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31 July 2009 @ 09:13 pm
More insects at Hurdman  

The rain continued off and on during the week, making this not only the wettest July on record for the Ottawa area, but also the wettest month ever in Ottawa. We broke the June 2002 record of 224.8 mm by almost 10 mm when more storms and heavy rain fell on Wednesday. With this dubious title, and after the 2007-08 winter being declared the second snowiest on record, it's no wonder that people are wondering what miserable record will Ottawa break next...or at least make us miserable in the attempt!

Despite a month of record rainfalls and cooler than normal temperatures, the second-last day of July turned out to be surprisingly hot and sunny, as though Mother Nature decided to give us a reprieve. I headed out to Hurdman at lunch, happy to enjoy the warm sunshine for a change.

Virginia Creeper Borer

The insects were the most interesting creatures of the day, and almost as soon as I started walking along the woodland path I was captivated by these small wasp mimics, the hoverflies. I found a pair of them hovering in a patch of sunlight, their tiny wings moving so fast they seemed invisible. One finally landed on top of the flower it was investigating where I was able to photograph it.

While many hoverflies bear a striking resemblance to bees or wasps, the hovering flight reveals their true identity. They also have two wings rather than four (although this is sometimes hard to see) and the large, round eyes characteristic of flies. They feed on the nectar of a variety of flowers, though they prefer flat-topped flowers with open nectaries. Daisy-like flowers and members of the carrot family, such as Queen Anne's Lace, are ideal.

One interesting thing that I learned about hoverflies is that the larvae of many, including the ones found in gardens, feast on aphids. As the adult are major pollinators, they are beneficial insects in both life stages.

Hoverfly sp.

As I continued walking down the path, I heard an unusual bird call. It slightly resembled the call of a woodpecker, but when I looked up to its source I found a hawk instead! I noticed the streaky chest and the bloody remains of its prey clutched in its talons but couldn't see its face. It was likely the same accipiter I had seen in this part of the park four or five times now since the winter, but when it saw me moving closer in order to get an unobstructed view, it flew away with its meal clutched in its talons.

I continued my walk to the river's edge, looking for butterflies and dragonflies along the way. There were more Powdered Dancers than any other species, but a single meadowhawk perching in the same area as the dancers caught my attention. It was a beautiful male White-faced Meadowhawk, and from time to time it appeared to go after the smaller damselflies...though it seemed to me that this was more a display of territorial aggression than a serious attempt at catching a meal!

White-faced Meadowhawk

The first spot I checked at the river also seemed to have more Powdered Dancers than anything else. I saw a few Eastern Forktails and Stream Bluets, and none of the Skimming Bluets I saw previously. A few Common Green Darners were patrolling the shore, but there were no butterflies to be seen. I left the area to investigate another trail leading to the water, although this one was barely used and almost completely overgrown. I had only progressed a little ways down the path when I startled a Common Green Darner from its perch in the grass. Fortunately it flew around in a couple of circles, and landed in the vegetation not too far ahead of me. This darner lacks the distinct blue abdomen of the males and the pink abdomen of the females I had seen before; it is either an immature male just developing the blue colouration or a female.

Common Green Darner

The tangle of vegetation became an impenetrable wall, so I wasn't able to get to the water's edge after all. I turned back, and scared up another insect, this one a large dark moth. When I took a closer look I was delighted to see the clear wings of this Virginia Creeper Borer.

Virginia Creeper Borer (Albuna fraxini)

This species is a member of the clearwing family of wood-borers. They are so named because the larvae of clearwing moths are major wood-boring pests of woody plants. However, adult moths do not directly damage plants and live only about one week. Clearwing moth adults have long, narrow front wings and shorter, wider hind wings which are mostly clear and resemble glass. These moths fly during the day or at dusk, and many have yellow and black coloring that mimics the colouration of wasps or yellowjackets.

Virginia Creeper Borer

I thought this moth was extremely gorgeous and very un-mothlike. I just love how you can see right through the wings to the vegetation behind him. It was definitely the best find of the day and more than made up for my not being able to get out during the rest of the week!