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16 August 2009 @ 01:31 pm
Jack Pine and a Return to Marlborough Forest  
The week following our return from Algonquin Park was hot, humid, and sunny, and the forecast for the weekend called for more of the same weather. I was happy that the forecast was finally cooperative for a change and couldn't wait to get out and see what was around in my favourite conservation areas. My plan was to head over to Marlborough Forest after it had warmed up enough for butterflies and dragonflies to emerge, and so I decided to spend some time at Jack Pine Trail first. Birds were more conspicuous; I heard the Swamp Sparrows singing along the first boardwalk but couldn't locate any in the tall cattails, and heard the squeaky call of a Rose-breasted Grosbeak somewhere in the woods. An Eastern Wood-pewee proved to be more cooperative, flycatching from a tall dead tree near the second loop. Deeper in the woods I heard some interesting bird calls coming from the canopy and spotted a Black-throated Green Warbler.

Instead of taking the second loop trail to the boardwalks, I continued walking straight, heading toward the meadow where I thought I would find the most butterflies and dragonflies. Right away I found a few meadowhawks, including White-faced males and Band-winged Meadowhawks of both genders. I also saw one Common Ringlet bouncing above the grass; all the skippers that I recalled from previous excursions were gone. Then, while walking toward the back of the meadow on a side path, I became aware of a couple of large dragonflies patrolling the area. One started flying close by me, heading first in one direction, then in another. I saw the copper tint to its wings and realized it was an emerald; when it finally landed, I tracked it down and took a few pictures.

Unknown Emerald

Unfortunately, I wasn't able to identify it, and it landed too high up to get any nice macro photos to assist me. The shape of the abdomen is unique; while most emeralds are spindle-shaped, this one was wide at the top of the abdomen and tapered near the tip. It also had a slight club at the end reminiscent of the Racket-tailed Emeralds. Just what it was I am not sure.

I continued walking through the meadow, and found a few more dragonflies zipping around. I was able to track down another one which landed fairly close to me, and this time I was able to get some better pictures. It was a female mosaic darner, and I was pleasantly surprised when I saw her brilliant green markings against the brown background.

Lance-tipped Darner

I continued my way to the back of the trail where I saw an Eastern Phoebe perching on a dead snag. Further along I stopped to look for Fragile Forktails perching on the vegetation beside the marsh. I found one and stopped to photograph it.

Fragile Forktail

I also noticed several large pink flowers growing beside the trail. The Swamp Milkweed is now finished for the year, and although this appeared similar, it was much fuzzier. Joe Pye Weed is a native perennial and is a magnet for nectar-loving insects such as butterflies, bees, hummingbirds and other insect pollinators.

Joe Pye Weed

I checked out the back pond, but there were no Slaty Skimmers present that I could see. There were a couple of Blue-winged Teals hanging around with some mallards, distinguished by their smaller size, dark gray bills and a thin white arc above the eye which gives them a slightly surprised look. At the next boardwalk I found a single shorebird, a Solitary Sandpiper, together with a family of mallards. There wasn't much else to see at Jack Pine, and as the day was growing hot I decided to leave and head over to Marlborough Forest.

Although the Cedar Grove Trail had been full of whiteface dragonflies during my last visit, these species were mostly gone, and now meadowhawks reigned as the most abundant type of dragonfly. I didn't see any pondhawks or Chalk-fronted Corporals and only one or two juvenile whitefaces were present, species unknown. The meadowhawks were everywhere, however.

Mating Meadowhawks

Band-winged Meadowhawks were quite common along the trail. They liked perching on the tips of branches high up, and against the sky the amber wash on their wings was very conspicuous, making them easily identifiable.

Band-winged Meadowhawk

I searched for snakes in the garbage dump area and tried to track down a few large dragonflies patrolling the side trail that leads to it. However, I found no snakes beneath the planks and mattress and other debris and couldn't locate the dragonflies once they landed. I continued my way to Roger's Pond, where I finally found a few interesting butterflies. There were a lot of Cabbage Whites, a few Viceroys, and at least two Great-spangled Fritillaries, the butterfly that first got me interested in these lovely creatures.

Great-spangled Fritillary

These butterflies can be found in open, moist places including fields, valleys, pastures, right-of-ways, meadows, open woodland and prairies. They lay their eggs in late summer on or near violets, the host plant for the caterpillars. Newly-hatched caterpillars do not feed, but overwinter until spring, when they eat young violet leaves. Adults nectar from many different flowers including milkweeds, thistles, ironweed, dogbane, mountain laurel, verbena, vetch, bergamot, red clover, joe-pye weed, and purple coneflower. The two fritillaries engaged in a couple of air battles before separating and flying in opposite directions, only to fly back and clash again in the same area (just before the bridge where the wildflowers were numerous).

Great-spangled Fritillary

I walked along the dyke toward the bridge. I didn't see any frogs at the edge of the pond, but the cattails had grown much thicker since my last visit at the end of June. I was hoping to find some more Mink Frogs but none were to be seen. The birds were quiet, too, perhaps because it was so hot and muggy. I did see a Kingfisher sitting on the bridge railing, a Common Yellowthroat close by, and, when I walked over the bridge, a Great Blue Heron which was fishing below the bridge until I came along and startled it into flight.

The insects didn't seem to mind the heat, and I saw a few small orange skippers in the vegetation, lots of bees, and some of these beautiful beetles nectaring among the flowers. I thought it was neat that while the top of them looked like a beetle, the abdomen was striped like a wasp.

Pennsylvania Leatherwing (Chauliognathus pensylvanicus)

I didn't go too far past the bridge as the vegetation was quite thick. I turned around, and spent some more time on the other side, looking for the Calico Pennant dragonfly (which I thought I saw perching on the opposite side of a stem with only its wings sticking out) and trying the photograph the butterflies. The Great-spangled Fritillaries seemed to like the thistle flowers the most.

Great-spangled Fritillary on thistle

The heat, however, was unrelenting, and I decided to leave around lunchtime. On my way out I started seeing a few dark skippers and stopped to photograph them so I could verify their identity. This one turned out to be a Dun Skipper rather than the similar but much more uncommon Little Glassywing which has been seen in the Ottawa area a few times this summer.

Dun Skipper

Females have tiny white spots on their wings, whereas the males are quite plain ("but that's how you recognize them"!) I found this male along the wooded trail leading back to the parking lot and found him quite striking, even if most would consider him plain. Males are also characterized by the golden colour of their head. Dun Skippers are found in wet areas near deciduous woods such as meadows, seeps, swamp edges, and streams. They nectar on white, pink, or purple flowers such as common milkweed, purple vetch, selfheal, peppermint, dogbane, New Jersey tea, and viper's bugloss.

Dun Skipper

I left the trail and drove home in the welcome air conditioning of my car. I was not surprised to see that the temperature outside had risen to 30°C; with the humidity it felt closer to 40°C. Still, I enjoyed the day and my search for interesting and beautiful creatures...August is passing quickly and all too soon the lovely butterflies and dragonflies will vanish. I just have to get out and watch them while I still can!