Swallows were still skimming over the water of the southern-most pond. Then a gull flew by and I saw it just long enough for the black spot on its face to register. It wasn't one of the usual Ring-billed Gulls, and I chased after it on my bike. I thought it might have landed on the water, but when I saw two gulls sitting on the roof of a small maintenance building I took a look and saw my first Bonaparte's Gull in Ottawa this year.



Bonaparte's and Ring-billed Gulls


It was a great find when I really hadn't expected to see much during our bike ride. The only other bird of interest was a pair of Double-crested Cormorants, a species which has appeared in these ponds for the last two years.



Bonaparte's Gull


The day stayed relatively nice for the rest of the day, and so in the afternoon I thought I would search for butterflies before the rain returned. I went to the Beaver Trail on Moodie Drive, always a good place to find interesting butterflies and odonates. Normally I like to stroll through the open grassy area just inside the trail to search for these insects, but when I started walking along I quickly noticed that the ground was very wet, with standing water in the lower areas. I saw a couple of meadowhawks and a couple of Common Wood-Nymphs at the edge of the woods but retreated to the trail before after it became clear that the ground was too soggy to continue.

I proceeded from there directly to the meadow in the woods, another great spot for butterflies and dragonflies. I found a few more meadowhawks, but the butterflies were more numerous (and more visible). Several Common Wood-Nymphs were fluttering about the meadow close to the woods, European Skippers were nectaring on the wildflowers, and a fritillary flew by too fast to even think of taking its photo. While chasing the Common Wood-Nymphs, a medium-sized white-winged moth flew up out of the grass. As it flew by I was struck by its unique colouring, for although the wings appeared white, the head was orange. When it landed I tracked it down and was further surprised to see that the upper forewings were not white at all but brown with white patches.



Confused Haploa


According to Christine, who identified it for me, this species is called 'confused' because the pattern can be variable. I am not sure if the "confused" refers to the moth who doesn't know which pattern he is supposed to have, or to the people trying to identify him!

After leaving the moth I followed a few Common Wood-Nymphs until they landed. These butterflies are extremely dark and look almost black in flight. Up close, however, they are quite beautiful with their dark banding and yellow eye-spots.



Common Wood-Nymph


Unlike other members of the satyr family, Common Wood-Nymphs are often seen nectaring at flowers.



Common Wood-Nymph


It began to rain lightly while I was in the meadow watching the butterflies, so I reluctantly left and sought the shelter of the woods. By the time I reached the parking lot, however, it had stopped and so I decided to examine the wildflowers beneath the hydro line before I left. I saw at least three more fritillaries among the patch of Swamp Milkweeds as well as a large yellow butterfly which immediately seized my attention. I thought it was a Canadian Tiger Swallowtail, albeit a very late and exceptionally fresh one...the Canadian Tigers only fly from mid-May to early July. When I posted my sighting to our local butterfly group, I was told that it was likely an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, a rare species in the Ottawa area but more likely at this time of year!



Eastern Tiger Swallowtail


I sent my photos to Ross Layberry, another one of the authors of The Butterflies of Canada, and he confirmed that it was an Eastern Tiger Swallowtail. The row of yellow spots on the outer edge of the forewing is one identification clue in separating the two species, for Canadian Tigers have a long yellow column rather than spots.

Sunday dawned gray and miserable. However, it wasn't raining yet so I seized the opportunity to look for a lone Brant that had been hanging around the ponds at Andrew Haydon Park for the past couple of weeks. Some speculated that it was an injured bird that had been cared for by the Wild Bird Care Center and released after it had healed. I found the bird without any problems at the eastern pond where it was feeding on the grass.



Brant


The Brant breeds in the high Arctic tundra and only appears in Ottawa during migration. It has the shortest tail of any goose.



Brant


While watching the Brant I was distracted by a number of juvenile Great Blue Herons around the park. I counted at least four of them in the eastern pond and creek, though there may have been more. From time to time one would fly in from a different spot, only to be chased away by a heron that had already claimed the area as its territory. One of the herons liked to perch on the railing of one of the small footbridges.



Great Blue Heron


I also saw a Green Heron flying over the ponds. It landed at the top of the tree above the heron on the bridge but flew away later. I walked over to the eastern creek so see if I could find a Black-crowned Night-heron to complete the heron trio but had no such luck. I did see three of the juvenile Great Blue Herons in the creek, however.

When I returned to watch the Brant, it had settled in the grass and was preening. Note the similarity in size to the female mallard behind it.



Brant


It started to rain as I was leaving, and so I went home. The rain didn't last long, and when the sun eventually came out I went back out that afternoon to look for butterflies and dragonflies at Jack Pine Trail.

There were fewer butterflies around than I expected, mostly Northern Pearly-eyes and other unidentified browns.



Northern Pearly-eye


At the first boardwalk, however, I saw a young Spotted Sandpiper walking along a log and probing for food at the edge of the water. The water was much higher than it had been a few weeks ago, when enough mud had been exposed to make it attractive to the Solitary Sandpiper I had seen there. The Solitary Sandpiper was gone and the only shorebirds I saw at Jack Pine were this juvenile Spotted Sandpiper and another one at the next boardwalk.



Spotted Sandpiper


Juveniles lack the spots of adult sandpipers but can easily be identified by the constant bobbing motion of its rump. Although the function of this teetering motion is not known, Spotted Sandpiper chicks teeter almost right after hatching from the egg.



Spotted Sandpiper


At the back of the trail I came across this large dragonfly perching on a downed tree. I was sure it was a skimmer, but didn't know which one until Chris Lewis identified it as a female Slaty Skimmer. Although these skimmers are common along the Ottawa River at Petrie Island in the east and Morris Island in the west, it is unusual to find them at Jack Pine Trail. Chris thought she might be a stray blown in during one of our recent storms, or perhaps part of a newly established population. Now that I know what she is, I hope to go back to Jack Pine to look for more of these beautiful dragons.



Slaty Skimmer


My camera battery died just after taking these photos, and as luck would have it, I came across two more interesting insects before I left. One was a beautiful golden-coloured butterfly, one of the anglewings, that actually perched on a leaf in a tree for a few moments. I am pretty sure it was one of the commas but don't know which one.

The other interesting insect was a beautiful emerald dragonfly patrolling the cattails above the first boardwalk. Its abdomen was black and it had the bright green eyes of an adult, but when it perched I could tell it was not a Racket-tailed Emerald. As with the golden butterfly, I guess I will never know what I saw.

The weekend turned out much better than I expected, and I saw a lot of interesting (and unexpected) birds, butterflies and dragonflies. If there's one thing that I learned, however, it's that I ought to recharge my camera battery before I go out!