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06 August 2009 @ 06:54 pm
Warblers and Odonates at Mud Lake  

Monday was a holiday, so when I got up I went out to Mud Lake first thing in the morning. Someone had counted ten species of warbler there earlier in the weekend, and I was eager to find some of these early migrants. When I arrived, it was 7:30 in the morning and the sun was still low in the sky. However, there was avian activity all along Cassels Street and up on the Ridge. I saw a Great-crested Flycatcher and a Black-and-white Warbler even before I made it up to the Ridge. Warbling Vireos, Yellow Warblers, and a single American Redstart were singing, and overhead I saw many Tree Swallows and Chimney Swifts flying above the river and the Ridge. The sight and sound of so many birds was thrilling after the quiet months of summer.

As I climbed up the Ridge, I noticed several damselflies flitting among the leaves of the trees and shrubs that lined the hill. A few were spreadwings, but the rest were all bluets, Eastern Forktails and Powdered Dancers. They and the birds were feeding on the numerous moths and flies that were suddenly visible swarming above the plants. The damselflies, too, were the most numerous I had ever seen, and as I proceeded along the path I noticed a few small meadowhawks as well.

Black-and-white Warbler

The Yellow Warblers were everywhere, and a large number of House Finches were present too. It was as if every breeding Yellow Warbler in the whole conservation area had brought its young up to the Ridge to feed on the insects. Then I saw a juvenile sparrow, and was surprised to see the bold white eyering of a Field Sparrow. This solidified my impression that the birds were migrants, for I had never seen a Field Sparrow on the Ridge during breeding season before.

Field Sparrow

The dragonflies and damselflies became more conspicuous as the sun rose higher in the sky. I noticed this spreadwing species perching on the Staghorn Sumac and later identified it as a Slender Spreadwing....the bronze-coloured abdomen, relatively short wings, and cream-coloured edges of its wings make this one of the easier spreadwings to identify.

Slender Spreadwing

An Osprey was calling insistently from the river, and moments after I decided to descend to the river it soared above the Ridge and flew toward the lake. Other birds present on the Ridge included cardinals, a Gray Catbird, and a Downy Woodpecker. I also saw a pair of Black-and-white Warblers hunting for prey among the sumacs together. I only saw one Rose-breasted Grosbeak although there were no Baltimore Orioles that I recalled from this time last year.

Meadowhawks, both red males and yellow females or immatures, were also conspicuous perching on the ground or on vegetation. Most of them appeared to be Autumn Meadowhawks, which are easily identified by their yellow legs.

Autumn Meadowhawk

Autumn Meadowhawk

I left the Ridge and began walking across the lawn toward the filtration plant. I heard a Black-throated Green Warbler singing and managed to find it in one of the trees close to the Ridge. Then I spotted a large dragonfly slowly zigzagging over the lawn before landing in a shrub about a foot above the ground. I cautiously approached it and found my first Shadow Darner of the year!

Shadow Darner

This species is one of the mosaic darners, which are best identified by the shape of the stripes on the thorax. This female has a yellow stripe in the shape of a walking cane.

Shadow Darner close-up

This species is also characterized by small yellow spots along its abdomen.

Shadow Darner dorsal view

The darner stayed in the one spot for several minutes, allowing me to get quite close to it in order to identify and photograph it. It was only a few meters away from the location where I found my first Shadow Darner last year.

A walk to the river behind the filtration plant proved relatively unproductive, so I returned to the Ridge. There I found another darner and waited until it landed in the vegetation so I could approach and identify it. This one is a Lance-tipped Darner. It has a small "nip" in the stripe on its thorax while the Canada Darner has a large notch in the stripe.

Lance-tipped Darner

Another distinguishing feature is the diamond-shaped mark on the S2 segment - the one right above where the abdomen narrows - which, together with the band below, creates the impression of a blue tiara set against the brown background.

Lance-tipped Darner

I reluctantly left the Ridge as more people arrived. From there I went to the path beside the lake and scanned the water for herons. Instead of herons, however, I found a cute little Black-and-white Warbler preening in the bushes. I am not sure how many of these warblers were present; I had now seen four of these birds, although enough time had passed between sightings to give the pair I had seen together on the Ridge time to move around.

Black-and-white Warbler preening

Instead of going to the observation dock, I took the right-hand path to the field behind Britannia Avenue. I was very glad I did when I spotted a Nashville Warbler in the trees by the fence. Shortly after, I caught a glimpse of a Yellow-rumped Warbler, bringing my total of warbler species up to six (Black-and-white Warbler, American Redstart, Yellow Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Nashville Warbler, and Yellow-rumped Warbler were the ones that I saw). I also saw a moulting male Baltimore Oriole in this area looking rather worn and shabby. Not bad for a day in early August!

As the day was getting hot, I decided to stop at Jack Pine Trail to look for more mosaic darners. This the time of year when they are most easily found, and in one area beyond the meadow I found at least ten of them. I identified two as Lance-tipped Darners and one as a Canada Darner but couldn't identify the ones flying high above the trail or track down the others when they landed up high in the evergreens.

Canada Darner

Several Band-winged Meadowhawks were also present here but I wasn't able to take any decent photos.

I also had a few interesting birds along the way, including a Winter Wren near the OFNC feeder area and a Virginia Rail at the back of the trail. Only one butterfly caught my interest, a large golden butterfly which kept flying past me and refused to land. I am still not sure if it's a fritillary or an anglewing despite my best efforts to get a good look at it.

It was another great day, with lots of great birds, and seeing all the birds at Britannia made me long for fall migration to start in earnest!